May 05, 2010

CURSE, DEATH & SPIRIT (1992) - Hideo Nakata warms up for RING

(1992, Japan, TV)

Homework for fans of the original Ring

I'd read about this in The Ring Companion but never thought I'd get a chance to see it - there isn't even a DVD in Japan. Luckily Curse, Death & Spirit has been released in the US.

The choice of Hideo Nakata to direct the original horror movie that launched J-horror, Ring (1998), looks less like a lucky guess if you see some of his earlier work. Particularly this made-for-TV trilogy, and the movie Ghost Actress (1996, aka Don't Look Up). It all looks uncannily like preparation, as if he'd been set homework six years earlier.

These three short stories, barely twenty minutes each, were made for TV in 1992. They're full of scares and ideas in the same vein that Nakata would explore in Ring and Dark Water (2002).

The Cursed Doll - could have been exceptionally creepy, but the doll is shown too much and initially brought to life with some poor video effects. The story builds well to a climax that certainly has bite. It's all good practice for turning the otherwise ordinary rooms of a Japanese home into a scary place, looking like the house in the opening scenes of Ring.

The Spirit of Death - has a mother and son on a troubled camping trip, echoing the absent father scenario of Dark Water, and again up against a watery spirit. This has some original scares and benefits from the outdoor location.

The Haunted Inn - has three teenage girls book into an inn, one of which is playing with a video camera. Together they fall foul of the history of the building and end up tangling with a long-haired ghost.

The stories are too ambitious for the time and money available. With a rushed TV schedule, unsophisticated camerawork and lighting, these are lightly creepy at best. The basic video effects, especially in The Cursed Doll, almost looking like a work-in-progress. Given more resources, this would have been good to develop as a film project, the same way that Takeshi Shimizu's Grudge films graduated from video.

The acting is solid, Nakata already getting convincing performances from even the youngest actors - namely the little boy in The Spirit of Death.

These are mainly interesting in retrospect, because of the many familiar echoes of the director's later films (assuming the past can echo the future!). They're also mildly rewarding for some scares he hasn't yet reused, like the restless doll, the ghost in the mirror, and the sneaky spirit of the lake...

It looks very much like 1970s' TV - it's presented 4:3 full-frame. The video colours look pretty flat and ungraded, the picture hasn't been film-moded - all of which could have slightly helped the look. The DVD is presented by Asia Vision in the US.

In the UK, it can be found as a DVD extra on the Tartan UK release of Hideo Nakata's Chaos. (Thanks to Phil for that update).

Here's another review, with screengrabs, at Sarudama.

My coverage of the Ring phenomenon is here.

A loud, Japanese, spoilered trailer for Curse, Death & Spirit here on YouTube...


  1. This is included as an extra on Tartan's UK dvd
    of Nakata's neo-noir "Chaos".

  2. Hi Mark, I’m hosting the My Best Post blog-a-thon. It goes from May 21st-23rd. Want to know the best part? You’ve already written your entry. Just send me a link to your best/favorite/underrated blog post! Thanks!