I don't pay enough attention or do enough research to know if it started with this one in particular, but at some point around the late '90s or so, Hollywood fell in love with remaking Japanese horror films. Again, I'm not sure where this one landed in that progression, but I do know it was extremely successful. Probably the most successful of the bunch. Quite honestly, I don't know if I've ever enjoyed a Japanese-to-American horror movie conversion, but the success of this one in particular was especially baffling to me.
I mean, where do I even begin? The plot? It's a videotape that kills you if you watch it. Time and again throughout the movie, people are told this by someone who is literally trembling for fear of death after having watched it themselves. Every single one of these people watches that fucking tape. Every. Single. One. Even Naomi Watts' kid sneaks a screening in at one point on the grounds that he "was bored."
Fact: 9 out of 10 kids in horror films totally deserve that shit.
Anyway, that's problem number one. In the pantheon of avoidable movie killers, one you can defeat by chucking it in the return slot at your local library has to be one of the most obvious.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
The only place that still carries VHS tapes.
Still, it's a horror movie. It's practically required to have a stupid plot; what else is wrong? Well, for one thing, it's rated PG-13. Head for the fucking horror movie hills every time you see that, no exceptions. Also, Naomi Watts plays a reporter who, naturally, becomes instantly captivated with the story behind this mysterious video. So, strap yourself in for 45 or 50 minutes of watching a cute blonde do light clerical work and research stuff on microfiche, horror movie fans!
It could be worse, I suppose.
Also, it's just a stupid fucking movie. That's a fair enough review, I promise.
What You Should Watch Instead: Quarantine
I rarely see Quarantine mentioned among the better horror movies in recent memory, but it should be. This isn't a Japanese import like The Ring (or Ringu, to you), but it does come from another country. In this case, Quarantine is the American version of a Spanish film called Rec. It centers on a young news reporter on a ride-along with a team of firefighters. They head out on what seems to be a routine call, and before you know it, the military is outside threatening to shoot anyone who leaves and people start attacking each other. It's a tense movie, and unlike the makers of The Ring, the people behind Quarantine did the original a whole lot of justice. So much so that I actually went back and watched the foreign language version after watching Quarantine. I rarely do this because, at heart, I'm just an ignorant American like you.
How many things am I going to have to do at one time here?
So, if I was forced to sell someone on the merits of Quarantine in just one sentence, I'd say, "It was so entertaining, it made me want to watch a foreign film." That can't be feedback that resonates only with me.
OK, let's come out swinging here -- I think the character of Hannibal Lecter is kind of obnoxious. Don't get me wrong, The Silence of the Lambs is a stone classic, and Anthony Hopkins destroys in that movie. There were two more movies, though, and call me crazy, but I think Hannibal Lecter is the undoing of both of them.
I'm not even going to bother with the low-hanging fruit that is Hannibal. That was the attempted sequel that co-starred Julianne Moore, because Jodie Foster read the book it was based on and immediately declined to participate. So, I totally want to read the book now, but fuck the movie. Hard. I barely remember it, because it's fucking awful, but I do remember laughing uproariously at the scene where Ray Liotta eats his own brain.
He only got the part because his head actually looks like that.
Was that supposed to be terrifying? I don't know. After The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal always struck me more as comic relief than anything. Again, that Ray Liotta scene. Comedy gold.
It's generally agreed that things took a turn for the better with the third installment in the franchise, Red Dragon. While that's technically true, it's also not true at all.
What You Should Watch Instead: Manhunter
I imagine the thought of Hannibal Lecter played by someone other than Anthony Hopkins strikes people not unlike seeing American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert singing lead for Queen. It's almost so weird that you don't even want to think about it, right?
Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Just joking, I'd totally watch that shit.
If you said yes, I'm assuming you're one of the millions of movie watchers who've dismissed Manhunter as a cheesy 1980s embarrassment to the franchise's otherwise mostly good name. Well, guess what: You're wrong. Watch the movie. For one thing, if you liked Red Dragon, this is it, almost word for word, except everything looks like Miami Vice and Hannibal Lecter is barely in it.
Hey, that guy isn't creepy at all!
See, there's the thing. Hannibal Lecter is everywhere in Red Dragon. Pouring wine, walking laps, giving advice, nearly killing detectives in flashbacks, and just generally eating up the scenery like only the Sir can.
Seen here preparing to segue into his famous "feed the dinner party human thigh meat" bit.
The problem is, he's not supposed to. While there is a Hannibal Lecter character who serves the same role in the plot and is perfectly creepy in his own right, he's not a major focus of the original version of the film. It's more about the interaction between the lead detective and the serial killer, also called the Tooth Fairy in this version, who is played to way creepier effect in the underrated original by a guy named Tom Noonan.
Sleep tight, everybody.
In that version, the killer is tormented by a facial defect to the point that he keeps an extremely unsettling mask over the top part of his head for a good part of the movie. That kind of happens in the remake, except this time Tom Noonan is Ralph Fiennes, and damn if you keep that face hidden any longer than you must. He wears the same mask for like three seconds, just to assure the audience that the people behind the boards have actually seen the movie they're remaking, and then rips it off his head, casting it away, never to be seen again.
Please! Don't look at me! I'm hideous!
From there, both films head in generally the same direction, with Will Graham hunting the Tooth Fairy killer and such. It's not until the ending when Red Dragon massively fucks things up again by adding a hokey switcheroo twist that seems to have been written solely to justify the salary they paid Mary-Louise Parker to play the role of Will Graham's wife.
Someone's ready to save the day!
For all intents and purposes, Red Dragon is just Manhunter with less neon and more bullshit Hollywood-recommended plot lines and casting decisions. It's not terrible, but it's not any better than Manhunter, which, in my opinion, still stands as the second best film in the Silence of the Lambs universe. If you've never seen it, go watch it right now and then tell me why I'm wrong.
Keep reading! Check out a bonus entry about The Conjuring (along with the latest episode of the Unpopular Opinion podcast) at Adam's own website. You should also follow him on Twitter. After that, go right back to not forgetting to check out his podcast on Stitcher, iTunes and Soundcloud. Then, ideally, all of that should inspire you to come see him tell jokes in person sometime at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. That's all.