First up: Disturbing image warning.
We’re slowly but surely working our way up the list of our picks for the ten scariest Asian horror movies ever made. This is a good time to point out that Uzumaki (AKA Spiral) isn’t #8 on the list because it’s less scary of a film that any of the others. They’re all scary as hell (though we would rate, say, Shutter over Three… Extremes; then again, Shutter is in the our Top Ten Scariest Movies ever made PERIOD, list), we’re just not listing them in order of importance/scariness. This J-horror pick for the Top Ten list is based on a manga by one of the most popular and terrifying names in horror manga, Junji Ito (more on that later), so there’s a whole new type of media to augment and expand the fright generated by Uzumaki. I wrote this up for the IMDB in 2011 and to this day, I stand by my 9/10 stars rating. Watch the trailer below (it’s short, but long enough to give you a pretty good idea of how the movie ended up on this list):
If you had told me* fifteen years ago that I would be so frightened I would be on the verge of a panic attack merely by watching a horror movie whose plot centers on a small town being terrorized by a geometric concept, I probably would have laughed in your face. Well, that was before Fangoria magazine recommended a horror movie from Japan called Uzumaki (possibly in the same issue as Ringu) and I finally found a copy to rent. This one I unwisely made the decision to watch after dark (after deliberately watching several like A Tale of Two Sisters in the daytime), when I was the only one in the house still awake; all the lights on the whole upper floor of the house were off except the one from the TV. As disturbing and frightening as the manga of the same name that the movie is based on (and if you’ve read ANY of the three books that comprise the manga, you know that is no easy task) this one-of-a-kind J-horror flick also has images I still can’t quite get out of my head, and I watched the movie in 2008.
I then watched Uzumaki again in Fall of 2011, this time making the equally stupid decision to watch it on a good-sized flatscreen. All the images I recalled were every bit as scary–just as much bang for your buck (or yen). Not only that, but there was one shot, a VERY disturbing, brief set-piece (and arguably the most bloody), that I only recalled about two seconds before it happened. The entire movie is so increasingly unnerving –not a lot of rests between scares, and little comic relief –that I suppose my brain wiped the scene out because it was just too much for my central nervous system to take in all at once.
Also, in between viewings, I read the complete manga– I’m not sure whether to recommend the movie or the graphic novels first. The series of graphic novels’ tone is even darker- WAY darker, and the movie’s not exactly happy-go-lucky to start with. I picked up the manga (which has won an impressive and lengthy list of notable awards and honors that were absolutely earned) after I saw the movie the first time–which at least warns you what you are in for–out of morbid curiosity. I was so blown away (and actively horrified, almost to the point of trauma; perhaps reading them all in a row beginning around midnight was not the smartest goddamned thing I’ve ever done) I went and rented the movie again to compare the two, and can report that other than excluding some storylines** that would’ve made the movie very hard to be released and marketed for all but adult audiences (and possibly too scary even for a J-horror movie, at least in 2000), the movie captures the tone and spirit of the graphic novels dead-on. Many of the best-known, most
fucking bloodcurdling haunting scenes from the manga are recreated perfectly, even when said scenes and setpieces in the manga would seem to be impossible to stay true to in a live-action format. if you do see the movie version –and don’t get so freaked out you have multiple borderline panic attacks like I did when I tried to sleep the next couple nights–and want more, buy or borrow the manga to get the full experience. If you do, that almost guarantees you’ll want another viewing of the movie.
By the way, there’s a really cool site out there called Mangashare.com. If you want to read Uzumaki -Spiral Into Terror by Junji Ito online, free (and translated into English), you can begin scaring the shit out of yourself by starting the series using this link here. Reading these before bedtime isn’t advised, because here’s just a few images from the sheer nightmare of a manga written and drawn in vivid detail by Junji Ito:
Be glad they’re not in color. So! After spending over an hour searching for and scanning the manga for the above handful of images, I’m not getting any sleep tonight! How about you guys?
*Before I discovered Asian horror, that is; after that, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all to hear how disturbing the creators could make this. Especially based on a Junji Ito series.
**Here’s an interesting –and important– tidbit of trivia I found on IMDB when double-checking some facts for this re-write: “The movie was filmed before the manga had completed its run, and reveals a different ending and origins storyline than that featured in the manga.” If they ever made a version of Uzumaki that follows the storyline and especially the original ending of the manga, it’d probably take me, oh, four or five fucking years to work up the nerve to see it.
This movie is not only a must-watch for fans of Asian horror; if you’re trying to watch what you eat and need your appetite killed for a few hours or more, this worked for me.