J Horror Flattens Out

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In the late 1990s and early years of this century, horror, especially horror films, was given a much needed injection of energy and freshness from Japan and other parts of Asia, revitalizing the genre.

Dubbed J-Horror (for Japanese Horror, taking its naming convention from the term for Japanese pop, J-Pop), the wave of blood and imagination brought to American attention movies like Miike’s Audition, Visitor Q, and Ichi the Killer, Hideo Nakata’s The Ring, the Pang Brother’s The Eye, and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge.

Horror fans, starved through most of the 90s by tongue-in-cheek winking fare like the Scream series, ate the new movies up. And it seemed for a while like Asian horror could do no wrong.

Well, in case no one else has said it to you yet, I’m going to say it: The J-Horror wave is over.

It’s not that the movies aren’t coming here anymore. In fact, they’re coming more than ever, with Asian horror films getting wider releases in the U.S. and remakes of The Eye and Dark Water, complementing earlier remakes of The Ring and The Grudge, soon to grace American screens.

But, as distributors and movie makers reach deeper into the Asian horror vaults, they’re no longer skimming the cream. Those first movies that we saw here were the strongest, giving us the idea that maybe Asia was some kind of heaven of horror films. Now, though, as the demand for Asian horror is forcing distributors to find more and more movies to send our way, the quality is starting to drop.

And that’s why J-Horror is over.

J-Horror is no longer infallible. It’s not the place to turn for a masterpiece every time. We know now that every movie coming out of Japan won’t be Audition or The Ring. These days they’re just as likely to be disappointing, senseless fare like Stacy or Another Heaven.

Of course, this shouldn’t really surprise us. After all, is there any regional cinema that makes more masterpieces than it does schlock? Certainly not, and certainly not in horror. Not every American film is Psycho or Session 9 or even A Nightmare on Elm St. Not every Italian giallo is Suspira. Not every Canadian gem is Ginger Snaps or Dead Ringers.

This is just the way of things, as per Sturgeon. Most things are, well (perhaps obviously), average.

Now J-Horror is the same way. It was inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever and all that. But it would have been nice to get some more cream before it happened.

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