Monthly Archives: June 2021

Retview #47 – The Grudge (2004)

Title: The Grudge

Year of Release: 2004

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Length: 91 mins

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Bill Pullman, KaDee Strickland, Takako Fuji

First up, let’s address the big fuck off elephant in the room and put to bed any lingering speculation; this is the 2004 Hollywood remake of the 2002 J-Horror classic Ju-On: The Grudge, not the original (though both were written and directed by Takashi Shimizu). I was torn as to which version to write about for this series, this one winning on account of having Sarah Michelle Gellar in it who, when this first came out, was riding the crest of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-shaped wave. Yes, I’m that shallow. This project came at an interesting junction in her career as she was trying to capitalize on her Buffy fame but in serious danger of being typecast as a modern day scream queen after earlier roles in the teen classics I know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2 (both 1997).

Hiring Shimizu for this project was a masterstroke, as the movie largely keeps it’s Japanese flavour. Being filmed in Tokyo and featuring several notable Japanese stars also helped. Yuya Ozeki, Takako Fuji and Takashi Matsuyama all appeared in the two Japanese films upon which this was based, reprising their roles as the doomed Saeki family. The movie is also notable for an appearance by Ted raimi, younger brother of Sam, one of the film’s producers and creator of the legendary Evil Dead series. This version of The Grudge distributed by Columbia Pictures was itself followed by two sequels in Grudge 2 (2006) and Grudge 3 (2009), the latter going straight-to-video, but has very little to do with The Grudge (2020) which is known in the trade as a sidequel, a totally different movie (with the same name) taking place concurrently with events in the original series. Is that clear? Good. Let’s move on.

Somewhat unusually, the movie is told in a non-linear fashion and features several storylines that end up converging. The first thing we see is expat college professor Peter Kirk (Pullman) jump out of a window to his death, which instantly draws the viewer in and makes them ask WTF is going on. It soon transpires that a local housewife, Kayako (Fuji), had fallen hopelessly in love with him and been murdered by her jealous husband as a result, along with their young son, Toshio. From here on in, Gellar steals the show as Karen Davis, an American expat living in Tokyo with her boyfriend (Behr) charged with filling in for another worker, Yoko, who seems to have neglected her duties in looking after dementia-suffering patient Emma. At the house, Karen encounters the ghost of Toshio sealed up in a wardrobe and witnesses Kayako’s spirit descending from the ceiling to claim Emma. All very unsettling. When the police arrive they find the bodies of the Williams family who had unwittingly moved into the cursed house in the attic, along with Kayako’s jawbone, and the family of vengeful ghosts set out to tear it up some more. Watch out for the infamous shower scene which is probably second only to the original Psycho (1960) in the all-time list of infamous shower scenes. Now, if you found the above synopsis confusing at all, critic Roger Ebert simplifies things massively in his scathing 1-star review, “There is a haunted house, and everybody who enters it will have unspeakable things happen to them.” There you are, then.

Despite this, and a few other negative reviews, The Grudge was a huge initial success. On its opening weekend alone, it grossed $39 million, becoming the first horror film since House on Haunted Hill (1999) to top the Halloween box office and, until the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, had the highest grossing opening weekend in history for a horror remake. On May 17, 2005, the unrated director’s cut was released on DVD. Notably, this version included several scenes that were cut (including one where Takeo drags Kayako’s body through the house whilst carrying a box cutter, implying this was the instrument he used to kill her) from the original in order to achieve a lower rating from the MPAA. Incidentally, this version of the film was used on the theatrical run in Japan, which only goes to show just how hardcore Japanese audiences are. If you are a fan of J-Horror you might appreciate this or this.

Trivia Corner:

Jason Behr and KaDee Strickland met on set and began dating due to their mutual interest in Japanese culture (which is why they accepted their roles in the film) eventually marrying two years later despite not sharing any scenes together in the film.


The Promotion Experiment

Like most hybrid or indie writers, the most difficult things for me is making sales. Writing is the easy part. They say you have to spend money to make money, so for the past three or four months I’ve been doing an experiment; instead of spending all my spare dosh on booze and kebabs (can’t go out in the midst of a global pandemic anyway) I decided to put all the money I make from writing during that period back into writing. Or more specifically, into marketing and promotion.

As you may be aware, there a hundreds of promo sites and services out there and most of them cost money. Bookbub is the undisputed king, which I wrote about before, but as far as the multitude of others are concerned, it’s hard to know which ones are truly worth the money and which aren’t. Hence this little experiment. There is little scientific basis behind it. I didn’t do a ton of research, I just looked around to see how much various promo sites cost and what people were saying about them, and tried a few. I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with my figures, so don’t laugh. Believe me, I’m well aware that some people out there sell more books me.

It’s a sad fact that one way to grab new readers is to get on your knees and beg them to read your work for free. Though it’s not really free for them, they’re still giving up their time and energy. Giving away free books is a controversial marketing technique in itself. Some writers feel it devalues the product, and makes things worse for everybody. If readers get used to being given free books, why would they ever bother buying another book again? I can see their point, but in my experience giving away freebies has been hugely beneficial. To clarify, I’m talking about free Kindle promos here, rather than permafrees or books given away on newsletter sign-up. For starters, people who would never normally read my books are given the opportunity to check them out, and if they like my stuff it might encourage them to pick up another of my books. They might even leave a review somewhere. Plus, an increase in downloads, free or otherwise, improves your author ranking and skews various algorithms in your favour, all of which adds to your visibility. For obvious reasons, if you’re going to run a free promo on one of your books you’re better off making it one of a series, or at least having a healthy back catalogue.

CONFESSION: I also write rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books under a super secret pseudonym. It’s difficult to promote something when you can’t put your own name to it, so because THAT GUY had a new release a while back (book 3 in a series), I thought I’d invest the lion’s share of my budget into giving him a little boost. The Fussy Librarian is one of the better-known services but they aren’t cheap, and some strategizing is required to make it worthwhile. The series is about China, so to capitalize on the Western media coverage I scheduled the promotion to run during Chinese New Year. I made the first book in the main series free, left book two up at normal price (1.99) and put book three up for pre-order at a reduced 0.99. Then I paid a whopping $48 for a spot on the FL site and in their ‘non-fiction’ newsletter blast, and waited to see what would happen.

By the way, spots in different FL newsletters have different prices, related to the amount of subscribers each one has. But if you’re a first-time user, you can input the code 10OFF at check-out to get $10 off the regular price, which for me knocked the fee down to $38. Not to put too fine a point on it, the results were incredible. On the day of the promotion, my book was downloaded 1016 times, and a further 258 times over the next few days. Okay, the pessimists might say that all I succeeded in doing was give away over £2500 worth of books. But if only 1% of those who downloaded it leaves a review or even just a rating (optimistic, I know) I’ll be more than happy. In addition, during the same time period the second book in the series sold a dozen copies and I picked up six pre-orders for the third.

Verdict: Hit

EreaderIQ have a list of requirements almost as long as your arm. Novellas and collections are ‘unlikely’ to be accepted, your books should have at least five reviews and should be free or deeply discounted. A place in their email blasting in the ‘horror’ category which, according to the site, reaches 9,500 subscribers, costs $10 (other categories have different rates). I put my recently reissued and revamped novel Sker House forward for this, which was duly accepted. The day of the listing it sold 9 copies, and the day after it sold another 3. Not bad. But because I had to discount the book so much, I made a slight loss on my investment.

Verdict: Partial Hit

Readfreely are less particular. $6 (gold level, again there are different options) buys your book a spot in their newsletter and promotion across their social media platforms. It’s difficult to quantify how big their reach is, but as they have less than 4,000 Twitter followers, which is a great indicator, I’m guessing it isn’t great. I put X4, my latest collection, forward for this one at it’s regular price of £1.99 (though I said it was being discounted from 3.99. Shoot me). X4 sold one solitary copy on the designated date, which sucks, but over the next few days sales of my other X books increased and I sold several of each, which may or may not be related. I’m not convinced either way.

Verdict: Miss

Because this is one of the most cost-effective options, I repeated the process with one of my pseudonym’s rip-roaringly, thigh-slappingly funny travel books. The results were similar.

Verdict: Miss

There are two connected sites, Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. One is for free books, and the other, surprise surprise, is for bargain (reduced) books. I opted for the latter, and paid $25 to have X4 included in an email blast to 77,000 subscribers. On the day of promotion, X4 sold a dozen copies and, mirroring the pattern in the last promo, my other x books also benefitted from a sales bump and sold another dozen or so between them.

Verdict: Hit

The last, and most recent thing I tried was Amazon ads. I’m a complete novice at this. You need a flipping degree in economics and marketing just to work out which key words to use. Like most things it’s a case of trial and error. Basically, you set a daily budget, choose your settings, and are then billed per click. I set a budget of $5 per day for 5 consecutive days on my psuedonym’s latest release, which resulted in just five clicks at a total cost of about $3.40 and no sales. Then I ran a similar promo on X4 with a higher budget over a longer period of time and got similar results but for a bigger outlay (around $18). It was at this pint I realized I must either be doing something wrong or Amazon ads, like Facebook ads, were a complete waste of time. I hear stories about people making a killing from Amazon ads. I might try it again at some point in the future after I learn more about it but on this occasion, I think I’ll lay off them.

Verdict: Miss

So, all things considered, it was a mixed bag of results. I must admit that in the back of my mind I’d hoped all this effort would at least give my Amazon ranking a lasting boost. But the moment I stopped actively promoting, my sales virtually flatlined. Turns out worthwhile promotion of any kind is expensive, but if you don’t promote you don’t get any sales and you hemorrhage money anyway. There are, of course, reasonably effective ways of marketing your work for free using social media and cross-promotion, if you have the time and the energy. Maybe I’ll write another post about that at some point. In the meantime, I hope other indie writers, who may be as confused and bewildered as me, can get a few pointers from this post. It all boils down to doing your research, knowing your target market, and choosing the right places to invest based on your budget and readership.

I think.


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