Ray Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) RIP

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I remember seeing Jason and the Argonauts on television when I was young. The stop motion monsters and effects scared the bejeezus out of me. Years later when I was older and (I thought) more sophisticated, Clash of the Titans didn’t scare me, but it impressed the hell out of me.

It was after a 13 year-old Ray watched the 1933 film King Kong that he got hooked on stop-motion effects. In his words he was, “stunned and haunted. They looked absolutely lifelike … I wanted to know how it was done.”

He started experimenting with stop motion photography and was even working on a huge project when the release of Fantasia and later the Second World War interrupted his progress. After the war he began doing short films and wound up helping on his first feature film, the King Kong “knock off”  Mighty Joe Young.

Working on such classics as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and, of course Jason and the Argonauts just to name a couple, he kept making his short films. He also continued to experiment with stop motion and developed a split screen system called Dynamation.  In 1992 he received the Gordon E Sawyer Academy Award for technical achievement. While not all his films had great casts, budgets or outstanding scripts, his work was always the highlight of the film.

Ray was a multi-talented man who inspired Steven Spielberg and others in the film industry. After he retired he returned to sculpting and traveled the world giving lectures and exhibitions of his work. In 2004 he wrote his autobiography and  last year the documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan was released.

When asked which creation was his favourite Ray said, “Medusa, but don’t tell the others.”

He was a modest and likeable man who will be missed by many. He was also a pioneer in the stop motion industry.

So long Ray, the party won’t be the same without you.

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Raymond Frederick Harryhausen, born 29 June 1920; died 7 May 2013

 

Takashi Shimizu: A Director With a Grudge

Takashi Shimizu

Takashi Shimizu is one talented guy. Not only is he a writer and director, but he is also a producer. Shimizu wears all three hats easily. His first foray into the world of cinematic horror was a short two part project to go into a film being produced by a friend. These two shorts were later incorporated into his first ‘proper’ film.

Takashi Shimizu was able to produce his first horror feature because of the popularity of his two short segments in his friends film. With a tiny budget, Shimizu’s first proper film was a “straight to video” called Juon The Curse and Juon The Curse II. Despite the lack of budget and the minimalist approach to special effects, word of mouth soon turned both these films into popular films with audiences in Japan.

With Hideo Nakata‘s The Ring (Ringu) gaining world-wide fan-dom and pretty much starting the J-Horror phenomenon, the popularity of Ringu gave Shimizu the “green-light” to start filming the first of many versions of Ju-on The Grudge.

Ju-on The Grudge is basically Ju-on The Curse with a bigger budget. With the extra money, Shimizu was able to expand the story and increase the expenditure for special effects. He also used the “ghost woman” aka “the grudge girl” who he had first used in the video versions of the film. Takako Fuji has the distinction of being the ‘Grudge Girl’ in all of the Ju-on films until Grudge 3. By the time that Hollywood had taken the reins from Shimizu after the re-make of Grudge 2, they no longer needed the original ghost.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2

*sidenote* Don’t bother watching The Grudge 3, it is execrable.

That Shimizu was able to keep coming back to the “Grudge well” repeatedly is pretty amazing. Especially considering  that right up until The Grudge 2 (Japanese) and the two American re-makes he was able to keep ‘tweaking’ the scare formula and increased the reach of the Ghost each time he re-invented it.

The selling point of all the grudge films is the fact that you don’t have to enter the house or to interact with the ghost to have it come get you. No, the curse or grudge can come calling if you just know someone who has been in the house. Pretty powerful and super scary.

My daughter and I have seen every version of the Grudge films. We have also set through several “making of’s” and listened to several cast and crew commentaries as well.

The first thing you discover is that the man who is responsible for helping to keep J-Horror on the map, loves to laugh and loves to play practical jokes. He is also the one who does the A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h sound that comes from the ghost. We also found out how much trouble he had with the studio brass when they asked him to direct the two re-makes.

Takashi Shimizu had his work cut our for him on both of the American re-makes. The Hollywood producers could not understand why he did not explain the origins of the ghost and a way to defeat it. In their parlance a ghost film had to have a beginning, a  middle and an end. It also had to give the lead protagonist a way to defeat the ghost. They also felt the audience would not be able to follow the film if there was no explanation.

Never mind that the original Grudge films had a rabid international fan-base despite having none of the requisite’s listed by the Hollywood brass. They had gone to the trouble of getting the original director to helm their Hollywood versions and they wanted him to film it their way, damnit.

Shimizu stuck to his guns though and made brilliant remakes of his classic Ju-on series. Ultimately though. he grew tired of the on going battle with the Hollywood execs. That is why on the execrable Grudge 3 (can you tell I didn’t like it?) his name is on the project as being the writer of the original series.

Shimizu has moved on from the Grudge world and continues to make scary films for the J-Horror devotees. He has lost none of his creativity or his humour. His next film, 7500  is due out later this year and Scared of the Dark is currently in preproduction now.