Pulse Was the Death Knell of the First J-Horror Remake Era

The remake of the understated J-Horror classic Pulse was released on this day in 2006. In many ways, it signaled the end of the first era of fascination Western studios had with Asian horror in the 21st Century.

The early 2000s saw Japanese horror grow in stature in the West. Films such as Ring, Dark Water, Audition, and even other genre fare such as Battle Royale became hits thanks to the birth of DVD publishers such as Tartan making them more readily available.

Of course, this meant Hollywood would only do one thing and remake as many of them as possible. That started out fine. The Ring is a genuinely impressive translation of Hideo Nakata’s original, and the American Dark Water does a fine job of selling the dramatic side of the original, even if it lacks its dread and atmosphere levels.

Returns go weaker, and in just a few years, the J-Horror remake era was essentially killed off by the underwhelming remake of one of J-Horror’s most sophisticated and haunting movies.

No Pulse Here

Pulse by Kiyoshi Kurosawa may not have reached the public awareness heights of an Audition or RIng, but it is just as important. It’s a somber, methodical examination of the early internet and personal isolation where spirits of technology and folklore clash in a bleak yet beautiful piece.

The remake? Well, you can tell an early directive when remaking it was to do away with the ambiguity and subtext and instead just chuck it on the viewer up front and explain it in a condescendingly plain fashion. If the original is a thoughtful 4,000-word essay, the remake condenses that into a TikTok. One is a methodical and artful haunting, the other a hyperactive assortment of flashing images and ghost train jump scares.

It was once so bright for the remake. Wes Craven was on to write and direct it, but his screenplay was changed so much that he walked away from it before production began. He later distanced himself from having any involvement in what it became. The job went to Jim Sonzero, who had yet to direct a feature film. It would also be his last. Interestingly, his next project would be directing for the video game Killzone 3 in 2011.

The remake starred Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Rick Gonzalez, Ian Somerhalder (The Vampire Diaries), and Johnathan Tucker (The Ruins, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and whatever talent was there is wasted by the fudged script and incoherent goldfish-brained style of the film.

Of course, a remake never replaces the original, but when other J-Horror greats got far more respectful remakes, this version of Pulse is just despair-inducing in a manner that ironically captures something of Kurosawa’s movie.