I hate that pun title as much as you do, but it was literally the best one I could think of. Today, we’re talking about the woman from The Ring.
Samara Morgan (or Sadako Yamamura in the original Japanese). Samara’s story is a cross between a ghost story (specifically the “revenge from beyond the grave” ghost story), and the “cursed artifact of doom” story. I haven’t mentioned the latter type of story before because the “cursed artifact of doom” story is usually reserved for action films instead of horror films.
I should mention that this interpretation of Samara’s/Sadako’s story is from the films. However, the films were based on a book series that was actually a bit more original. I’ve never actually read the books on The Ring (or Ringu in Japanese), but from what I’ve learned about the books, I really need to track down copies of them.
Ring (or Ringu) started off as a novel published by Japanese author Koji Suzuki in 1991. Four Tokyo teenagers die under mysterious circumstances, causing journalist Kazuyuki Asakawa to investigate. His investigation causes him to find a videotape with a bunch of surreal images, which ends with a warning that the viewer now has only a week to live.
Kazuyuki starts investigating the tape, and learns about the life of Sadako Yamamura. Sadako was a young Esper who…what’s that? Oh, “Esper” is short for “Extra Sensory Perception…er”. It’s a Japanese term for people with psychic powers. Anyway, Sadako had the unique ability to project her thoughts to electronic devices.
Sadly, Sadako’s life was both tragic and brief. While visiting her father in a hospital, Sadako was raped by one of the doctors. The doctor unknowingly infected Sadako with smallpox (back when people still had smallpox), and then to cap off the horribleness, murdered Sadako when he realized that Sadako was intersex and dumped her body into a well.
Hey, this is a horror story. It’s not supposed to be pleasant.
Kazuyuki and his friend Ryuji Takayama, who also watched the tape, figure that they can break the curse by finding Sadako’s body and giving it a proper burial. This seems to work for Kazayuki, but later Ryuji is killed by the curse. Kazayuki realizes what must have happened: Sadako’s violent death caused her powers and the virus to combine into a deadly curse. Kazayuki only survived because he made a copy of the tape and showed it to someone else, spreading the curse like a virus. The story ends with Kazayuki realizing that his wife and daughter have to make copies of the tape as well, because they watched the tape sometime during his investigation.
This book led to an entire series of books by the same author. I won’t go into them in too much detail, partly because I haven’t read them and partly because the later film adaptations don’t follow the books much. Granted, that’s kind of par for the course when it comes to horror films based on books, but still.
The success of the book led to a Japanese film in 1998 called Ringu, which was a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. This version added some new elements, like the fact that whoever watches the cursed tape received a mysterious phone call telling the viewer that he or she is going to die in seven days. It also removes some of the darker aspects of Sadako’s tragic death, but makes up for this by adding giving more of an explanation on how Sadako created the cursed tape.
This is also where the aspect of Sadako as a vengeful spirit first shows up. In the books, the curse of the tape was more of a viral infection. In the films, the people that watch the tape are personally murdered by Sadako’s spirit. While the book version is a lot more original, I kind of like the film version better. The film version makes Sadako into a character that people can be afraid of, while the book version apparently created her cursed tape unintentionally.
A sequel was released in 1998 called Rasen. This film was (loosely) based on the second book Spiral, and even included some of the darker elements from the original book as well. This film sees Sadako’s attempts to manipulate a man named Mitsuo Ando into unwittingly bringing her back to life.
This film bombed so hard that another sequel was release in 1999 called Ring 2, which ignored the events of Rasen. This film continues the story of the cursed tape, with the characters from the first film returning to reprise their roles. The film ends with Sadako seemingly defeated for good, but with another vengeful spirit rising to take her place.
A prequel was released in 2000 called Ring 0: Birthday. As you can probably guess by the name, this movie tells the story of how Sadako died and was left trapped in the well. I haven’t actually seen this film, but from what I understand the character is kind of portrayed like Stephen King’s Carrie. Without the pig’s blood, I assume.
In 2012, a sequel to Rasen was released called Sadako 3D. This film was loosely based on the events of the book S (yes, that’s the actual name of the book). This film follows a man’s attempt to resurrect Sadako in revenge for being rejected by society. He manages to make a bunch of imperfect Sadako clones, but fails to resurrect the real Sadako.
2013’s Sadako 3D 2 followed five years after the previous film. One of the survivors from the previous film had died giving birth to her daughter Nagi. It’s revealed through the film that Nagi is actually Sadako’s daughter, having briefly possessed the mother in the previous film presumably for this specific purpose. Numerous deaths happen throughout the film, and people are quick to blame Nagi before the reveal that Sadako’s spirit is causing the deaths.
The Japanese films were so popular that the series was remade in America, starting with 2002’s The Ring. While this film converts everything for an American audience, it is still a pretty faithful adaptation of the original Japanese film. This version cuts out pretty much any mention of a virus in regards to the curse, which kind of takes something away from Samara’s character in a way. It also adds a different explanation for why Samara was murdered, having her being murdered by her parents because they feared her psychic powers.
2005’s The Ring Two was a direct followup of the 2002 film, with the original cast returning. This film saw Samara try to possess the son of the journalist from the previous film. The journalist is able to defeat Samara and prevent her from possessing the boy, marking a rare happy ending in a horror film.
The next sequel didn’t come until 2017’s Rings. This movie follows a couple named Julia and Holt. They end up being cursed by the tape, and learn that they must cremate Samara’s body to end the curse once and for all. The film ends with a twist where it’s revealed that Samara has completely taken control of Julia’s body.
That’s about it for the Ring franchise. I’m kind of surprised that more people don’t talk about this series, especially since it was popular enough at the time that the original Japanese film was released in the US.
That’s about it for Samara and/or Sadako. Tomorrow we’ll talk about a truly American horror story…that features a demon from the Middle East. Be prepared for the perilous peridy of Pazuzu.