I was at my local Blockbuster picking up movies for the weekend. I picked up Gran Torino because it was an excellent film and knew my mother would enjoy it. I snagged a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You because I missed it in the theaters. I rarely do romcoms but my friend offered to watch it with me so it gave me more incentive to try it out. And then my eye landed on The Grudge 3. My first reaction was of an instant recall from reading online that a “tre-quel” was in the works for a straight-to-DVD release. I was intrigued to see what ghoulish events would transpire in this latest chapter. But then there’s that “straight-to-DVD” thing. Nine times outta ten that label pretty much confirms the movie is going to be a complete waste of time.

But y’all know what a continuity freak I am. Since I watched The Grudge and The Grudge 2 I just had to see The Grudge 3 or else I wouldn’t be able to sleep or consume meat products properly. So, I took home The Grudge 3 and watched it.

I can confidently yet sadly tell you that it ain’t scary. And the gorehounds have my sympathies for the lack of blood and “eewww” in this ghost story. The sight of the ashen Toshio sitting in his Fruit of the Looms and Kayako contorting her way towards her intended victim actually made me smirk. Thanks a lot Scary Movie 4 for draining all the horror from this haunted dream duo.

It could also be that after two movies of seeing Kayako and Toshio’s same old schtick the thill is just gone. If both show up in "The Grudge 4" (oh yeah, Virginia, there’s a good opportunity for a sequel) the filmmakers are going to have to up the ante. Little Toshio popping from the bed and mewing like a cat ain’t gonna cut it anymore. Somebody get him a chainsaw or finger-blades or something.

On the plus side the lack of scares gives the characters plenty of room to grow and flourish beyond the roles of being dead meat. So when the inevitable kill happened I did feel a sense of loss and grief for the poor character that unwittingly steps into the sticky web of that crazy curse.

The main protagonists are a trio of siblings trying to survive without the aid of their departed parents. Older brother Max (Gil McKinney) strives to keep the Chicago apartment building he supervises up and running while raising his sickly little sister, Rose (Jadie Hobson). Lisa (Johanna Braddy), the eldest sister, has to choose between following her fashion design dreams to NYC and pursuing her career goals closer to home in Chicago. Think a scaled down version of Party of Five.

Max is understandably wigged out because he’s trying to be the breadwinner and the parent but the recent murder in one of the apartments is driving people out of the building. No renters means no job, no job means no money, no money means being forced to live with the crazy old aunt with eight cats.

Meanwhile, Lisa is all giddy about going to NYC with her business partner/boyfriend, Andy (Beau Mirchoff). Not that Lisa is completely oblivious to Max’s woes but she has an opportunity to make something of herself and if she’s a hit then it would benefit not just her but also her family. And Rose is just too busy trying not to overexert herself or else she’ll bring on a deadly asthma attack.

So where do Kayako (Aiko Horiuchi) and Toshio (Shimba Tsuchiya) come in? Well, The Grudge 2 left a survivor to bridge the gap between sequels in the form of Jake (Matthew Knight). Jake’s family was killed by the ghostly pair in the last film and he’s up next. His psychiatrist, Dr. Sullivan (Shawnee Smith), finds it hard to believe Jake’s wild stories until she discovers tragically too late that the boy was telling the truth.

The Grudge 3
also acknowledges its’ Japanese roots by introducing a woman named Naoko (Emi Ikehata). She travels to Chicago after learning about Jake Kimble’s death and is confident that her intimate knowledge of the curse will help her dissolve it once and for all even if it means the cost of her own life in the process.

I actually liked the story and I must admit that it was a tad easier to follow than the previous installments mostly because the plot is presented in a linear fashion rather than the chronologically flip-flopped style of the first two Grudge flicks. There’s also less characters to keep track of and less time used explaining the curse. However, if you never saw The Grudge and The Grudge 2 the third chapter makes it clear through flashbacks and other means who Kayako and Toshio are and why they do what they do.

The movie also offers up something I thought I’d never see: Marina Sirtis complaining about arthritis. I’m so used to Sirtis as the sultry “Counselor Troi” on Star Trek: The Next Generation that to see her play a more mature woman was kind of a shock. I know I shouldn’t be. Humans normally age forward (except in the case of Benjamin Button) but you know how it is to see a sex symbol start showing the traces of wrinkles and chunkiness. That’s when I had to smack myself and remember that Sirtis is an actress and Troi was just a role. And after all that I just said Ms. Sirtis is still quite fetching and her role as an artist is pretty freakin’ cool. It was simply nice to see her again and as a character that doesn’t require her to get beamed up somewhere.

Another major shakeup is Shawnee Smith’s return to being the horror hero rather than the villain. Dr. Sullivan is slow to realize that Kayako and Toshio are honest to goodness threats but once she does she attempts to get to the bottom of this dilemma. Anyway, Ms. Smith has been doing so much messy mischief in the Saw films I forgot how kind and sympathetic she could be on screen.

After the movie you can treat yourself to some deleted scenes, an ample amount of horror movie trailers and two featurettes. “Tokyoagoaria” reveals that The Grudge 3 was filmed not only in Chicago and Japan but also in Bulgaria. “The Curse Continues” is your standard behind the scenes doc with comments from the cast and crew about the experience of filming The Grudge 3 and how the third chapter came to be.

As a follower of The Grudge films I think The Grudge 3 is a decent addition to the mythos. Though the scares are light the story is sound and the characters are unusually captivating especially Max, Lisa and Rose. While I applaud the conclusion that allows Kayako, Toshio and a third party (surprise!) to continue their “Rage Tour” some might groan at the possibility that this curse will truly never ever cease.

Another aspect of the plot that interested me was the influence of Takeo, the guy who started this mess by killing Kayako (wife) and Toshio (son) in the first place. The story has predominantly been about the pain Kayako and Toshio experienced but what about the deranged thoughts that prompted Takeo to kill his own family? That insanity takes on a more physical presence in The Grudge 3 and I think it’s a fascinating part of the story that should be explored and utilized in future installments.

My concern is that after three outings filled with the same scare tactics The Grudge is starting to show some wear and tear. "The Grudge 4" needs to shake things up a lot with Toshio and Kayako becoming a lot more malevolent and bloodthirsty. That’s my suggestion, though.

Others might want to preserve the J-horror values of “less gore, more atmosphere”. That’s fine, too, but let’s take it to a new setting, then. Perhaps a college or a hospital or an office building? If zombies can make a shopping mall scary than so can “The Grudge Ghosts”. I think it would be refreshing to get the ghosts outta the house and into a public arena. And what about the victims of the curse? Where do they’re spirits go when Kayako catches them? Wow, the possibilities are almost endless.

Just like The Grudge franchise, ha ha ha.