THE RING COLLECTION is Well Worth the Wait [4K REVIEW]

A trilogy of cursed media make a long-awaited format jump to 4K UHD in Shout Studios’ reference-quality box set

While many classic films have shaped my sense of great horror cinema, I’ll never hesitate to point to Gore Verbinski’s The Ring and Hideo Nakata’s Ring as the films that truly provided the gateway to my love of international horror cinema. It was the unique patience of this film that sunk its claws into me when I was twelve: shocking but not ridden with jump scares (except that one), and substituting copious gore for atmosphere literally soaked to the bone with dread. In seeking out other films like this one, I learned that it was an adaptation of a 1998 Japanese film; Nakata’s Ring was, to my memory, the first international film I had the pleasure of watching. As such, I credit The Ring and Ring as planting the seed for me to seek out and subsequently love films from across the globe.

Over two decades and multiple home video formats since its original release, Verbinski’s remake of the equally iconic film by Hideo Nakata has lost none of its terrifying potency. Following the chilling investigation by a determined reporter (Naomi Watts) into the existence of a cursed VHS tape, The Ring provided a sharp break away from the increasingly comic gorefests of the 80s and 90s. Instead, Verbinski’s film kicked off an era of horror that embraced a cold, dark, excruciatingly slow burn that found its terrors in the inexplicably disturbing imagery our imaginations could conjure up while staring into the darkness late at night. 

The Ring (4K UHD)

While the imagery of Samara Morgan’s video still sears into the mind, what truly lingers in The Ring is the bone-chilling depth of the silent, liminal spaces Rachel must navigate during her investigation. Decaying horse stables; cavernous, empty rooms populated solely by a cathode-ray TV and a silver mirror; musty archival rooms full of mildewy newsprint; the sterility of video analysis rooms, full of towering, button-strewn equipment long since obsolete, all now reduced to devices that fit in our pockets. Each of these places speaks to its own form of terror, translating a uniquely millennial tension from J-Horror in Japan to America: one between a modern, technophilic present and the unspeakable, elemental horrors of the past. Verbinski’s excellent direction, coupled with Ehren Kruger’s deft adaptation of Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay, results in a film whose horrific universality remains its timeless selling point. The Ring adapts the atmospheric intangibility of J-Horror within a Westernized idiom that blends classic slashers with Hitchcockian suspense (direct homages to Psycho and Rear Window are prominent), creating a form of horror that manages to evolve the prominent modes of horror on both continents. The way Verbinski’s Ring speaks to these grimy, primal anxieties feels unbelievably prophetic in hindsight, recognizing how the nightmares of one era might use these new technological tools to evolve and spread to maintain their impact across generations. 

What surely wasn’t expected was just how Verbinski’s film would kick off a viral pop culture epidemic of its own in revealing just how lucrative it would be to remake Asian Horror films in the West. While the results have ranged from the extraordinary (The Grudge, Dark Water) to the atrocious (Pulse, One Missed Call), the truly commendable aspect of the J-Horror remake boom was how it encouraged audiences on both sides of the Pacific to exchange cultural insights into horror filmmaking and find a unique common ground of fear. One particular artistic decision that deserves championing is encouraging the original directors of these Japanese franchises to return for American installments; first pioneered by Takashi Shimizu in adapting his Ju-on franchise to The Grudge in 2004, The Ring Two provided the first opportunity for Hideo Nakata to return to this iconic franchise. 

The Ring Two (4K UHD)

For what it’s worth, I feel an ardent responsibility to defend The Ring Two against its detractors. While nothing could replicate the look and feel of what Verbinski accomplished with The Ring, The Ring Two is markedly open about never once trying to do so. Where The Ring succeeded in re-framing Japanese Horror for American audiences, Nakata’s film feels controversial in how it attempts to directly transplant J-Horror sensibilities into American cinema without feeling obligated to adapt or “Westernize” the material. Instead, The Ring Two manages to capture a unique atmosphere of dread in a way that truly feels like J-Horror on American soil. Nakata does away with the mechanics (and limitations) of Samara’s cursed video as quickly as possible. While Samara does remain an antagonist throughout, there’s little direct battle with her, and no cursed timeline to actively fight against. Rather, the evil of The Ring Two takes on a disturbing free form that invades every moment of Rachel and Aidan’s lives with a terrifying unpredictability. What’s more, this ambiguity roots the dangers and dilemmas this vengeful ghost poses not in the cause-effect of the video, but within the characters themselves, forcing Rachel’s conundrums as a parent with a possessed child to take on a much more intimate and sinister dimension. Their only avenue for deliverance is now rooted in a decision that’s far more horrifying and consequential for them both. It speaks more to the nuanced parental anxieties of something like Dark Water than Verbinski’s more openly terrifying previous film–and it’s a far more emotionally rooted sense of horror than I think American audiences were used to at the time.

The lackluster response to Ring Two and the later “death” of the transcultural J-Horror industry in the latter half of the 2000s effectively trapped the American Ring films in Samara’s well for over a decade. Technology exponentially evolved in the interim; those born around The Ring’s original theatrical release would grow up in a world full of viral videos and social media rather than VHS tapes and physical media. As years passed, returning to the Ring franchise seemed even more difficult to pull off. 

If fans of the Verbinski film had their eyes turned to media shelves in Spring 2005, they would find an effectively chilling bridge to Nakata’s sequel via the short film Rings, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (later known for Texas Chainsaw: The Beginning, Battle: Los Angeles, and that weird-ass take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). While only 16 minutes in total, Rings manages to pack in so many damn clever ideas on how to flesh out the American Ring franchise. Following Ryan Merriman’s Jake, killed off in the opening moments of Ring Two, Rings tracks Jake’s initial exposure to the Cursed Video as part of a group of fans who embrace the tape’s hallucinogenic properties and potential clues to life after death. Here, the tape takes on an even more viral dimension than before, set in a world where a thriving underground community has already been exposed and inoculated to Samara’s curse; however, that makes fresh victims and subsequently saving one’s life even more difficult to come by. What Jake is then pushed to do–from badgering his “tail” like an addict in peril to the sheer terrorism of trying to play the tape in a packed electronics store–augments the trolley problem-esque choices of the video to incredibly satisfying and chilling new heights. In its short runtime, Rings viscerally embraces the visual aesthetics of The Ring while remaining fiercely devoted to the emotional struggles of Ring Two, notably the rats/sinking ship dynamic at the core of finding someone to mark for death by watching one’s video copy before meeting their fate at the end of seven days. 

Naturally, Rings also provided a strong canonical foundation for an attempted reboot of the franchise and a possible avenue for how to continue these films in an age of streaming and social media. The result, admittedly, promises far more than it actually delivers. F. Javier Gutiérrez’s feature film of Rings, to its credit, is chock-full of extremely intriguing ideas, with a hell of a bounty of logistical questions well worth answering. Hell, the film opens with the possible answer of “what happens when someone hits their seven days while on board an airplane,” and follows that up with a story focused on the ability to hide videos within videos. The film’s cast of twenty-somethings manages to stand out somewhat amid material whose generic trappings seem more of a death sentence than the mechanics of the cursed video itself; Matilda Lutz’s Julia and Johnny Galecki’s Gabriel in particular stand out as the fish-out-of-water to the curse and a college professor who’s turned his curiosity about the tape into a cult-like status among a growing ouroboros of viewers and tails. 

For all of its extremely promising opening strengths, the most disappointing aspect of Rings is how it tosses aside all of its promising ideas to force its story into a bizarre retread and retcon of the first two films. A convoluted investigation into the whereabouts of Samara’s remains forces a re-evaluation of Sissy Spacek’s mother to Samara Evelyn in ways that are totally incongruous and frankly cheap, unfortunately roping in an otherwise game Vincent D’Onofrio to elevate the schlocky material. Much like many b-horror films before it, Rings ends on an abrupt jump scare and the promise of yet another sequel; given the six years that’ve passed since the film’s release, this seems like yet another promise of Rings that will go unfulfilled.

Taken all together in Shout Studios’ long-awaited box set of these films, The Ring Collection illustrates a hell of a journey in the evolving landscape of American horror. Even from the beginning of its origins as a remake to another long-running Japanese series, the Ring films separate themselves by constantly trying to augment and evolve what works about the previous material. Don’t get me wrong, I love other American franchises like the Halloween series–but where those series have tried to go back to the well (lol) and try to capture what made their original film land so hard with audiences, The Ring films never ceased in their attempts to build upon and reinvent itself with each installment in almost a stand-alone quality. 

Left: The Ring 2012 Blu-ray. Right: The Ring 2024 4K UHD.

Left: The Ring 2012 Blu-ray. Right: The Ring 2024 4K UHD.

As far as picture quality goes, a standout asset of this set is the source of its delay from the originally announced December date: a brand-new scan of The Ring’s original camera negative in Dolby Vision, supervised by director Gore Verbinski. The Ring is notorious for its cold color palette, but while theatrical versions of The Ring originally represented a more sea-green color scheme, most home video releases have shifted the film’s color grading into a more icy-blue space akin to the film’s poster. The extensive re-grading (or, more appropriately, un-grading) of the film by Verbinski not only sharpens the overall detail of the film’s production design and cinematography, it restores the overall intended look of The Ring in ways that arguably haven’t been properly seen by viewers in over twenty years. The other films in this set are also well worth praise for their reference-quality picture; While The Ring and its second sequel Rings received Blu-ray releases, The Ring Two notably never received such a format upgrade during its original home video cycle, and even The Ring itself notably went out of print for several years before its acquisition by Paramount ahead of Rings’ release. The feature film scans for all of these films are impeccably represented in 4K UHD, providing a significant jump in quality for Nakata’s film in particular. While it’s disappointing that the extended version of The Ring Two (my preferred cut of the film) isn’t also upgraded to 4K UHD, this may have been one of the budgetary sacrifices made akin to the impeccable JFK box set released last December. If that means more materials and cuts can be gathered in one place, I’ll gladly take archival superiority over duplicating feature film cuts across provided formats.

Shout’s assembly of this box set also continues some incredible modern work by boutique labels to collect and preserve major films in the international J-Horror movement. Most of the extant special features for all three films are collected for this release, with some even surprising with HD quality rather than an expected 480p resolution. Jonathan Liebesman’s excellent short film Rings in particular looks quite incredible on this release, despite inexplicably appearing on two of the discs in this set (maybe to doubly ensure it’s seen by Ring neophytes just after The Ring or before The Ring Two). The Ring and the feature version of Rings have had all of their previous special features ported over to this release, and the featurettes present for The Ring Two on their original unrated release and the Rings short film DVD are gratefully included here. 

A major new feature on this release, present on the Blu-ray of The Ring, is the feature-length Ghost Girl Gone Global, which provides a decent recap of the original four films of the Japanese Ring franchise by Ring screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi and Ring 0 director Tsuruta Norio before diving into an extensive history of the development and production of the three Ring remake films. Ring/Ring Two special effects artists Barney Burman and Jamie Kelman, Ring Two production designer Jim Bissell and editor Michael N. Knue, Ring Two/Rings Samara actor Bonnie Morgan, and Rings director F. Javier Gutiérrez join critics Kim Newman and Matt Jacobsen in providing colorful commentary about the genesis and execution of all three films, accompanied by production b-roll and clips from each. While the documentary itself is entertaining, licensing limitations do rear their head as footage from the original Ring films never appears, with footage from the remakes awkwardly substituted in their place. That drawback aside, this is a surprising and welcome inclusion in a box set filled with archival special features, providing production insight that has rarely been afforded to these three films even in their previous DVD/Blu-ray releases. 

Another exciting new feature is a new commentary track recorded solely for the Theatrical version of The Ring Two by film critics Emily Higgins of the Tasteless podcast and Billy Dunham of podcast We Watched A Thing, which provides a jovial reappraisal of Nakata’s frankly little-discussed sequel. Throughout, Higgins and Dunham provide an excited appreciation for Nakata’s uniquely J-Horror approach to building tension as a worthy successor to Verbinski’s first film, as well as for the committed performances of returning cast members Naomi Watts and David Dorfman.

Sadly missing, though, are the multiple incarnations of the Cursed Videos across the franchise, in addition to some featurettes present on international releases. Samara’s video was once included as a hidden feature on The Ring’s initial DVD in March 2003, joined by an Aidan cursed video for Ring Two and the original Sadako video from Ring on the Rings short film bonus DVD ahead of The Ring Two’s release in 2005. 

The more collecting-savvy Ringworms among us may want to hold onto their previous releases to ensure some features stick around–but these missing elements definitely don’t detract from how frankly necessary this release truly is for horror fans. This is easily the best these films have looked in several decades, especially since The Ring Two in particular is receiving a jump in picture and audio quality that’s twenty years in the making. With the unexpected addition of a new feature-length documentary, alongside the inclusion of as many extra features as possible, Shout Studios cements an appreciation and continued re-evaluation of a now-iconic international horror franchise.

Special Features

Note: Other than where noted, all of the Special Features are relegated to the accompanying Blu-ray discs for each film. Each film is presented in its own UHD case, with all three encased in a hardback, glossy cardboard shell.

THE RING (Discs 1-2)

  • Ghost Girl Gone Global: a feature-length documentary featurette by Shout diving into the history of the original and remake Ring franchise. 
  • Don’t Watch This: A rather artfully curated collection of deleted and alternate scenes, bridged by original and alternate versions of cursed video material. It’s interesting how some of these scenes, notably Rachel’s alternate discussion with her sister Ruth about Katie’s death and Rachel’s perusal of a guest book in the Shelter Mountain cabin, hew even closer to Nakata’s original film and Suzuki’s novel. Another notable spine-tingling inclusion is Rachel and Noah’s intervening return to Shelter Mountain Inn, where they discover that the Innkeeper himself is another victim of the video’s curse.
  • Rings: Jonathan Liebesman’s excellent 2005 short film bridging the events of The Ring and The Ring Two.
  • The Origin of Terror: A 2002 archival featurette about the cultural history of urban legends, pivoting into the creepy “what if” factor of the film’s central cursed video.
  • Cast & Crew Interviews: 2002 archival interviews with Gore Verbinski, producer Walter Parkes, and actors Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, and David Dorfman. 
  • Theatrical Trailer

THE RING TWO (Discs 3-4)

  • Theatrical Version Commentary by film critics Emily Higgins of the Tasteless Podcast and Billy Dunham of podcast We Watched A Thing, available on both the UHD and Blu-ray.
  • Unrated Version of The Ring Two (Blu-ray Only), running a hefty 23 minutes longer than the theatrical cut (and improving the intended slow-burn pacing as a result).
  • Rings: Liebesman’s short film, identical specs from Disc 2.
  • Deleted Scenes: 18 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, notably restoring additional subplots with tertiary characters in Rachel’s new home/work life in Astoria, as well as new scenes that further flesh out her relationship with Max.
  • Fear on Film – Special Effects: an archival 2005 featurette breaking down the execution of the climactic well chase, the deer attack, and the incredible bathroom scene where water collects on the “ceiling.”
  • Faces of Fear – The Phenomenon: The Ring Two’s cast and crew compare the slow dread of the series’ approach to horror to other classic horror films like The Shining and The Omen.
  • Samara – From Eye to Icon: Legendary makeup artist Rick Baker joins The Ring Two’s production team in discussing how they achieved the specifically creepy look of Samara for the sequel, in addition to crafting the new backstory featured in the film.
  • The Power of Symbols: Screenwriter Ehren Kruger and producers Walter Parks and Laurie McDonald discuss how they built out and translated the disturbing imagery from Hideo Nakata’s original Ring for an American audience in both Verbinski’s original film and Nakata’s sequel.
  • The Making of The Ring Two: an archival HBO First Look featurette at The Ring Two’s production accompanied by interviews with the cast and crew.
  • Theatrical Trailer for The Ring Two (though sadly missing the wonderfully creepy teaser trailer).

RINGS (Discs 5-6)

  • Deleted/Extended Scenes: The troubled production history of Rings is evident in this collection of nearly 20 minutes of excluded material from the film, which apparently went through a radical re-editing process during its delayed release from October 2015 to February 2017. The finished quality of these scenes indicates how late the decision to remove these scenes may have been–and for what it’s worth, a significant selection of these scenes may have improved the pacing of the final cut. An alternate ending feels like more of an extension of what’s already present, and ends on a nice little jump-scare akin to the more successful scenes in Gutiérrez’s reboot.
  • Terror Comes Full Circle: The Rings cast and crew discuss the excitement and challenges of returning to the franchise after an extended dormancy.
  • Resurrecting the Dead – Bringing Samara Back: an archival featurette focusing on Bonnie Morgan’s Samara, highlighting Morgan’s presence across the franchise as well as the extensive makeup process involved in getting Samara gruesomely camera-ready.

The Ring Collection arrives on shelves March 19th courtesy of Shout Studios.

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