I remember the first time I saw The Ring. It was 2002 in the old movie theater in Tuscaloosa, the one they had before the mega-theater, The Rave, opened up off the highway. It was old school, no stadium seating, sticky floors, cigarette burns and shoddy sound. I was in college, and my girlfriend at the time–now wife–and I would often find ourselves there on the weekends, more often than not for a horror movie. Then we went to see The Ring, and everything changed.
It was the first time I saw that movie, and so to it was the last.
The Ring is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. It might even be the only scary movie I’ve ever seen. That may sound strange to you, but bear with me. After all, what is fear? Real fear? It’s not a jump scare, a nervous reaction bred into humanity to avoid the quick strike of the leopard or the wolf. That’s not fear. Not really. And it’s not the small terror of wondering what is to come, the hide your eyes because you don’t know what’s about to happen fear. That terror goes hand in hand with disappointment. The beast is always scarier when the door is closed, when you can hear it but not see it, when the doorknob jiggles and the wooden planks crack. But when the door opens and the beast appears? Disappointment. What you see can never overcome what lurks in the back of your mind.
But The Ring is different. The Ring is Shangri-La. It is a thing glimpsed and then lost. And then you search for it the rest of your life, trying to recapture that feeling. But you never do, and you know you never will.
The Ring is utterly unique in my experience. It is the only movie that terrified me, that got under my skin, that took hold and wouldn’t let go. From the first scene to the last, I was petrified.
The Ring happened at the last possible minute it could happen. A movie about a haunted video tape? Never fly now. And it barely flew then, at at time when DVDs were all but dominant and just on the cusp of the rise of DVRs and YouTube. But in 2002 it still worked. It was a world still reeling from 9/11, and the burst of horror that always finds fertile ground in the fears of the masses was just beginning, led by the influx of J-horror. It was the beginning of a new golden age, but it would never get better than this.
I can’t tell you exactly what it is about The Ring that affected me so. I can’t tell you why I felt that horror in my bones, or why for the next seven days every time I closed my eyes I saw that girl. I know there are people who will mock this post, just like they mock this movie. Art is like that. It strikes each human soul differently. And horror is art, the oldest and most profound.
No, my life changed that night. I’d been a searcher after horror before, but it was the glimpse of it in its purest form that made me who I am today.
It’s just too bad my wife won’t go to the movies with me anymore.