Denis Meikle

Born: 1947 | Birthplace: Glasgow | Educated: Alleyn's School | Spouse: Jane | Children: Sarah, James | Resident: East Sussex

Published works: A HISTORY OF HORRORS-The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer (1996), JACK THE RIPPER-The Murders and the Movies (2001), VINCENT PRICE-The Art of Fear (2002), JOHNNY DEPP-A Kind of Illusion (2004), THE RING COMPANION (2006), ROMAN POLANSKI-Odd Man Out (2007), MR MURDER-The Life and Times of Tod Slaughter (2019) |

Revised editions: A HISTORY OF HORRORS-large format (2011), MERCHANT OF MENACE-The Life and Films of Vincent Price (2015), ROMAN POLANSKI-The Horror Films (2016), HAMMER-The Haunted House of Horror (2018) |

Contributor to: The Dark Side magazine, Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine


Titan Books

The Ring Companion was written for Titan Books after I accidentally came upon the first UK television transmission of Hideo Nakata's Japanese feature Ringu (The Ring, 1998) in 2002. I had read the promotional preview but forgotten about it and was channel-hopping in boredom when I tuned in to the finale, just before Sadako clambered out of the well and made her inexorable way towards the 'fourth wall' of the televison screen in Ryuji's room. But she didn't stop there. Instead, she climbed through the screen and onto the floor of the room, dripping with water, and the (partially hidden) sight of her face caused Ryuji to die of fright. I too was dumbstruck by what I had just seen; the film was rooted firmly in the spectral territory of the ghost stories of MR James, with their last act (and invariably fatal) appearances of an actual ghost which previousy had been only alluded to or conjectured about. I immediately sought out a print of the film to watch in full, and it became apparent that Ringu had already inspired a whole new cycle of similar horrors in Japan and South Korea. All were subsequently acquired - including the several adaptations of Koji Suzuki's source novel which had pre-dated the film on Japanese TV - and it was soon self-evident that the yurei - the dark, long-haired, female ghost of Japanese folklore - represented a new 'monster' archetype, with Ringu itself the most significant reinvention of the horror film since The Exorcist, long before her phantom form was to filter into mainstream American genre culture.
      As I had already been commissioned to write a fourth book (Johnny Depp-A Kind of Illusion) for R&H, I pitched the idea of one on the franchise to Titan. As things turned out, Titan had recently embarked on a series of 'Companions' to notable horror films - that on The texas Chain Saw Massacre comes to mind - and editor David Barraclough felt that another on The Ring could well fit that particular bill. A contract was duly signed.
      David had left Titan for pastures new by the time The Ring Companion was published, though a follow-up title on The Exorcist had been mooted in the interim. Surprisingly (to me at least), The Ring Companion did not do well. Like all such things to do with public taste, explanation is not easy to come by. Perhaps the book's cover, pleasingly artistic in its approach, did not do obvious justice to its populist subject, but more pertinent was possibly the fact that the cycle which Ringu and its numerous imitators had sired had pretty much run its course by then - even as the inevitable sequel surfaced to the American remake. Unlike Sadako in Ringu, The Exorcist Companion never materialised. But The Ring Companion did deserve a wider readership than it received, if I do say so myself.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   My own suggested design for the book's cover


The Ring phenomenon is a significant contemporary influence on horror cinema both stateside and in its native Japan, undoubtedly demanding some serious attention. Something more than the moody short films and director commentaries of DVD-edition special features. I’ve lately read a handful of ecstatic interviews with Ring author Koji Suzuki; magazine writers have over the last year or so given the novels and films their due. Now there is plenty of room for a full-length work diagnosing and dissecting the Ring virus in all its mutations.
      The Ring Companion is a thick, densely illustrated volume from author Denis Meikle. This is far from Meikle’s first outing in horror movie analysis. He’s written several books on the genre, covering everything from the career of the legendary Vincent Price to the equally legendary if not as purely iconic Hammer Films of Great Britain. And a biography of actor Johnny Depp. I’m not sure what this says about Mr Depp, but it’s otherwise certain that Meikle has earned his credentials chronicling popular films. He’s well suited to the task of composing the first major exploration of the Ring thing to be published in English.
      I discovered in the first chapter, really on the first page, that The Ring Companion is surprisingly well written for a film book about a late-coming fad - at least in the West - in the movie industry. Indeed it’s a well-written book, period, without making extraneous qualifications. Meikle has done all the required research and then some. He opens with a formal and extensive survey of early Japanese horror films - ghost stories and the signature giant monster features of the postwar period - segueing neatly into a look at their influence on the genre in the West, and then in turn these Western films’ effect on later Japanese productions. It’s a lot of material presented with a lot of words, delaying the deep treatment of Ring for some time.
      Meikle assessments of his principal subjects, the Ring films, are prefaced with synopses of Suzuki’s novels, an exercise I found tedious, having read the books more than once. But for those that have never encountered the plots and prose that kicked the whole thing off, the relatively brief book reports will help these fans of the movies get up to speed with the similarities and differences between work on film and work in print. Meikle then continues in the same vein, formally, painstakingly describing the films in all their numerous versions, placing them in the proper context in both Eastern and Western cinema.
      I can, after reading The Ring Companion, not only tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Ring, I can probably pass a fairly detailed examination on Japanese and Western horror. And that’s the biggest problem with Meikle’s book. It’s an academic endeavor. I can imagine it turning up on the required reading lists of a dozen film schools. Meikle does not seem inclined to dumb down his prose for the sake of easy reading, either. The Ring Companion is overall a complicated, thoroughly packed work that demands full focus, a reading effort that cannot be accomplished with one of its namesake movies playing on a TV set in the same room. For that reason I can’t recommend it to casual fans of the movies and associated J-horror craze looking for nothing more than a pop magazine style romp full of glossy color photographs and 18-point type. I can’t escape the conclusion that this volume will prove a difficult fit with its intended audience. But it’s an outstanding book if you know what you’re getting into. Give him your undivided attention and Meikle will turn you into a J-horror maniakku without equal, the absolute authority of your horror-loving clique.

--Sanford May, Big in Japan

Okay - not a graphic novel review this week, but a review of a non-fiction book analysing the whole Ring horror movie series, as well as Japanese and Western horror fiction. I was sent this book to review in my capacity as a reviewer for the website UGO, but UGO never ended up using the review (yeah, that happens a lot - and probably gets publishers annoyed at me, thinking I never reviewed their book!) So I figure, oh, heck, might as well use it here as the subject matter should be of interest to P&D fans.
The Ring mini-phenomenon has crossed multiple mediums and a few oceans, proliferating like the cursed video the story itself revolves around. It began in Japan as a modest novel by Koji Suzuki, was turned into a successful Japanese TV movie, which led to a hit Japanese feature film - and from there, spawned sequels, TV mini-series, manga comics, and foreign film adaptations - including both Korean and American (the latter, starring Naomi Watts, is probably most familiar to North American audiences). And, according to author Denis Meikle, revitalized the entire Asian horror film industry.
And now the whole thing is rounded up for analysis in Denis Meikle's comprehensive The Ring Companion, from Titan Books.
I'll admit, going into this book, my interest in the Ring was casual at best. I'd seen the Japanese version and then the American version - and, yes, the Japanese version is more effective. Nor do I say that as simply some knee jerk pretention, or 'cause I like to diss Hollywood - I don't. I just thought it was better (but I saw the Japanese one first, so maybe it had the advantage of seeming fresher). But my interest didn't really spread beyond an evening's entertainment.
      Yet I found myself enjoying The Ring Companion. When it comes to interviews and the like, Meikle hasn't done much in the way of original research, usually pulling quotes from interviews conducted by others. But he's clearly done his homework. Not only having watched the Ring in all its incarnations, and read just about every interview ever conducted with those involved (from Suzuki, to feature film director Hideo Nakata, to those involved in the American version) but also by delving into the history of Japanese, British and American horror, in print and film, going all the way back to MR James, HP Lovecraft and European-born Japanese anthologist Patrick Lafcadio Hearn for antecedents. As well, he considers Japanese society and culture as it has evolved over the last Century and some. In other words, if you're really into the Ring, you'll get a lot out of this book. But if you aren't into the still might get a lot out of this book, as simply an analysis of Japan and of the last century and some of horror entertainment (or Terror as Meikle calls it, distinguishing it from the more crass horror genre).
      According to Meikle, the saga of the Ring has evolved from medium to medium, sequel to sequel, each one borrowing selectively from earlier incarnations. Suzuki's original novel, though paranormal, clearly owed something to being more a techno-thriller, a direction the author further went in when he wrote his own sequels to the first book, and his Sadako (the lethal presence at the core of things) is less deliberately evil. It was the 1998 feature film that established Sadako as a clear villain, and emphasized the supernatural over the paranormal. But Meikle shows how each version, movie, TV show, comic, from Japan, to Korea, to Hollywood has added to, and borrowed from, the evolving mythos.
      As part of reviewing this non-fiction book, I went out and read the original novel - and it's sort of interesting. Like so many things, there are ways where the movies are an improvement (more viscerally scary, as opposed to the novel which can be more academic, a mystery-puzzle more than a fright fest) but there are other ways where the novel is more intriguing, more complex than the movies.
Meikle clearly really, really digs the 1998 Japanese movie version of the Ring (generally called Ringu) - claiming that not since the Exorcist has a single horror film had so much impact on the genre. But he doesn't bring a slavishly sycophantic eye to all its interpretations, more than willing to critically dissect versions he feels are wanting - including the source novel itself - or, in the case of the Hollywood remake, out right attack it. On one hand, that gives the book a greater weight and depth than if it was just some studio sanctioned puff piece...on the other hand, given that a large chunk of his potential readership will presumably come to this book from the American remake, one suspects he might alienate the very readers he's hoping to sell to.
      At the same time, he tries to back up his critiques with thoughtful analysis - you can agree or disagree with him, but at least he offers grist for the intellectual mill.
      As noted, of particular interest is the fact that a lot of the book analyses terror fiction above and beyond the Ring, placing the movie in its cultural context - from 19th Century literature to the horror cinema of the 20th Century, in both the East and the West...including the big guy himself, Godzilla (and yes, the 2000 Japanese version was way cooler than the 1998 American version), creating a real scope to the book and Meikle's analysis.
      Granted, one can quibble and suggest Meikle sometimes argues points that he hasn't entirely justified. With the success of the Ring, Asian cinema started churning out many like-minded Terror films and even Meikle seems to evince a certain ambivalence to some (often arguing they start out well...but go off the rails before the climax). Yet that doesn't stop him, toward the end, from launching into a predictable tirade about Hollywood's creative bankruptcy and Asian cinema's creative vitality. And some of his exploration of themes stretch a bit, whether it be seeing in Sadako a metaphor for Islamic terrorists who transmit messages through the media, to inferring a xenophobic sub-text to the American remake. But at least it's interesting that he's trying to extract meaning from what, so easily, could be dismissed as just another low-budget shocker.
      And although he has tracked down and viewed all extant versions of the Ring (from the original TV movie to its various sequels and spin offs) one suspects Meikle doesn't speak Japanese and must rely on translated versions, as he makes passing reference to a radio adaptation...but provides no analysis (radio being one medium resistant to subtitles!) How wildly circulated these various versions are in the west is also unclear. For example, the original TV movie (and even moreso its subsequent video release) apparently featured - gasp! - nudity, which might give it a cult appeal among western Ring fans (purely for comparative purposes, y'unnerstand). Meikle even provides a couple of illustrative stills to demonstrate that fact in his book!
      I'll confess, the Ring didn't have quite the profound affect on me that it did Meikle - but reading The Ring Companion, his enthusiasm is quite infectious, and the comprehensiveness scope of his analyses - so far beyond just talking about a single movie - is entertaining, making for an intriguing read.
--DK Latta, Pulp and Dagger

This summer saw the disappointing release of The Ring Two, Dreamworks' obligatory sequel to their lucrative remake of the Japanese horror film Ring. As we cast a reflective glance back over the past year's cinema releases, perhaps its greatest significance was in its staggering insignificance within the cycle. This was supernatural horror of the lowest, most forgettable order.
Its main point of interest was that it represented the Hollywood debut of Hideo Nakata, the man who had so assuredly helmed the original, and the pre-release promo puff was quick to make capital of his return to the franchise with which he had made his name (after the originally-touted director Noam Murro departed from the producers under somewhat acrimonious circumstances). However, while Ring Three has apparently been announced, The Ring Two's main legacy will no doubt prove to be, should the series continue along the same lines as other long-running horror cycles like Friday the 13th or Hellraiser, that it provides a convenient marker point before which terminal boredom sets in with audiences for whom, in this brave new digital age, the concept of a cursed VHS tape seems more than a little anachronistic. To these eyes at least, the Ring cycle has come full circle.
For a director who had long expressed some degree of antipathy towards the horror genre, it must have been particularly depressing for his US break-through to have provided such a sense of déjà vu. It would be difficult to place the failure of Ring Two on the shoulders of its director: on a sheer technical level, Ring Two is not such a departure from the consistently high quality of Nakata's Japanese work. Broodingly atmospheric and providing a few significant scares along the way, it is let down by an idiotic script by Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, The Brothers Grimm), which ignored everything that had made the original so effective. Far worse, it also plundered ideas from one of Nakata's previous films, Dark Water (Honogurai Mizu no Soko kara, 2002), making the implicit maternal guilt subtext explicit along the way. That Dark Water had already just suffered from a lacklustre Hollywood makeover at the hands of Brazilian director Walter Salles didn't help its cause either.
In a franchise that in Japan already counted a Fuji Television-produced TV movie directed by Chisui Takagawa in 1995; Nakata's remarkable original and the film it originally was paired with on a double bill - Joji "George" Iida's Spiral (Rasen) in 1998, an adaptation of Koji Suzuki's second novel in the series (which had been published in 1995); two official movie sequels - Ring 2 (1999) and Ring 0: Birthday (2000); the Korean remake, Ring Virus (1999); a TV series of Spiral (1999); a further TV series named Ring: The Final Chapter (Ringu: Saishu-sho, 1999); manga adaptations of all the original stories; Suzuki's final, as yet unadapted third novel Loop (1998), AND his compendium of related short stories The Birthday (1999) - all before the American remake rights had been snapped up, The Ring Two might just as well have been titled The Ring, Too.
As can be seen from the above list, the heady brew of pseudo-science and the supernatural that marked out Koji Suzuki's original novel, published in 1991, provided plenty of rich pickings for its adapters to spin out the material in all manner of directions. Many of its ideas were either merged, extrapolated or spun out into new and increasingly fantastical directions, and this goes as much for Suzuki's own literary follow-ups too. But it was Nakata's deftly effective envisioning of THAT famous scene that sent the chain of hushed whispers across a rapidly expanding global fanbase, and nothing else connected with the series has ever matched it.
Though Gore Verbinsky's 2001 remake made more money at the box office, both in Japan and elsewhere across the world, in terms of takings as a ratio of original budget, the Asmik Ace-produced original was by far the most profitable. Its internet-driven word-of-mouth sleeper success proved far more efficient than the high-investment, safe-returns marketing methods of Hollywood, where the gap between shooting and market saturation on supermarket sell-thru is now well under a year. Like The Blair Witch Project, however, such marketing methods are difficult to replicate, and as such, Ring's triumph is as much related to the time and circumstances of its original release as to its own merits.
In fact, the short-lived J-horror boom which the original Ring spawned was already well over by the end of the millennium, before the momentary resurgence of interest generated by Verbinsky's remake and the synchronous arrival of Takashi Shimizu's Juon in 2001. In the meantime, further Ring-inspired offerings from Korea and Hong Kong have ensured that Asia is now seen as a fertile breeding ground for a more classical breed of terror that has long been forgotten in the West. And still the faceless, lank-haired figure of Sadako imprints itself on the popular imagination; I even saw a similar image popping up in a trailer for a new Russian adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's The Viy recently.
One might have thought that by this late stage everything that there is to say about the Ring and its associate phenomena has been said - at least on the internet and in the popular film press. Certainly the string of recent Japanese horror releases that have followed along the same lines seems to have reached something of a crisis point, bringing little more to the table for discussion. For this reason, and those others stated above, 2005 seems a particularly propitious time to go back and sum up the full legacy of the Ring films and books.
Denis Meikle's The Ring Companion does just this, and a more thorough tome one couldn't wish for. In no way a promotional tie-in for the latest American addition to the cycle - the author is quick to point out his reservations with the Dreamworks films - it looks at the inspiration behind Suzuki's influential novel, as well as giving full summaries of all of the titles already mentioned that emerged after its publication, how they differ from their source, and the curious manner in which they lead on or diverge from the previous versions. But it also includes much more.
In my review of the ponderous collection of essays that made up the academically-pitched Japanese Horror Cinema book, I mentioned that, in book form at least, a full (and accurate!) overview of the traditions and precedents of the recent J-horror boom has yet to be written. To be honest, I really wasn't expecting The Ring Companion to deliver the goods, but it has to be said that chapter three's history of Japanese fantasy cinema is the most complete I've seen in print to date, even going so far as to cover in some depth the only tenuously-related field of the Godzilla-led kaiju eiga sub-genre. There's a few minor omissions in it: I've yet to see anywhere in Western writing any recognition of the ranks of low-budget horror titles that Daei put out in the early 1960s, though this is chiefly because of their invisibility on Western shelves. Also, Jun Ichikawa's No Life King (No Raifu Kingu, 1989) a tale about the urban legend surrounding a cursed video game remains a curiously-overlooked antecedent to Sadako's videotape. And I still remain bewildered as to why Nikkatsu's Angel Guts series finds itself so often lumped within the timeline of Japanese horror cinema, being that, while perhaps contemporaneous with the nasty low-budget rape-and-revenge thrillers of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave that find themselves discussed in the context of the evolution of US horror, they would never be considered as such in Japan, instead existing within a different pre-existing domestic tradition of softcore sex movies. Still, these are but minor gripes in what is generally a surprisingly in-depth and well-researched overview.
Going way beyond its brief, The Ring Companion also takes a look at the Western literary tradition of the ghost story, as practised by authors such as MR James and HP Lovecraft, and the numerous ways in which the supernatural has found itself worked into European and American film. This is all crucial background, for in literature as much as in cinema, Japanese genre fiction has always benefited from this cross-fertilization between its own myth and folklore and that of outside. Nakata himself was quick to admit the influences foreign titles like The Haunting and Poltergeist had on his seminal version of Ring.
Meikle is never shy of providing his opinions on any of the films under discussion (though this is all counterpointed with excerpts from contemporary reviews from Western sources such as Variety), and his touting of Asia's ability to produce innovative and inspiring new riffs on the genre where Hollywood has failed might seem a little too gushing. Still, reservations about the forceful championing of his own tastes aside, The Ring Companion is far more than just a cash-in on a high-profile movie franchise, casting its net far and wide in its attempt at bringing together all the disparate elements connected with the phenomenon. Providing more info on the works in question than one could ever hope for, until such time as Japanese horror finds a new direction, it is going to take a very diligent researcher to top it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          --Jasper Sharp, Midnight Eye