During the early 1970s, when the US Public TV network began broadcasting a series called 'The Grudge', the life and work of director John Waters were briefly covered. A modernist with gritty, bold subject matter, The Grudge was viewed by many as Waters' best work, since he abandoned much of his earlier art cinema in favour of a typically raunchy, violent and controversial approach to film-making. Director Alex Cox, who began working for the network in 1975, wrote a lengthy history of the show, including the origins of the series, characters, themes and more. In this short essay Cox analyzes the Grudge and considers the legacy of this interesting series of films and the director who made them.
It may seem odd that the filmmaker who gave us such films as 'Hairspray'Dawn of the Dead' should have turned away from filmmaking altogether to become a writer and editor, yet John Waters did so. An obsessive and dedicated person in love with cinema, Waters frequently went on to make films of his own, writing, directing and editing as well.
Waters began working for the public television network ABC in the late 1960s, but his ambition in turn led him away from the television. His unhappy experience in the field eventually led him to write and direct his first feature, a savage political satire titled The Cat from Outer Space. Though it was not exactly a success, it was nevertheless an important landmark in the body of work that would follow.
This "failed" film was followed by several more films, each better than the last, until Waters decided to try his hand at the written word. Although he continued to make films throughout the 1970s, his focus eventually shifted from screenwriting to writing and directing, with his first script, a piece of horror called 'The Grudge', making its way to the screen in The Grudge (1973).
Although the idea of a dark, uncompromising drama is easy to picture in one's mind, it's difficult to imagine how Waters actually came up with such a cinematic approach to his story. It's quite possible that Waters might have tried to create a film of his own had he not been forced to abandon it by the network for one of his scripts. Although the series has seen four series, including The Grudge, it was followed by two films.
It seems likely that the character that characterizes Waters' work was that of a "fucking maniac" whose inner demons would only be exposed in the course of his film - 'The Grudge'. Waters took the film from being an intended long-take to a rapid, fast-paced chase, with numerous scenes of violence and verbal abuse.
Waters used the scenario of a drug dealer in the film (who somehow had managed to escape the police and lives a life as a hermit), as well as a series of explosions and blood spurts to create the most interesting concept of the whole piece. In short, 'The Grudge' was a ferocious, furious look at the depravity of the drug trade, and arguably, a film of enduring interest to film scholars, as well as many fans of contemporary cinema.
Ultimately, John Waters took a concept and managed to transform it into something much more: a film of unusual genre, a bloody and funny vision of a world without hope. 'The Grudge' was definitely the kind of film that appealed to Waters, and although the series was eventually cancelled, his legacy lived on in his later films.