Posted by Matt Kranis @mattkranis
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

2002's The Ring will be remembered as one of the scariest films of the early '00s, weaving a twisted tale of murder, mystery and mayhem conveniently delivered through a cursed video tape. And if you're ready for more you're in luck, because Paramount's bringing us another installment in the Ring franchise this October with Rings.

Rings sees the return of Samara, the vengeful spirit introduced in the original, and it looks like she's back to her old tricks. As the trailer shows, her wicked video has returned, bringing along with it all the death, destruction and scares fans have come to expect. Though this time she'll have an even wider reach thanks to modern technology, unleashing a flurry of supernatural death we didn't see in the previous installments.

The new movie is the latest in a pretty big franchise, one that can be confusing for casual fans. It's common knowledge that The Ring is an American adaptation of Japanese director Hideo Nakata's 1998 horror thriller Ringu, but make no mistake — Rings is not based on Ringu. It's a brand new addition to the American series, and to get ready for the film we're breaking down the complex story of the Ring franchise.

The Ring Brought Japanese Horror To America

Samara enters the real world.
Samara enters the real world.
  • Release Date: October 18, 2002
  • Directed By: Gore Verbinski
  • Starring: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox

The Ring takes direct inspiration from Nakata's Ringu, basically following the story beat-for-beat with a new American setting. The film stars Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller, a Seattle-based journalist investigating the gruesome death of her niece Katie. She uncovers a mysterious videotape that Katie watched before her death, and immediately after her own viewing receives a phone call from a creepy girl whispering the words "seven days." The ominous message sends Keller on a quest to uncover the mystery behind the cursed cassette.

She enlists the the help of her ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson), the father of her son Aidan (David Dorfman), to uncover the mystery of the tape. Both Noah and Aidan watch the video as Rachel investigates its origins. She learns that it's linked to the ghost of a girl named Samara Morgan, a psychic who was abused before being murdered and tossed down a well. She visits Samara's father Richard (Brian Cox) to get some answers, though he provides little, killing himself in one of the movie's most shocking scenes.

Rachel realizes that the "seven days" warning means she only has a week to live, and after unraveling the mystery behind Samara's murder comes to an even darker realization — the tape's curse can only be broken if someone else watches before the seven days are up. Samara kills Noah, sparing Rachel's life because she showed him the tape. But in order to save Aiden, Rachel makes a copy of the tape, and as the film closes it's implied that she'll send it out into the world to pass along the curse and save his life.

The Ring was a major hit with audiences thanks to its blend of supernatural scares and psychological storytelling. The mystery premise brought a fresh angle to what could have been a tired ghost movie, giving this more than enough plot to keep audiences engaged. And more importantly, The Ring's massive success spawned a wave of Japanese horror remakes for American audiences including The Grudge, Dark Water and One Missed Call.

Rings 2005 Expands The Template

Jake is introduced to Samara's tape by his ring group.
Jake is introduced to Samara's tape by his ring group.
  • Release Date: March 8, 2005
  • Directed By: Jonathan Liebsman
  • Starring: Ryan Merriman and Emily VanCamp

The most confusing thing about 2016's Rings is the fact that there's already an entry in the franchise named Rings, though its one fans might not know about. In 2005, a 15-minute long short film dubbed Rings was included on a DVD re-release of The Ring to bridge the gap between the first film and The Ring Two, expanding the Ring universe beyond the two theatrical releases.

You can watch 2005's Rings in full below:

Set several months after the first movie in the town of Astoria, Oregon, the short introduces groups of people who watch copies of Samara's tape for fun. Members of these groups, known as "Rings," try to see how close they can get to the seven day deadline before dying, ending their curse by making the next person in the group watch the video. We meet Jake (Ryan Merriman), a teenager determined to beat his group's record and make it to day seven. Of course, that's easier said than done, and the short follows Jake's attempt as he documents the ensuing supernatural phenomena. As the film ends, Jake invites his friend Emily (Emily VanCamp) to watch the tape in hopes of passing on the curse, leading directly to the opening scene of The Ring Two.

While Rings isn't essential viewing, it's a solid offering that actually expands the mythology of Samara's tape. We now know there are many copies of the tape, and it actually has a cult following. And considering the end of the first film, there's a clear implication that the copy Rachel made has helped spawn this macabre subculture.

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The Ring Two Provides A Proper Sequel

Aidan gets possessed by Samara in 'The Ring Two.'
Aidan gets possessed by Samara in 'The Ring Two.'
  • Release Date: March 18, 2005
  • Directed By: Hideo Nakata
  • Starring: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Baker and Sissy Spacek

The Ring franchise scored major points from horror fans when Ringu director Hideo Nakata signed on to direct The Ring Two, though the sequel doesn't take inspiration from the Japanese sequels to Ringu. It's an entirely original thriller that expands the story of Rachel Keller from the first film.

The Ring Two picks up where Rings left off, with Jake showing Emily the cursed tape. Though it's revealed that Emily covered her eyes and didn't actually watch, with Samara leaping through the TV screen to kill Jake. His grisly death makes headlines and catches the attention of Rachel, who moved to Astoria with Aidan after the events of the first film. She tracks down Jake's copy of the tape and destroys it, but that doesn't stop Samara. The evil spirit's found a new way to enter our world, and that's by possessing Aidan's body.

As Rachel attempts to destroy Samara, she seeks help from the ghost's birth mother Evelyn (Sissy Spacek), who suggests she "listen to her baby." Evelyn tried to drown Samara to stop her psychic powers, and Rachel does the same to Aidan in order to expel the spirit. It works, but doesn't get rid of the ghost for good, as Samara returns through their TV set to pull Rachel into the world of the tape. While there, Rachel finds the well Samara was tossed down, and during her battle with the spirit pushes Samara down the well and covers it for good. With Samara trapped in the well, Rachel manages to return to the real world and is reunited with Aidan, who appears completely cured from the curse.

Though the sequel continued the story of the first film, it largely dropped the psychological mystery angle in favor of a ghostly possession plot. It borrowed more from possession thrillers like The Omen or The Exorcist instead of its Japanese thriller roots. While Nakata was able to craft some creepy imagery — Samara crawling out of the well is truly terrifying — the film failed to garner the critical praise that The Ring earned several years prior.

Rings 2016 Will Scare A New Generation

Even the logo for 'Rings' is creepy.
Even the logo for 'Rings' is creepy.
  • Release Date: October 28, 2016
  • Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
  • Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Johnny Galecki and Aimee Teegarden

Based on its trailer, Rings appears to be a new story that borrows elements established in the previous movies. There are no returning characters, and instead Matilda Lutz stars as Julia, a woman caught in the resurgence of Samara's video. It looks like the malevolent spirit's ready to be reborn in a new body and Julia's the perfect host, mimicking the possession plot we saw in The Ring Two.

Who wants to hold hands with Samara?
Who wants to hold hands with Samara?

Moreover, it looks like the video is no longer spread via tape. Instead, it's sent around the web like a viral video. The technological update could be inspired by Sadako 3D, a sequel to Ringu released in Japan in 2012, though Rings looks to have a plot all its own. We wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Rings groups introduced in the 2005 short are responsible for keeping the video and its legend alive.

Thankfully, Julia will have some help from actor Vincent D'Onofrio as Burke, an expert on the tape's supernatural origins, as well as her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe). But in the end, their help might not be enough to stop the psychic spirit. Samara's power seems to have grown plenty since the last time we saw her, meaning a new generation of fans will be introduced to even greater scares.

Rings hits theaters on February 3, 2017. Are you excited for the return of Samara and her cursed video? Let us know in the comments below!