Yes, like most film lovers, I hate remakes too. But don’t fall into this ludicrous trap: Hollywood does not indulge in remakes because there aren’t enough great scripts (or ideas) floating around. As a screenwriter, I know this all too well. I’ve read many scripts that will amaze, but will never see the light of day, unless the screenwriter chooses to make the movie on his/her own.
Hollywood (or any large “independent” studio) goes the remake route for one thing only: money. Filmmaking is a major risk, and this lackluster summer has been the worst in ten years for the movie industry. This means, new and original fair for audiences is costly. Sure, studios took risks in the past, but once the blockbuster was discovered, thanks to Jaws and Star Wars, for example, the Hollywood just wants to hit grand slams every time (sorry about the baseball euphemism but it fits here). However, if a studio reboots a franchise, or remakes a tried and true film, there’s almost a guarantee they will earn a profit – especially if the original did extremely well the first time, or secured a rabid cult following afterwards.
This doesn’t mean that all remakes are horrendous and should be avoided. As for horror, some remakes truly stand out on their own, and the original may ultimately find a place in that particular film’s shadow. What follows is my top ten horror remakes:
The Thing (1982) – 5 stars
Story: A group of American researchers discover a parasitic alien that imitates its host.
John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece is a remake of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, based on John W. Campbell Jr. story, “Who Goes There?” I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this movie nearly a gazillion times (I watch it once every two months) because of several factors: excellent story, great acting, compelling characters, and one hell of a frightening and hopeless situation – and of course, Rob Bottin’s stellar effects, which had all of us freaking out in the audience when I was a teen. The original, although beloved, lacks that hopeless element, and James Arness’s “thing” comes off more like a Frankensteinian monster who’s seemingly part zombie, instead of some advanced species from outer space. Even so, giving both films a whirl is a good thing.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – 5 stars
Story: Aliens invade Earth via pods, which serve as conduits to replacing people’s souls.
I saw this in theatres when I was a kid and almost had to run out when Donald Sutherland annihilated his alter evil. Philip Kaufman’s film, based on Jack Finney’s novel, delivers an oppressive atmosphere that’s inescapable. To be honest, the 1956 original with Kevin McCarthy did the same exact thing. In the original, McCarthy’s character was supposed to point at the screen, breaking the fourth wall, and yell, “You’re next!” but the pathetic filmmakers thought that would be too frightening for audiences. Once I learned that, I went completely bald. Anyway, at least Mr. McCarthy got a chance to deliver that line in the amazing remake, which sports one stellar cast, including Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Brooke Adams, and more. Do not miss the special effects that still hold up.
The Ring (USA/Japan, 2002) – 5 stars
Story: If one watches a bizarre videotape they will die in seven days.
Ringu rocked American shores sometime after 1998, introducing many to the wonders of J-horror. Although I love Japanese horror films, especially the work of Takashi Miike, the only thing Ringu did was put me to sleep. Gore Verbinski’s remake, backed by the strong writing hand of Ehren Krueger, delivered a grand horror/mystery with a colorized yet gray atmosphere, great acting, and one hell of a heroine in the always amazing Naomi Watts. The CGI and the practical effects are stellar. But it’s finding a way out from certain death that brings enough power and intensity to rival the over-hyped original.
Dawn of the Dead (USA/Canada/Japan/France, 2004) – 4.5 stars
Story: Zombies rise and a group of humans take refuge in a mall.
George A. Romero’s original is one of horror’s most beloved films. Though I can clearly understand that, and do appreciate the effort, the comedy business completely undermined the movie and left me severely disappointed. Zack Snyder’s remake, however, delivers the intensity, with one hell of a foreboding thrill ride. Granted, the original may have explored the shallowness of America’s consumer culture, but the remake’s immersed in the fact that America has not only embraced its hyper-consumerism, but revels in it. Although this means the story could have taken place in any venue other than a mall, such a setting allows the characters to almost trick themselves into believing that they are surviving in a world they can comprehend. This is why the ending is so jolting and terrible to the audience once they leave the comforts of “home.”
The Crazies (USA/United Arab Emirates, 2010) – 4 stars
Story: The US Army accidentally unleashes a virus that turns people into paranoid killers.
The original from 1973 is my favorite George A. Romero film. Therefore, when the remake came out, I was skeptical if not angry, but director Breck Eisner captured the unease that permeated the original. Better still, to carry the film, he put the picture in the more than capable hands of Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. Watching small town America unravel and not have the chance to fight back and saves themselves made me think of the nation’s current state of monopolies, as if Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target were ultimately responsible for the town’s demise instead of a wayward virus. Eisner brings us an action horror that captures the helplessness of the original as the characters fight to survive a series of obstacles that humanity had put in their path long beforehand.
Toolbox Murders (20034) – 4 stars
Story: Renovations at an old Hollywood hotel leads to the rise of a killer supernatural force.
Tobe Hooper delivers a solid, deviant tale of murderous horror like an Italian Giallo. Starring the always extraordinary Angela Bettis, she’s thrust into a mystery where her own life’s in jeopardy. One of the great things about this film is that Hooper keeps things subdued with minimalist flair, which only adds to the intrigue, claustrophobia, and horror. The remake is leaps and bounds above the cheesy, lackluster original from 1978. Instead of something hokey, peppered with bad dialogue, Hooper and company deliver something that resonates with tension to leave us unsettled in our seats.
The Uninvited (USA/Canada/Germany, 2009) – 4 stars
Story: A mental patient reunites with her sister to prove her mother may have been murdered.
Of all the remakes on this list, The Uninvited is the most subtle. In fact, it wasn’t until the third act where I realized this was based upon A Tale of Two Sisters, the brilliant Korean horror. Granted, many seem to despise this film or laugh it off, but directors Charles and Thomas Guard bring us the uncanny with potent suspense that only enhances the mystery of the story. The fabulous Emily Browning shines in the lead, and David Strathairn gives us another powerful performance. As remakes go, this film is more of an “inspired by” piece, though many fans of the original instantly hate the movie because of its link to the modern day classic.
Black House (South Korea, 2007) – 3.5 stars
Story: An insurance agent investigates a killer he suspects of collecting insurance premiums.
Terra Shin’s film is a remake of the Japanese original from 1999. Among the murder, blood, and mayhem, this dark film is highly sensualized, which only adds to the disturbing nature of an “every man” squaring off against a killer with a mission. The acting is solid, as well as the effects, along with compelling cinematography from Ju-young Choi. Though not a perfect film, Shin presents a strong mix of character, emotion, and atmosphere to keep the audience engaged as the mystery unravels. Admittedly, I have yet to see the Japanese original, but this is highly ranked on my horror list overall.
Night of the Living Dead (1990) – 3.5 stars
Story: Zombies rise and a group of people fight to survive from a farmhouse.
The original George A. Romero film turned zombies into ghouls and forever changed the horror landscape. To even think of remaking such a poignant film may seem blasphemous to many, but Tom Savini, who first worked with Romero on 1976’s Martin, took the reigns and brought us a solid reinterpretation. Starring the beloved Tony Todd, the remake is important for two reasons. First, Savini included a scene that Romero had to abandon: the hanging of zombies from trees. In the original, a horrific and criminal real-life lynching had given Romero pause. Second, the character of Barbara (originally “Barbra” played by Judith O’Dea) is no longer a sniveling, scared female ready for a man to save her, but an independent, locked and loaded woman ready to fight for life and limb, thanks to the great Patricia Tallman – who would have bitch-slapped the older version of herself.
Willard (Canada/USA, 2003) – 3.5 stars
Story: A socially inept man befriends rats that take care of him.
Crispin Glover brings the character of Willard to life in grand fashion. Supported by a great cast, which includes the pinup beauty of Laura Harring, and the inner malevolence of R. Lee Ermey, we are catapulted into a dramatic and quirky tale of boy meets rat. The tone of the film is equivalent to not being able to land on the right frequency for a radio station, though we love what we’re hearing, which only adds to the twisted flavor of Glen Morgan’s film. The 1973 original stars two character actor greats: Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine, but like many low budget fair from the seventies, rubber rats and flat camera angles didn’t cut it, because that helped create a boring if not long-winded story. Instead, the remake, thanks to the stellar work of Glover, keeps one riveted to the screen as Willard’s story unfolds.
Honorable mentions: Cat People, The Fly, I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House On the Left, Maniac, Mother’s Day, Nosferatu the Vampire, Quarantine, Silent House, Silent Night, and The Wizard of Gore.
Yes, a list of the Worst Horror Movie Remakes is forthcoming…
(Photo from Reflections On Film and Television.)