Death, taxes, & remakes

There are two things you can count on in life: Death and Taxes. I say add Remakes to the list. Remakes certainly aren’t a new trend. Alfred Hitchcock even remade one of his own films. The problem is that remakes have ceased to be an innovative take on an old story but instead have become a quick “cash-grab.” Producers figure they can take an established franchise and that brand name alone can carry them to success. Over the last 5 or 6 years, horror films have become a gold mine for producers to pillage and plunder. There really isn’t one classic horror film from the last 30 years or so that hasn’t been remade (except for The Exorcist). For the most part, horror films are cheap to make. They don’t require big name talent in front of the camera and usually cost so little they can turn a profit with one lucrative opening weekend. Not all remakes are terrible, a few have improved on the original, but for the most part they’re lazy and really just prove that there wasn’t much of an idea there to begin with.

Two remakes that improved on their source material came out well before the remake train left the station. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) are less remakes as they are re-imaginings. They take the original’s themes and ideas and twist and craft them into something completely unique. These are not only great remakes, these are both horror classics. If you haven’t seen either of them, check them out immediately. In 1990, George Romero wrote and produced a remake of his own Night of the Living Dead which certainly isn’t in the same league as its predecessor but stands as a competent, fun remake.

The current remake trend really got off the ground with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Produced by Michael Bay, Chainsaw looks great and it cut together into one hell of a trailer but the glitz and gloss of the production takes away from the gritty, documentary feel of the 1973 original. It’s a great example of a film’s bigger budget working against it. Bay’s company, Platinum Dunes, is a factory of remakes. Save for one original film, they’ve remade The Amityville Horror (2005), The Hitcher (2007), Friday the 13th (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) to mostly dismal results. Not a single one of these remakes has anything to add to the story. The Hitcher, for example, is almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the little-seen 1986 original. This year’s Elm Street remake managed to take the ingenious casting of Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy Kruger and turn him into a bland, uninteresting villain. The best of their remakes is perhaps Friday, since the originals weren’t all that great to begin with. That one, like the others, does nothing to up the ante.

Halloween Halloween (Zombie) Other non-Platinum Dunes remakes like The Fog (2005), Black Christmas (2006), The Omen (2006), When a Stranger Calls (2008), Prom Night (2009), The Stepfather (2009), Last House on the Left (2009) are all failures as well. If you don’t know of any of these films beyond their remakes or didn’t know they were remakes at all, please seek out the originals. With the exception of Prom Night (1980), a rather silly slasher, these are all classics in their own right and every single one of them puts the remake to shame. Black Christmas (1974) in particular is a criminally under-seen slasher that Halloween (1978) owes a lot to. Speaking of Halloween, Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is perhaps my most hated of all the recent horror remakes. Here is a film that is so woefully out of touch with what made the original film so good: The mood, the suspense, and the subtlety. Zombie’s film is an exercise in Blunt Force Trauma filmmaking that succeeds only in completely stripping the mystique from Michael Myers. Everything is over the top. There’s a case to be make that Zombie did a re-imagining and did his own thing here; trying to eclipse a classic is hard to do. I’d agree that Zombie’s take on Halloween is his and his alone, it just. . . sucks. There’s really no other way to put it. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to tackle Zombie’s Halloween II (2009).

Dawn of the Dead Dawn of the Dead There are a couple of current remakes that are actually quite successful. Dawn of the Dead (2004) is an example of a remake that really did its own thing. Let’s get this out of the way: The original is a masterpiece and one of my all-time favorites. I was pre-disposed to hate this movie but Zack Snyder is such a visually compelling filmmaker and it feels so outside of what the original was doing, that it’s hard not to get swept up here. Add to that some great special FX, a snappy script, and a cool cast and the new Dawn is one of the best horror movies of the last few years.

The Hills Have Eyes The Hills Have Eyes The Hills Have Eyes (2006) is one of the most raw and intense horror films of the decade. A true re-imagining in every sense of the word, Hills has enough of the familiar beats of the original and then amps everything up. Like Dawn, this remake has a skilled filmmaker, great cast, great FX, and music. The mutants are vile and when they get their comeuppance, we are right there cheering for their demise. I like the 1977 original, but the 2006 version stands with The Thing and The Fly as a remake that improves upon its source material. Feel free to skip the 2007 sequel.

Perhaps twenty or thirty years down the road these films will be remade once again. Most likely, we’ll see the break-out horror successes of this decade remade as well. With the supposed “Final Chapter” hitting theaters next week, it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable Saw remake. And if you’re saying to yourself, “Hey, Hellraiser hasn’t been remade yet”, never fear. A director was just announced for the remake today.

5 Responses to “Death, taxes, & remakes”
  1. Adam says:

    I didn’t have enough space to list them all but 3 other worth-while remakes are:

    The Blob (1988)
    My Bloody Valentine 3D (2008)
    The Crazies (2010)

    Don’t skip the originals (well maybe “The Blob”) but those 3 are solid.

    • Kevin Mattison says:

      Man, have I got a soft spot for that ’88 The Blob remake! Love the motorcycle drivin’, mullet sporting hero. Love the fact the that Saw star Shawnee Smith is the heroine. Love the scene where her little brother gets killed (Who the hell saw THAT coming?!).

  2. Gavin Craig says:

    So do you think that we have a good 10-15 years before we have to worry about a “Saw” or “Hostel” remake? Or do you think the cycles is speeding up?

    • Adam says:

      “Hostel” is still an active franchise. “Hostel, Part III” just filmed in the D! I anticipate that “Saw 3D” will be a huge hit and if “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” taught me anything it’s that Hollywood can’t be trusted. So, I think there is still some fuel in those tanks and we’ll be treated to endless sequels before the inevitable remake. But look at something like “Spider-Man” which was made in 2002 and in 2012 will be getting a complete reboot. If there is money to be made, the cycle will speed up as needed.

      • Kevin Mattison says:

        Yeah, those comic book films seem particularly prone to the ole Hollywood mulligan. Batman and the Fantastic Four have already been re-booted and soon we’ll be treated to a new Superman, Spiderman and X-Men: First Class.

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