Digital Polyphony

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Bold Statement: On Remakes

Posted on November 5, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Bold Statement: On Remakes

Well Halloween is behind us. Now we can all skip Thanksgiving and start decorating for Christmas and buying presents. That’s kind of how it works - Thanksgiving doesn’t have the presence it once did. It kind of just comes and goes…

…comes and goes like horror movie remakes, am I right? Anyone? Transitions folks...and that leads me to the point of this. It's a bold statement, maybe this will be an ongoing series I don't know, but here it is:

"There are more horror remakes that are on par, if not better, than the originals than there are bad horror remakes."

Yes, we're focusing on horror exclusively here.

I know, it's a bit much, but all that horror movie watching, many of which were remakes, just got me thinking. Of course, I haven't seen every single horror movie in existence, I'm hoping to someday, and I'm not an authority of anything other than the most comfortable underwear, but I love horror movies and I'd love to know if I'm in the right or the wrong on this. Are there more good horror remakes than bad? Let's take a look...

The Remake was Better...

Willard - Ah, the first movie that made me want to do this little piece on horror movie remakes. As I mainly watch horror movies in the month of October, I always make sure to rewatch some I kind of forgot about, and one I forgot I had seen until I started it back up was Willard, and it’s good. Like really good. It’s a weird little movie staring Crispin Glover in a great performance, and I watched I started to think back to the original movie and how…err…just awful it was. This one just gets it all right. It has a great tone and sense of atmosphere, Glover is amazing and the rats are characters themselves. Distinct and unique enough to say “Yeah, I know who Socrates and Big Ben are.”

Ben…that jerk...

The Crazies - As I noted in my recent series on George A. Romero, the original The Crazies was an idea limited by its budget and era. Jump ahead decades, take that idea and do it right with a good budget and solid cast and you end up with a great looking and really enjoyable thriller. The concept was done great justice here and puts the original in the rear-view mirror.

The Fly - While Williard and The Crazies are, essentially, just taking the idea and redoing, for movies like The Fly it’s something different entirely. The idea is essentially the same, but the roads it goes down are much different and, for my money, much more interesting. The Fly from 1958 was a solid creature-feature already, actually, and as ridiculous as most of those from that era (if not a bit silly). David Cronenberg turned it into a gross, dark character study and still has Jeff Goldblum’s best career performance.

Goldblum is in the remake, Goldblum is awesome, therefore the remake is awesome.

The Thing - See also the entry above. For the same reason, this one is just a better movie. The thing is, though, the original Thing from Another World, unlike the original The Fly, was an awesome movie in its own right. Hell, this one might be better suited for the next grouping (see below) but the sense of paranoia and distrust that John Carpenter was able to catch in a bottle (and the monster being almost secondary if anything) makes this remake the template on how to approach material differently.

Maniac - In one case you have a nasty little exploitation movie, in the remake case you have a rathe artistic and stylish movie. Outside of The Thing, I can’t think of another remake that takes such a drastic shift. It’s enough to cause you whiplash, but I love the remake. It’s unique whereas the original was just another grind house schlockiest. I felt the remake just had a more unique and distinct voice though the story in both is essentially the exact same, mannequins and all.

The HIlls Have Eyes - I personally think the original The Hills Have Eyes is a bad movie. It has its place in history, but it’s not a particularly good flick. Jump ahead to 2006 and boy, is the Alexandre Aja remake a good if not outright great horror movie.

Friday the 13th - Some people kind of write off the Friday the 13th remake. It’s not even necessarily a remake, they somehow manage to cram in the first four Friday the 13th movies into one in a lot of ways. But the fact is the series was doing down fast with horrible flicks and they needed to get back to its roots. That’s exactly what this does and it’s fantastic and I would say one of the few good modern slasher movies. Though more a reboot trying to just recapture the older movies, it's still considered a remake by many.

Now if we're comparing Friday the 13th VI to this remake, then there's no contest. VI is the only legitimately good entry in the series.

Piranha - Do you remember the original Piranha? No? You’re not alone, it was a cheap Jaws knock-off that even as far as cheap knock-offs go it’s bad. The remake, though, is a fun and really entertaining flick that I love rewatching because it's dumb, it knows it's dumb and sometimes I Just want to feel dumb.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Controversy time. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is certainly an important film. It came out during an era of distrust and paranoia, so it’s importance cannot be undermined even when the remake does the concept better. The remake captured the paranoia and fear far better.

The Last House on the Left - Like Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, I can’t say I really like his exploitation movie from 1972, but I don’t hate it either. But in 2009, I found the remake just a more interesting, better done movie. I particularly like the way it was shot, Sharon Meir shooting the thing, and director Dennis Iliadis just seemed to have a better grasp on what the movie needed to be. Plus, the music and "comedy" of the original is gone, and that's always a good thing.

Then again, The Last House on the Left is lifted from The Virgin Spring…showing that thinking something “did it first” doesn’t mean anything because it can all be traced backwards and there’s always something else before it.

My Bloody Valentine - The original? A pretty uninteresting slasher movie for the most part. The remake? Really fun and enjoyable slasher movie for the most part. The remake seemed to just understand itself and have a unique approach and identity. A voice that distinguished it whereas the original, I found, rather forgettable.

Little Shop of Horrors - I think the Roger Corman original has some serious problems throughout the thing, but take that, make it a musical, then make that musical a have something so good that most people forget it was a remake of a B-movie.

Mother's Day - If you never saw the Mother's Day remake from 2010, do so. It's an often overlooked gem of a horror/thriller that I finally got around to seeing recently and absolutely loved it. It's a loose (very loose) remake of an older movie from the early 80s, but it's still a remake and is absolutely brilliant. Hell, if I did that most "underrated/overlooked" article from 2009 a second time, this one would easily be in the Top 10 of that list.

The Remake is on Par...

Cape Fear - The original Cape Fear is a fantastic movie. In fact, if I had to choose between it and the remake, I'd still go with the original simply because Gregory Peck is a better lead than Nick Nolte and Robert Mitchum isn't as obvious and over-the-top as Robert DeNiro. Still, that over-the-top nature of the remake is what gives it such a unique indentity not to mention that Scorsese visual flare it has on its side. I'll always prefer the subtle touch to a thriller like this.

Dawn of the Dead - Oh, I’ll always prefer the George A. Romero classic, and I honestly think it is a better film being completely nostalgic on my part here. But the Snyder remake isn’t a bad movie itself, taking a unique approach to the same formula. It's an incredibly entertaining movie in its own way, and I'm good with the running zombies also.

The Blob - I admire the original classic staring Steve McQueen. However, I like what the 1980s remake did in terms of growing that nugget of idea and throwing a lot more into the pot. The first was a simple, enjoyable little movie, the remake feels like a full fleshed out concept taken to a new level. I enjoy both the same but for different reasons.

Fright Night - Yes, Fright Night is one of my favorite horror movies. And yes...I consider the remake every bit as good. Now naturally my nostalgia will make me always adore the original, but I can't deny the take the remake approaches it with is pretty damn fantastic. Smart cast, clever script, it does enough new to distinguish itself. It's really how a remake should be done actually.

Village of the Damned - The problem with Village of the Damned remake is that it really didn’t offer anything new or unique. It’s kind of just the same movie again, and for that it’s actually not too bad. It doesn't feel like it's trying too hard like the Psycho remake, for example, which took the "be exactly the same" notion literally. I still think the original has a better sense of creepiness and dread, though, maybe it being in black and white is why I think that, but I’m fine with either film.

I think the black and white imagery will make me prefer the original, but the remake wasn't necessarily a bad movie itself.

The Amityville Horror - I…I kinda don’t like either Amityville movies to be honest. The original feels like a clunky 1970s horror movie should feel and the remake feels like a too-slick version of a horror movie remake. I think it comes down to the concept, though, as the roots of the story just never really worked for me in either.

Nosferatu - Probably the best remake of any horror classic, actually. Sure, I might be partial to The Thing in terms of "better" but The Thing was also so very different. Herzog's Nosferatu seems to perfectly recapture the original but adds in more elements and gorgeous cinematography while maintaining that creepy vibe.

Evil Dead - Now here we have a problem. If we’re going to put Evil Dead 1981 against Evil Dead 2013, 2013 wins. But, if we put Evil Dead 2 1987, essentially a redone version of Evil Dead 1981, it’s no contest. Evil Dead 2 is the superior movie. Evil Dead 2013 draws from both a bit as both Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 are strikingly similar, while it still manages to do a lot of things differently so…you know I can’t say. I just know the 2013 Evil Dead movie is far better than anybody thought it was going to be, able to have its own “thing.” Of course, then you have the post-credits sequence…

…Wow, I think it’s safe to say the timeline of the Evil Dead franchise and how it all connects is the most head-scratching series of movies ever. Because Army of Darkness is related to the second movie but then it has two endings depending on which cut and....headaches coming...

Look...look...chainsaw to the face...ok I'm on board.

Cat People - Is it? I don't know, but the 1982 Cat People does share enough similarity to the original 1942 Cat People that it's pretty darn close to call it a remake. Now I personally love the original Cat People, but the fact is this remake is doing something interesting with the same idea. Is it better? I can't say for sure, but it's intriguing to see a drastic change to it. I mean, even The Thing still had the basic location and set up thing happening. This one made it into an erotic thriller and a more complex (and I would say a bit convoluted) storyline.

The Omen - I absolutely love the remake of The Omen. Why? Well for one, I really like the cast and I feel Liev Schreiber just makes for an incredibly sypmathetic lead that really runs the gamut of emotions. As much as I love Gregory Peck, you didn't quite get that humanizing factor. However, the kid in the original Omen was more creepy, less on the nose and it had a better sense of atmopshere.

The Wolfman - The Wolfman is probably my least favorite classic Universal horror movie. I just wasn't a fan as the plot didn't really grip me. Well, the remake's plot didn't grip me either, a lot of it ist he same, but it managed to do some things better. I like the cast more in the remake as well, and there's a lot put into it even if it doesn't manage to be entirely memorable in the end.

This scene alone kind of redeems any problems The Wolfman from 2010 might have had.

April Fools’ Day - In that I’m not a big fan of either movie, April Fools Day is one of those that is “on par” with the original in that neither are really good. At least the original had a bit of that 80s campy awfulness going for it as it’s so cheesy.

Prom Night - Now you may be thinking...that 2008 movie was awful. Yeah, it was. And you know what? So was the original. I know it has a place in history and all that, but the original Prom Night is just bad. It's dull, poorly paced and has disco. So there's that. The remake had a hotel or something. I don't know, it was forgettable that's for sure.

The Ring - While I certainly say I prefer the more restrained approach of the original film (the same goes for the Grudge) I did like the movie in both styles. It's like seeing the same script done by two different directors (kind of like the Exorcist prequels) and both really having some satisfying scares. I consider both equal in that regard.

Either way, pale girls with long black hair covering her face is going to be creepy no matter what.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown - I think I mentioned on twitter that I found the original The Town that Dreaded Sundown borderline unwatchable. I stick by that. The remake, released just this past year, is far more watchable, but it’s still not all that great of a movie. It is visually sharp, though, but I can't say I found either good.

Assault on Precinct 13 - Though not technically a "horror" movie, it is kind of a horror template as John Carpenter basically made a zombie movie without zombies as one of his first features. The remake manages to take that same concept and elevate with solid acting and characters. It only lacks the pace of the original, and the "twists" don't quite work, but it's still a solid remake.

Hmmm…I might have open a bad door here. If we’re putting this on then that means I’d have to part putting movies like Oldboy on as well…and boy was that remake a mess.

The Remake is Worse...

Psycho - Some really like this movie remake. To that I say it's actually fine. It's not a bad movie, but it's Psycho. I mean...just watch the original. That's why I'm not a fan, it doesn't offer anything new really as it's just a shot-for-shot retelling of the original. There's nothing here to give it an identity, and the cast isn't up to par. They're not bad, mind you, but it feels as though they're doing an impression rather than filling a role. Except William H. Macy. He's great in anything.

The original had the methodical approach, the remake felt like it was just emulating that already solid methodical approach. It just lacked soul and you're spending more time saying "oh, that's just like that shot" instead of enjoying the movie.

Carrie - I'll be honest, I couldn't finish the Carrie remake. It's just so..."big." I don't know if that makes sense, but it plays itself up as big and lacks any nuance that I felt would benefit the story. The thing that sucks here is that I really like Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Mortetz, and I like director Kimberly Peirce also, so I have to point the finger at the script.

Day of the Dead - I just...I don't get it. I mean, I see why they wanted to remake it, the Dawn of the Dead remake did well, but that was because it had a good cast and a director with a vision. Here, we have a movie with a whole lot of bad actors and a director that, I'm sorry, I just can't belive would give an "ok" to even attempting it. I mean, he grew up in the genre, directed some classics (first three Friday the 13th movies, House, Lake Placid even Halloween H20) but's just a completely awful movie done without any care to the material.

Honestly, if I Had to choose one movie that is the worst horror remake of all time, and on top of that a completely unneccsarry one, this would be it.

Night of the Demons - Night of the Demons seemed to just be at the right place at the right time in 1988. Night of the Demons from 2009 just didn’t feel right. As though it was trying too hard (kind of like the Prom Night remake now that I think about it, only the original Night of the Demons was good while the original Prom Night was still a bad movie).

The Thing (the third one) - Whereas the Friday the 13th Remake/reboot/sequel seemed to get a lot right, boy did this remake/reboot/prequel get everything wrong. It tries to emulate the original film but can't, and that's where it went wrong. It should have tried to in the first place and take a page from the Friday the 13th version and be its own thing while being a homage.

Plus pratitcal effects will always be better and age better than computer effects.

A Nightmare on Elm Street - It was great to see Freddy scary again. If there's anything the movie got right, it was that. Plus a good art design overall. It tries to be really clever but never gets there, perhaps it thinks that since the original movie was clever already, and everybody knows how it works, they had to reshape it somehow. That's fair enough, I suppose, but it also falls into the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" tier of bad remakes.

The Fog - Now I'm not the biggest fan of the orginal John Carpenter classic, but this low-grade dumb remake of it is just a bad movie from top to bottom. When you're worse than a movie that wasn't already all that great, then you pretty much failed. The thing that sucks, though, is that a remake of The Fog would be pretty cool if done right. It's a clunky old movie that even Carpenter wasn't the biggest fan of, maybe another shot down the road sometime.

Halloween - This Rob Zombie movie is actually how you should do a remake. It's different and unique enough from its original to be its own thing, but it's also a lackluster slasher movie at the end of the day. You don't need to do a comparative analysis to see that its characters are uninteresting, the backstory is forced and not all that relevant and that it's not particularly well shot (oddly enough, the worse sequel is better shot). It's not exactly a bad movie overall, it's at least entertaining, but it's not as good as the original either and it's not a very inspired slasher flick on top of that.

The Hitcher - Like The Fog, I could easily see someone say "Yeah, the Hitcher, that could be interesting if redone with a contemporary setting." It was kind of an overlooked movie enough to where someone remaking it probably wouldn't cause a big stir. But the thing is, whereas The Fog really feels like a movie from its era, there's nothing really in the original 1986 Hitcher movie that necessarily dates it either outside of not having cell phones. While I loved the casting of Sean Bean here, it never gets over the hurdle that it didn't reallyneed to be done in the first place.

After a while, the remake just got a little silly, like Bean cruising down a highway in his car shooting down a helicopter.

House of Wax - The remake of House of Wax is so incredibly different than the original movie (you can say that for the following two movies as well) that it really isn't a remake. It's more like The Hills Have Eyes than the original Vincent Price classic, and that's why it fails. It's not interesting, it lacks that charisma and is just bland across the board.

House on Haunted Hill - Kind of like this one, also bland and falls into the "meh" category. Now I'm not too big on the oriignal movie either, but man...this remake...I don't even know where to begin on how awful it was. It really does feel like your typical late 90s low budget horror. What sucks is it squanders a pretty good cast in the process (Geoffrey Rush most notably). Hey...kinda like the next one...transitions people…

The Haunting - Here's the problem with The Haunting. It's not scary. It doesn't even really try to be. It has some great imagery and I'll like Liam Neeson in anything, but it's not scary in the slightest. It gets by with a nice mood and atmosphere, but the story tries to do too much and it lacks subtety across the board. If you're going to remake what many consider the best haunted house movie ever, you better nail it. This one doesn't even hit the board.

Gorgeous imagery ripe for a great haunted house movie is undermined by computer effects and a bloated story. Subtlety would have gone a long way

Black Christmas - This is one of those "why bother?" remakes. Kind of like Prom NIght. Why not just do a different movie based on the theme, because like Prom Night it feels old and out of touch and uninspired. Black Christmas was a movie of its era and it works in that era, it doesn't really work when redone for a modern audience.

Sorority Row - I remember the original Sorority Row quite well. The House on Sorority Row, actually, as it was called. It’s a solid second-tier slasher movie from the early 1980s. The remake, while not entirely bad (Carrie Fisher is actually very memorable in it), just felt like a dated mess of a movie, as though it would have fit in more in 1999 than 2009. I forgot about it as soon as I was done watching it, though neither I would consider all that great to be honest.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - This one was actually hard to call. LIke Friday the 13th, it's pretty much a reboot, but it's still close enough to be a remake. I actually liked this remake, it had some great atmosphere and I actually like the directing and cast, but it wasn't a great film either and certainly not better than the original.

Thirteen Ghosts - You know, I barely remember this movie. The original was pretty obscure actually, but I guess because William Castle's House on Haunted Hill was being remade, they might as well go for the other one that could probably be remade in the same fashion. That's kind of what happened because I get this remake and the House on Haunted HIll remake mixed up a lot. Know what movies I don't get confused on? The originals.

Oh, and the title is actually "Thir13en Ghosts" Ungh....that alone makes it worse.

The Wicker Man - Now here we got. Oh boy. If there's anything that says "stop remakes" it's this one, and it's hard to argue. I know that the entire point of this blog is to be bold and say there are more good horror remakes than bad, but I have to end on this one because this is the one thrown out there the most, and boy is it bad.

Now the thing is, it is one of those "it's so bad it's good" movies that you watch just to mock, but that doesn't change the fact the origina was a really brialliant, unsettling thriller and this one has bees and bear suits and Nic Cage screaming all the time. The tense, uneasy original is put aside for...this….

Of course we have to end with this gif

But let’s all keep this in perspective…

While I certainly feel there are more good than bad horror remakes out there, and I’m not one to simply disregard one whenever it is announced or release because of that, a remake of something already made, even if it improves it, doesn’t outweigh the importance of original ideas and original execution of those ideas. Horror is 20% the idea and 80% the execution of that idea - whether it be through the tone or the acting or the way it is shot - so taking that idea and redoing the execution of it is fine, but it’s still the same idea. It’s still limited to that original idea instead of a filmmaker or writer or director following their imagination to create something that never existed before.


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