We’ve heard it all a thousand times by now: “when will Hollywood stop with the remakes!?”, “Why can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas!?”, “Remakes suxxorz1!!” Honestly, while some films should never be re-made and some remakes do baffle the mind, remakes aren’t the plague of cinema that a lot of people like to think they are. In fact, some are pretty damn good.
If you’re one of those bleeding heart Twitter people, though, who just like to decry remakes in general, maybe you should take a moment to consider this small list of horror remakes that are not only surprisingly good but, in some cases, actually surpass their originals:
We’re kicking things off with quite the controversial choice here. I’ll argue until the end of time that John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) is the forefather of all modern horror, particularly the slasher genre. It’s a subtle, atmospheric piece with a fantastic, mysterious antagonist and the truly frightening prospect that random unspeakable acts of horror can happen in a suburban environment. Rob Zombie’s take, however, is a loud, frenetic, uncomfortably gruesome take on the property. Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch/Tyler Mane) is an incredibly disturbed young boy from a violent and abusive family who becomes a remorseless, emotionless, unstoppable tank of a killing machine. Zombie delves right into his own take on Michael’s backstory, presenting in grotesque detail the exact events that turn Michael into a nigh-supernatural killer.
In many ways, the initial focus of the film acts as a kind of prequel to the events of Carpenter’s original, as the remainder of the film’s runtime is devoted to recreating Michael’s killing spree in Haddonfield, with the primary difference being that nearly the entirety of the film is told from Michael’s perspective. Sure, Malcolm McDowell, great as he is, cannot hope to compete with the fantastic Donald Pleasence but the film is bolstered by the incredibly cute Scout Taylor-Compton (who is arguably more attractive and relatable to modern audiences than Jamie Lee Curtis) and even appearances by Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris (and what an appearance hers is!) While it’s unlikely to be as iconic or influential as Carpenter’s benchmark film, for those who find the original and its sequels dated and slow, Rob Zombie’s remake is a much-needed kick up the ass that, for better or worse, dragged Halloween kicking and screaming out of obscurity.
I know, right? How could Hollywood ever even entertain the idea of remaking Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic? Well, they did, and don’t be mistaken; it’s not actually that bad. While it lacks probably my favourite scene from the original, where corpses rise from the Freeman’s unfinished swimming pool, the remake is just as terrifying and engaging as the original, with the added bonus of having a modern-day make-over that is far more accessible than the now-dated original. Don’t get me wrong, the original is still a classic, but Sam Rockwell and Kennedi Clements put in some great performances, easily on par with those of Craig T. Nelson and the late JoBeth Williams. Did Poltergeist necessarily need a remake? Probably not, and the fact that numerous haunted house stories since the original have all pulled from or mirrored Hooper’s seminal horror classic probably didn’t help to differentiate Kenan’s new take on the property, but I feel it’s a largely misrepresented film that is nowhere near as bad as some people think.
Although I spoke about this film quite recently, it is deserving enough to make this list. Watching Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 miniseries, great as it is and as amazing as Tim Curry’s performance in that is, you can’t help but think that Stephen King’s novel deserved to be told without the restraints of a television miniseries. Focusing exclusively on the child side of King’s story, and bringing the events forward to the 1980s rather than the 1950s, Muschietti adheres closely to King’s text while still putting his own spin on events. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is suitably unsettingly and otherworldly; what he lacks in Curry’s charisma he more than makes up for by being genuinely creepy and a fearsome menace. Muschietti also focuses on the friendship and troubles of his child protagonists incredibly well, anchoring them to the film’s central narrative and allowing King’s themes of childhood and loss of innocence to play out beautifully. With a lengthy runtime and concluding on a fantastic tease for a second chapter, this new version of It, while not without its issues (primarily regarding screen time for the many characters), did not disappoint in realising the gruesome potential that the miniseries could only hint at.
Released at the peak of Hollywood’s new-found fondness for zombie films in the early-to-mid-2000s, largely spearheaded by 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002) and the God-awful Resident Evil (Anderson, 2002) and its decent-enough sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (ibid, 2004), Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s massively-influential 1978 film of the same name takes the general themes and premise of its source material and ramps them up with some incredible action, grotesque gore effects, and a much-needed modern day gloss. While zombie purists may lament the inclusion of the fast-moving, animalistic undead introduced in 28 Days Later, Snyder’s rapid editing and penchant for style over substance make the creatures more vicious and scary than in Romero’s original film. With some great supporting performances by the likes of Ving Rhames and Michael Kelly (and even a brief cameo by Ken Foree, repeating his iconic line from the original film), Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a non-stop masterpiece of zombie cinema that never slows down to the snail’s pace that Romero’s introspective original prefers to adopt.
One of the primary reasons I was inspired to make this list, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974) was a film that desperately needed this remake! Seriously, the original might have been shocking and gruesome at the time but, since then, it has not aged well; it’s a slow, dull piece of cinema that drags on way too long, with questionable acting and a lifeless soundtrack. The only redeeming quality comes from the maniacal Sawyer family, and even they are a hooting, loud bunch of camp. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which would go on to be responsible for a variety of horror remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much better than it had any right to be. With an uncomfortable gradient, shocking soundtrack, and even some decent performances by Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour, Nispel’s remake downplays the cannibalistic nature of the franchise in favour of grotesque torture-porn levels of horror.
While the film reintroduces Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), one of horror’s most iconic figures, and even suggests a tragic backstory for the character, Nispel’s Chainsaw brought us one of the most despicable and significant horror icons in years in the form of Sherriff Hoyt (masterfully embodied by the great R. Lee Ermey). Hoyt, a tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed sadist, drives the plot of this remake, raises its quality to another level, and his popularity was arguably responsible for the equally-enjoyable prequel, The Texas Chain saw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006). On a side note, though, am I the only one shocked that, including remakes and reimaginings, the Chainsaw franchise is made up of eight separate movies? Crazy!
Now we’re getting somewhere! Irvin Yeaworth’s original 1958 film, starring Steve McQueen, was a campy piece of B-movie mush that has come to resemble a comedy more than a science-fiction piece. Channelling the likes of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, Chuck Russell’s reimagining, however, takes the story of the bulbous alien lifeform to far more grotesque levels. Incorporating some incredibly disgusting practical effects, the population of a small town is literally dissolved by the titular amoeba. Although some of the composite shots are obviously dated by today’s standards, an entirely CGI rendition of the Blob would probably have aged incredibly poorly by now. Instead, The Blob retains a level of camp in its premise but, with its gruesome effects and no-nonsense attitude, is a great example of how effective and impactful practical effects can be.
We’re back with Marcus Nispel and Platinum Dunes for this masterfully well-crafted remake of not only the original 1980 classic but, also, the first three sequels. Similar to Halloween, for those who find the original movies to be dated and cut-and-pasted, by-the-numbers slasher films with very little to differentiate them from each other until Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985) then this is the film for you! In fact, I often encourage newcomers to the franchise to watch this film and then jump straight to Jason Lives! Friday the 13th Part VI (McLoughlin, 1986); not because the continuity would tie together but, by doing that, you watch one kick-ass film with loads of gratuitous mid-2000s sex (which is far more graphic, enjoyable, and realistic than sex scenes from the 1980s) and horror imagery that sums up the first four entries of the franchise incredibly well and then you can delve into the enjoyable nonsense of zombie Jason Voorhees.
Beginning with the brutal decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) and detailing how Jason (Caleb Guss/Derek Mears) witnessed her murder and grew up alone in the wooded forests of Camp Crystal Lake, as well as detailing Jason’s transformation from the lesser-known burlap sack look to the now-iconic hockey mask, Friday the 13th is filled with some incredibly gruesome kills as Jason uses bear traps, snares, and other tricks to entrap and kill hapless teenagers all over the shop. Add to that some strong performances by Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, and Jared Padalecki and you have an intense, non-stop horror film that, like Jason, comes at you a mile a minute. Honestly, the only bad thing I have to say about this film is that, despite making $92.7 million on a budget of $19 million, we never saw a sequel; even Rob Zombie’s Halloween got a shitty sequel!
Here’s some more controversy for you: I actually liked Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s version of The Thing. It starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I absolutely adore, and, while marketed as a remake, was actually, ingeniously, a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror/sci-fi classic. Based exclusively on a brief scene from Carpenter’s film, van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing details how a Norwegian research team unearth an extraterrestrial craft and unwittingly awaken a shape-changing, parasitic alien lifeform and concludes with the survivors attempting to hunt down and eliminate the creature’s final form, which leads directly into the beginning of Carpenter’s The Thing.
Drawing loosely from both Christian Nyby’s 1952 B-movie classic The Thing From Another World! and the story that inspired it, Who Goes There? (Campbell, 1938), John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the quintessential examples of the effectiveness of practical special effects to the horror genre. Kurt Russell and Keith David lead the charge when their small Antarctic outpost is slowly assimilated by the titular alien creature, leaving the survivors to descend into distrust and anarchy as they struggle to fight off the ever-growing menace both outside and within their number. Carpenter’s film features some truly incredibly moments of practical effects wizardry, from a torso sprouting razor sharp teeth, to a severed head growing spider-like appendages and a dog literally splitting in two as tentacles blast out from its head; yet, while its similarly-impressive practical effects were tampered with in post-production, I never felt like Heijningen Jr’s The Thing was sub-par to Carpenter’s film. Instead, it works amazing well as a companion piece, allowing one to binge-watch both movies side-by-side and be suitably entertained.
Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sam Raimi’s landmark 1981 horror film The Evil Dead was in desperate need of a remake. Sure, the stop-motion, puppetry, and practical effects were great considering the limited time and budget Raimi had available to him but, over time, neither they nor the acting have aged incredibly well. In fact, for me, Evil Dead II (Raimi, 1987), which retells the events of the original in its opening moments, already surpassed Raimi’s original film by leaps and bounds: Ash (epitomised by Bruce Campbell) is a far more capable, well-rounded character, the effects are much better, and the film adopts a quirky style of black comedy that was sorely missing in the original. Fast forward to 2013 and, rather than attempt to emulate Raimi’s black comedy style, Fede Alvarez approaches his remake with an intense seriousness.
The horror is brutal and horrendous to look at; there’s no laughing deer heads here. Instead, characters saw their arms off, are attacked by nail guns, get beaten by crowbars, and are forced to tear their arms off at the elbow in gruesome fashion. The plot is largely the same, with a group of largely likeable characters accidentally awakening an ancient evil, but the stakes are much higher; here, the evil seeks to take on a physical form and bring about the apocalypse whereas in Raimi’s original film it simply wanted to claim the souls of those trapped in the cabin. While it lacks a character as iconic as Ash, Evil Dead makes up for it with some truly difficult to watch moments that are both sickening and perversely entertaining; even Raimi’s controversial tree rape scene is included and utilised in a far more effective and plot-relevant way and that alone is reason enough to place this film over the original, in my view.
This is it, the quintessential argument that not all remakes are bad and that they can, in some cases, vastly surpass their originals. While Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film of the same name may be closer to the original story and is still a pretty decent piece of 1950s science-fiction, despite its now campy tone, Cronenberg took the idea of a man teleporting himself with a fly and took it to whole new levels. Before, the man bore the head and arm of the fly as a result of the accident and slowly deteriorated into madness; here, though, thanks largely to an absolutely stellar performance by the always-amazing Jeff Goldblum, Cronenberg details the physical and mental degradation of his main character, Seth Brundle, in painstakingly brutal detail. Brundle, a brilliant scientist, initially embraces his newfound physical attributes before realising that he has been stricken by an infection on a cellular level not unlike AIDS or cancer. Soon, his body deteriorates at an alarming rate, with top-notch special effects being employed to make Goldblum practically unrecognisable through heavy make-up and full-body prosthetics.
As he alienates those around him, Brundle’s mind also begins to depreciate; initially desperate to reverse the effects, he soon comes to believe that he was never a man to begin with and prepares a gruesome legacy for himself whereby he will merge his crippled body with that of his lover (a strong, heartwrenching performance by Geena Davis) and his unborn child. In the process, he not only dissolves his rival’s hand and foot with corrosive fly vomit but literally bursts out of the remains of his decrepit human skin to emerge as a grotesque fly-like creature, before finally, tragically, forcing his lover to end his torment. The Fly transcends boundaries; it is a horrific tale of science gone wrong, a body horror with terrifying consequences but, at its heart, it is also an extremely tragic love story. Cronenberg did what many fail to do with their remakes; he took the original concept and not only put his own spin on it but also transformed it into something entirely separate from the source material and yet vastly superior to it in many ways.
Arguably, remakes like A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010) (which attempted to put a unique spin on the franchise and ended up becoming a carbon-copy retelling of Wes Craven’s seminal 1984 original), Total Recall (Wiseman, 2012), RoboCop (Padilha, 2014) could really learn a thing or two from The Fly, and many of the remakes on this list. If you’re going to remake a movie, don’t just retread the same material as before; go back to the source, back to the text, and either produce a more faithful adaptation or extrapolate the core themes and general premise and produce a great movie, rather than a simple, insulting cash-grab.