The 8 Ball 04.02.13: The Top 8 Horror Remakes
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.02.2013
From Rob Zombie's Halloween and John Carpenter's The Thing to The Fly, Dawn of the Dead and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down his top 8 horror remakes of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Horror Remakes
One of the more intriguing films of 2013 to date makes its bow this weekend, and to be honest it was a film I was dreading until not all that long ago. I'm talking about the Fede Alvarez-directed remake of Sam Raimi's classic Evil Dead. The film drew collective hisses from horror hounds when it was initially announced, and even more when it was revealed that it would strip most of the comedy out in favor of being a straight horror film. However, the gore-soaked redband trailer earned it a lot of credibility and relatively ecstatic buzz out of its screening at SXSW has led to it becoming one of the more anticipated films of the year. In honor of this remake, I thought this week would be a good one to look at the best horror remakes out there.
Caveat: One important film that people may think of was left off by me, as it is exceedingly difficult to know how to classify it. I mean Evil Dead 2, which is part-remake, part-reboot, part-sequel of Evil Dead. Outside of that, the only real caveat is that I generally counted films that are re-adaptations of the same source material as long as they didn't deviate in major ways from the first film. It is often difficult to judge that line, so I decided to err on the safe side and include them.
Just Missing The Cut
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) Last House on the Left (2009) The Ring (2002) The Crazies (2010) Funny Games (2008)
#8: The Grudge (2004)
First up on our list is the sole J-horror remake to make the list. In the early '00s there was an explosion of J-horror in the United States, as Gore Verbinski's remake of Hideo Nakata's 1998 Japanese film Ringu was an enormous hit that led Hollywood to jump across the Pacific to see what horror flicks could be flipped into English-language versions with recognizable stars for a quick cash grab. This rush died out after a few years but gave us subpar to disastrous efforts like Dark Water, Pulse, One Missed Call and even bad remakes of Korean or Chinese horror films like Shutter, The Eye and The Uninvited.
One of the few films to actually pull off a successful transition to American shores was Takashi Shimizu's remake of his own film, 2002's Ju-on: The Grudge. The Grudge had a lot of the same elements as its fellow and less successful remakes: the onryo (ghost girl) motif, strange imagery, bigger budgets and more Hollywood-style effects and production values. However, Shimizu keeps this one several legs above most of its fellows with assured direction and a sense of story that keeps us hooked in. By keeping the film in Japan and casting Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role, the audience is forced to identify with her as a woman stuck in a culture that she is not familiar with; as Shimizu unfolds the story and setting, everywhere starts to seem ominous because we are in an entirely different culture with different customs, rules and language. That alienation is very effectively exploited and Gellar does a good job of keeping us invested while Shimizu uses Columbia Pictures' higher budget to amp up the creepiness factor of Kayako--though nothing is creepier than the fact that Takako Fuji did that broken-neck crawl down the stairs without any effects work. The sequel is obviously lacking and few of the J-horror remakes that followed were worth the time, but this one still gives me the creeps.
#7: Halloween (2007)
Here is where I might lose a lot of people. Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween is one of the most divisive films in recent Hollywood horror history and was from the moment that it was announced that it was happening. For many people (myself included), John Carpenter's 1978 original is the absolute apex of slasher films. Michael Myers stands tall with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees (and perhaps Pinhead) as one of the true icons of the subgenre. So when Zombie was announced to be doing a remake of the film fans were very divided; on one hand you had people who were excited to see what the rocker-turned-filmmaker could do with the property after the success of The Devil's Rejects and (to a lesser degree) House of a Thousand Corpses and on the other hand, you had people who didn't feel that Zombie was qualified to touch Carpenter's masterpiece. Carpenter himself gave Zombie his seal of approval, but for a multitude of reasons that didn't change anyone's minds.
The film that was produced caused even more of a split. For my money, I think that Zombie did a very good job of retelling the film for a new era and this is what I mean. The 1978 version was so frightening at the time because it was taking this concept of an indiscriminate killer and monster and placing it within the suburbs, an area which was viewed as safe when compared to the big cities and the rampant crime there. In 2007, the suburbs no longer have that idealistic feel to them. What scares us now is understanding what makes killers tick. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy--Dexter Morgan if you prefer fictional takes--we have already accepted that the monsters are out there and what scares us is why, because it impresses upon us that these killers, at their heart, are people. And these people were normal once; they were created through their experiences, which means that anyone around us could become a monster with the right push. Zombie's take, with its extended backstory of Michael (played well by the young Daeg Faerch), portrays that incredibly well. If the film has flaws, it is in the more faithful second half where Scout Taylor-Compton's Laurie is written to be rather irritating. But the rest of the performances are well-done and Zombie does a solid job in taking Carpenter's story and expanding on it so that it's not just a gorier retread the way that Platinum Dunes' horror remakes have been.
#6: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Take caution when you tackle an update of a George Romero film, because you are treading on sacred ground. The king of zombie cinema has been no stranger to seeing his films remade, both zombie and non-zombie, with a wide variance of success. Tom Savini's 1990 color take on the original Night of the Living Dead was an admirable but not entirely successful effort; the 2008 straight-to-video remake of Day of the Dead is an unmitigated disaster. The few efforts that have been successful were 2010's The Crazies, which as you can see made my honorable mention, and this. Zack Snyder was an unknown filmmaker before 2004, when he was hired by Universal Pictures to helm an updated version of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. It was a ballsy move by the studio; Dawn is the most revered of Romero's Living Dead films and considered the peak of zombie movie-making for its ability to mix social commentary into the top-notch gore and horror elements without ever seeming preachy. To Snyder's credit he decided not to try and top what Romero did and used the story for his own take on zombie horror. He introduced the "fast zombie" style, taking it a step further than 28 Days Later did and told a more straight-forward horror tale than the original. Sarah Polley is very good in the lead role and the rest of the ensemble cast is generally great, while Snyder does some interesting things from a directorial point of view that keeps us tense and jumping. Even the pessimistic Romero, while not directly endorsing it, said it was much better than he expected it to be. It may not be as good as the original, but that is a high bar to set for success and it is quite good in its own right.
#5: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
I debated whether to put this one on here, because it isn't quite a pure horror film. Francis Ford Coppola's sumptuous, atmospheric take on the infamous story has a strong current of Victorian romance and drama to it that you wouldn't expect from a horror film. There's also the debate of whether a re-adaptation of the same source material constitutes a remake in the strictest sense. I think that the answer to the latter question is yes, at least when the plot is generally kept the same. As to the former, you can make the argument that Bram Stoker's Dracula contains a lot of non-horror elements but you can't deny that there is a significant amount of horror in it; this isn't like Twilight where vampires are used without any real sense of fright. Coppola's take on the story has been described as "overblown" and there is perhaps some truth to that but it is also exceedingly faithful to the source material and other than Keanu Reeves' miscasting as Jonathon Harker, there is nary a flaw to be found. Gary Oldman knocks the role of the titular character right out of the park and Anthony Hopkins is a fantastic Van Helsing; the performances of Winona Ryder, Tom Waits, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell and Sadie Frost are likewise excellent. Every aspect of this film works on a technical level, from the production design and the cinematography to Wojciech Kilar's inspired score. When the film wants to get bloody and horrific it has no problem with doing so and the proper Victorian elements that surround them only serves to heighten the violence by juxtaposition. As long as you can in fact accept this as a remake, I don't see how it would not at least merit very strong consideration for anyone's list.
#4: Let Me In (2010)
Vampire films haven't had the best go of it lately. Whether you're talking about the debacle that is the Twilight franchise, Tim Burton's relative misstep with Dark Shadows, the painfully-bad Priest, the mediocre Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter or just about any other such film, the most famous of preternatural creatures of the night has fallen on hard times at the theater. That being said, there are some good films featuring the blood-drinking undead that have been released and Let the Right One In is almost without question one of the best. The 2008 Swedish horror film was relatively light on gore but high on mood, atmosphere and character. When it was announced that an American remake was in the works, many were skeptical and that includes me. However, with Matt Reeves guiding the film things were in solid hands and with incredibly skilled young actors as Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the lead roles, you're off to a good start. Reeves' screenplay moves the setting to the US during the early 1980s and keeps things largely faithful, with a few minor changes. Moretz and Smit-McPhee are both phenomenal as Abby and Owen, the child vampire and the alienated young boy that she befriends. Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins are both great in their roles but this is really about the two young lead characters and Reeves' script does good work in making it both a coming-of-age film and a moody psychological horror flick. The film takes a look at some of the darker aspects of the novel that Tomas Alfredson left out of his version and outside of a few janky effects sequences the whole thing comes off incredibly well. I have difficulty deciding which of the two films I enjoy more and it generally depends on what kind of a film I'm in the mood for; either way, they are both fantastic.
#3: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Next on our list is a 1970s remake of a classic film of the sci-fi films of the '50s where paranoia was the thing. Jack Finney's 1954 novel The Body Snatchers has been turned into no less than four films, including the incredibly dull The Invasion and the admirable but somewhat misguided 1993 film Body Snatchers. However, it is the original and its remake that (deservedly) have the most acclaim. Don Siegel's 1956 film has been interpreted as an allegory on the dangers of McCarthyism (worth noting: Siegel himself, while acknowledging the subtext, says he tried not to focus on that to avoid preaching) while Philip Kaufman's version is more about the way that people were becoming increasingly alienated from each other in the post-Vietnam era. Either way, the core story for the film is the same: individuality is something that humanity must aspire to but often fails to achieve, which is contributing to the death of society. Many people regard the film as one of the greatest remakes of all time; Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams deliver great performances and Kaufman keeps things incredibly creepy throughout, building tension quite expertly. This is one of those perfect examples of a remake done right; Kaufman hits all the notes to be faithful to the original but doesn't merely ape what's there; he made it relevant to a new era of movie-goers.
#2: The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly is arguably the best film that the surrealist director has ever made. One wouldn't necessarily have expected this, a remake of the relatively lesser horror flick from the 1950s starring Vincent Price, to have been as good as it is. But when you consider that it allows the master of body horror to explore what happens when a man is merged with fly DNA, it's not all that surprising. This film is largely credited as being the one which made Jeff Goldblum a star and deservedly so. It's also one of the grossest sci-fi horror flicks for those who are gorehounds. The slow transition from human to Brundlefly is one of the great gross-out effects of all-time and yet somehow even when this happens, the story manages to have an emotional heart in the relationship between Seth and Veronica, which is not sappy and has just enough effect to make you care. The consequences of messing with science have rarely been portrayed better in a horror aspect and few remakes have been so far and away better than their originals as this one. Price's film is decent; this one is exceptional.
#1: The Thing (1982)
It led to no small amount of amusement and frustration to me that 2011's The Thing was considered by some to be an original film due to their unfamiliarity with John Carpenter's 1982 original. It's almost hard to believe that it has been thirty years since this incredible piece of suspense and terror, which was ostensibly a remake of the 1951 sci-fi film The Thing from Another World (itself developed from the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella Who Goes There?). Carpenter was on top of his game here with the tale of a creature from space that ends up unleashed on an arctic research team. It can copy any person, allowing paranoia to settle in and Carpenter builds that tension incredibly well. The suspense is really well-established and you find yourself wondering who's legit and who is a monster throughout and even Kurt Russell as the hero isn't necessarily safe from being suspected by the audience. The scene in which Russell's MacReady does the blood test to determine who is real and who is a Thing is one of the great suspense moments in horror. It also features visual effects that, considering they are three decades old, hold up exceptionally well. Movies like this are why I always like practical effects over CGI; practical effects just feel more real unless you're in the hands of a true CGI master. And I love the ending which is quite bleak, all things considered. In a world of horror remakes, this one stands out above the rest by an easy margin.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Eleven (1974) Episodes Watched: 605 Last Serial Completed:Invasion of the Dinosaurs - The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in 1970s London to find it has been evacuated because dinosaurs have appeared mysteriously and are rampaging through the streets. While the Doctor teams up with UNIT to determine the origins of the prehistoric creatures, Sarah Jane investigates on her own. But can either of them prevent a plot to revert London to a pre-technological level? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 24
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.