A pretty simple fact about about me is that I love horror. It has been my favourite film genre since I was old enough to form critical opinion and it is consistently the one genre of film where I find the most innovation and some of the greatest explorations of society and the human condition. It is also a genre based on re-inventing itself. Finding new ways to push itself forward and do new things, find new ways to scare and entertain people, to leave the right kind of bad taste in people’s mouths. Part of this has always been the idea of the remake. Taking an old film and redoing it in a more modern style, updating the effects and making the film feel more relevant to a new generation. That is, in theory.
Unfortunately, a lot of the films picked for remaking simply do not need updating, and a lot of remakes just miss the point of the original film entirely (I have purposely avoided several that have gotten abysmal reviews, so my list would probably be a little different in the ‘worst’ department if I did watch them!). Some are great though, some update the film and add a modern touch that still retains that original spirit of the film, some even add to the film, and re-define the concept with their remake. These are outnumbered to the bad though, and pretty drastically too. This is my 6 of the best and worst – Horror remakes.
Evil Dead (2013)
This film definitely split opinions a little bit. Some die-hard fans of the classic trilogy loved it. Some despised the very ground the new director, Fede Alvarez, walked on. Well, I happened to really enjoy it, as you can see here . There is no denying there is a legacy this movie had to live up to. The Evil Dead trilogy is an absolute standard in horror. From the out and out horror of the first one, to the dark comedy leanings of the second and the Indiana Jones on acid that is Army of Darkness, even Joss Whedon digs what Bruce Campbell and co. started in the eighties. Was a remake entirely necessary? No. Is it good though? Yes.
This film takes the original motif of a group of twenty-somethings going to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend and just goes for it, and what would you expect, given that Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert are the producers behind the film. A little lighter on the camp comedic elements that were present in Evil Dead I and II, this film feels like those, but updated.
Ridiculous death scenes? Check.
Some pretty outrageous gore for mainstream cinema? Check.
A cool heroine who gets shit done? CHECK.
This just gets it right, and it feels right from beginning to end.
The Thing (1982)
This may not be entirely known by everyone, but this is indeed a remake of a film from 1951 called ‘The Thing From Another World’. John Carpenter’s classic is kind of a middle ground between ‘The Thing From Another World’ and it’s core material ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell. What can I really say about this film that hasn’t already been said? If you’ve seen it, you know why it’s so good. If you haven’t, then stop reading and go watch it; this is the other pillar of sci-fi horror after Ridley Scott’s Alien and needs to be watched. If you have never even heard of this film before, basically it’s about an American research facility in Alaska that discover a Norwegian base where something laying dormant in the base has broken free – that something being a shape-shifting alien. Chaos ensues.
The film is, frankly, brilliant. It’s paranoid, dark, action-packed and has some of the best prosthetics I think I’ve ever seen. Kurt Russel is in fine form as the determined, flippant, whiskey drinkin’ MacReady, kickin’ ass and taking names. There is a real bleakness through-out this film that just gives the viewer a very real sense of hopelessness, even more-so than my next entry, and that is saying something. Sci-fi horror at it’s best.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Yes, I’m serious. Deadly serious. George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead is probably my favourite film of all time, and I absolutely adore this remake of it. Dawn of the Dead is the quintessential zombie film. Zombie apocalypse happens, people run for their lives, a group end up together in a shopping mall. No explanations. No miraculous heroes. Just human beings. Living in a man-made cage while the walking dead wait outside, patiently, longingly. The remake retains all of these elements, and they are all as intact here as they were in the original. Spot on. This is the only film out of these three that really tried to be like the work it’s remaking. Zack Snyder really worked to keep the films themes and basic characters intact, and they really are.
The biggest thing to point out about this film, and any horror or zombie nerd will tell you, is that the film favoured the running zombie, over the slow-walking zombie of the original. This is totally indicative of how Snyder likes to pace this film, too. The film has no real build up, no tension in it’s execution. Ten minutes. That’s it, then it’s apocalypse time. No holds barred, your world is gone, no hope left apocalypse time. The original held some slow burn to it’s opening, choosing to show the humanity of our lead characters and how they deal with having to kill or re-kill the walking dead as they clamber towards what would be their safe-haven, Monroeville Mall. This is a bit more cut-throat, the mall is reached rather quickly, and instead Snyder goes the route of showing us the characters develop as they also get to know each other while living in the mall. This makes for some really nice scenes, as there’s room to breathe, have a little humour, and show people just getting along with people. Snyder’s film is decidedly more optimistic in overall tone, it has a lighter feel to it, that life will continue if we strive for it to do so. That said, he does go darker than Romero in certain aspects, with one particular motif featuring a zombie baby and… yeah, you get my point. Snyder seems to favour dark tones as contrast rather than overall theme, while Romero definitely went for all out hopelessness.
So, yeah. I watched this one night in a friends house thinking the concept sounds like an actually scary western film. I was wrong, scary concept does not a scary film make (for the record, I was already aware of this, but sometimes we need a reminder). We did get a great kick out of how ridiculous the last act is though. Then, I find out recently that it’s a remake of a Japanese film called ‘Kairo’ (though it was released over here as ‘Pulse’ as well). Cue me finding and watching the original and realizing that ‘Pulse’ is worse than I thought. Western remakes of Japanese horror films have actually been surprisingly okay, The Ring and The Grudge are both entertaining, creepy films. This is just none of that. The concept of the film is that ghosts are coming to haunt us through the technology we use, so computers, phones, that sort of stuff. The Japanese film handles this so well, with some truly, truly jarring scenes and, in typical Japanese horror fashion, very dark overtones.
I’m going to stop there, watch the Japanese film, I want you to be as surprised and creeped out as I was. The American version just abandons all of this in favour of every cliché you can think of. The pacing is good, but the pay-off is predictable. The special effects are functional, but the motif’s are uninspired. The deaths and the mystery surrounding them does give you a sense of dread, but that is quickly dispelled by bad acting and a plot that feels a touch loose. Then the end happens. Fire and explosions everywhere. I mean good lord the film just decides IT doesn’t even want to live on this planet any more. This is probably the one remake in this list I would say check out, even just for the last couple of scenes.
House of Wax (2005)
What do you get when you take a Vincent Price horror film from 1953, strip it of all it’s tension and terror and cast Paris Hilton in one of the lead rolls? A bad film and an even worse remake, that’s what. The original House of Wax is an incredibly creepy tale of revenge, betrayal and the desire to create the ultimate attraction. The remake is a terrible pseudo-slasher with bad delivery and PARIS HILTON. IN A LEAD ROLL. The film isn’t in the least bit scary or creepy, providing the most basic and cliched of back-story for our killer, despite the original relying on us empathizing with the cloaked figure. Instead, this is literally just your standard group of teenagers end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and get picked and hunted one by one. The original story is chucked out the window in favour of something that feels like it was written in one draft and they just decided ‘yeah, that’ll do nicely!’. *SPOILER ALERT* Siamese twins? Really!?! That’s the best you could come up with!? I mean, the core narrative of people being turned into wax statues is still there, but that’s it. This is a remake in the worst sort of way, taking the original source material and just dumbing it down.
The film has two saving graces – one is that the director, Jaume Collet-Soura moved away from this film pretty fast, and did the incredibly decent ‘Orphan’ in 2009, amongst other films, and two is that Paris Hilton, WHO IS CAST IN A LEAD ROLE, gets a piece of pipe thrown straight through her empty skull in what is a righteous kill scene. That’s it. Please avoid this film unless highly intoxicated.
Day of the Dead (2008)
This films physically pains me to talk about. But I must, for the glory of making a complete article of honest opinion and warning you all of this crime against horror. So, we established that I love George A Romero’s Living Dead trilogy and the Dawn of the Dead remake. If we didn’t, well, now you know. My opinion of Day of the Dead the original is also pretty dam high. This remake is a god damn insult to George A. Romero’s work, those films and to anyone who watches it. The original film is a dark, claustrophobic insight into life after the zombie outbreak. It examines how humans have come to exist together in such small amounts, how they have come to survive and come to terms with the idea that they may be the last ones left. It examines human idealism versus dread and pessimism. And it has Bud, my favourite character in any zombie film. Bud is a zombie that is experimented on by the kind-hearted Dr. Matthew ‘Frankenstein’ Logan to see if zombies still remember being human. *SPOILER ALERT* they do, and Bud is seen as this bridge between the unending scourge of the living dead and us, the middle-ground of basic rationality and hope.
The remake is actually in minus figures it has so little of this. First of all, the film starts off with the zombie apocalypse just starting a small town. It’s meant to be a worldwide plague by now. Second, the film features the military base above ground. It’s meant to be underground and they are meant to be all that’s left. Thirdly, and dam it it annoys me so much…..*deep breath*…… They replaced Bud with an incompetent young soldier who is assigned to the female lead, promptly develops a crush on her and is then killed by zombies three quarters of the way through the film. At WHAT point did that seem like a good idea? Taking away one of the core points of Romero’s classic, and just removing any level of metaphor or abstract meaning attached and making the character fodder for a romantic relationship is just, it defies all logic. I am okay with films changing certain parts of stories for remakes or adaptations to modernize, or perhaps even better the core material, but to bastardize the piece entirely is simply lazy film-making. Throw in a completely z-list cast, bar Ving Rhames, who ALMOST removes the love I have for his performance in Dawn of the Dead, VERY standard pacing and movie gimmicks and you have a remake that is nothing of the original.
This is a film to avoid. Watch the original. Watch it again. Forget this exists. Please.