[23 August 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Are audiences growing sick of remakes? If you listen to the pundits spinning the sour box office numbers for 2011 adaptations of Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian after their disastrous 19 August weekend ticket sales, the answer might be “Yes!” After all, a recent report has indicated that nearly 90 of such revamps are in the planning, and if anything can stop the stampede of reduxes to your local Cineplex, it’s the failure to find a consistent ticket buying crowd. Of course, if good version of old films were made, the number and need wouldn’t matter. One of the greatest truisms in Tinseltown is that money talks and all other BS business concerns walk. Had this latest take on the vampire and the sword and sandal spectacle become Summer season popcorn prizes, no one would be arguing.
Perhaps it’s what was being redone, not the how or the why. As a matter of fact, there are dozens of titles sitting out there in underachievement land just waiting to be rediscovered and reconfigured. Horror may seem to be the region where everyone draws from the most, but there are other categories and genres just waiting for their half-baked step-children to be embraced. While choices and chances are always concerned, it seems clear that the 10 films listed here are ripest for reconsideration. They offer the elements necessary for successful contemporizing, including great ideas, ripe potential, and a result that reinforces the original while making a statement all their own. This is especially true of the first title in the collection, a potential terror epic that got sidetracked by facets outside its novice creator’s control…
Clive Barker wanted it to be “the Star Wars” of horror films. After successfully bringing his brilliant Hellraiser to the silver screen, he eyed his “monsters among us” novella Cabal as his next project. It was to be big and brash, the culmination of his reality based repugnance and love of all things fanciful and foul. Using up his entire cache of industry interest and filmmaking favors, he envisioned an epic terror tale dealing with psychopathic serial killers, hidden underworlds, and misunderstood menace. A remake, complete with CG creatures and a more fleshed out narrative, could reclaim this calamity from its current place as a formidable flop.
When Rick Baker was still an unknown scrub, drinking in the discerning genius of movie make-up guru Dick Smith, he was asked to participate in this peculiar project, a mid ‘70s update of a standard ‘50s sci-fi shocker. His mandate – create the title character in all its goo glop glory. And he did just that, much to the joy of slimy sluice fans everywhere. Too bad the film surrounding the slowly disintegrating astronaut was so lame. Now, nearly 40 years later, an update could turn this unintentional laugh fest into a true statement of gore greatness. Just find a filmmaker willing to take the material seriously and let a still vital Baker pile on the pus.
With the towering success of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, the time seems ripe to remake this Stuart Gordon sci-fi epic. Granted, the premise is a tad perfunctory: there’s no more war. Country/conglomerates now wage battle as part of a spectator sport where the title ‘athletes’ operate skyscraper sized automatons in rock ‘em, sock ‘em beat downs to the death. But thanks to the undercurrent of espionage (someone is sabotaging the machines to favor one ‘side’ over the other) and the overpowering possibilities of the visuals, we have something that CGI could make truly magnificent. All it needs it a tech revamp and you’ve got another billion dollar dynasty in the making.
In 1975, two books dominated the genre fiction landscape. One was Stephen King’s vampires in a small town tome ‘Salem’s Lot. The other was Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel. Centering on a New York supermodel and her brownstone apartment (that just so happens to be poised precariously over the actual gates of Hell), it was a nasty little gem. Sadly, the movie version was terrible. From the Love Boat lite feel of the casting to the awful direction of Brit Michael Winner, the final result was repugnant. In the right hands, you could easily have a remake menacing mesh of Dario Argento’s Inferno and William Freidkin’s The Exorcist.
When Don Knotts walked away from his role as Deputy Barney Fife on the hit The Andy Griffith Show, he did so with an armload of Emmys, and a huge amount of performer popularity. Universal then put the actor into a series of specially designed projects, many crafted by the Griffith show’s staff writers. Mr. Chicken used a horror theme (Knotts is a typesetter who investigates a local haunted house) and found the right balance between humor and heart. The result is an enduring classic that stands up well, even today. However, the idea is ripe for reinvention, especially for an actor with a decidedly post-modern edge…say, Jesse Eisenberg?
It’s hard to believe that the formidable international threat of nuclear war - unintentional or blatant - has not been explored more openly in recent cinema. Ever since The Day After, it seems like a moratorium has been maintained over the concerning concept of mutually assured mass destruction. This specific ‘60s scare tactic, about a family out campy when the rest of society goes A-bomb, could be easily updated to fit a 2011 ideal. Even better, one could envision a take where that hoary old gimmick - the first person POV found footage approach - was used to revamp this eerie end of the world conceit.
Fans of the original source material were excited when it was announced that George Lucas was taking on the fowl from another planet, given the filmmaker’s still active Star Wars cred. After all, with a creative staff like the one at ILM, the title character promised to be something really special. It turned out to be a little person in a kid’s party outfit. Gone was the gaunt, cigar chomping anti-hero of dozens of cynical comics. In its place was an obvious costume that constantly reminded the viewer they were watching some guy in a suit. Computers and someone sworn to the comic could rescue this redolent misfire from the bargain bin where it has sat for so long.
Dragons in modern day London. How COOL is that? Indeed, when the idea for this action epic was first announced, fans imagined the still new tech of Jurassic Park melding with the most dangerous medieval monster of them all, turning the capital of Britain into one big fire and brimstone bash. Instead, the creatures were introduced and then - we jump several years to a sullen, dire post-apocalyptic wasteland full of whiners. Not even a clear voiced Christian Bale could salvage the silliness. Today, a true Reign would focus on the beastie uprising, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes except with fire breathing lizards as the ultimate threat to mankind.
A victim of its own misguided ambitions as it was a telling take on the Hollywood high concept gone to seed, this adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s social satire never really had a chance. From the hiring of a helpless Brian DePalma to the major misapplication of Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, nothing worked. They even dumped the original ending for something more upbeat and universal. Ugh. Unlike other projects of this list, the novel is ripe for rediscovery, especially in light of our current obsession with all things tabloid and reality TV. A wise producer could put together a knockout cast while keeping everything that Wolfe’s words celebrated… and criticized.
It’s hard to hate on the version of Ray Bradbury’s seminal novel as filtered through the mind of formidable French New Wave auteur, François Truffaut. With all the creative differences both onset and behind the scenes, it’s amazing any movie got made at all. Still, the story of future “fireman,” mandated to burn books and the indigent peoples who keep them alive via memorization needs to be updated, especially with today’s Tea Party acting a lot like the clueless Establishment in the book. While rumors have circulated over versions with Mel Gibson as the star or something helmed by Frank Darabont. someone needs to step up and address this sci-fi classic ASAP.