Fifteen remakes - and what they say about the state of horror in general.
With The Wolfman hitting video shelves this week (itself, a stylish update of the iconic 1941 Lon Chaney effort), SE&L decided to look back at the other horror remakes from the last 30 years to see how many of them hold up, and how many should have never seen the light of day. There are a couple of caveats, of course. We couldn't offer up opinions on every single update of a past terror title. We'd be here until some studio decides to turn Splice into a 3D, virtual reality immersive experience. Secondly, we purposefully avoided all the East to West, J-horror to Hollywood hackjobs. If you've seen one dark haired Asian ghost groan like she's got the macabre mange, you've pretty much seen them all.
For us, the 15 films chosen represent the most recognizable and mainstream of the post-modern creepshows. They are the names even the most clueless moviegoer would know. More importantly, more than a couple are considered the very best that the genre has to offer - even in their updated form. While opinions may differ, it's clear that this is one cash machine category that's not going away anytime soon (right, Hellraiser, Suspiria, People Under the Stairs, etc.).
The Amityville Horror
Anyone who's read the iconic '70s non-fiction "novel" on which this was based knows it's got the potential to be a horrific haunted house rollercoaster ride. So far, both attempts to capture its inherent dread have failed miserably.
Bob Clark's original was a dark and disturbing mix of proto-slasher moves and surreal, psychological madness. This update adds an even more bizarre backstory to the killer's motives, and piles on the smarm. The first film in great. This is merely good.
George Romero offered up a zombie retread (without the living dead) in this story of a small town gone terrifying, thanks to a government screw-up and some mind-altering drugs in the water supply. The remake keeps the framework, but somehow loses the fear.
Dawn of the Dead
Zack Snyder pulled off one of the greatest motion picture magic acts ever. He took what many consider to be the seminal splatter shocker from the late '70s - and made it even better. While not in Romero's league, it's pretty damn close.
David Cronenberg's operatic take on the hoary old Vincent Price b-movie from the '50s couldn't be better. Brilliant direction, strong performances, and more than enough physical F/X grue to make even the most stalwart scary movie fan gag. A classic in its own right.
Fresh off the success of Halloween, John Carpenter turn some a bit of sea-faring folklore into a rather effective, moody Gothic ghost story. Sure, not all of its worked, but it was a helluva lot better than the craptacular take on the material three decades later.
Friday the 13th
Jason Voorhees has always been about one thing - killing people - be they promiscuous teens or random innocents. Director Marcus Nispel simply took that premise and amplified it ten-fold. The results may not be the camp fun of the first series, but it definitely delivers the death.
Originally, fans were split on Rob Zombie's FBI profiler take on John Carpenter's famous butcher knife wielding maniac Michael Myers, with most hating his brutal interpretation. Now, it's appreciated for what it truly is - a marked masterwork that's just as strong as its source.
The Hills Have Eyes
Wes Craven could have done a lot worse than Haute Tension's then-hot director Alexandre Aja for this remake of his 'cannibals against campers' beatdown. The Frenchman seized the concept and ran with it, offering a radioactive subplot that literally stole the show.
The first film was no classic. It was crude, sleazy, and thoroughly exploitive. But at least it was a somewhat entertaining slice of shivers. The redux was just awful - poorly conceived, badly directed, and loaded with more wooden performances than a Twilight sequel.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
In the '50s, it was the threat of Communism. In the '70s, it was personal alienation and the individual struggle for identity that fueled the metaphor. In either case, the story of alien pods infiltrating the planet remains a sensational social commentary, no matter the version.
The Last House on the Left
It was the early '70s effort with the memorable tag line "It's only a movie, it's only a movie..." While no remake could live up to the brilliant bait and switch of such old school advertising, the dark and dispirited redux definitely increased the violence - and the vileness of this already fetid idea.
My Bloody Valentine 3D
A perfect case of a cult creepfest crawling out of the video store and back into fright night prominence. A wonderfully inventive update that, while lacking much of the original's local color and Great White North charms, truly brings on the bloodshed - sometimes, in buckets.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Most criticisms of this otherwise brilliant retake on the murderous gloved one center on how serious this version of Freddy Krueger is. Apparently, if the dream killer is not cracking wise, he's not terrifying. Too bad, because this translation of the iconic villain is excellent.
Night of the Living Dead
As a gift to F/X god Tom Savini, buddy George Romero let him helm an early '90s revamp of the film that literally started the zombie genre. The results were revelatory - gory, grim, and given over to the time and temperament of its mostly post-modern mindset.
The 1976 original tapped directly into the raging fascination with Satanism started by The Exorcist, giving the subject a shocking, apocalyptic sheen. Three decades later, the revisit was an unholy mess, poorly cast and laughable when it should have been scary.
There is a special place reserved in cinematic Hell for Gus Van Sant. Only someone completely clueless about the art of motion pictures would craft a near shot for shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock's amazing masterpiece. Beyond bad.
On the plus side, it kills off a cast member of The Hills within the first 15 minutes, and it does offer enough arterial spray to satisfy even the most rabid gorehound. Even more intriguing is the fact that it takes a beloved '80s effort and proves how misguided said wistful sentiments are.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Marcus Nispel clearly needs to helm every horror remake on the horizon. Before helping Mama Voorhees' favorite son to get his garroting groove back, he took Tobe Hooper's power tool loving lunatic and made him even more terrifying. A stellar update.
Thanks to John Carpenter's precise direction and Rob Bottin's still sensational special effects, this take on the favored '50s film remains the benchmark for all remakes - smart, uncompromising, inventive, and above all, truly horrific.