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The Abominable Mr Burton

Tim burtonI begin this column having just learned that Tim Burton is going to remake The Abominable Dr Phibes.

Oh dear.

Oh dear oh dear.

There would once have been a time when I would have welcomed this news, or at the very least have been intrigued by it. But not now. Now, should the film ever surface, I can safely say that I intend to stay far, far away from it.

There are a number of reasons why I say this.

First is the career record of Mr Burton himself. Robert Fuest’s classic camp melodrama starring perhaps the most deliciously camp and melodramatic of actors in Vincent Price might have been interesting if it was the next project from the man who gave us Beetlejuice, or Batman Returns, or The Nightmare Before Christmas. But it isn’t. The Abominable Dr Phibes remake is going to come from the man who gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, something that was meant to be a ‘re-imagining’ of Planet of the Apes, and the most pointless remake of Alice in Wonderland ever. Gentlemen readers of this column who are of a certain age will I hope agree with me that the definitive movie version of the Lewis Carroll classic is of course William Sterling’s 1971 British version starring Fiona Fullerton, a British actress who was only second to Lynne Frederick in attempting to usurp the throne of Most Fancied British Actress By Schoolboys Everywhere from the all-conquering Jenny Agutter.

But that’s quite enough about young British female actresses of the 1970s, a subject I am sure many will agree could be worthy of its own column.

Johnny Depp in Dark ShadowsNot content to squander both his own talents and those of star Johnny Depp with his Alice remake, Mr Burton then proceeded to deliver his own very special take on the American television series Dark Shadows. The film itself feels horribly misjudged, although unlike Planet of the Apes, in the case of Dark Shadows the source material was considerably grottier, if the episodes of said programme that I managed to catch on US Cable TV on a grim trip to Texas many years ago were anything to go by. Considering the alternatives available in my hotel room were seemingly never-ending reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard or religious programmes featuring ladies whose hairstyles were so huge and terrifying I could only surmise that the ladies themselves were of extra-terrestrial origin (either that or it was where they hid the microphones), the fact that the interminably tedious adventures of Luke and Bo actually seemed preferable (and infinitely better made) to what was going on in Collingwood Manor will hopefully give UK readers an inkling of how pedestrian Dark Shadows could certainly be.

But hang on, I hear you cry. Tim Burton made Sweeney Todd, didn’t he? That was good, wasn’t it? Filled with blood and gothic mayhem? And what about Sleepy Hollow? Wasn’t his tribute to Hammer Films pretty good? And isn’t Ed Wood just one of the best feelgood biopics ever made?

Well, yes, yes and yes. I’ll agree with you that all of those were cracking pictures, all with moments (and indeed entire sequences) that approached genius.

They weren’t remakes though, were they? In fact I would even hesitate to call his Batman a remake, going back as it did to the comic books rather than trying to redo dear old Adam and Burt prancing around in their amusing underwear to the accompaniment of gaily coloured cartoon balloons spelling out the sounds of violence.

I’m making up my own rules here and goodness me don’t I know it, but here’s the point I want to make.

Most Hollywood remakes are awful.

Every remake Tim Burton has made is awful (unless you count Batman).

The Abominable Dr. PhibesTherefore The Abominable Dr Phibes is going to be awful too.

Of course it could be marvellous, if done the right way.

What do I mean by that? Well I do believe it’s possible to produce fabulous remakes of well-loved classic horror films. There are the obvious candidates like Hammer’s Dracula, Carpenter’s The Thing (which also managed the double whammy of turning a science fiction film into a horror remake and being bloody fantastic at the same time), Cronenberg’s The Fly, Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D (endless fun in a very different way to the equally enjoyable Joe Dante original), and Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, which is just as disturbing as William Lustig’s 1980 movie but plays by its own rules just enough to make it a very scary film in its own right. What all these remakes do is make the subject matter their own, whether it’s by throwing out the source novel (Dracula), going back to the source story (The Thing), using it to yet again play out the director’s own obsessions (The Fly) or just have a really, really good time (Piranha 3D). The idea of a proposed remake of Videodrome had my wife recoiling in horror, whereas I think it could be a fantastic film if someone approaches it intelligently. The world has changed so much since Cronenberg’s wild, weird attack on television was made back in 1983 that a modern Videodrome could be a fantastic, biting satire on the power of media and our obsessions with the internet and social networking. Alternatively if it ends up being directed by Marcus Nispel (the Friday the 13th remake) or Samuel Bayer (Nightmare on Elm Street) it will probably feature airbrushed semi-naked teenagers being chased by televisions until they end up cornered in some kind of underground hillbilly lair where they are forced to watch endless episodes of Dark Shadows or The Dukes of Hazzard until their brains turn to custard. Mind you, at least then they’ll be able to really enjoy Mr Burton’s remakes.

And Tim, if by some wild streak of fate you happen to be reading this, for Christ’s sake get out there and prove me wrong. If you don’t, and especially if you dare to cast Helena Bonham Carter as Vulnavia, I promise that I will hunt you down and do the kind of things to you that would make Liam Neeson weep.

You have been warned.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

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1 comment

  1. Jasper Bark

    My feelings entirely John.

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