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Remakes: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly

Evil Dead remakeRemakes of beloved horror films are all the rage in Hollywood and, unfortunately, most of them are bad. Really bad.

However, with the release this week of the remake of the iconic Evil Dead looking like it may buck the trend, we at This Is Horror sat down round a very big, gothic table and had a chat. We each threw two titles (although some of us cheated!) into the dusty Fedora in the middle of the table. One would be our favourite remake, the other our most hated. Then we had to take turns in explaining why we had chosen the films we had. It was like a weird AA meeting.

Here are the results!

The best remakes

The Last House on the Left (2009)

For a long time Wes Craven’s original was considered a ‘sacred cow’ among exploitation films. Angry, of its time, and incredibly brutal, the film defied an ultra-low budget and limited resources to become a cult classic. What it lacked in panache it made up for in righteous rage. So many genre fans – me included – sighed inwardly when the remake was announced.

But something strange happened. The remake was actually pretty good. No, it was very good – up to a point. The integrity and raw aggression remained intact, but the production values, writing and acting were a lot higher. The filmmakers paid tribute to the edgy original while also bringing their own vision to the table. The plot is identical: parents of an abused teenage girl taking revenge on a bunch of criminals who invade their home looking for shelter. Some of the silliness of the original is jettisoned and the remake has a serious tone that is to be admired. This is only fumbled during an ill-advised end credit sequence that almost ruins everything that has gone before with its descent into cartoon violence.


John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

The same basic premise as the Howard Hawks original, but owing more to its novella origins and transfused with a bag or two of another horror/sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Carpenter’s overhaul brought the thing new life, new chills, an entertainingly strong ensemble cast, and eye-popping practical FX that are not only still effective in 2013, but thoroughly kick the ass of today’s by-the-numbers CG-heavy genre fare, pretty much without exception – including that uninspired remake of a remake of a remake Hollywood tried to foist on us not long ago. Cheers to JC and that badass FX wizard Rob Bottin for bringing the pain, in a good, good way.


Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Oh no, they said, zombies can’t run. Sorry? Zombies. The undead who come back to life and eat like cannibals? Y’know, because they’re so realistic.

I may be sticking my head above the parapet here, but whilst George’s original may still be the best of his zombie trilogy, it has dated badly on nearly every front except for the thinly veiled message of consumerism. Zack Snyder’s version is fast, slick and ups the ante on nearly every level without falling into the trap that has caught out Platinum Dunes on so many occasions.


Dracula (1958)

After much consideration of the remakes that I love, (including Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly), my favourite remake of all time has to be the 1958 Hammer Dracula. It’s a great film for so many reasons – performance, photography and music being just a few, but the reasons it’s the greatest are twofold.

First, until it came out (Curse of Frankenstein being a bit of a warm-up act) horror as a film genre was all but dead, considered to be black and white kiddie matinee monster fare but certainly not something worthy of adult attention. Along comes Dracula, with its vivid, marvellous colour, its blood and gore and pretty girls with heaving bosoms, the film single-handedly changed the face of the horror film forever – and in so many good ways. It also showed that sometimes British really was best, and gave us a chance to shine in the international market at something we could be really good at – quality, atmospheric well-made horror. Stop people in the street today and they can still tell you what Hammer Horror is because it really was that momentous a sea change.

Second, Dracula really is the way to approach a remake – it doesn’t slavishly copy the original, or the book on which it’s based – instead it swirled its satin-lined cape, bared its fangs and did its own outrageous thing in the context of the social and cultural climate of the time. God I love it.


The Stepfather (2009)

Dylan Walsh’s portrayal of a murderous family-man is right up there with Terry O’Quinn’s performance from the 1987 original. Playing the maniac in search of the perfect family, only to slaughter them as soon as they fail to meet his expectations, Walsh brings the perfect amount of menace to the role, and it’s his performance which makes this remake an unmitigated success.


The Fly (1986)

Cronenberg took the basic concept of the original and made it uniquely his own. I believed the characters and lived the horror along with them. And what horror! Brundlefly’s disintegration is deep at the heart of my own morbid fears, as is Veronica’s powerlessness to save him. The only thing worse than becoming a monster is watching someone you love become one. The finale is horrific and heartbreaking in equal measure and I always marvel that such a grotesque creature can make me cry. Every time. Add Howard Shore’s gorgeous music to the mix and you have a truly great film that transcends the genre.


The worst remakes

Piranha 3D (2010)

There’s a lot of competition on the bad remake front, but the remake of Piranha has to be high on the list. It lacks the style, class and wit of the original, makes the mistake that tits and over-the-top gore scenes are funnier than a decent script, and insults the intelligence of everyone in it, involved in it, or who watches it. A waterlogged turd, this is a film that a lot of people seem to inexplicably love, but I hated it. Not even Kelly Brook naked could save this dog.


Friday the 13th (2009)

Why, after decades of instalments in a film franchise that wasn’t known for its originality or diversity in the first place – and took its antagonist Jason Voorhees from the bottom of Crystal Lake to outer space, for fuck’s sake – would anyone find it necessary to reboot this series with a more-or-less exact copy of what had already been done? Oh, right. Michael Bay. Speaks for itself. We’d all do well to steer clear of any fare bearing his name and seek out a nice shell game on the street corner somewhere. There’d be more surprises.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original masterpiece permanently resides in the Museum of Modern Art, no less. That alone should warn any callers not to even think about it. But someone did, again in shameless pursuit of the dollar. Hello again, Michael Bay! This dreck holds absolutely none of the charm, skill or scares of its colossal predecessor. Oh look, she’s hiding under something and holding her breath, while the bad guy’s feet slowly walk by! Again. Not even always-entertaining R. Lee Ermey can save this one.


April Fool’s Day (2008)

My first choice was Nightmare on Elm Street, but that would have been too obvious!

Instead, I’ve gone for the remake of one of my favourite 80s horror films in the slasher sub-genre. April Fool’s Day from 1986 was a fantastically fun little gem that had a group of teens invited by a friend to her remote island home. One by one, they are picked off in decidedly nasty and inventive ways. A great cast included Deborah Foreman and Amy Steel and whilst the title gives the twist away, it was an enjoyable little romp.

The remake takes the worst of MTV inspired culture and blends it with the most unlikeable and vacuous group of characters you’ll ever have the misfortune to watch. Every one of them is a hateful little shit and you’ll pray for them to die. The twist on the twist is just spiteful and there is nothing here to interest anyone whatsoever.


The Wicker Man (2006)

In the hall of remakes there are the redundant, the mediocre, the inept, the plain awful, and the so astonishingly inappropriate and misguided you wonder what everyone involved with it was thinking. Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man is all of these and more. I reviewed this when it came out with phrases that included ‘waste of time’, ‘worst film of the decade’ and words like ‘misogynistic’, ‘appalling’, ‘ignorant’, ‘blinkered’, ‘hopeless’, ‘inept’, and ‘a disgrace’. I reproduce the highlights of that review here as this film does not merit my wasting time finding new insults for it.


The Fog (2005)

Remaking John Carpenter’s 1980 classic was always going to divide opinion, but nobody could predict just how awful the result would be. With Tom Welling still in Smallville mode, and occasional non-scares you can spot a mile off – even the fog can’t build tension – this is a complete mess of a movie, barely coherent in places. It shows that the movie was green-lit by Revolution Studios before a script had even seen the light of day. Shocking, for all the wrong reasons.


The Haunting (1999)

Some remakes are so bafflingly awful I can’t even imagine how the process got started. In the case of 1999’s The Haunting, it’s like someone thought, “Hey, what this subtle, effective and atmospheric psychological ghost story really needs is a Disney theme park ride loaded with CGI effects! Oh, and if we can get Catherine Zeta-Jones hinting that she’s a lesbian that would be awesome too.” Shirley Jackson’s masterful novel is probably my favourite of all time. And 1963’s The Haunting is as good a filmic version as could have been made. But Jan de Bont’s (ahem) ‘re-imagining’ is a disgrace. Badly written, badly acted, pointless and not at all scary. Ugh. Just – ugh.


Do you agree or disagree with us?

Don’t be shy to use the comments section below, tell us on our Facebook page or even tweet us @ThisIsHorror using #TIHRemakes.


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    • Paul Feeney on April 19, 2013 at 1:51 pm
    • Reply

    I think A Nightmare On Elm Street needs to be up here, despite being an obvious choice. It’s the best (worst?) example of how not to do a remake. Taking everything that made the original so freaky and nightmare inducing and jettisoning all that in favour of a bog standard teen slasher with embarrassingly bad acting, plot holes you could drive a truck through and an unconvincing back story for Freddy, it really is one of the shittest remakes I’ve ever seen. Zero scares, predictable ‘jump’ scenes and an incoherent and illogical plot, it truly is horrendous in all the wrong ways.

    Nightmare… is actually one of the few films that could benefit from a good remake/reboot as, although it still has the power to disturb, the original is starting to creak just a little.

    I also liked the remake of Texas Chainsaw… It wasn’t even close to the awesomeness of the original but as a stand alone slasher, I thought it was surprisingly meaty and effective, if nothing fantastic.

  1. I’m not the biggest fan of recent remakes to be honest. Although saying that, Dracula 1958 and The Thing are two of my favourite films. I’ve avoided a couple of the films mentioned in this list as they looked so utterly awful, I couldn’t bring myself to watch even on a Friday night with a few lagers. I DID watch the remake of Dawn and found it a dull, pointless waste of time. It didn’t have anything memorable about it all for me.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch The Thing again.

  2. Count me as someone who inexplicably loves Piranha 3D. Only I can explain it. I love its energy and humor. I love that it embraces the ridiculousness of 80s exploitation without winking at the audience. I love that it recognizes that the visceral reactions that we have to horror and comedy are not so far apart. Also, I love Eli Roth’s head getting popped between two boats.

    I find it difficult to have any feelings about the Friday the 13th remake at all. Since all F13 are more or less the same, the distinction between “sequel” and “remake” is a slim one. It’s as competently made a Friday the 13th movie as any of the better ones in the series. A very low bar to clear, and it just reaches it.

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