At this stage, when we hear that one movie or another is being remade, we hardy bat an eye, so desensitized we have become these rehashed versions of films we love. Too often it seems that these movies miss the point of the original, skip over all the things that made the first ones great, or just plain aren’t very good. This especially seems to be the case with horror movies. And with a new Poltergeist hitting theaters this week (and not screening in advance in most areas, which is never a good sign), this is at the forefront of our minds right now.
As worried as we are about Poltergeist being terrible (we’ll give it a fair shake, but there are some big ol' red flags), and as bad a rap as horror remakes get, they don’t all suck. In fact, there are some that are downright awesome. Maybe they capture the essence of the original and give it a modern makeover, maybe they take the original story in a new and unexpected direction that adds new depth, or perhaps they took a movie with some intriguing pieces but that never quite achieved what it was capable of and gave it a do-over. In that spirit, here are ten horror remakes that turned out awesome.
From the late 1970s to the late ‘80s director John Carpenter was at the height of his considerable powers, and nowhere is that as apparent as in 1982’s The Thing. A loose reworking of the source material for Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s film melds horror and science fiction as a crew at a research facility in Antarctica deal with a malevolent alien presence that takes the shape of any living creature it touches. The cast, including Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley, must contend with horrifying creatures, mounting suspense, and overwhelming paranoia as they begin to suspect one another of being monsters. Topped off by an ambiguous ending that still inspires debate today, The Thing stands among Carpenter’s best.
Hideo Nakata’s Ringu took the international horror scene by storm in 1998, inspiring spinoffs, imitators, and Gore Verbinski’s American remake, The Ring, just a few years later in 2002. More atmosphere, tension, and creepy mood than gore and jump scares, this is one of the rare remakes that not only retains the integrity of the original, but may actually be better than the source, adding its own spin and emphasis. A journalist (Martin Henderson) and a mother (Naomi Watts) investigate a mysterious videotape that, if you watch, you die a few days later. Not only did this spark a run on American remakes of Asian horror films that dominated much of the 2000s, it’s still the best of the bunch in that regard, and opened up a whole new generation to the incredible genre film work going on around the world.
French cinematic maniac Alexandre Aja took all of the manic campiness of Joe Dante’s 1978 B-movie about a swarm of killer fish and cranked it beyond eleven in 2010’s Piranha 3D. Hands down the most fun I had at the movies that year, we’re talking boobs and gore and the best use of 3D technology in a motion picture maybe ever. This is blood spurting and shit flying at your face fun from beginning to end. Tongue firmly in cheek, when a heretofore contained species of prehistoric piranha are unleashed on spring break, what follows is a nonstop series of over the top lunatic highs that is an absolute blast. This is like the back end of a drive in double feature and captures that same fervent energy and aesthetic to a tee. So many try for that, but few actually succeed.
To this day, David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of the 1958 Vincent Price-starring The Fly might be his most well known, publicly embraced film—it is still his biggest box office success. It was, after all, referenced on The Simpsons, and that’s the true sign of a cultural touchstone in our day and age. All of that is still a little shocking, because despite an incredible turn from Jeff Goldblum working at the peak of his weirdness, the film is dark and strange and gross, in other words, very Cronenberg. The creature work and make up are top notch, walking away with an Academy Award. Updated for an age where the core plot serves an analogy for epidemic diseases, including AIDS, The Fly took gory special effects and a tragic love story and made the subject matter from the earlier film wholly its own.
The Hills Have Eyes
With his second entry on this list it appears that Alexandre Aja just can’t leave a good, crazy-ass exploitation horror movie alone. In this instance we’re talking about his 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s depraved, rampaging-mutant-savages-in-the-desert shocker The Hills Have Eyes. Craven’s film is always going to have it’s own place in the annals of cult horror, but Aja’s update is strong in its own right. Much gorier and with a quicker pace for modern audiences, it maintains the horror of the stranded travellers hunted and trapped by misshapen mutants, capturing what makes Craven’s movie so disturbing, but also breaking enough new ground to avoid being a simple rehash. Often lumped in with the glut of so-called "torture porn" that hit the market in the mid-2000s, The Hills Have Eyes distinguishes itself, setting itself above the rest by simply being damn good.
Let Me In
When a recent foreign movie gets a remake just a few years after the fact, the first thing many cinephiles do is groan and lament the fact that American audiences refuse to read subtitles. Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Let the Right One In was a breath of fresh air in the genre, one of the most subtle, creepy vampire tales in recent memory, and the fear was that with Let Me In, Matt Reeves’ 2010 English language remake, would steamroll all of the texture and nuance. That, fortunately, didn’t happen, and the resulting film is every bit as effective, arguably even more, as than the original. It is similar to the source in the key ways, banking on what makes it unique and special, but also treads enough new ground that it is more than just a dumbed-down do over, creating a more accessible, but equally effective final product.
Night Of The Living Dead/Dawn Of The Dead
George Romero’s original Dead trilogy is the benchmark for the modern zombie movie. Over the years they’ve been imitated by every horror enthusiast with a video camera, usually with cringe worthy results, but they’re also the subject of two of the better genre remakes kicking around. Directed by special effects guru Tom Savini, with Romero’s blessing, 1990’s Night of the Living Dead has grown in esteem over time. It sticks close to the original and is a loving homage to the film that started it all. Zack Snyder may have gone onto make blockbusters like Man of Steel, but for my money, his 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is still his best work (it was also written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn). Replacing the slow, shambling zombies with modern fast zombies, it maintains the trapped, claustrophobic horror of the 1978 original, as well as the sharp, satiric bite, giving it a wicked, twisted sense of humor (I credit Gunn for much of that) for a modern audience.
We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are is one that flew under a lot of people’s radars, both Mexican director Jorge Michael Grou’s 2010 original and Jim Mickle’s (Stake Land) 2013 remake. Mickle’s film screened at both Sundance and Cannes the year it was released, and as those appearances may indicate, this is just about the most artistic backwoods hillbilly cannibal movie you’re ever going to come across. The Parker family lives in a rural burg in upstate New York and adhere to a strict religious regiment that includes things like fasting and not going to the doctor. Oh, and they also eat people. Bloody enough to satisfy gore hounds, Mickle and company rely more on mood and atmosphere to build tension and provide scares. Gorgeous cinematography only enhances the themes of nature versus nurture, family, faith, and clinging to an eroding way of life, among others. Dense and beautiful, this is an example of exploitation style horror done up with more substance, meaning, and fantastic performances than you may be used to.
Probably the most divisive film on this list, Fede Alvarez’ 2013 remake of Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead split horror fans. Produced by Raimi himself, this doesn’t stray far from source material. In fact, it doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from its predecessor at all story wise. Some friends go into the woods, stay at a ramshackle cabin, and unleash some malevolent demons. It even uses many of Raimi’s trademark visual tropes, like the camera soaring through the woods at a frantic pace. Maybe not perfect, but the Evil Dead remake is damn fun. Given a brutal update for audiences that aren’t easily shocked anymore, it captures the gritty low-budget horror feel of the original, and the nail gun scene, good lord that nail gun scene. Full of ominous imagery, a few strained subplots, and a literal blood rain, Evil Dead will make you yell, laugh, and cringe, often at the same time.
No other film on this list has a name like Martin Scorsese at the helm, and 1991’s Cape Fear, a reworking of the 1962 Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum vehicle, is one hell of a follow up to Goodfellas. Scorsese and Robert De Niro have always been two great tastes that go great together, and Cape Fear shows them take a whole other path. De Niro plays Max Cady, a convict who, upon release, torments and terrorizes the family of his his lawyer (Nick Nolte). Scorsese takes the psychological thriller genre and infuses it with his themes, concerns, and obsessions, and De Niro plays Cady with such an air of charm and menace and sleaze that watching him, especially in the scenes with a young Juliette Lewis, is enough to make your skin crawl. An exercise in building tension, establishing mood, and manipulating the audience, Scorsese’s Cape Fear serves as both an homage and an update of the original.
This is, of course, a completely subjective list, and a pretty damn short one at that, so there are bunch of films we left off. The Blob remake is one of our favorites, 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake that gets it right, and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu takes the creepiness of the original and runs with it in ways you never saw coming. We could talk about how The Grudge was a strong translation, or how Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of the first Evil Dead. In more recent days, the latest Friday the 13th wasn’t as bad as some, the new Carrie and The Crazies were both solid, and though I’m not a huge fan per say, Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies have numerous vocal supporters.
What do you think of this list? What do you think we should have included or left off? Sound off in the comments below.
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