Hey, it’s almost Halloween, so let’s all get ready by putting this on repeat for the rest of the month and talking about some horror movies. Specifically, let’s take a look at the dreaded horror remake. Everyone’s gotten one now – Freddy, Jason, Michael Meyers, and even the freaking Amityville Horror have all seen attempted remakes of their films. Why the hell are the production demons in Hollywood foisting these turds on us? Everyone knows that horror remakes always suck.
Except when they don’t, anyway.
5. The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic of the sci-fi horror genre. The original? Not so much. In fact, there’s a significant chunk of people who only know it even exists because Jamie Lee Curtis is watching it on TV in Halloween. The Thing from Another World is your fairly basic 1950’s sci-fi film, with an invader from another world (go figure) who lumbers around and occasionally kills people (and dogs). It’s fine for what it is, and it really is one of the best of the 50’s science fiction genre, but those films lost a lot of luster outside of their own decade.
Meanwhile, John Carpenter’s The Thing is still masterful horror to this day. A disturbing creature that can take on the form of anyone around an isolated research station? Yes, please. But the icing on the cake of excellence is the film’s ambiguous (and awesome) ending. Plus it has Kurt Russell.
4. Little Shop of Horrors
What makes a pretty awesome horror comedy even better? Why, Rick Moranis and some really good musical bits, of course. (I’m not really a fan of musicals, but come on, the music in Little Shop of Horrors is great.) The fact is, the films are basically identical except for those two things. Even if you hate music in your films, what you still get out of the remake is fantastic performances. The aforementioned Rick Moranis is excellent in everything ever and Levi Stubbs’ voice acting for Audrey Jr. is practically a cultural institution.
Look at it this way: The original was made on a shoestring budget over two days, so consider Frank Oz’s version a kind of do-over, but with a lot more time and money and Steve Martin.
3. The Fly
Twentieth Century Fox
Much like The Thing, The Fly is based on a 1950’s sci-fi film, but plays up the horror more than the original. Instead of a man having his head and arm directly swapped with a fly’s, Seth Brundle is instead merged with a fly in kind of a Spider-Man body horror scenario. And so while the original seems to have a greater hold in pop culture (it includes the “Help me! Help me!” scene, after all), David Cronenberg’s version is waaaaay creepier.
Not only that, but because it was made in the 80’s and cultural norms were more relaxed, the film gets some fascinatingly icky sexual themes to boot. And truly, what is more horrifying than icky-sexy Jeff Goldblum?
2. Cape Fear
Speaking of more horrifying sexiness, Scorsese’s version of Cape Fear has it in spades. While the original film did make it clear that Max Cady went to jail for rape (and also brutally assaults a woman to intimidate Sam Bowden), the remake uses Robert DeNiro to up the ante, especially in the subplot where Cady begins to seduce Bowden’s teenage daughter. It’s a way different kind of icky-sexy.
And yes, otherwise the two films are more or less the same, and both feature great actors giving amazing performances. The biggest difference comes in Scorsese’s directing. Big Marty S. (which is what I’d call him if we were friends) knows how to slowly ramp up the tension until you can barely stand it.
1. The Ring
Hey, it’s finally a film that isn’t a remake of a black and white classic and wasn’t made in the 80’s (or early 90’s in the case of Cape Fear)! Honestly, I had even more of those (and others) in mind, but hey, maybe I’ll do a sequel later.
Anyway, while Ringu is excellent in pretty much every way (including an arguably creepier tape sequence), Gore Verbinski’s The Ring beats it out in one major way – tone. Holy crap, is that film bleak. The entire feel is so apocalyptic and depressing it makes you wonder why Naomi Watts is even bothering to try to figure out what’s up with the cursed tape and not just curling up in a ball somewhere and ugly-crying for two hours.
And, of course, being a Hollywood film, it’s got a better budget, which is also nice when it comes to things like the closet scene or Samara climbing out of the TV set at the end of the movie. Now, don’t get me wrong, the effects in the original film are great (especially for how much the film cost), but as far as the Future Nightmare Quotient (a metric that I’ve just made up) is concerned, you’re probably going to get more sleepless nights from the remake.