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John's Horror Banana-nanza Episode Twenty: Remakes
First of all, a horror remake can do one of two things. It can show your creativity, or it can show how completely unoriginal you are. Characters that have been established in fiction are for the most part, the fan's babies, and they take great offense when someone comes along and changes anything they've grown familiar with.
The biggest reason, for instance, that Jason has no clear back-story is that the fans like his mystique. No one knows why he exists despite drowning. No one knows exactly how Freddy got his powers. All of these things are back-stories that according to horror fans, should never be told, because if they're unsatisfactory and set in stone, then their favorite characters are forever ruined.
I'm going to lump horror remakes into two categories, and these are only the ones I've seen. For instance, I've seen the original "Last House on the Left" (great movie, by the way) but still haven't seen the new one.
When It Works
The Hills Have Eyes
The original movie was made back in 1977 by Wes Craven, and is boring as all getout. Some people find it brutal and disgusting, but compared to the remake, it can't hold a candle. It's a revenge story about mutant cannibals living in the desert that kill most of a family, so the family fights back. But the characters just aren't all that likeable, and you don't care one way or another.
So in 2006, Craven came back and produced the remake, which absolutely blew me away. It is basically the same story, except that in the beginning, there is much more character development. You feel like the family is just another happy go lucky group who shouldn't have to deal with the atrocities that come. Because it gives you that initial feeling of sadness and grief that you share with the survivors, it also helps you get in the mindset for revenge, as the characters do. The movie makes you feel involved, and to this day, this is the only movie I ever stood up in the theatre and cheered for when the credits hit. (Save for the stupid, sequel inducing ending.)
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Another Wes Craven project made back in 1984 that was creative, but not scary. The character of Freddy Krueger is a neat idea, and the movie toys with the audiences' perception of dreams and reality. However, there is a comedic amount of blood, Johnny Depp is running around acting horribly, and it's basically another "don't have sex or you'll die" movie, except for the more creative kills. Krueger is a different kind of killer, full of one liners that are sometimes funny, and sometimes pointless.
The remake, however, better establishes the line between humor and sick thoughts, as Jackie Earle Haley's Freddy comes off perverted and rightfully evil, whereas Robert Englund's Freddy was a complete goofball. A lot of the lines Haley delivers make it hard to decide whether to laugh or cringe, and he seems genuinely threatening, whereas Englund seemed, as I said before, to be a complete goofball. The plot is pretty much the same, but for a lackluster series, this movie seems to have reinvigorated the interest in an old killer, and for that, it must be praised.
Night of the Living Dead
I'm not talking about the 3-D piece of crap that is probably floating around out there somewhere. I don't know if it really exists or not, but I haven't seen it. I'm talking about Tom Savini's remake in 1990.
George Romero wrote the original in 1968, and in it lie social interaction and bloody effects that shook the world. One of the best movies of it's kind, and I will review it more in my Zombie list, coming soon.
Romero also wrote the script for the remake, which allowed Tom Savini to showcase his exceedingly wondrous makeup talent. The differences are small but noticeable. Barbara is much more assertive in the remake. She takes action when called upon, and in the end, is a survivor. Tony Todd plays Ben, and even the great Bill Butler makes an appearance. While the social issues were sort of underlying and downplayed in the original, a line that Barbara states at the end of this one makes it startlingly clear what the film is trying to say. While watching a bunch of hillbillies torture the zombies, she says to the camera, "They're us. We're them and they're us."
While the original may be classic, this one does not take one bit of greatness away, and is really more of a standalone film.
The film that Roger Ebert once called "A great barf bag movie" is a remake by John Carpenter of a film from 1951 called The Thing From Another World, which is a boring piece of crap. Essentially the characters ward off an attack from an alien they find in the ice. Critics love it and call it culturally significant. Of course they do, because they hate horror movies and love crap like this.
Now the remake, there's something special. Kurt Russell is working with a crew in the arctic, completely remote from any outside contact, and together they all find a ship in the ice. The creature inside takes the form of whatever it gets near, or at least, it tries to, but for the most part, it only comes close before mutating to all kinds of disgusting and awesome creatures, including some guy's head on spider legs, and a guy's stomach as a Venus Fly Trap. Great visuals, and much more entertaining than its predecessor.
When It Doesn't Work
Dawn of the Dead
The original film by George Romero is a classic in the genre. It's the story of an outbreak of zombies in Western PA, and the four people who take shelter in the Monroeville Mall. Things start out okay, but eventually, the zombie make their way to the mall, just like they would if they were still alive. The social commentary is in plain sight, and the makeup effects are outstanding.
The remake, starring Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer, is close to the same idea, except there happens to be some security guards who act like dicks and try to run the show. There's a lot of unnecessary pieces to this story that weren't in the original. For instance, there's the zombie baby. There's the gun store owner. There's shooting at zombies that look like movie stars. The whole thing seems like a joke, and of course, ends with a handheld camera shot. This movie is a total waste of time, and completely unnecessary. As I said before, there's no reason to remake a zombie movie, because a plot can't possibly be that hard to come up with on your own.
Friday the 13th
The original four films is what this is supposed to be based on, so let's start by looking at them, before I completely tear this film a new one. Friday the 13th is about a crazed mother trying to keep the camp where her son died from re-opening, by killing every counselor she can find. She dies, and in Part II, her son who was supposed to be dead continues her work. In Part III, Jason tries to heal himself and also kills some people. And in Part IV, on his way back to the camp, Jason dies. That's pretty much what the first four were, and to a lot of people, the series went to shit afterwards.
So that brings us to 2009, where Jason re-appears in the twelfth installment, re-named Friday the 13th. Jason's mom makes a brief appearance, then Jason just kills a bunch of people, like every other movie. Why make this? It adds nothing to the story, which by the way, is twelve chapters old. How did Jason survive drowning? Why does he kill? What does he do in his spare time? None of these questions are answered, and honestly, this may be the least cared about group of characters ever assembled on screen. No one is worth saving in this movie. And let's not even talk about the "jump" at the end. Everyone in the theatre knew it was coming. Awful, borderline disgraceful entry in the series, which happens to be my favorite movie series.
Go back to the days of John Carpenter and you'll find a movie that is a short, clean movie about a babysitter stalker. It is truly the original slasher movie, despite having nearly no blood. All the sudden, in a sequel, it was determined there was a back-story. This back-story got blown out of control and pretty soon, Michael Myers was being commanded by a group of assholes using ancient Druid sorcery and he was killing Busta Rhymes' friends. Come on now.
Somewhere around when Myers received a back-story, Rob Zombie became interested, and decided to make a whole movie about it. Why? It is completely unnecessary! Basically, we watch a kid about the age of 12 murder another young kid, his dad, some random stoner guy, his sister, and a nurse. Then later, he kills the only person who treated him well while in prison, some random guy at a gas station, and some random teens he runs across. I thought he was supposed to have a purpose in killing. I guess Rob Zombie forgot what he was writing. Then he made Part II, which I won't even discuss. It's awful, and makes so little sense I felt like I was on acid the whole time it was on.
House of Wax
If anyone's seen the original Vincent Price movie, they know it's a masterpiece. The lighting, the buildup, the makeup, pretty much everything about this movie is brilliantly done. The ending is terrific and not overdone, and the acting leaves little to be desired. It is fantastic.
Fast forward to 2005. We get Paris Hilton doing in-jokes about her porn video, Elisha Cuthbert pretending to know how to act, and a whole bunch of classless slasher kills. The end of the movie sets up for a sequel which never happened. Gee. I wonder why. Don't see this. Not even for fun. If you care about movies at all, not just horror, don't encourage anyone to make anything like this ever again.
The original slasher movie, Alfred Hitchcock absolutely nailed an almost flawless movie with killing, mystery, and a shocking conclusion. Add Bernard Hermann's score, which is timeless, and you've got a wonderful piece of horror history.
Then in 1998, something weird happened. Universal Pictures decided to remake it in color. Despite having some now popular actors such as Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Viggo Mortensen, Julianne Moore and William H. Macy, it adds nothing at all to the original. Vaughn makes an okay Norman Bates, but it doesn't get any better than Anthony Perkins. He's just so unassuming, and Vaughn is too menacing as it is. This is pretty much a shot for shot remake, using the original soundtrack, but with a few touches by Danny Elfman. Why's he getting involved? Who knows? Why was this movie made? Who knows? I guess it's not horrible, but it's pointless, and not even close to as great as the original.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
In 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the most brutal, frightening thing ever put on screen. Even today, it still scares people more than contemporary horror, due to it's brutal subject matter and grainy feel. While the rest of the series went awry, this first movie is brilliant and downright shocking.
So of course, that means it was a potential cash cow when Platinum Dunes got a hold of it in 2003. Micheal Bay had a hand in this, so you know it's going to be brilliant, right? Well, basically it's the same story as the first. Five kids going to a Lynard Skynard concert end up stumbling into a strange hillbilly's house and get killed by Leatherface. Then his dad, who is also the sheriff, takes the other three kids back to his house, and all kinds of fun chaos begins. The movie may be a little frightening, but really only in a jumpscare/slasher kind of way. That's not what the original intended, and this adds nothing to the original in any way. The most unfortunate thing about this movie is that it launched a whole ton of Platinum Dunes remakes.
The Wicker Man
Also in 1973, this brilliant movie came out of Great Britain, starring Christopher Lee and Ed Woodward. It's the tale of a cult following on an island, where a cop goes to see what the deal is and meets his untimely demise. The ending is shocking, the acting is superb, and the story holds a lot of meaning.
So what happened? Nick Cage happened. This movie stunk. It is unintentionally hilarious, horribly overacted, and the plot has changed. It is no longer a religious cult, it is a feminist extremist group. I have no idea who thought that would be a good idea, but hey, I have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to have Nicholas Cage punch a woman while wearing a bearsuit. But it happens, so whatever.
So there you have it. Personally, I think when they're done correctly, remakes have their place. But sometimes, they just take a story that's told as well as it can be, and makes it wear glitter.
The Thing, with Kurt Russell