I Take Them Apart and Put Them Back Together: The Top 10 Horror Remakes
Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, this list was originally only going to be a top 5, but this was such a rich subject I stretched it to 10, which is also a reason for it's lateness. Also, with all that's been going on lately, it's been tough to keep my mind on writing, but here we go.
I really believe that of all the major genres, it's horror that's benefited the most from Hollywood's obsession with remakes, and there's a lot of factors as to why this is. In her article that actually argues against horror remakes for The Dissolve (RIP once again for one of the best movie sites of all time), writer Hazel Cills contends "Horror as a genre so often thrives in moving forward, in figuring out what makes people tick and jump in the present, in creating new characters or establishing smart takes on centuries-old ones. So remakes, especially ones that reach back only a couple of decades, seem antithetic to the genre’s relentless progression."
While these are valid points, I would also argue that film as a artform and the craftsmanship of cinema itself are always evolving. Yes, the techniques that scared audiences in the past don't necessarily work in the present, but a film's story and thematic elements can still be very insightful to modern audiences or be updated to make them fit today's present day fears. Even as some films lose the visual aesthetic that put them on the map, they might gain modern effects and scares making them effective in a way they weren't before. Now for every one of these movies, there are at least two bad ones that get produced, but when a remake really breaks through it means that same story gets carried over for a whole new group of people or even a new generation, making them seem immortal like many of the villains or monsters found in the list below.
So without further ado,
It's Clobberin' Time!
10. Fright Night (2011)
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed by Craig Gillespie
1985's original Fright Night is a rollicking good time of 80s movie cheese, but while the original features a premise where a very classic, stuffy vampire moves into the suburbs the 2011 remakes stands out by having the rock star version of LeStat show up and try to seduce your mom. Colin Farrell looks like he's having a blast as Jerry, the vampire that invades Charley Brewster's (the late Anton Yelchin) neighborhood and turns his world upside down. He brings real danger to the proceedings but also shows how awesome and tempting the lifestyle of a vampire would be. Also, casting Roddy McDowell as a B-movie vampire hunter in the original was a hoot, but having a former Dr. Who in David Tennant in the same role here is a stroke of pure genius.
9. Last House on the Left (2009)
Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Michael Bowen, Josh Coxx, and Riki Lindhome
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
While it is not surprising that Hollywood has been seemingly desperate to remake every successful film by Wes Craven and John Carpenter, what is totally wild is that the best of the bunch would end up being the 2009 version of Last House on the Left. Craven's original 1972 film is as fascinating as it repugnant, and while the newer version does lose a lot of the rawness of the original, I think it makes up for it with style and terrific acting. That's not to say that this new film supplants its predecessor by any means, but it's ever so slightly more palatable, which may make a big difference to some viewers.
8. Evil Dead (2013)
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore
Directed by Fede Alvarez
I think it's pretty safe to call Fede Alvarez's remake of Sam Raimi's energetic cult original a pretty divisive movie. While a lot of the Evil Dead fandom primarily comes from a love of the second two movies, which are as much comedies as they are horror films, Alvarez's re-do of the first takes the grueling nature of Raimi's debut and turns it up to 11. Flat out, Evil Dead is a mean movie, and when things happen to people in this film, it looks like it hurts and then it always goes a step further than you think it will. If nothing else, Alvarez managed to inject something into this series which had not been present in some time; a big heavy dose of fear.
7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly
Directed by Zack Snyder
I'm pretty sure that at a certain point in my life I believed that it would be impossible to film a remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and do it any sort of justice. Not only that, but the act of doing so would be foolhardy at best, and sacrilegious at worst. On the other hand, while I still don't believe that Zack Snyder's 2004 version has anywhere near as much to say thematically as Romero's magnum opus of zombiedom, I can't deny how entertaining the movie is, or how important it was to the genre. In fact, along with The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later, I believe Snyder's version of Dawn is one of the keys to reviving the zombie subgenre in the mainstream and by successfully making the undead scarier than they had been since Romero's own Day of the Dead, Snyder showed just how terrifying the apocalypse could be for a whole new generation.
6. The Ring (2002)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, and Brian Cox
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Like the infamous video tape actually featured in the movie, the 2002 version of The Ring directed by Gore Verbinski managed to open viewers up to a whole new world of sheer terror. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that the film was like a gateway drug to J-horror, a sub-genre of often supernatural horror movies that are prone to feature scary pale Japanese girls with long black hair. Oddly enough, right before the film debuted I remember hearing a lot about the original film, Hideo Nakata's Ringu, but ironically the only way to watch it at the time was on bootleg video tapes, which was perhaps too meta for most viewers to be willing to take the plunge. The Ring, on the other hand, was an important horror film for an industry that had not really produced a huge hit in the genre since The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
5. Let Me In (2010)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, and Cara Buono
Directed by Matt Reeves
It's easy for some film fans and critics to question why this film even exists. 2008's Let the Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a near perfect movie about a young boy who befriends a young "looking" vampire girl. The only problem with getting the film to mass audiences was that the original film was in Swedish, so not trying to fix what isn't broken, Matt Reeves' remake is a super faithful adaptation, only in English and featuring an incredible score from Michael Giacchino. Let Me In is a loving rework of its predecessor, with intimate direction and massive care taken to develop it's characters. The film is so good that the two films are almost indistinguishable at times, with the real differences coming from making the tragedy of the story more explicit than in the original, especially when it concerns Richard Jenkins' paternal character. In the original film, the character is seen more of the caretaker or guardian of the vampire girl, where Reeves makes the character more of a doomed lover, trapped in a cycle since he was young of taking care of this girl, himself aging while she does not. Are these men who take care of her lovers or victims?
4. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, Roland Topor, and Walter Ladengast
Directed by Werner Herzog
Not only do I prefer Werner Herzog's version of Nosferatu to the incredible 1922 version by F.W. Murnau, but I believe it is probably the best movie ever filmed about vampirism. Herzog's film is beyond gorgeous and filled with melancholy; every moment like an achingly beautiful painting. The picture's castles are not the gothic sets of classic Universal, but instead feel authentic and empty, with Dracula's existence one of loneliness and sorrow, searching for companionship as well as his base desire for human blood. This is carried off with subtlety and grace, with the movie managing to shy away from the melodramatic stylings of Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. This isn't a film that turns away from the horror of the situation but it's never grotesque either, with the director's camera moving through frames as if you were experiencing some ghastly, but ravishing dream.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Starring: Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Just as Don Siegel's original film so perfectly captured the hysteria of the Cold War-era 1950s, Phillip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the best films ever made about 70s paranoia. While the premise and plot of the films are pretty much in lock-step, the feeling of Kaufman's movie is much more expansive, changing the location from the original's small coastal town to San Francisco, with the director using his setting for all its worth. Siegel's claustrophobic feel is traded in for an epic sense of dread, with our heroes feeling like the only people left in the major city who haven't been turned into alien invaders. Turns out the only thing worse than everyone you know being turned into pod people, is when everyone you don't know is in on the plot as well.
2. The Fly (1986)
Starring: Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Getz
Directed by David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg's masterpiece of horror may share much of the same storyline as it's original counterpart, but cinematically it completely leaves it's fore-bearer in the dust. Cronenberg imbues his film with so much energy, turning in a picture full of humor and wit, before it turns uncomfortable, gruesome, and ultimately tragic. The director's penchant for body horror is on full display, with (literally) jaw dropping work done by Chris Walas as Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle is amazingly transformed from charismatic scientist into a humanoid insect. Whether the film is tackling themes such as the AIDS crisis or the horror of drug abuse is a subject of debate, but there's no doubt that The Fly is an endlessly fascinating movie that stands the test of time.
1. The Thing (1986)
Starring: Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, and Richard Dysart
Directed by John Carpenter
It really says something about the The Thing that so many would argue that it's John Carpenter's best movie. We're talking about the man behind Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York. All of those films would stand as cult movie royalty, and yet The Thing stands right with them as an ultimate film about paranoia and claustrophobic tension. This is a cast and crew at the top of their game, from Carpenter to star Kurt Russell to Ennio Morricone's eerie score to Rob Botin's unforgettable Lovecraftian makeup and effects work. Carpenter ratchets up every single ounce of tension from the film and has you on the edge of your seat as our heroes try to determine which of them is not what he seems. I don't know if Carpenter is completely done with directing, but it would take an absolute miracle for the man to craft another movie as incredible and terrifying as this one.