Fortunately for horror fans the budget for an average fright film is modest compared to most other movie genres. You can get away with a D-list cast, you won’t need expensive CGI, and sets are cheap and easy to come by (an old house, an abandoned factory, the woods). However, an unknown horror story is a dangerous prospect for the risk adverse Tinsel Town financiers. Since the birth of the horror franchise in the late seventies (Jaws 2, Exorcist II – The Heretic, Damien: Omen II) Hollywood would rather plough its cash into a recognised property. But even the easily-pleased horror fan got sick of conveyor belt sequels and by the turn of the millennium studios had to find a new pole to pin their horror colours to. Remakes weren’t the obvious solution until a genuinely original horror revival in the Far East provided inspiration. With the likes of Ringu (1998) and The Eye (2002) causing a furore in Asian theatres, and with the assumption that western audiences wouldn’t want to read subtitles, Hollywood had the templates for a raft of new horror films. J-horror remakes arrived thick and fast, and when that well was dry studios turned to their own back catalogue of scares for reboots and re-imaginings. By 2011 Hollywood’s own in-house commentator on all things terrifying, the Scream franchise, voiced what fans had long been thinking, “Don’t fuck with the original”. The likes of The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Black Christmas (2006), The Hitcher (2007), Halloween (2007), Prom Night (2008), The Uninvited (2009), A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010), and Fright Night (2011) showed that there was actually something much worse than a hackneyed horror sequel; a turgid horror remake. So was it so hard to get a horror cover version right? Here are ten films that proved a second stab can be just as sharp as the first.
- INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
Horror science fiction doesn’t come much more revered than the fifties sci-fi high point Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The Don Siegel ‘Commie’ threat classic is part of American culture with scenes known around the world “They’re here already! You’re next!”. When talks of a remake began twenty years later it was wisely decided that the only way to ensure these cornerstones of Hollywood were treated respectful was to avoid sending them up. Low key being the order of the day, the studio placed Philip Kaufman in the director’s chair, a helmer well-schooled in his craft but known more for his unassuming works such as The White Dawn (1974) than for causing a stir on the big screen. Kaufman wisely chose actors over stars and assembled an impressive ensemble cast featuring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, and Veronica Cartwright. He also provided a rare non-Star Trek outing for Leonard Nimoy, who manages to throw off the shackles of the Enterprise with such assurance you wish he had done more straight cinema work. The script they were handed played the assimilation of the human race completely straight, with Sutherland taking on the part of the ever more suspicious health inspector Matthew Bennell. The growing paranoia is palpable and by the time we experience the first human to pod-person transformation it’s uncomfortably icky and frighteningly plausible. To give away the ending and now infamous last frame would be to spoil the chilling climax of Hollywood’s first great horror remake. Director Abel Ferrara offered a third take on the original The Body Snatchers novel with Body Snatchers (1993) with the story moved to a US military base.
Tasty Morsel – Not only did Kaufman give himself two cameos, he gave a small role to veteran director Siegel and the original 1956 Dr. Bennell Kevin McCarthy seen as an old man running down the street screaming “They’re coming”. This led some to speculate that Kaufman’s film was in fact a sequel to the original.
- THE THING (1982)
If Kaufman’s Body Snatchers was paranoia squared, John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing From Another World (1951) was paranoia cubed. We’ve already championed The Thing (1982) in our Snow Day Movies section and it’s rare for a film to make it on to two lists at FilmsFilmsFilms, but when a movie is this masterful it bears repeated recommendation. The Thing is as tense a picture as has ever been produced by Hollywood. Carpenter puts the screws to the unfortunate men trapped in the snowy confines of Science Institute 4 for one hundred and nine nerve shredding minutes and doesn't even have the good grace to cap off his film with a definitive conclusion. Coming full circle, we’re no clearer on the question of whether the world is doomed than we were when the ‘Huskie’ bounded in to camp at the films beginning. But that’s the point; Kurt Russell, Keith David and the rest had no idea throughout, and now neither do we. Carpenter decided to twin his frosty paranoia with some of the most explosively wild special effects you’re likely ever to see in a film, made all the more ferocious by the fact that every shot in the film was created practically, no CGI in sight. The Thing marks the absolute high point of practical horror effects, all credit to Rob Bottin who almost lost his own sanity during the filmmaking process, so intense was the required effects work. To compare Carpenter’s film to Christian Nyby’s original is to compare day to night, and the two films only really share the premise and setting from John W Campbell Jnr’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? Despite the lukewarm box office reception in 1982, what Carpenter created in 1982 was not just one of the best horror remakes, but one of the best cinematic remakes of all time.
Tasty Morsel – A surprisingly proficient prequel arrived in 2011 titled, slightly confusingly, The Thing. It finally provided the back story as to how the ‘Huskie’ found its way into the camp of Carpenter’s original film.
- THE FLY (1986)
Hollywood wasn't keen on rolling out the welcome mat for Canadian director David Cronenberg. His predilection for body horror had provided the seventies with some of its most squeamish cinema, with the likes of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), and The Brood (1979) causing a stir amongst horror fans. Despite his growing reputation major movie products still eluded Cronenberg, so he ploughed on into the eighties with even more unique thrillers, Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983). The director finally tempered his challenging style to create a fairly straight adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in 1983. Critically lauded, it made Cronenberg a slightly safer prospect for the big Hollywood studios, and he was tasked with bringing Philip K Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale to the big screen (what eventually became Total Recall). When that project sunk into the pre-production quagmire he was able to accept Mel Brooks’ invitation to direct a remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic The Fly for 20th Century Fox and Brooks’ new production company Brooksline. If they thought The Dead Zone was a sign that Cronenberg had finally shed his body horror roots, they were wrong, completely and utterly so. The Fly (1986) was and remains the director’s most visually challenging film, the pinnacle of his penchant for the rotting, corrupting, disease riddled weakness of man’s flesh. The poster for The Fly infamously stated “Be afraid. Be very afraid!”, but for accuracy it probably should have said “Be ill. Be very ill!” as for ninety six minutes we get to watch Jeff Goldblum’s scientist Seth Brundle disintegrate in the most nauseating way possible. That what replaces him is a man sized fly who has to puke acid on to its food to consume it doesn’t offer much respite in the final fifteen minutes. It’s a credit to Goldblum and love interest Geena Davis that amongst Chris Walas’s Academy award winning gore the story still grips and Brundle remains sympathetic right to the last. The result is the most gripping combination of empathy and disgust ever created by, though what original director Kurt Neumann and star Vincent Price would have made of it though, god only knows.
Tasty Morsel – Such was the success of The Fly make-up and special-effects expert Walas was tasked with directing a sequel three years later The Fly II (1989) which focused on Davis and Goldblum's half-man, half-fly son and an attempt by the Bartok company to get Goldblum’s teleportation pods to work again.
- THE BLOB (1988)
The drive-in sci-fi classics from American cinema were mostly frivolously affairs, with fifties special effects far too wonky to be taken seriously. The likes of It Came From Outer Space (1953) and Creature With The Atom Brain (1955) induced shrieks and giggles in equal number. Until 1988 remakes of fifties sci-fi films had been dark affairs (Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1988), Invaders from Mars (1986)). Fresh off the financial, if not critical, success of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) Chuck Russell turned his attention to a remake of the 1958 shocker The Blob. The original's one footnote in cinema history was that it provided the first lead to acting legend Steve McQueen. Outside of that The Blob (1958) was a fairly standard slice of fifties b-movie schlock, a slimy menace that emerges from a crashed meteorite and devours the unlucky residents of Downingtown Pennsylvania. For his remake Russell relocated the action to Arborville California and replaced McQueen with his own rising star Kevin Dillon as the town’s resident wild child turned saviour. Dillon’s love interest and partner in saving Arborville from the killer gelatine was future Saw series star Shawnee Smith. Russell retained some of the laughs from 1958 thanks to a tongue-in-cheek sensibility, a smart script, and the simple fact that their villain was a rampaging jelly. The surprise came in the form of the graphic slaughtering of a number of the town’s patrons, particularly jarring when arriving in the middle of what appears to be a non-threatening remake of a thirty year old b-movie. Coupled with a swift pace and likeable characters, Russell had one of the surprise horror films of the year on his hands. Fans didn’t think so though and the film failed to take even half of its $19million budget at the box office. It at least managed to confirm that not all remakes had to be reverentially bleak to be good, and where it led the likes of Piranha 3D (2010) and The Crazies (2010) gleefully followed.
Tasty Morsel – Keep your eyes peeled for future Baywatch star Erika Eleniak in the small part of Vicki de Soto.
- NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990)
A list of the five most influential horror films of all time would surely include George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Though not the first cinematic outing of the zombie, it was the first movie to make them the central protagonist. It also set the zombie ground rules, nearly all of which are still followed today. The uber successful The Walking Dead television show is one long tribute to Romero’s farmhouse thriller, while the likes of World War Z (2013) and Maggie (2015) crib shamelessly from the Romero playbook. Thanks to the unusual way in which his 1968 masterpiece was funded, in order to restore his original copyright Romero had to go the extraordinary length of remaking his film. He did so in 1990, writing the script and assisting with production. Directorial duties could only be given to one man, special effects maestro and friend of Romero, Tom Savini. Considering it was Savini’s first time in the director’s chair, and the fact that he only had a paltry $4.2million budget to play with, Savini worked wonders and delivered one of the best horror remakes of all time. Tony Todd makes for an excellent replacement for Duane Jones in a rare but welcome hero turn, while Patricia Tallman turns the Barbara role on its head adding some nineties girl power to what was a frail, petrified performance from Judith O’Dea in 1968. Where the film really stood out though was in Savini’s fantastically varied zombie make-up. At the time Savini’s remake was the pinnacle of zombie make-up, only being topped some years later when bigger budgets and CGI were finally able to compete with his astonishing work. Savini’s zombies covered the full spectrum of the undead from the freshly deceased rising off of the mortuary slab, to the long-time dead clambering out of the earth. It ensured that the scares were still top notch even though the film followed Romero’s twenty two year old story format almost to the letter.
Tasty Morsel – Laurence Fishburne originally auditioned for the role of Ben, but Savini settled on future Candyman (1992) star Tony Todd, eerily foreseeing Todd’s part as the hook wielding killer by including a curious scene where Todd lowers a hook in his hand to dispense with more of the undead.
- CAPE FEAR (1991)
There are so many failed horror films out there that would benefit from a remaking, you wonder why directors and studios keep choosing classic movies to remake. Release a decent Resident Evil film, or try and better the already perfect Halloween (1978)? So often it feels like an exercise in futility. But very occasionally fan doubts are pleasantly dismissed by a remake that not only matches its originator for quality, but puts forward a strong case for besting it. Such was the case in 1991 when the winning team of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro took a swing at John Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962). Back 1962 Lee Thompson pitted Robert Mitchum against Gregory Peck, with Mitchum offering a creepy take on newly released rape convict Max Cady seeking revenge on the lawyer who he believes wrongly sent him down. It was an iconic performance in the thriller genre. To one-up Mitchum De Niro turned up the crazy and created one of the most twisted villain’s in Hollywood history, with Scorsese throwing the best elements from Mitchum’s other infamous villain outing The Night of the Hunter (1955) in to the script. That he would be facing off against one of the industry’s top tough guys in Nick Nolte, playing the helpless lawyer Sam Bowden, increased De Niro’s stature as the ultimate man not to be messed with. Jessica Lange and a career making turn from Juliette Lewis as Lange and Nolte’s daughter Danielle completed the quartet. The stand out scene that pushed Scorsese’s remake past its predecessor was a multi-layered, creepy, near silent exchange between De Niro and Lewis as Cady tracks Danielle down to her school auditorium. It was a scene that the two actors ad-libbed, with their first scene run through being the footage the Scorsese eventually used. With De Niro normally just offering a strong look to put the willies up an adversary, when he goes full psycho the effect is astonishing. Cape Fear capitalised on this to the tune of $182million at the box office.
Tasty Morsel – Steven Spielberg was in place to direct originally, but when he pulled out, noting that the film would be a commercial success he put Scorsese forward as a replacement, suspecting that the box office success would provide Scorsese with more clout to make the film’s he wanted to make.
- THE RING (2002) / THE GRUDGE (2004)
The one characteristic that nearly all remakes share is a suitably extensive period of time between the original and its newer twin. With the Hollywood horror genre running on empty at the turn of the millennium following a brief revival of the slasher genre, horror movie filmmakers searched around for fresh inspiration. Out east a scary movie revival was underway kick-started by the brilliant Ringu (1998). Importing and distributing these Asian masterpieces wasn't enough though and Hollywood insisted on having English language versions. Commencing with Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) the J-horror remakes were straight forward translations of their Asian counterparts; but with the original pictures being so brilliant, this was no bad thing. With a strong cast featuring Naomi Watts and Brian Cox, and effects-guru Rick Baker on board to recreate Ringu’s creepy imagery and sagging faces, The Ring stormed to a $250million profit on a modest $48million budget as Watts tried to uncover the secret of a cursed videotape before her seven day deadline turns her to a petrified corpse. Surprisingly by Hollywood’s standards Verbinski was allowed to keep Ringu's downbeat ending. This out of character move ensured that all subsequent Hollywood remakes of Asian fright films followed the same path and the best part of the J-horror catalogue, the genre’s predilection for gloomy, ambiguous climaxes, was retained. It also inspired those new Hollywood horrors that were made subsequently, Saw (2004), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), Hostel (2005), to follow suit and jettison the happy ending. Closely following The Ring (2002) was The Grudge (2004), with director Takashi Shimizu recreating his own hit Asian horror Ju-On: The Grudge (2002). Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an American nurse living in Tokyo who becomes subject to her own particular curse. With Shimizu behind the camera all of the fantastic scares from the original were retained, with very little Hollywood sheen added. Unfortunately it was the last of the great American J-horror remakes, with the likes of Dark Water (2005), Pulse (2006), and One Missed Call (2008) failing to effectively translate the thrills and chills of the Asian forbears.
Tasty Morsel – In a fantastic advertising campaign Dreamworks released The Ring's cursed video footage as an advert, running the footage for a month before they even announced the name and title of the film to which it was connected.
- THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was less a movie to enjoy and more an experience to survive. As a horror film it boiled down the experience of seeing a fright film to its concentrated essence, a gruelling, terrifying encounter that lingers long in the memory. Seen once it is often replayed, unless the viewer feels like another crunch through the wringer. When long time music video director Marcus Nispel was tasked with remaking the movie he had a difficult choice to make; retain the original’s die-hard-horror spirit or soften the story for the modern audience. Dispensing with the typical box office baiting attitude, Nispel chose the former and created another demandingly horrific experience. Much like the reviews thirty years prior, the critics gave The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) a mauling, Roger Ebert labelling the movie “A contemptible film; vile, ugly and brutal”. The critics’ response in 2003 was just as good an advert and recommendation as the reviews had been in 1974. The centre piece to Nispel’s film was an outstanding confrontation with R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt, a tense stand-off which precedes the chaos that quickly follows. Nispel did depart from Hooper’s original in one area, delivering the gore that everyone thought they saw first time around. The film took an astounding $107million profit on a $9.5million, kick starting the noughties obsession with horror remakes as directors and studios scrambled to repeat Nispel’s success. It also inadvertently pushed Hollywood one step further to the ‘gorenography’ phenomenon that Saw (2004) brought to the fore.
Tasty Morsel – During the van stand-off scene, actor Jonathon Tucker forced Ermey’s gun down his throat to the point of vomiting during every single take. You can see his character Morgan spitting the carrot chunks out during the scene.
- DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)
No remake announcement caused as much of a stir as the news that Zack Snyder would be redoing George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead (1978). Dawn, as known by fans, was the untouchable high point of the much beloved zombie sub-genre. Three versions of the original theatrical release already existed to satisfy anyone’s need for a rethink, via an extended director’s cut and an alternative Dario Argento “European” cut. One thing Snyder had that Romero didn’t was a much bigger budget. Immediately putting these dollars to good use, the director upped the action stakes and made a better fist of showing the all-encompassing nature of the zombie apocalypse. From there Dawn of the Dead (2004) plays like a cross between Romero’s original and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) as a group of disparate survivors set up camp in a supposed secure location, before being whittled down via much action and spraying of bullets. Snyder also took a cue from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), choosing lightning fast zombies over Romero’s slow shuffling grey skins. This combination of fire power and sprinting ghouls was a winning blend, significantly upping the action on its 1978 counterpart. Coupled to the edge-of-the-seat thrills was some well written character development and a cast on fine form, with the likes of Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Michael Kelly adding the sort of gravitas most horror movies can only dream of. Snyder also included numerous tributes to the 1978 original throughout for eagle eyed fans to spot. The result was a box office take of $100million plus on a $28million budget. The media's horror allergic critics were also appeased, championing Snyder’s film as one of the finest horror films in years.
Tasty Morsel – Keep an eye out for stars of the original 1978 Ken Foree, Scott H Reiniger and Tom Savini in small cameo roles.
- FRIDAY THE 13th (2009)
When you’re remaking an iconic movie from a long running franchise you’ve got two options. You can either completely reinvent the story and head off in a new direction, or you can be faithful to the original and simply modernise the old template. In 2007 jack-of-many-trades Rob Zombie turned his hand to Friday the 13th’s most famous stablemate Halloween (2007) and tried to do both; he failed. Michael Myers white trash upbringing was new but cliché, while the film’s second half remake of Carpenter’s original failed thanks to a cast of unsympathetic, all-looks-and-no-character performers. When New Line decided to update the Friday the 13th franchise they turned to sure hand Marcus Nispel who had already directed the excellent 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel Nispel embraced all that made the best episodes of the Friday series successful, the jump scares, the inventive death scenes, the dumb but amiable Vorhees fodder. Nispel kicked off his remake with a bravura pre-credits sequence that goes so long and has such an impact you wonder if you blinked and missed the open credits. The usual half hour set-up-the-characters period rushed by thanks to some surprisingly sympathetic characterisation from Jared Padalecki and Amanda Righetti and an excellent boo-hiss villain turn from Travis Van Winkle. When Vorhees finally showed up the machine like intensity with which he powered through the main cast dispensed with all the comical head-punch decapitations of the later entries in the series. Even a needless last minutes twist couldn't sour the fun of the preceding ninety minutes. Fans loved it, critics panned it; exactly how it should be for a Friday the 13th entry. Unfortunately with the rights reverting back to Paramount a Nispel directed sequel is now unlikely, and another reboot has been scheduled for Friday 13th May 2016.
Tasty Morsel – A $42.2million take on its first weekend gave Friday the 13th (2009) the best opening of any film in the series.