Friday, October 7, 2011

Horror remakes and new releases...

Let's talk horror remakes... 'tis the season, right?
Is there any other genre that has engendered as many remakes as horror? This year has already seen a slew of them such as Fright Night, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, & The Crazies, with several more (The Thing, Straw Dogs) on the way. Why is there such an urge to re-tell the same spooky stories? Is it because the latest advances in special effects and make-up allow filmmakers to constantly up the ante on gore and shocks? Is it cheaper (financially and creatively) to simply rehash and revive the cult faves rather than take chances on original material? Or is it part of the long horror tradition, updating and modifying the old campfire tales to send new shivers down the spines of contemporary audiences? Whatever the reason, the horror remake is definitely here to stay. Here, we take a look at some of the best and worst (obviously, subjective views follow - there's a reason Zombie's Halloween isn't listed amongst the duds; I liked it, dammit! - but we'd love to get your comments agreeing or disagreeing and sharing your own lists)...

Why? Just... why?
A lot of times, remakes are doomed from the start - the original is too revered or the wrong hands are involved. Other times, they suck for other reasons.
Five horror remakes that have no business existing:

The Omen (2006)
The tale of the ultimate demon spawn got a still-born reboot with this lifeless mess. Watching this one in a crowded theater on opening night (6/6/6... get it?) was a depressing experience: 40 minutes in, the audience was so bored they even stopped heckling.

The Haunting (1999)
Robert Wise's original 1963 film is a classic take on the spooky old house subset, creepy and unsettling, that makes masterful use of suggestion and withheld imagery. The 1999 version... does not.

The Fog
Really, any number of other titles could have taken this spot (Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, The Stepfather, Nightmare on Elm Street, Children of the Corn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Prom Night, The Hitcher, and so on and on and on)... remakes that are really mere re-treads, adding nothing to the original and pretty much just existing as forgettable cash-ins by the studios.

The Wicker Man (2006)
Neil LaBute's update of the 1973 cult classic is one of the more enjoyable unintentional comedies around, but as a horror film it fails on every level. Still, of all the ones mentioned so far, this was by far the most fun! (Plus, it gave rise to some great parody memes, such as Mega Wicker Man...)

Psycho (1998)
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked audiences in myriad ways with his twisted tale of a demented hotelier and his unlucky guest. Arguably the first modern horror film, Hitch subverted viewers' expectations and made them afraid to take showers... Forty years later, indie darling Gus Van Sant made one of the biggest missteps of his career, deciding to compile a shot-for-shot remake of the original (or rather a so-called shot-for-shot remake - there are plenty of differences between the two versions). Neither an homage nor a fresh take, Van Sant's Psycho is just a mistake.

Hey... That actually worked!
Once in a (great) while, a remake comes along that manages to improve on the original...

Evil Dead II (1987)
Sam Raimi's film is technically a sequel, but works just as well as a remake - upping both the gore quotient and the black humor factor of his 1981 flick.

Sorority Row (2009)
The House on Sorority Row from 1983 is a disposable bit of exploitation horror... and so is the 2009 version. The difference is in the wink. The remake knows full well what it wants to be and delivers camptastically. Plus, it has Carrie Fisher in it!

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder eschewed both the overt socio-political allegory as well as the slow-shuffling zombies of Romero's 1978 film and instead created an adrenaline-charged invasion thriller.

The Hills Have Eyes
(2006) / Piranha (2010)
French director Alexandre Aja deserves special mention in the horror remake category. First, he turned Wes Craven's sordid 1977 tale of a vacationing family under siege by nuclear mutants (an interesting conceit featuring some clear social metaphors that came up short in the execution) into a tensely relentless experience. Then, he took Joe Dante's 1978 Corman-produced Jaws knock-off and re-fashioned it as a severed-tongue-in-cheek gorefest. Good times!

The Fly (1986)
The 1958 low-budget Vincent Price vehicle proved perfect fodder for David Cronenberg's fascination/preoccupation with body horror. Jeff Goldblum is perfectly cast as the mad scientist who unwittingly becomes his own experiment.

So what are your thoughts? Which remakes do you think worked? Which ones failed? Are there any flicks out there begging to be remade? (And we haven't even mentioned the host of foreign-to-American remakes: Let Me In, The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, One Missed Call, and so on... Which ones made the translation?)

New to Our Shelves This Week:

Richard Ayoade (of The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley, & Garth Merenghi's Darkplace cult fame) adapts and directs Joe Dunthorne's hilariously insightful novel about a Welsh teenager coming to terms both with his parents' fraught relationship and his own sexual stirrings.

Fast Five
Justin Lin directs this latest installment in the kinetically powered franchise.

Ken Burns' excellent documentary on the grand but doomed "social experiment" -- impossible to watch without seeing the clear implications this bit of history holds for our own time.

A well-received doc about Buck Brannaman, the "real horse whisperer."

Patrick Stewart gives a stellar performance in this latest adaptation of the Scottish play. (See our theme shelf for the 13 other versions of the film we have!)

The Presence

A romantic ghost story starring Mira Sorvino, Justin Kirk, and Shane West.

Nothing Personal
A woman explores solitude, leaving her home in Holland for Ireland.

The High Cost of Living
Zach Braff stars as a drug-dealer in this romantic drama.

Nostalgia For the Light
Patricio Guzman's documentary on astronomers in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Legend of the Millennium Dragon

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway
Pee-Wee's back! Secret word of the day is: Awesome.

Captain America (1992)

Fall of Eagles

Vera - 1st Season

The League - 2nd Season

In Treatment - 3rd Season

Bored to Death - 2nd Season

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Adam said...

I'd like to post my vote for Wicker Man. The original was spooky, but I laughed out loud in the theatre when Nick Cage hits that lady. I couldn't help myself.

Miss Molly Manglewood said...

Willard and Wizard of Gore. And no, it's not just because I luhrve Crispin Glover.

Waterfront Video said...

I need to see both Willards and both Wizards of Gore! (So behind!) I was just reminded about the Wizard of Gore while watching a new documentary on Herschell Gordon Lewis we just got in recently - what a kook.

Miss Molly Manglewood said...

I don't know many people who can sit through the original Wizard of Gore from beginning to end. I think it's worth it to persevere. You need to be numbed by the prolonged state of excruciatingly paced bafflement and disorientation of the whole movie in order to be properly exalted by the psychedelic confusion of the ending.

We really like the remake - so much that we own it - but it has very little to do with the original. It's cool in its own right. A "reimagining" I guess.