Total Recall

Memorable Horror Remakes

We run down some of the most high-profile revivals of legendary frightfests.

by | October 17, 2013 | Comments

There have been so many horror remakes that there’s no way we could cover them all at once. We did, however, decide to collect a sampling list, making room for some of the best, worst, and most puzzlingly misguided examples from the genre. Let’s get started, shall we?


The Amityville Horror

23%

Like many of the movies on this week’s list, the latter-day Amityville Horror was produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes — and like more than a few of them, it suffered in comparison to the original. Which is a shame, because Amityville‘s central story — about a young family moving into a horrifically haunted house — is both devilishly simple and allegedly fact-based, which has helped the franchise retain its aura even through a series of sometimes-silly sequels and spinoffs. Unfortunately, despite a talented cast that included Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, and a young(er) Chloe Grace Moretz, this Horror was mainly scary for the studio execs who had to account for its $64 million domestic gross, which might be why we haven’t seen another installment in theaters since.

The Blob

62%

Inspired by the way David Cronenberg used modern special effects and less-campy storytelling to amp up the horror in The Fly, Hollywood spent a portion of the late 1980s rushing to the vaults and searching for other long-dormant properties that might benefit from the remake treatment. Hence 1988’s The Blob, in which an alien goo plops down in a small town and starts gorging on its unsuspecting residents. It was just as fantastically cheesy a premise as it had been in 1958, when Steve McQueen starred in the original — but thanks to a solid screenplay from future Shawshank Redemption director/adapter Frank Darabont, as well as a (slightly) more believable Blob, it managed to just about reach the rather low bar set by its predecessor, which is about all one can hope for when making a film about hungry interstellar plasma.

Cat People

61%

The original Cat People, produced on the cheap by Val Lewton in 1942, emphasized suggestion over explicit horror; four decades later, director Paul Schrader used the movie’s central idea — about people whose sexual desires trigger a sometimes-deadly feline transformation — as the basis for a steamy softcore flick that made up for its lack of genuine scares with an abundance of Natassja Kinski and a cool soundtrack featuring David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder. While it may not be the most terrifying movie on this week’s list, it’s probably one of the hardest to turn away from if you happen across it on the cable dial during a bout of late-night viewing.

The Crazies

70%

“WHY ARE THE GOOD PEOPLE DYING?” screamed the poster for George A. Romero’s paranoid The Crazies about the side effects of a military accident that resulted in a small American town being poisoned with a biological weapon that turns people into violent lunatics. Sadly, the tagline for Romero’s 1973 effort might as well have been “WHY WON’T MOST THEATERS SHOW THE CRAZIES?,” because the picture died with a whimper at the box office — but a good idea always turns up again in the horror genre, and in 2010, director Breck Eisner repurposed Romero’s original to create a sleek, gleefully nasty update that managed a surprisingly robust 71 percent on the Tomatometer. Alas, while Eisner’s Crazies at least made it to wide release, they didn’t fare a whole lot better at the box office, managing to slash together ony $54 million worldwide. The result of a military-industrial conspiracy, perhaps?

Dawn of the Dead

76%

Did George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead really need a remake? Perhaps not. But if we were going to get one, it might as well have been one that blended the the visual wizardry of director Zack Snyder with a screenplay from future Guardians of the Galaxy mastermind James Gunn, and that’s just what we got with this 2004 “re-envisioning” of the zombie classic. Using the original’s basic framework as an effective delivery mechanism for a fresh round of gruesome gore and heart-pumping action, the new Dawn proved surprisingly bright for most critics, including Aisle Seat’s Mike McGranaghan, who wrote, “Dawn of the Dead is ultra-violent, excessively bloody, and extremely gory — all in a good way. I left the theater feeling pumped full of adrenaline.”

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

60%

It might seem a little odd to base a horror remake on a TV movie from the 1970s, but the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark — starring Kim Darby as a housewife whose new home comes with some nasty little tenants lurking in the basement — is a cult classic for afficionados of the genre, so a theatrical version was probably inevitable. Given that the 2011 edition was co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro, fans had reason to be hopeful that the remade Dark would be even scarier than the first; alas, after being trapped in studio limbo for months due to Miramax’s shuttering, director Troy Nixey’s update on the story — which focused on an eight-year-old (Bailee Madison) and her father’s girlfriend (Katie Holmes) — was greeted with lukewarm indifference by audiences and critics alike. Perhaps some things are just more frightening on the boob tube.

Evil Dead

63%

How in the world do you put together a remake of one of the most beloved horror-comedy cult classics of the last 40 years? If you’re director Fede Alvarez, you film a new version of Evil Dead with production input from creator Sam Raimi and original star Bruce Campbell, a much bigger budget, and a far more serious take on the story of young campers who unwittingly unleash a demon plague while goofing around with the Book of the Dead. The amped-up gore in Alvarez’s Evil Dead certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it arguably made more sense, given the film’s narrative outline — and audiences responded strongly enough that plans for a sequel are currently afoot.

The Fly

93%

The original version of The Fly, released in 1958, was a Vincent Price classic that didn’t really need to be remade, but that didn’t stop producer Stuart Cornfield (working with an uncredited Mel Brooks) from getting the ball rolling on a new version. After several years in development, plenty of studio struggle, and some turnover at the screenwriter and director positions, Cornfield had his movie: David Cronenberg’s gorier, more suspenseful take on The Fly, which went back to George Langelaan’s 1957 short story and emerged with one of the more delightfully suspenseful horror/sci-fi movies of the 1980s. Unfortunately, Cronenberg’s Fly — starring Jeff Goldblum as the ill-fated scientist whose experiments leave his DNA accidentally intertwined with the titular pest, and Geena Davis as the woman who loves him — was too successful to prevent a sequel: 1989’s rather uninspired The Fly II. Rumors of another remake (and a quasi-sequel penned by Cronenberg) have popped up over the years, but it’s all been for naught. So far, anyway.

Friday the 13th

26%

Featuring a “star” hidden behind a hockey mask and a brilliantly low-budget conceit that needed nothing more than anonymous young actors capable of screaming in various states of undress, the Friday the 13th series was one of the most reliably profitable horror franchises of the 1980s — and ripe for the reboot treatment in the 21st century. Platinum Dunes did the honors in 2009, reimagining the murderous Jason Voorhees as more of a lethal maniac and less of a lumbering dolt, with cooler special effects and plenty of T&A; once again, the formula worked, producing plenty of pure profit for the studio and signaling that perhaps a new slew of sequels was on the horizon. Alas, Jason has slumbered since then, although recent rumors suggest we could see a (sigh) found-footage Friday before too long.

Fright Night

72%

If director Craig Gillespie had polled horror fans in 2011 and asked them if he really needed to remake 1985’s Fright Night, the answer probably would have been a resounding “no”; after all, the original was not only a surprise hit, it had matured into a solid favorite among scary movie lovers, and little seemed to be gained by updating the story of a horror-loving teen (William Ragsdale) who makes the awful discovery that his new neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is secretly a vampire. While it may not have been strictly necessary, the new Fright Night — starring Anton Yelchin as young Charley Brewster and Colin Farrell as the undead addition to the neighborhood — proved surprisingly potent, with Farrell’s charismatic performance matching Gillespie’s confident lens. While box office returns were fairly weak, the remake brought the Fright Night franchise back to life, with a direct-to-video sequel arriving in stores earlier this month.

Halloween

28%

By the 2000s, producer Moustapha Akkad’s once-proud Halloween franchise had fallen on hard times, with deathless serial killer Michael Myers resurfacing in a series of low-budget sequels that bore little resemblance to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 original. All that was left was to start over from the beginning — and that’s what director Rob Zombie did with 2007’s Halloween, which retold Myers’ gruesome origin story and returned him to poor, unfortunate Haddonfield, Illinois for a gorier version of his first grown-up killing spree. While Zombie had previously flirted with critical respectability with 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, his Halloween mustered a mere 25 percent on the Tomatometer — not as high as 1982’s much-maligned Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but still better than the sixth installment in the series, 1995’s The Curse of Michael Myers, and good enough to greenlight a sequel (dubbed H2) in 2009. A planned 3D follow-up fell off the schedule last year, but if the last 35 years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re never truly safe from Mr. Myers.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

92%

If Gus Van Sant’s Psycho serves as an argument against remakes, then the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers offers an equally persuasive rebuttal. While the 1956 original is one of the most highly regarded sci-fi/horror movies of its era, director Philip Kaufman’s update matched it with a thrillingly gritty, ensemble-driven look at what might happen if alien spores landed on Earth and started sprouting eerily emotionless replicas of our friends and loved ones. Sharpening up the special effects without overly relying on them, the new-look Body Snatchers featured solid performances from a stellar cast that included Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum — and although it definitely made its share of money at the box office in 1978, if anything it’s even more highly regarded today. Here’s hoping Kaufman’s Snatchers continues to stand as the most recent version of the movie for many more years to come.

My Bloody Valentine

61%

If you’re looking for fright value, bad guys don’t come much more elegantly brutal than a bloodthirsty lunatic with a pickaxe, which might be why the low-budget 1981 Canadian slasher flick My Bloody Valentine — about a miner who survives a collapse by dining on his fellow crew members, goes crazy before being rescued, and wages murderous revenge — proved even more potent when its 3D remake surfaced in 2009. And although it may not have generated blockbuster numbers at the box office, it fared surprisingly well with critics; it can’t be long before we’re treated to yet another Bloody Valentine.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

15%

Given how much money the Nightmare on Elm Street movies made for New Line during the 1980s and early 1990s, remakes and/or reboots were probably always a matter of course; problem was, the series was just as memorable for Robert Englund’s outstanding performance in the role of series killer Freddy Krueger as it was for its scores of inventive on-screen murders. Faced with the unsolvable problem of replacing Englund, the folks at Platinum Dunes hired Jackie Earle Haley to take over the part for their 2010 reboot — and although Haley is certainly a talented actor, and more than capable of exuding a sinister aura, he isn’t as physically imposing as Englund. Add that to a story that hit many of the same beats as the original, and the end result was a movie that, while certainly profitable, failed to land with as much impact as it had the first (eight) time(s) around.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

95%

Werner Herzog’s filmography offers more than a few case studies in audaciousness, not the least of which is 1979’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. Occasionally referred to by its less cool English title, Nosferatu the Vampyre, this remake of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1922 silent film finds Klaus Kinski stepping into the bloodsucking role so memorably inhabited by Max Schreck, with all parties involved acquitting themselves admirably. No less a cinematic authority than Roger Ebert agreed, writing that “To say of someone that they were born to play a vampire is a strange compliment, but if you will compare the two versions of Nosferatu you might agree with me that only Kinski could have equaled or rivaled Max Schreck’s performance.”

Psycho

39%

Of all the remakes on our list, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho embraces the concept more eagerly than most, delivering a somewhat bafflingly precise update on the 1960 Hitchcock classic with a shot-for-shot replication that, while assembled and acted by talented creative types, exhibited no real creativity of its own. But while Van Sant’s Psycho wound up bottoming out at a rather miserable 37 percent on the Tomatometer, he dodged a few bullets in at least one sense — unlike a lot of remakes of classic films, his attempt to re-Hitchcock Hitchcock inspired more critical bafflement than anger or derision. Ultimately, the 1998 Psycho serves as a perfectly persuasive (albeit most likely unintentional) argument against remakes in general.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

37%

A man, a plan, a chainsaw. Oh, and a facemask made out of human skin. It may not sound like much, but from the moment 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre terrified its first audiences, it’s served as the basis for one of the horror genre’s more surprisingly durable franchises — in spite of the mostly miserable track record suffered by its spate of periodic prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. The horror remake enthusiasts at Platinum Dunes tried to take things back to the beginning (again) with their 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and although most critics claimed time had dulled Leatherface’s blade, audiences still turned out to the tune of more than $100 million in box office grosses. Yet another prequel followed in 2006, and this year brought a 3D sequel to the original, with yet another chapter planned for 2015. Confused? Don’t think too hard; in the end, it all goes back to those first simple ingredients.

The Wicker Man

15%

There are worse (and far, far better) horror remakes than Neil LaBute’s update on The Wicker Man, but we absolutely had to include it here, because no other film provides its particular brand of sheer, cackling lunacy. While it’s misguided on just about every level, the 2006 Wicker is chiefly noteworthy thanks to Nicolas Cage’s presence as police detective Edward Malus, whose journey to a secluded island in search of his abducted daughter ends very badly for all concerned — including any audience members not prepared for the unforgettable sight of Cage punching a woman in the face while wearing a bear suit, or the equally memorable sound of Cage screaming “Oh God! Not the bees!” Avoid it if you’re looking for truly scary viewing, but it still needs to be seen in order to be believed.

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