In the case of Hollywood v. Creativity, exhibit A comes in the form of the remake, and no genre gets it worse than horror. It seems like every classic horror film is bound to get a remake at some point. Just this past week Tobe Hooper and Steve Spielberg’s effects masterpiece, Poltergeist was released to mediocre reviews (I actually kinda loved it), most from the angle of “is nothing sacred?!?”
Well, I’ll always givea horror remake the benefit of the doubt because while most are unnecessary and lame, plenty are decent … and a select few are improvements over the original. These are those few.
Nosferatu: Phantom der Macht (1979 – dir. Werner Herzog)
The 1922 F.W. Murnau silent film Nosferatu remains one of the most terrifying films in existence. It would seem like an impossible task to update properly, but luckily for us, impossible tasks are kinda Werner Herzog’s thing. By casting Klaus Kinski in the role he was born to play and using the “talkie” format as an opportunity to insert Herzog-ian dialogue into the story, the horror elements are infused with tragedy and depth. Dracula is not just a creature of the night, but also a lonely victim of his own monstrosity. While the original film is an indelible classic, the remake is positively captivating.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 -Philip Kaufman)
Monster movies were a bit of a thing in the 1950s, and by the end of the 70s New Hollywood had made its stamp on Tinseltown, and the film auteur started receiving studio paychecks. While the original Body Snatchers adapted the source novel into a creature feature where the monsters are indistinguishable from our fellow man, making a commentary on the Red Scare (which was not at all the intention of the novel according to author, Jack Finney), Kaufman’s version played off of the paranoid thrillers of its own post-Watergate era, and added elements of the 70s wave of horror (as put into motion by the likes of The Exorcist and The Omen). Also, it has Jeff Goldblum, which makes it automatically better than most things.
Funny Games (2007 – dir. Michael Haneke)
Despite being a literal shot-for-shot remake of Haneke’s own film, in the decade between releases the horror landscape changed, and even though Haneke himself said his intention was simply to prevent fickle American audiences from having to read subtitles, he ended up making a very current commentary on the torture-porn subgenre. If you thought David Lynch put Naomi Watts through the ringer in Mulholland Drive, it’s a cake walk compared to Funny Games. And is there anyone on the planet scarier than Michael Pitt?
The Thing (1982 – dir. John Carpenter)
There are only a handful of elements that link this film to its counterpart The Thing From Another World: an arctic outpost, sled dogs, and an alien frozen in ice. Otherwise, it’s almost an entirely different, and superior, movie. The original film, much like the previously mentioned Invasion of the Body Snatchers was just one in a long line of 50s monster flicks. Carpenter’s version adds layers to a simple “kill the creature” story by using the contagious nature of the beast in conjunction with the isolated setting to turn it into a psychological thriller. And even now, 30 years later, the gruesome special effects still do the trick.
The Fly (1986 – dir. David Cronenberg)
This is the Citizen Kane of horror remakes, in my opinion. Never has a source material matched a filmmaker so perfectly. David Cronenberg is the undisputed king of body horror, and the original 1958 film is one of the proponents of the subgenre. Just like The Thing, the gruesome effects have stood the test of time and, green scale computer screens aside, the science of the horror is timeless. Rather than trying to modernize the head-switching aspect of the first film, the Cronenberg film subverts the results of the failed teleportation experiment by slowing the pace of Dr. Brundle’s transformation, allowing us to see his descent into monstrousness in full, disgusting detail. It’s not only a fine remake, but one of the seminal films of the 80s. Also, Jeff Goldblum once again.
What did I miss? Hit up the comments!
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.