Seven Remakes to Die For

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-08-23 02:40

Audiences are currently sandwiched between a couple of big budget theatrical remakes in the form of Fright Night and Donít Be Afraid of the Dark, which I suppose will ignite another round of teeth gnashing and fan boy derision. Iím not going to do that though; instead, Iím here to be productive and tell you that you probably already like some remakes, so you might want to hold off on writing them all off on principle alone. Not only that, but Iím going to give myself a challenge by highlighting some real remakes, meaning Iím only focusing on stuff that began life as scripts intended to be produced as films. That means literary adaptations are off the table, which immediately eliminates the various updates of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the like. This also means every fanboyís two favorite examples--Carpenterís The Thing and Cronenbergís The Fly--are eliminated (both were adaptations of short stories). So that leaves us with a seven lucky instances of horror dťjŗ vu that serve as fine reminders that you shouldnít always pass up a second pass at material.

House of Wax (1953)

    No, thatís not a typo; Iím not referring to the 2005 slasher remake starring that guy from One Tree Hill and Paris Hiltonís husk of non-charisma, which actually was pretty good in its own right (but more a remake of Tourist Trap). Iím talking about the one starring Vincent Price as the disfigured homicidal maniac whose victims end up encased in wax and on display in his macabre house of horrors. What many people seem to forget is that Price was stepping into a role inhabited 20 years earlier by Lionel Atwill in Mystery of the Wax Museum. Iím technically already breaking my own rule because Wax Museum took its inspiration from an unpublished short story, but itís okay because House of Wax is one of my favorite remake examples to break out because so many are oblivious to its origins. Anyway, the Price version is a garish spectacle featuring great performances (one comes from a young Chuck Bronson!) and a lavish production design; it was also presented in 3D, which has me thinking that Twitter circa 1953 wouldnít have looked all that different from Twitter today (ďReally? Theyíre remaking a classic and itís in 3D?Ē).

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

    I know, I know--Nosferatu was actually an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stokerís Dracula, so it looks like Iím already breaking my own rules (again). But letís utilize some common sense--Werner Herzog obviously didnít set out to update Stoker; instead, his target was his home countryís most famous horror flick. His audacity is only matched by the excellence of his final product, which is a stylish homage whose grand visuals rival that of Marnauís film. This version also adds sound, which adds a dimension to Klaus Kinskiís interpretation of Orlok, which really makes this a worthwhile endeavor on its own. So the next time youíre bitching about remakes, just remember this: if theyíre worthwhile enough for Herzog and Kinski, theyíre worthwhile enough for you. Disagree at your own risk because something tells me you donít want to incur the wrath of Klaus Kinskiís ghost.

The Blob (1988)

    Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell made for a pretty good team in the 80s. After shepherding Freddy's finest hour in Dream Warriors, the two set their sights on updating a 50s sci-fi cult classic (which starred Steve McQueen to boot). Like The Thing and The Fly before it, The Blob takes the same sci-fi/B-movie concept of the original and warps it into a spectacular showcase of gorific special effects. This one is usually the also-ran of that trio, but the nature of this list gives it a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Featuring a young Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon (Matt's younger brother), it's a thoroughly shlocky 80s experience in the end; since that decade immediately elicits nostalgia, allow me to reminisce about how I walked past this sucker dozens of times at a local video store before I ever bothered to rent it. The image of a guy stuck in a blobby cocoon was a stark one--but not nearly as indelible as Shawnee Smith in a cheerleader outfit.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

    George Romero came on board to produce and write this colorful re-imagining of his own cult classic. Effects guru Tom Savini stepped was behind the camera to direct, and the result is a more than worthy addition to the Dead legacy. Especially interesting is how the film updated the social commentary a bit with a newfound feminist dimension that would have been an even tough sell in 1968 (Romero was already pushing the envelope by featuring Duane Jones as the lead). Romero also has stuff that he couldnít buy back in 1968, namely high production values; this of course isnít taking anything away from the original, but Saviniís update is a rather ghoulish, visceral display that makes this a well-done resurrection.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

    The one that arguably kicked off the post-millennial remake craze, Marcus Nipselís update didnít fuck around by tackling one of horrorís biggest monoliths and giving it a modern make-over. Forgetting the fact that Hooperís film was a rather beautiful one itself (Iím not sure where this notion that itís ugly and grimy came from), Nipselís spit-shine (which was aided by original cinematographer Daniel Pearl) doesnít cover up the demented and deranged tone. I can recall seeing this at an advanced on-campus screening during my sophomore year; you can imagine a bunch of college kids making for a raucous, chatty crowd, which they were--for about ten minutes. After the hitch-hiker blew her brains out, everyone shut up and strapped themselves in for a brutal, unrelenting ride thatís been topped by few flicks (remake or otherwise) since.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

    Romeroís legacy is a funny one, really. His own Dead films (well, the first three) will likely always be hailed as masterpieces in their own right; however, as weíve already seen with Saviniís Night, the further generations continued to keep his legacy intact, and that trend continued when James Gunn and Zack Snyder took Romeroís best film and injected it with a rabid fervor. This answered the question of what an unholy union between Aliens and Dawn of the Dead would look like: frenzied, gory, and spectacularly entertaining. But best of all, the film doesnít sell out Romeroís wry, dark humor amidst all bullets-to-the-head and chaotic flesh eating.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

    Despite its late stumbles, High Tension marked Alexandre Ajaís arrival as an uncompromising horror director, and his splattery take on Wes Cravenís cannibal classic left little doubt that few can be as stylishly gory as the Frenchman. Whatís really interesting is that this version unfolds almost exactly like its predecessor for the first hour, albeit with an interesting political undercurrent: son-in-law Doug is a liberal addition to an otherwise conservative family. When heís forced to rescue his newborn baby like his counterpart in the original, the film kicks into sixth gear (yes, I donít know much about cars, but I know they only have five gears--this bitch goes to six!). The last half hour is a violent tour-de-force filled with grotesque mutant designs and outlandish gore gags, as our hero descends into a filthy, grimy hell. Itís like Straw Dogs by way of Evil Dead. Aja so expertly remade this film that heís never quite recovered--everything since this one has been a remake, with only Piranha really coming close to reaching the grand guignol heights of these Hills.
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