Monday, November 29, 2010

Let The Right Remakes In

In his Entertainment Weekly column, Stephen King named Let Me In as not just the best movie of the year but the best horror movie of the decade. I wasn't nearly as high on the movie myself but I did like it a lot and would've liked it that much more without the distracting, CG-abetted scampering of Abby, the vampire. But overall it was good stuff - the only American vampire movie worth a damn since Shadow of the Vampire (2000).

While King's praise for Let Me In might be just a little over-the-top, in my estimation, I do think the movie deserved to have been given more of a chance by the horror community who, by and large, shunned it on principle. Remakes continue to be regarded with suspicion and it's a shame when a quality one suffers. Whenever someone tries to champion remakes, The Thing and The Fly are constantly cited but I think bringing up the same two examples from over twenty years ago to prove that, hey, some remakes are good just makes it easier to dismiss the new stuff. You don't have to go back to the '80s to find quality remakes. Hell, you don't even have to go back to the '90s.

Here's ten recent remakes that I think match, or better, the originals:

The Ring (2002)

It used to border on blasphemy to say you preferred the US remake to Hideo Nakata's Ringu (1998) but quite so much now. When the remake was announced, I was really skeptical towards it. Ringu's story seemed so specific to the Japanese culture that I expected that it couldn't help but be a bad fit when transported to America. But director Gore Verbinski and screenwriter Ehren Kruger nailed it, I thought, by making some very smart choices and overall, I do prefer this over Nakata's version. Just the scene on the ferry alone puts it over the top for me.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

This is still Zack Synder's best movie and the best of the new millennium run of zombie films. Synder and writer James Gunn give enough of a nod to Romero's film to be respectful but their Dawn is its own thing. It'll never supplant Romero's original - at least not in my eyes - but I love it because it has scenes that had never been able to be accomplished in a zombie film before (as when a virtual sea of the undead mob the survivor's fortified escape vehicles) because they had always been low-budget affairs.

House of Wax (2005)

Director Jaume Collet-Serra won some acclaim with his instant cult classic Orphan (2009) but before that he made House of Wax into a superior, stylish slasher film. After a slow build-up, once the film's gaggle of teens stumble into an isolated town populated by wax figures, the movie goes full-tilt through some truly ghastly death scenes (and one truly crowd-pleasing one as Paris Hilton's character meets her end) until the outrageous finale set inside a literal house of wax as it melts down in a raging blaze. Technically, this is more a remake of 1979's Tourist Trap (sans telekinesis) than of the Vincent Price classic but damn, what a great Tourist Trap remake it is!

The Amityville Horror (2005)

If you were around in 1979 for the release of the original Amityville Horror and were, like, eight at the time, chances are you've still got a soft spot for it. Without nostalgia on its side, though, the original Amityville is not an especially good movie. In fact, it's kind of lousy. Some fans say the Texas Chainsaw remake was Platinum Dunes' best effort but while that had its moments, TCM '03 just doesn't stack up to Tobe Hooper's original. On the other hand, even though James Brolin sported a way better beard than Ryan Reynolds, it's pretty easy to argue that this new Amityville trumped its predecessor.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Steven Spielberg just doesn't get enough credit, the poor guy. With his remake of War of the Worlds, he went ahead and made the best alien invasion movie since I don't know when but yet you hardly ever hear about what a terrific, scary movie this is. Sure, the last minute reappearance of the older brother was a misstep but other than that ill-considered reach for an upbeat ending, this was really harrowing stuff. And it portrayed the Everyman perspective of an alien attack so much more effectively than, say, Cloverfield.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

The Hills Have Eyes remake came in at just the right time, smack in the middle of the torture-porn era, when it was suddenly ok for horror to play rough again. I don't think this is a perfect movie (neither was the original) but director Alexandre Aja makes you feel that he isn't just playing games here. True to the spirit of the first film, he made his Hills a vicious, unapologetic horror film.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009)

The first of the new wave of 3-D horror films is still the best, thanks to the fact that, unlike The Final Destination and Piranha, MBV was actually filmed in 3-D. In revisiting "the horror from long time ago," as described in The Ballad of Harry Warden, scripter Todd Farmer and director Patrick Lussier showed a solid grasp of what kind of movie a MBV remake should be, keeping fans from spending "the fourteenth in quiet regret." The remake is slicker than the 1981 original but it retains the earlier film's working class setting and I love the audacious handling of the film's central mystery - deceiving viewers with a full-on cheat that makes it impossible to be ahead of the final reveal. That might not sit well with some but I appreciated the guessing game Farmer and Lussier's good-natured trickery allowed. Of all the old-school slasher films that've been remade in the past few years - Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night - this was the best, with the enjoyably bitchy 2009 Sorority Row remake coming in second.

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Wes Craven may be losing it when it comes to making original movies but he sure knows how to bring his old classics back in style. After his success producing the Hills Have Eyes remake, he helped make this retelling of his most notorious movie into an arguably better film then the original. I respect Craven's 1972 original for its hallowed place in the annals of exploitation but I've never cared for it. Because of the subject matter, I don't care for the remake much more but I acknowledge that in most every way it's a better film. Most admirers of this film stop short of saying anything good about the final scene but I'll go ahead and say that I liked it. If someone wants to take out the scumbag that raped their daughter, paralyzing them and then exploding their head in a microwave oven seems like a plan to me. More importantly, since when do horror fans not applaud when a movie ends with an exploding head? Shit, that's how they should all end!

The Crazies (2010)

I'm sure a fresh viewing of Romero's 1973 original would make this remake seem even more simplistic to me but I can't deny that I had a blast with this lean, effective retelling. On the negative side, there's about a half-dozen jump scares too many, and its characters keep getting put into tight jams only to be conveniently rescued but I liked the no-nonsense approach of director Brent Eisner, the uniformly solid performances (I thought Timothy Olyphant made for an especially likable protagonist), and movies that play into paranoia towards government and the military are like catnip to me. Crazies for the win!

Let Me In (2010)

The common perception among horror fans seems to be that this remake didn't do well because the horror community stayed away en masse. While I don't doubt that a few horror fans sat this one out, that doesn't make or break a movie (did horror fans want to show their disdain for original movies, too, by passing on Splice?). When it comes to box office success and failure, it's always the general public that decides and this one just didn't appeal to them. You could blame bad marketing but look, a vampire movie starring two prepubescents? That's a hard sell to the average moviegoer, I think.

Oh well. Just call it a loss all around that so few took a chance on Let Me In because it's damn good.

A classic, if you ask Stephen King - someone who knows more than a little about classic vampire tales. But for now I think it's enough to regard Let Me In as above-average. I just hope the next time someone goes ahead and makes a remake as well-crafted as this - strike that, the next time someone makes a movie as well-crafted as this, forget the remake tag - that it doesn't go ignored.


Bob Ignizio said...

I'm with you on 7 out of 10 (we part ways on 'House of Wax', 'The Hills Have Eyes', and 'Amityville Horror'). One I'd add to that list is Adam Gierasch's 'Night of the Demons' which was released straight to video a couple months back. It's more of just a fun 90 minutes of fast food horror than a classic for the ages, but sometimes that's all you really want.

Jeff Allard said...

I've been planning to get around to Night of the Demons - I'll have to get on that.

As for our mutual likes and dislikes - 7 out of 10 ain't bad! I considered dropping House of Wax in favor of the Willard remake but deep down I just like HOW more.

Will Errickson said...

Great post--I haven't seen all these remakes, but a couple years ago I got so sick of the automatic, knee-jerk hatred of even the concept of remakes. I think the opening of Snyder's DAWN is simply phenomenal and didn't care for RINGU at all but really liked the remake (the ferry sequence is terrific, yes). And since you mentioned that HOUSE OF WAX resembles TOURIST TRAP (a film King championed back in the day), well, now I have to check it out!

Jeff Allard said...

Give House of Wax a shot, Will! I wouldn't call it a classic or anything but it's definitely one of my favorite slasher flicks of recent years.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I'm with you on most all of those... all decent horror films if not quite the equal of the originals (I definitely prefer the U.S. version of The Ring!)
I recently watched the remake of The Crazies... expecting not to like it but came away impressed. Even if it does lack some of the weird squirmy stuff from the old one in favor of more action.
Also, I'm one of those freaks who prefers Rob Zombie's Halloween over the original... but I know I'm out on the limb by myself there.

Anonymous said...

Excellent list, I'm with you save for Amityville. I'll substitute that with TCM, thank you very much.

I do think the Last House on the Left Remake is far superior to the original. I think it does a much better building of tension and fear.

Been meaning to check out the Night of The Demons remake. I've heard its a hoot.

Jeff Allard said...

Knob, I think more than a few people enjoy RZ's Halloween so you're not completely alone on that. I have to say, I thought the theatrical cut had some merit and I saw it twice on the big screen. But the director's cut makes it clear that the studio heads were the ones who got RZ's work into shape by pruning the film to its advantage.

In the theatrical cut, it's an alarming, shocking moment when young Michael attacks and kills a Smith Grove nurse, played by Sybil Danning. The scene shows how lethal and unpredictable Michael is but in the director's cut, RZ shoots that to hell by restoring footage to show the nurse being a bitch to Michael prior to the attack. Now Michael is just reacting to something specific that set him off.

In the disc's audio commentary, RZ says that it didn't make any sense to him that Michael would attack the nurse for no reason, oblivious to the fact that a) it's Michael fucking Myers and b) Michael's lack of motivation is EXACTLY WHY IT'S FUCKING SCARY.

So...while I had been a semi-supporter of RZ for awhile, the director's cut of Halloween soured me on him. He seems like an affable guy in interviews, though.

Cortez, there's a few issues I have with the TCM remake (where's the cannibalism? That aspect of the original just seemed to evaporate) but it made a real effort to be a hard-hitting, straight-up scary movie and I know a lot of people really dig it.