Remakes are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around since the very beginning of cinema. Edison Studios produced the very first adaptation of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN way back in 1910, and we’ve gone on to know many versions of the famed monster, from James Whale’s classic 1931 version, to Hammer Films’ FRANKENSTEIN series, to Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of the resurrected beast in 1994. We rarely, if ever, hear fan outcry over reinterpretations of FRANKENSTEIN and yet it’s one of the most famous and celebrated horror stories of all time.
Just about every sub-genre in horror is cyclical. At some point, when the stars align and profits are high for one thing in particular, studios in the business of making money off of movies will capitalize on that one thing — over and over again until it’s run into the ground. The ’70s and ’80s had their fair share of (artistically) successful remakes (THE THING, THE FLY, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), but really, the early 2000’s are when the remake cycle hit a fever pitch and any even remotely recognizable horror title from the 80’s got a shiny new remake. Need a refresher? Kirby Reed from SCREAM 4 can bring you up to speed:
Point being, it just makes financial sense to remake a property or title that someone out there might vaguely recognize. But what’s been an interesting and unexpected evolution of this has been the shift to remaking famous horror properties in the form of television series. There have been quite a number in excess over the last few years. Some great (HANNIBAL, BATES MOTEL), some not so great (ROSEMARY’S BABY). And the thing is this – TV is really, really good right now. Whereas so many people are involved in decisions when it comes to producing one feature-length movie, which can also take (on average) up to 3 years to make, television is the writers’ medium. A place where a fleshed out story can be fully realized over the course of a whole season rather than trying to hit the usual beats to make a 90 minute running time.
But is the TV remake bubble about to reach its breaking point?
Earlier this week, Fox released trailers for its Fall slate of television shows. Among the batch were new TV series redos of THE EXORCIST, LETHAL WEAPON and ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. The trailers for each are linked if you click the titles. And… well, they are something. They all feel a little too familiar, if you know what I mean. With THE EXORCIST, I’m willing to give it a shot. The original William Friedkin film is so embedded into pop culture that it’s impossible to separate it from the public’s perception when they hear the words THE EXORCIST. No movie, sequel, spin-off or knock-off has ever come close to capturing the power of the original EXORCIST. (Although I will give it up for EXORCIST III.)
Watching the trailer for the new show, however, it doesn’t really look like that book or movie we all know and love. It kind of resembles an amalgamation of all the post-exorcism films inspired by THE EXORCIST mixed with elements of all of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR movies. The only thing that even remotely connects it to that famous property is the name and usage of the “Tubular Bells” theme. There’s still enough there for me to at least give it a whirl. But then, LETHAL WEAPON? I watch that trailer and literally see a much better, classic movie that already exists being re-performed note for note by different actors, and I think… why? The only thing that trailer makes me want to do is walk over to my shelf and watch the movie it reminds me of.
OK, I get it. It’s a somewhat recognizable name. And you’re all saying, “these new shows aren’t for YOU. They’re for a new generation that hasn’t seen those old movies!” That’s fine and all, but I also don’t see any artistic merit or true reason for these particular reboots besides the obvious monetary ones. Let me put it in perspective: This new wave of Fox TV shows that includes several well-known titles is, to me, the equivalent of the DC Comics movies. The Marvel movies took their time over several years, stayed true to the source material, but managed to update and change it just enough to satisfy old & new fans alike. The best examples I can give are HANNIBAL and BATES MOTEL. Yes, these characters and stories have already been told cinematically numerous times, but they respect the source material and have managed to add to their legacies. In the same way that DC movies are in a blatant rush to capitalize on Marvel’s multi-cross over movie model, Fox’s TV slate feels to me like a network rushing to make something based on a known title because a bunch of other networks have already done it successfully.
I mentioned this on my Facebook page, and one person chimed in saying, “they don’t care, they’re doing it for money.” While another replied that, “I know someone that works on one of those shows, and they do care.” I understand both points. Yes, they’re in the entertainment business, and like with any other business, the goal is to make money and sustain. It’s a much safer gamble to green light a title that has some recognition than it is to take a gamble on something new and (dare I say it) original! That doesn’t mean the people working on each of these shows isn’t trying their best. Look – if someone offered me a shot to write for an EXORCIST TV series, you’d better believe I’d take it! I also know I would take a lot of shit for it for even thinking of tackling a beloved & respected property like that.
A successful TV writer friend of mine jumped on that thread and added, “It used to be that you’d go pitch a show saying its LETHAL WEAPON meets CSI. Or its THE EXORCIST meets HELL’S KITCHEN. But they’ve cut out the middle man and just say — let’s do LETHAL WEAPON and THE OMEN and ROSEMARY’S BABY, etc. It’s crazy.” So the thought is definitely there within the network system to just go right for the name you’re pitching.
And it’s also OK to like both! I, of course, recall going to see each and every SCREAM movie as they hit theaters and still have such fond memories of that entire franchise. And yet, I really enjoy the hell out of MTV’s SCREAM TV series, which for the most part is its own new thing, yet captures the self-referential spirit of the film series and somehow manages to stretch out a “slasher” movie storyline over the course of a full season. Here’s hoping their second season can sustain that.
I’ve also heard that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (now in its 3rd season) is really, really good. But I wouldn’t know. I honestly gave up pretty quickly during the first season. And it was because the pilot episode managed to stretch out the awesome 5 minute opening from the movie into a long, drawn out 30 minutes. And again, I looked over at my shelf and saw the movie and thought… I’d much rather watch this movie in 90 minutes than commit to this story again for 10 weeks now. I have younger friends that have never seen the movie that love the show. So it works for a lot of people. And maybe I’ll get to it eventually? But with TV being so damned good and there being so many options, it’s really difficult to pick which of these titles is going to monopolize your time.
We’re approaching a point where eventually every known horror title has been or will be remade into a TV show and I’m wondering, when is enough enough? As long as the makers of these particular shows truly put the effort forth to give us something worth sacrificing our time for, I’m along for the ride. But again, there’s a lot to choose from now. BATES MOTEL has a hard-out at next year’s 5th season, which I respect. And although HANNIBAL should’ve gotten more seasons, the 3 seasons we do have are pretty groundbreaking, great television.
As horror fans, we’re willing to give any new show a shot. But if you’re going to tackle one of our favorite movies as a TV series, please think of your adaptation in the context of the legacy of that name, rather than just rehashing it.