Remakes have been and always will be a tricky thing. Some enjoy them, and some don’t. Some of them work, and some don’t. Some are made for the right reasons, and some are made for a buck.
That’s the nature of the game.
We’ve been fortunate enough to see a few remakes come along that really left an impression on viewers. They’re the kind of films that were quite clearly made by someone who views the genre in a very favorable light. They’re the kind of flicks that remind us a great, dedicated filmmaker will find a way to give us something special, whatever the material they’re working with may be.
Here’s a look at some of the remakes that opened our eyes and assured us that the talent involved in making these remakes were entirely invested in giving fans something to truly appreciate.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
Don Siegel’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is one of the greatest films to be produced in the 1950s. It’s well-shot, beautifully written and perfectly performed, with leading man Kevin McCarthy turning in some absolutely riveting material. Remaking the movie may have been an easy decision to make when contemplating potential financial turnaround, but it had to be a tad daunting for director Philip Kaufman and Donald Sutherland, who both carry the bulk of the burden of making the 1978 remake every bit as memorable as Siegel’s film.
Personally, I still prefer Siegel’s flick to Kaufman’s, but that does absolutely nothing to change the fact that Kaufman and Sutherland do a bang-up job with the reboot. It’s essentially the same story with a few stylized adjustments and additional shock sequences, but it never once feels stale. It’s exciting, it’s skin-crawling and it boasts one of the most loyal fanbases you’ll find. In short, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a rare must-see remake.
As is the case with INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, John Carpenter’s THE THING is another pic that delivers an overhaul of a major ‘50s gem. Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD really didn’t have too much in common with John W. Campbell Jr.’s original short story. They’re wildly different, in fact, but it isn’t too hard to understand why the story was handled in the manner it was: technological limitations would have likely made for a strange a constricted story.
Fast forward to 1982 and take a peek at the changes in the landscape of film, and it’s no mystery as to why John Carpenter gave us the same story that Campbell Jr. originally wrote. It was physically possible in 1982. Carpenter’s flick is astonishingly faithful to the source, and the end result surpasses captivating. It’s part science fiction, part horror and part character study, and it’s 100-percent amazing. Kurt Russell is the perfect hero, the all-male ensemble creates some very interesting personalities and dynamics, and Rob Bottin and the special effects crew craft what are generally perceived as some of the greatest special effects in cinematic history.
David Cronenberg is a visionary, plain and simple. He sees film in a light most of us can’t fathom, and he creates with a boldness that is as close to unrivaled as it gets. The man is fearless, and that fearlessness is on full display in the shocking remake of THE FLY.
Kurt Neumann’s 1958 flick of the same name really isn’t the same film. The core concept is intact, for sure, but Cronenberg travels this path with an intensity we rarely see on film, and he recruited the perfect pair to make what was once an often unintentionally comedic but lovable little piece from yesteryear a new, jaw-dropping experiment in terrifying and revolting body horror. THE FLY really is creepy, disgusting and alarmingly human, simultaneously, and that’s not a mix we see surface on a regular basis – remake or not.
The first time we saw THE BLOB, we were introduced to a prepared-to-front-a-film cool guy Steve McQueen navigating a fun but flawed little creature feature of the ‘50s. Fast forward thirty years and we welcomed the inevitable remake, with Chuck Russell at the helm and Kevin Dillon sliding into the role of the rebellious male lead.
Neither story is particularly special, or amazingly crafted, it should be noted. The original flick, THE BLOB was about character, while the remake was all about special effects and gross out sequences. Both films work because they’re both willing to embrace exactly what they are without tucking tail when a weakness surfaces. As much as I love Steve McQueen, it’s hard to pick the characters of ’58 over the top-notch special effects of ’88.
Time has been kinder to Gore Verbinksi than Hideo Nakata. Not that it matters, really – both RINGU and THE RING have retained most of their chill over the years, and both are plenty worth revisiting in 2017. Both are also rarities in the fact that that they’re both genuinely frightening features. The story certainly asks us to put our common sense on the shelf for a while, but there’s no harm in that when it entertains as wildly as this story does.
RINGU was a generally well-made film, and unlike Hollywood it leans in the direction of realism and believability first and foremost, which empowers the fear factor of the film. However, Verbinksi’s pic is clearly the more refined and “flashier” production between the two. In this instance, that “flash” does nothing to diminish the terror of the narrative and the aesthetic jolts that lay in wait. THE RING looked great on the day it was released, and it looks great today. That damned VHS tape is still super creepy, and Samara remains one of the few big screen villains that has what it takes to make the bladder go weak.
Full disclosure: The plot of THE GRUDGE has always played host to a handful of very murky details and some very convenient vagueness. But who the hell watches THE GRUDGE looking for a seamless narrative? Nobody does that. We watch THE GRUDGE because that fucking kid sends chills spiraling down the spine, and Kayako has the potential to be a truly great screen villain. Both JU-ON and THE GRUDGE are worthy of respect, but it’s director Takashi Shimizu’s own American spin that feels like the more refined work. It’s loaded with atmosphere, and if you can get beyond Sarah Michelle Gellar’s often-underwhelming performance you’re in for one hell of a ride!
DAWN OF THE DEAD
When Zack Snyder delivered his rendition of the classic George A. Romero pic, DAWN OF THE DEAD, I was certain the next great creator had arrived to set the genre ablaze for years to come. Alas, I was wrong. 300 and WATCHMEN were fun flicks, but it’s been a steady decline since, as Snyder has become the equivalent of the genre’s Roland Emmerich. His films are all big budget visual effects and a barren wasteland of fun. When you can turn Superman into an unlikable character, and bore the audience to tears with BATMAN V SUPERMAN, something isn’t quite working. Whether or not we’ll see Snyder return to his more basic, character-driven directorial roots remains to be seen. As it is, the man does indeed deserve a wealth of respect for giving us one of the greatest modern day remakes out there, and one of the best zombie movies produced in years!
THE HILLS HAVE EYES
Alexandre Aja proved to be fearless when approaching a beloved Wes Craven picture like THE HILLS HAVE EYES. It’s a gruesome tale, and it’s not necessarily the kind of piece that every young, hungry filmmaker would jump to remake. But Aja did just that and impressed in a major way, in the process!
Everything that’s great about the original has been ramped up, and not only is the film no less risqué than Craven’s original, it could be interpreted as an even riskier production. There are a lot of sensitive folk out there who can’t handle seeing the extremes of the genre exploited for entertainment, but Aja embraces that. Everything in the flick is extreme, and as the insanity grows, peaks and barrels toward a merciless finale, you can almost swear you see Aja in frame a few times, smiling wide and flipping a mean bird at the PC haunters and genre detractors.
You’re welcome to call me crazy, but Breck Eisner’s remake of the forgotten George A. Romero flick, THE CRAZIES, is one of the best remakes the genre has ever produced. Everything that was solid about Romero’s film is infinitely more stimulating in this sleeper treat. Timothy Olyphant does an amazing job as a small-town sheriff with the weight of the world and the safety of a community on his shoulders. And he gets some solid support from a few other genre standouts like Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker. The ensemble is terrific, as is the script, pacing and wild genre bending conclusion. It’s a shame this one has yet to garner the attention it deserves, because few remakes get it as right as THE CRAZIES.
FRIDAY THE 13th
OK- it may not be a unanimous verdict, but if Marcus Nispel’s FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot isn’t an insane blast of a flick, I simply don’t know what is. Having studied the FRIDAY franchise extensively, I’m very comfortable in acknowledging FRIDAY’s position as one of the most enjoyable in the entire series.
Derek Mears is fast, agile and menacing, and we’ve honestly never seen that combination. It’s exciting. The performances are also – for the most part – more refined than the vast majority we’ve seen in the long-running franchise. Voorhees doesn’t rewrite the book in regard to murder, but there are a small handful of gratifying slaughter sequences and we get the gratuitous nudity that’s become synonymous with the series. All in all, the FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot was a technical success, and after a number one debut and raking in $91 million against a $16 million budget, it’s bewildering that we’re having trouble seeing another franchise pic head for production.
Whether shot by William Lustig or Franck Khalfoun, MANIAC is a horrific and deeply disturbing picture. Both the original and the remake are exceptionally affective in repulsing and disconcerting the viewer. The major complaints I see from detractors of the remake is that Elijah Wood fails to nail the freaked out super bug-eyed look of Joe Spinell, and he doesn’t convince in his ability to overcome his victims with relative ease, as Wood himself is about the size of your average woman and would likely run into some problems the moment he encountered someone on the fit side of life.
Those complaints are understandable and accurate. Wood doesn’t look as crazy as Spinell did, and he doesn’t look like he could carry on for too long as a serial killer before encountering a woman tough enough to thwart his violent habits. That said, it’s important to note that Wood does manage to look pretty psycho, and even if he’s a small man, he’s an absolute lunatic which may help out in the physical department.
Flawless or not, Khalfoun’s picture is eerie and memorable. Elijah Wood, overall, gets a strong grade for a dedicated performance. MANIAC is stylish and shocking, and if you let this one fly under your personal radar, you may want to reevaluate any preconceived opinions you have about the movie.
Ranking among the best of this list, Fede Alvarez gifted us something very special when he tackled the task of rebooting the beloved classic genre piece EVIL DEAD. Touching the material seemed too taboo to even contemplate, and we were all filled with apprehension in advance of the movie’s arrival, but when it hit the big screen in April of 2013, hardcores flipped their collective lids: the movie absolutely rocked!
EVIL DEAD is loaded with amazing practical special effects, a believable and controlled concept, a handful of awesome performers and a finale that dares to be bold without reaching too far beyond the realm of likelihood for the series. Fede Alvarez, as it turns out, had just the right vision to make this unlikely standout an awesome and memorable reality. We’re eternally grateful, Mr. Alvarez!