Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Look at Horror Remakes

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema continued the month-long Halloween theme with a look at horror remakes. Remakes are now a cornerstone Hollywood's regular release slate with reboots like 2009's Star Trek and reiterations like Disney's Beauty and the Beast. But the current trend of mainstream remakes is rooted in the horror genre. Here is a look at the films discussed on the show as well as a few other titles.

Cat People (1982)
Dir. Paul Schrader

1942’s Cat People was about a woman who fears that her own sexual awakening will cause her to turn into a cat. The material was given an erotic and surreal update in Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake which expanded the concept in the story of a woman who discovers that her family members have the habit of turning into panthers. Like the original, the remake of Cat People retains the core fear of our own sexuality and the 1982 version has become a cult title.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Dir. Zack Snyder

The 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead was one of the first and most successful titles in the recent trend of horror remakes and it was the feature film directorial debut of Zack Snyder who went on to helm movies like 300, Watchmen, and Batman v. Superman. In many respects, Dawn of the Dead portended the rest of Snyder’s career. George A. Romero’s original movie was intense but also smart and it used the zombie genre to send up mass consumerism. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead had double the action but only half the brains. It works as an action oriented horror film that’s very entertaining but the remake is bereft of subtext and it stripped the ideas down to almost nothing.

Evil Dead (2013)
Dir. Fede Alvarez

The original Evil Dead was about a group of young people who retreat to an isolated cabin where they are besieged by demons. The movie was one of the seminal horror films of its day and it was renowned for its gore and intensity which caused the original Evil Dead to be censored and banned in several countries. Despite its controversy, Evil Dead launched the career of filmmaker Sam Raimi and inspired a franchise of sequels, video games, and a television series. A remake of Evil Dead was released in 2013. It was a respectable effort that retained the core idea of the original. It was a slicker movie and didn’t have the amateur appeal of the original film but it was nearly as intense and the remake included some shocking and innovative visuals.

The Fly (1986)
Dir. David Cronenberg

1958’s The Fly was a mad scientist movie in which a teleportation experiment goes wrong and turns a scientist into a man-insect hybrid. David Cronenberg remade The Fly in 1986 in a version that was consistent with his obsessions with the body and identity. His film retained the core premise of the original movie but presented it in a way that was more dramatic but also more grotesque.

Halloween (2007)
Dir. Rob Zombie

In the 2000s, nearly every major horror property from the 1970s and 80s was remade. One of the most contentious was Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. As in the original, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to his hometown for a night of murder and mayhem. Unlike the original, the first half of Zombie’s remake portrayed Myers’ home life and cast him as the product of a dysfunctional family. 2007’s Halloween was flawed but it was also one of the most audacious and fascinating remakes of its period and Rob Zombie deserves credit for making his own film rather than a soulless rehash. An even more ambitious sequel followed in 2009.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Dir. Philip Kaufman

The Red Scare era produced a lot of great paranoia movies and among the best was 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which the citizens of an American town are replaced with alien duplicates. As written and shot, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers ended ambiguously but a prologue and epilogue were added in post-production at the behest of studio executives. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was remade in the late 1970s with the emphasis shifting from communism to consumerism and this version retained the downbeat ending.

The Last House on the Left (2009)
Dir. Dennis Iliadis

Wes Craven’s directorial debut was one of the most important horror films of the 1970s. An unofficial remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, 1972’s The Last House on the Left told the story of a pair of teenage girls who are abducted, tortured, and murdered by a band of psychopaths who then inadvertently seek shelter in the home of one of their victims and the parents take revenge. The movie was made for very little money by people who didn’t know what they were doing but its amateurishness gives the movie a rawness and authenticity that’s very powerful. Craven produced a remake released in 2009. The new version was better in almost every respect; the acting, the production design, and especially the cinematography were all first rate and the remake fixed some of the storytelling problems of the first film. But the slickness of 2009’s Last House on the Left polished off the edge that made the original film so impactful.

Maniac (2013)
Dir. Franck Khalfoun

The splatter film became quite popular in the 1980s and in many movies of that period the majority of the effort went into the gore effects. The viscera drew crowds but it also caused condemnation from critics and cultural commentators. Among the most controversial was 1981’s Maniac. The movie was a character study of a disturbed man, played by Joe Spinell, who murders women and mounts their scalps on mannequins. A remake of Maniac, starring Elijah Wood, reiterated the premise but it had the unique quality of being entirely shot from the killer’s point of view. 2013’s Maniac wasn’t as controversial as its predecessor although it was banned in New Zealand.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Dir. Tom Savini

George A. Romero created the zombie genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and he subsequently released sequels in each of the following decades except for the 1990s. Instead of a new zombie film, Romero produced a remake of Night of the Living Dead with his frequent collaborator Tom Savini directing. 1990s’s Night of the Living Dead mostly adheres to the story of the 1968 film but with a few critical changes, especially to the ending. The remake did not have the impact of the original film (that was impossible) but it was a fun retelling of a familiar story.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Dir. Werner Herzog

F.W. Murnau’s 1922 vampire film Nosferatu is one of the most influential horror movies ever made. Filmmaker Werner Herzog directed a remake released in 1979. As is typical of Herzog, his version of Nosferatu was contemplative and considered what meaning life would have for an immortal being. A Nightmare on Elm Street actor Robert Englund has said that his portrayal of Freddy Krueger was influenced by Klaus Kinski’s performance in Nosferatu.

The Ring (2002)
Dir. Gore Verbinski

2002’s The Ring was a remake of the 1998 Japanese film Ringu. The story follows a reporter who investigates a series of deaths connected to a mysterious video tape. The Ring followed the original movie quite closely and its success ushered in a wave of American remakes of Asian horror films.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Dir. Marcus Nispel

The 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre began the remake craze that seized Hollywood throughout the past decade. It was also the first release from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company which led the way in remaking many of the classic titles from the 1970s and 80s such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a financial success that pioneered the look and style that would be followed by most subsequent remakes and by the horror genre in general, in particular the blue-gray color scheme and ostentatious gore. The movie was better than any of the subsequent Chainsaw films but it wasn’t especially memorable.

The Thing (1982)
Dir. John Carpenter

1951’s The Thing from Another World told the story of scientists and military personnel who discover a flying saucer buried in the arctic snow and must fight off the attacks of an extraterrestrial. Filmmaker John Carpenter directed a remake released in 1982. In Carpenter’s version the alien disguises itself as other living beings and so the men must figure out who is infected. At the time it was not very successful but The Thing is now considered one of the best monster pictures ever made. It is a masterful work of suspense and paranoia combined with impressive practical creature effects.

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