Most horror fans can agree with the opinion that most remakes that are thrown to the masses on a regular basis these days never quite have the same impact as the original versions. While a couple of decades ago, remakes seem to have had more focus and weren’t such a taboo thing for fans (John Carpenter’s THE THING and Chuck Russell’s THE BLOB are two example of remakes done brilliantly right). These days good remakes (or “re-imaginings” as the studios like to say) are harder to come by, for every dozen A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET-class remakes (yikes) there is usually only one LET ME IN (while not perfect, it was pretty fun).
I thought it’d be fun to choose a few of my favorite remakes and write a bit about each one and why they are either as good as or in rare case, BETTER than their original versions. Here goes!
The first film on the list is Franck Khalfoun’s recent redo of the 1980 slasher film MANIAC. Co-written by the film’s star Joe Spinell, and directed by William Lustig, the original MANIAC was a grimy, New York-filled slasher film that’s mostly known for Tom Savini getting his head blown off, along with Spinell’s performance as the mommy/mannequin/scalp obsessed murderer, Frank Zito. It’s a grindhouse classic to many slasher fans, so obviously many cried foul when it was announced that writer/director Alexandre Aja’ was planning on writing/producing a remake starring…uh..Elijah Wood (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, SIN CITY)?!
While I own and thoroughly enjoy the original film, it’s never been a movie that I’m particularly protective of. I was curious to see what new angle Aja would bring to Frank Zito, and though many fans of Lustig’s film were less than happy with the remake’s announcement of Elijah playing Zito this time around, it made perfect sense to me. If I saw Joe Spinell walking down a dark street at night, I’d be a little nervous, where as Elijah doesn’t really give off the crazed killer vibe from the get-go, in fact he’s always been the kind of guy that you’d want to hang out and have a beer with, which to me, makes his anonymity as a killer more realistic.
Icons of Fright’s own Rob G caught Khalfoun’s film early on at a special screening at LA’s Cinefamily theater (review) and had nothing but great things to say about it, so I was pretty excited to check it out. Thanks to great folks at IFC, I was finally able to watch it, and I’ll definitely go on record and say that it is, in my opinion, MUCH better than the original.
While the Lustig original had that dirty New York 42nd street vibe, Khalfoun’s film screams Los Angeles through and through, and it works so well for it. As Frank stalks his victims throughout the movie, you recognize where they are, making the film seem that much more close to home, adding a really intense feeling to it. For anyone who lives in, or regularly visits L.A., the film is full of locations that you’ve walked, parked in, or eaten at. It adds such a familiarity that the original just never gave me, and that’s not because I’m unfamiliar with New York, but instead because it wasn’t a huge focus in the original to make the viewer feel comfortable before getting uncomfortable. Aja and Khalfoun approached their remake with a precision and an obviously clear vision as to what kind of film they wanted to make. They wanted viewers to feel like it was an everyday guy who happened to be a crazed, inflicted murderer and they wanted viewers to join Frank in his madness, which is executed so well by the fact that 90% of the film is shot from Frank’s POV. When he kills his victims, we see it from eyes, as well as when he has flashbacks to his mother, a prostitute whom Frank relates each victim to.
What the remake gives fans, is not only a glimpse of how Frank’s rampage plays out, but the shocking journey first hand, through his eyes. When he meets and falls for a beautiful photographer named Anna, and eventually loses his grasp, you can almost feel the heartbreak and the madness take him over. It’s a touch that stays with viewers, where as the original is mostly just shocking, this one is shocking and heartbreaking.
David Cronenberg’s remake of the 1958 Vincent Price film THE FLY, did what any remake should do: approach the story with a fresh take. It did away from the “man with a fly head” look of the original and instead gave it the great Cronenberg body-horror aesthetic, where it could be seen in a literal way or like most Cronenberg films, a metaphorical.
While the original is definitely a fun film (I’m pretty fond of it), Cronenberg’s redo deals with many of the themes barely touched upon in the ’58 version, such man’s obsession with playing god, and the destructive consequences of that. It’s also, as Cronenberg says in the film’s commentary track on the DVD/Blurays of the film, a film about AIDS, dealing with how the disease makes those infected with it slowly begin to tear down physically.
While the film could’ve easily taken the same route of lesser-dramatic remakes, Cronenberg’s THE FLY is smart, and never strays into where it could have had the opportunity to go given the film’s plot: silliness. It never feels hokey, instead you feel for Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, JURASSIC PARK, MR. FROST, THE BIG CHILL), a scientist obsessed with being on the brink of discovery. Goldblum always commands attention in his roles, and THE FLY is not an exception. His eccentric yet charming performance makes you happily want to follow his journey, and even he begins to go off of the rails, you somehow want him to be okay. Charles Edward Pogue (PSYCHO III) script is a character driven story, instead of being a gimmick filled b-movie. Full of great characters, such as Goldblum’s, Geena Davis (who is also on top of her game in this one) as Brundle’s love interest/reporter, and a slimy John Getz (BLOOD SIMPLE, ZODIAC) as a jealous ex-lover/editor of Geena’s who is intent on capitalizing on Brundle’s discovery.
It’s a solid as hell film that not only stands as a great update of the classic science fiction/horror film, but stands confidently on its own as a great movie.
Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s second film, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, is one that surpasses the original in most ways, while still addressing the same themes that were prevalent in the 1977 version. It’s a gory, intense as hell film that stays with you after it’s over, and leaves you thinking for some time.
Like Craven’s original, Aja’s film follows a family on vacation that get stuck in a desert-like wasteland and are stalked by a family of mutated people. While a huge fan of Craven’s (his debut, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is my second favorite film of all time), I’ve always found myself a tad bit bored watching it at times, while Aja keeps his remake moving steadily, never losing your interest, and keeping you wondering what horrors await the unfortunate family that just had to take the shortcut.
The remake deals with the idea that as “normal” members of society, sometimes those who are out for vengeance can sometimes end up just as brutal and violent as their attackers, a theme that Craven is no stranger to, given quite a few of his films. Seeing the characters go from being somewhat innocent and unaware victims, to bloodthirsty survivors who are wanting to kill their attackers as much as the mutant family wants to kill them is a fun ride to take. The character that really nails it when it comes to that, is the character of Doug (played excellently by X-MEN‘s Aaron Stanford). For the first half of the film, Doug is a pushover who doesn’t stand up for himself, and lets everyone do the work, but when a loved one of his is murdered, and his infant is taken by the mutants, Doug’s transition into a man hellbent on not only getting his daughter back, but also to slaughter any mutant in his way is one of the best character arcs in horror films in a good while.
Another addition to the story that wasn’t in the original, is more of a back-story to the mutant family, revealing that the government had tested radioactive bombs in the area, and the aftermath was deformities on all of its residents throughout the years. When Doug comes across a series of empty homes, with burnt up mannequins from the military’s testing, it adds a spooky atmosphere to an already intense film. It’s another film that Aja tackled (This time as co-writer and director, as opposed to just writing and producing the MANIAC remake). It’s a brutal retelling of an already brutal film, but with more of a fleshed out story, far more character development and in turn a more enjoyable film.
In 1978, director Philip Kaufman (THE RIGHT STUFF) gave sci-fi/horror fans not only a faithful update of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the Jack Finney novel and Don Siegel-directed film, but he gave us by far one of the greatest film remakes of all time.
While the original is a great one, Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS upped the ante, and was full of top notch performances by pretty much every person involved in it, including, like the previous film addressed (THE FLY), Jeff Goldblum. It’s a subtle at first film that slowly gets under your skin and begins to slowly get more intense until all hell breaks loose, and paranoia sets in. Donald Sutherland’s health inspector Matthew Bennell is suspicious of people from the get-go, so it doesn’t take much of his colleague Elizabeth’s statements of her boyfriend acting weird, for him to begin to look into it. Throw Leonard Nimoy as a Doctor friend of Matthew’s, and Goldblum and ALIEN‘s Nancy Cartwright as a spa-owning couple who are also suspicious of people, and you’ve got solid story and an even more solid cast.
One of the remake’s many differences from the original that makes it a more intense film, is the subtraction of Bennell’s voice-over, which in my opinion, always hurt the original. Kaufman’s film lets the story play out without having to explain what is going on, and it works greatly for the overall not knowing what’s next feeling of it. It has the approach of a lot of ’70s horror, the slow build-up that’s constantly associated with some of today’s films like Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL & THE INNKEEPERS and Bryan Bertino’s THE STRANGERS. I’ve always preferred slow-building films over a lot of today’s ADHD-edited horror films, as it’s a more rewarding experience to see a story play out in front of you, without the filmmaker treating you like you’re an idiot by trying to speed through a story like it’s a music video.
It’s a greatly written and acted film, full of some pretty scary moments (the ending…yikes), and sits up there with one of the greatest remakes out there.
Geez, you’d think I’m a fan of Alexandre Aja’s or something…Well, the guy has made his share of remakes and most of them have been pretty amazing (2008’s MIRRORS being the exception). His eye for taking something that people loved, and giving it a fresh look and approach, and making the film equally if not more enjoyable is something that a lot of directors handling remakes just don’t take serious these days, either giving fans a carbon copy of the original (Gus Van Zant’s PSYCHO) or leave viewers scratching their heads (quite a few people leaving the theater after seeing Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN films). Aja has for the most part given viewers remakes that pay homage to the original, but with a brand new aesthetic.
What’s evident from the first scene in PIRANHA 3D, is that Aja wanted to give viewers a fun movie. He brought Hooper, a character from effin JAWS back, a character who had faced the greatest beast of a shark ever put to film and lived, and well..killed him right away..with flesh-hungry fish, as a joke. How did Aja follow that scene?, with an introduction to what is in store for us: a LOT of boobs, butts, and blood. This film is so full of all three, that whether you’re a gore-hound wanting to see legs getting bit off, or a horn-dog wanting to see some scantily-clad(or well..full on naked) ladies, this movie is for you. It’s the epitome of a spring break film, full of people having a fun time, drinking, dancing, and eventually dying. Wait..I guess the dying isn’t typically a part of spring break, but you get the jest.
In a complete change of story, PIRANHA 3D follows Lake Victoria(in reality, Lake Havasu)’s sheriff, played by the ’80s girl next door, Elizabeth Shue, and her son Jake(played by grandson of badass himself, Steve Mcqueen), when their spring break goes wrong, after a huge group of Piranha are let loose following a shift in the lake’s floor. While all of this is happening, Derrick Jones, a carbon copy of Girls Gone Wild main man Joe Francis, is filming his latest softcore opus for “Wild Wild Girls” and enlists Jake to be his location guide.
While Joe Dante’s original Piranha approached it in a semi-serious tone, Aja’s goes to the extreme with being fun. It doesn’t just have a little blood, is had THOUSANDS of gallons flowing through the waters, as spring breakers are killed by the hundreds when the piranha get going (including an on screen head crushing that I’m sure quite a few people cheered for, I know I did). The same goes with spring break bodies, Aja hired quite a few ladies to don their birthday suits, the majority of which were picked right out of porn, so any Gianna Michaels fans, be ready for some para-sailing.
It’s a blood, sexy, fun as hell movie, that keeps you cringing during the gore, laughing your ass off during the jokes, and boy oh boy does it keep your eyes wide open.