Considering my last article tackled the 10 Worst Horror Remakes, I thought it only fair to balance the scales of justice (or injustice; I’ll let you decide) and review my choices for the 10 Best Horror Remakes.
This 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 film of the same name, in which a group of survivors take refuge in a shopping mall during a zombie-apocalypse was directed by Zack Snyder, making his feature film directorial debut. While his subsequent output may favour style over substance, he found the perfect balance in this remake. Though the plot may be simple, and lacks the social commentary (i.e. the commercialism of society) present in the original, it never feels like it suffers because of it. This is probably due to the films fast pace, which begins with a blistering opening act and rarely lets up for the entire running time. The cinematography and editing are top notch and Snyder keeps the tension high throughout, punctuated by moments of much appreciated dark humour. The biggest departure from the original is the zombies, who are now fast-pace, relentless killing machines, rather than the slow, lumbering type that are considered ‘classic’. Though everyone has a preference, I personally find the zombies in this film to be scarier as they don’t require a large number to be a theat. Apparently, most of the zombie makeup was modeled after real forensic photos and you can tell, with the zombies proving to be effectively gruesome. This remakes biggest plus though is its characters, who are well fleshed out and have definable personalities, therefore ensuring that we care about what happens to them. The actors’ further aid in this with excellent performances all round. Particular mention should be made of Sarah Polley, who imbues her Ana with a combination of dignified strength and vulnerability, without ever resorting to scream queen theatrics and Ving Rhames (Kenneth) who brings stoic heroism to his role as the group’s reluctant leader.
Let Me In (2010), written and directed by Matt Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz, tells the story of a bullied 12 year old boy who befriends a young female vampire in New Mexico in the early 1980’s. It is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film ‘Let the Right One In’, directed by Tomas Alfredson, which is itself an adaptation of the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel of the same name. This film could be considered more of an intimate love story between its two main protagonists, Abby and Owen, rather than a standard horror movie. It just so happens that one of them happens to be a vampire. The horror that is present, stems not only from Abby’s vampiric tendencies, but from the horror that adolescence can bring, which in Owen’s case includes family breakdown and severe bullying. Reeves does an excellent job of creating a chillingly bleak atmosphere with a stunning mix of locations, cinematography and editing. For example, we are never shown Owen’s mother face, which helps us to feel his sense of isolation. However, this films biggest success is its child actors, both of whom radiate a maturity beyond their years. And while Smit-McPhee delivers an excellent performance that conveys his initial loneliness through to his growing affection for Abby, it’s Moretz who really excels in a complex performance that convinces as a blood thirsty vampire, while still maintaining our sympathies for her plight throughout. And while Abby’s ultimate motives are left ambiguous; does she really care for Owen or is she just grooming her next guardian, I personally choose to believe that her feelings for Owen are genuine, but I think it is certainly left open to interpretation.
The Fly, a 1986 American science fiction horror film, co-written and directed by David Cronenberg is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name. Both films are loosely based on George Langelaan’s 1957 short story, also called ‘The Fly’. At the centre of this film is a tour de force performance by Jeff Goldblum. He has never been better as he is here, playing Seth Brundel, a brilliant but eccentric scientist who begins to transform into a man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong. He portrays a man slowly loosing himself, both physical and mentally, with a perfectly balanced performance of mania and humanity and his chemistry with co-star Geena Davis (Veronica) makes their doomed love story all the more believable and heartbreaking. The make-up effects by Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and you can see why. Nearly 30 years have passed and yet they still continue to impress. The use of practical, physical special effects, rather than CGI ensures Brundel’s transformation from man to hybrid utterly convinces and allows Goldblum’s performance to shine through. The fact that the transformation of the ‘brundlefly’ is slow and gradual, rather than instantaneous means that suspense and tension is built throughout the film. This is further enhanced by Howard Shore’s haunting score. The Brundlefly’s physical appearance and the fact that he loses his hair, teeth and fingernails means that his transformation could be viewed as a cultural metaphor for diseases, such as cancer or more specifically the aging process. Thereby, putting this film above your average creature-feature.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is a remake of the 1956 science fiction horror film of the same name, which was based on the novel ‘The Body Snatchers’ by Jack Finney. The plot involves Matthew (Donald Sutherland), a San Francisco health inspector and his colleague, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) who discover that human beings are being killed and replaced by alien clones devoid of emotion. While the original had an underlying political subtext of Americans fears of communism during the McCarthy era, this remake focuses more on a growing sense of paranoia and ups the body horror through improved special effects. By changing the setting from a small town to the big city of San Francisco, it means that issues such as urban isolation and a fear of conformity are also explored. This remake is brilliantly directed by Philip Kaufman, who creates a sense of unease from the very beginning when we see a man who appears to be being chased behind Elizabeth as she heads to work, right through to its chilling and agonisingly bleak finale. He is aided by Michael Chapman’s (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Fugitive) excellent cinematography, which uses quirky camera angles and subtle lighting to create a sense of disassociation, and thereby emphasising the characters growing paranoia. The cast which also includes Jeff Goldblum (yes, him again) and Leonard Nimoy is uniformly excellent. They all give nuanced performances, which convince us of their transformation from individuals to conformist pod-people and the touching romance between Matthew and Elizabeth is well played. Also, the fact that their characters are average human beings and not the stereotypical ‘hero’ archetypes, means that they and their reactions are more realistic and therefore believable.
The Thing is a 1982 American science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell. It is a remake of the Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby film, ‘The Thing from Another World’ (1952). However, it more closely resembles that film’s source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella, ‘Who Goes There?’ The plot revolves around a group of Antarctic researchers who encounter a parasitic, shape-shifting extraterrestrial lifeform that is capable of assuming the appearance of those that it kills. While the film was a box office failure when released in 1982 (It did have to compete with E.T.); the public and critics slating it for its excessive gory effects and lack of female characters, it has been reassessed in recent years and rightly so. Carpenter manages to elevate the classic base-under-siege trope with a perfect balance of claustrophobia and nerve-shredding tension with a series of gore-drenched setpieces, ensuring that no horror fan should be left disappointed. Due to advances in SFX, there are some impressive visuals on display. ‘The Thing’ itself, created by special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin, is a masterpiece in creature design. As the alien is never shown taking one specific form, it is often seen in the process of morphing, which is truly horrifying and gruesome, the worst of which is the infamous dog transformation; all teeth and bloody tentacles. Ennio Morricone’s moody and menacing score (unbelievably nominated for a Razzie Award at the time) also helps to ramp up the sense of paranoia throughout the film. While the ensemble as a whole is excellent at portraying their growing paranoia when they realise that anyone of them could be the alien, Kurt Russell is a stand-out as R.J. MacReady, a Vietnam vet who finds himself becoming the group’s de-facto leader.
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) is a West German vampire horror film written and directed by Werner Herzog. It is a remake of the 1922 film, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, directed by F. W. Murnau. The fact that Herzog views Murnau’s original to be one of the greatest films to ever emerge from Germany, it’s no surprise that he pays homage to that film by recreating some of its most iconic moments. However, the fact that he incorporates more of the elements present in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel means that this never feels like a shallow imitation. The story concerns Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz), an estate agent who is sent to Count Dracula’s (Klaus Kinski) castle to sell him a house, unaware that he is a vampire. Dracula then attempts to move in on Harker’s girl, Lucy (Isabelle Adjani). Herzog creates a potent atmosphere through the use of its gothic setting and beautiful cinematography. While some may find the pace to be slow and dreamlike, the stunning visuals on display, such as the shot of bats flying in slow motion and the townsfolk dying of the plague dancing in the street, means that it never feels dull. While the performances are all excellent, regular Herzog collaborator Kinski, is the standout as the tortured vamp. Despite their often volatile relationship, Herzog brings out the best in Kinski here. The intensity that he brings to his role, convinces us that he is a vampire full of sorrow and disgust for what he feels is his curse and thereby, ensures our continued sympathies. The fact that Herzog filmed on location in European settings, such as the Netherlands and Germany and used a real castle for Dracula’s imposing home, means that this film never feels artificial.
The Ring (2002), directed by Gore Verbinski is an American remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film ‘Ringu’ and focuses on Rachel (Naomi Watts), a young journalist who investigates a mysterious cursed videotape which contains a series of random, disturbing images, when it starts causing the death of anyone in a week of viewing it. While this remake sticks pretty close to the plot of the original, it fleshes out the story, making it more coherent. What some people may view as plot holes, appears to be intentional on the filmmakers part to help maintain the mystery surrounding the exact origins of the tape and the girl’s malevolent powers behind it. Though the idea of a ‘killer videotape’ could be considered ridiculous, the fact that the images on the videotape itself are so nightmarish and disturbing, and the tension that develops after a person has watched it, knowing that they only have a week to live, means it utterly convinces as an object to fear. This films biggest success is showing that you don’t need blood and gore or a slash happy psycho to make a movie scary. By upping the suspense and introducing psychological elements it creates a deeply unsettling and haunting movie that will stay with you long after the end credits. The fact that the special effects are used sparingly and are appropriately creepy when utilized means they never overpower the films subtle tone. The cast, particularly Watts, deliver realistic performances and never resort to over-the-top histrionics. This movie was one of the first American remakes of Japanese Horror films and though it may have paved the way for a series of sub-standard imitations to follow, it still remains one of the best.
The Crazies (2010), directed by Breck Eisner is a remake of another George A. Romero horror film, ‘The Crazies’ (1973). This remake follows the same basic story presented in the original, in which a Sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife (Rhada Mitchell) are forced to fight for survival after a military bio-chemical virus is accidentally released into the town’s water supply, which gradually transforms the residents into violent, bloodthirsty killers (The ‘crazies’ of the title), but makes enough changes to have a life of its own. For example, by focusing less on the military’s point of view, who have enacted a brutal quarantine program (i.e. killing anyone who may come into contact with it, whether they are infected or not) means that they become more of a faceless, all-powerful threat than in the original and therefore, more menacing. However, this remake succeeds in most part because of its relentless pace, punctuated by moments of black humour. It drops you right into the thick of the action and expects you to keep up through a series of tense, action-packed set-pieces. The infected citizens are also well rendered. Apparently, the director insisted that they consult medical books and professionals when designing the infected and it shows. Their make-up, designed by Almost Human Studios (responsible for great SFX in Buffy & Angel) is excellent, choosing to avoid the clichéd ‘zombie’ look and instead going for a more realistic approach; all straining muscles and bursting blood vessels. Some people have interpreted this film as representing small town America’s fear of governmental intrusion on their way of life, but whatever the interpretation, with the threat of chemical warfare ever present in today’s climate, this film is more relevant than ever.
Fright Night is a 2011 comedy horror film directed by Craig Gillespie. It is a remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 film of the same name, in which Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) suspects that his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. When no one believes him, he enlists the help of Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a Las Vegas magician and self-proclaimed vampire slayer, to take Jerry down. Though this remake may not be as scary as some of the other films on this list or have some deep, profound meaning, it deserves a spot for bringing a sense of fun to a genre that is so often lacking. From Marti Noxon’s smart and inventive script that cleverly combines horror and comedy to great effect, through to Gillespie’s imaginative direction and excellent performances throughout, this film is sheer entertainment. By moving the setting to an isolated suburb of Las Vegas, it also makes it more believable that Jerry’s victims aren’t noticed as missing sooner, due to the transient nature associated with the gambling mecca’s residents. However, the best thing about this film is its cast. Though Tennant is a hoot as the delightfully over-the-top Peter, it is Farrell who steals the show as Jerry. You won’t find any sparkly, love-sick vegetarian vamps here. Jerry is a brutal, ruthless vampire, devoid of emotion or restraint and Farrell conveys this brilliantly, while still maintaining an air of charming menace and sexual magnetism. However, one minor gripe is that considering Steven Spielberg is said to have had a great deal of input into the making of the film, it’s a shame that it doesn’t make more of an emotional impact.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a 2003 American slasher film, and a remake of the 1974 horror film of the same name. It’s directed by Marcus Nispel and produced by Michael Bay (Don’t let that put you off). After picking up a traumatized young hitchhiker, who then commits suicide, five friends soon find themselves being stalked and killed by Leatherface, a disfigured, chainsaw-wielding killer and his deranged family of psychopaths. This remake introduces enough new plot elements and characters, such as the Sheriff to avoid it being predictable and while the idea of Leatherface and his family being cannibals is dropped, it doesn’t affect the level of disgust and fear they generate. This film also takes advantage of a bigger budget than the original, resulting in better production values and a more stylish aesthetic. The cinematography, by Daniel Pearl is excellent. Though it can get a little dark at time, he does a great job at creating a claustrophobic and uneasy atmosphere. Nispel further enhances this by creating a sense of hopelessness that permeates the entire film. While this remake contains more blood and gore than the original, it isn’t over done. An effort has been made to portray it in a more realistic fashion, rather than throwing gallons of blood at the screen like in torture-porn flicks such as the Hostel and Saw series. The fact that the victims are likeable and not overly obnoxious, means that we are emotionally effected by their psychological and physical torture. This remake is topped off by committed and convincing performances from the cast, in particular, R. Lee Ermey as the sadistic sheriff and Andrew Bryniarski, who makes for a truly terrifying Leatherface.
So there’s my picks. While they all might not be as good as their originals, I still feel that they impress as films in their own right. This is mainly due to a combination of smart storytelling, inventive direction and excellent performances. I know many people will disagree with them, but I’m a big proponent of each to their own. I mean, how boring would the world be if we all liked the same things?