While writing my novel The Remaking, I imagined what it would be like if Kevin Williamson and Ti West remade Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. If that sentence makes even the remotest amount of sense to you, then welcome to my tribe. But as any devotee of John D. Hancock’s 1971 phantasmal obscurity Jessica will attest, it also needs to be acknowledged how utterly sacrilegious such a statement as this is. Don’t come near Jessica. It’s a perfect film… to me and its five other fans. Remaking it would be an absolute desecration.
But when has that ever stopped Hollywood from resuscitating its dearly cinematically departed, right? The worst remakes, I find—or I should say my least favourites—discard the original’s core metaphors in favour of its more superficial qualities, content to rehash elements of the forerunner with a bit of CGI-polish and a sexy young cast.
So what makes a good remake? The best tend to transcend their source material by rooting the story’s central metaphors in our current cultural landscape. Horror has an elastic quality to it. It stretches. But the genre needs to be pushed forward until it runs the risk of snapping, particularly its remakes, for it to leave a mark on the audience. I’ve cobbled together a list of films that I feel honour their forbearers while giving us something utterly new to scream about.
1. The Thing (1982)
Critically maligned upon its initial release, John Carpenter’s remake cranks up the paranoia within the artic and bestows upon us a sci-fied whodunnit that resonates long after the last bass slap of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack. Carpenter elevates Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (directed by Christian Nyby) by circling back around to the original source material, John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?
2. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Along with George Romero’s original Dead trilogy and its shambling zombies, “pod people” have served as a durable metaphor that generates fresh resonance every generation. They look just like us! Talk like us! Not only do we have Philip Kaufman’s definitive remake, but there is also Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Invasion (2007) to boot, not to mention Robert Rodriquez’s The Faculty (1998). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Warner Bros is currently developing yet another remake. You can’t keep a good metaphor down.
3. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg brought his own patented brand of body horror to his remake of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 film, which several critics considered a commentary on the AIDS crisis. Heartbreaking and stomach-churning all at once, Cronenberg elevated his source material to operatic levels… quite literally. Cronenberg re-adapted his own adaptation in 2008, along with composer Howard Shore, in order to create an opera at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.
4. The Ring (2002)
Confession: The origins of my novel The Remaking are firmly rooted in the original Ringu and Gore Verbinski’s remake. I stumbled upon the original and watched it with very little knowledge of the sheer terror I was about to experience. When the remake hit American theatres in 2003, I remember being struck by the subtle cultural shifts between the two. I found myself imagining what Sadako would’ve thought of her story crossing over oceans, now reaching a completely new audience. That simple notion expanded into the core premise of my book. Can a ghost story evolve with the times and whatever the current modes of technology are? Can a spirit travel from campfire to drive-in horror movie to its remake and finally to a podcast?
5. Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Of all the films on this list, I’ll confess I went into this one so wanting to dislike it. Don’t mess with Romero. And yet, proper respect should be paid to Zack Snyder for crafting a film that honours the central metaphor of the original and accelerates its consumerist nihilism. Fast zombies be damned!
Props must be given to 1979’s Nosferatu (Werner Herzog), 1982’s Cat People (Paul Schrader), 1988’s The Blob (Chuck Russell), 2003’s Willard (Glen Morgan), 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes (Alexandre Aja), 2010’s The Crazies (Breck Eisner), 2011’s Fright Night (Craig Gillespie), and 2012’s Maniac (Franck Khalfoun).
And the WTF MVP goes to… Psycho (1998)
I am not an apologist for Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake, but I sure do admire it. From afar. I remember seeing this on the big screen in Ireland and being absolutely gobsmacked at its downright audacity. In a lot of respects, it is a stellar example of why merely replicating the source material isn’t enough… A photocopy of a Rembrandt is still a photocopy.