The problem with remakes

Not all horror remakes are bad, and some can bring a lot to an old concept, ultimately improving upon it … yet last night I sat down and watched on television the remake of Japanese cult horror The Ring.  Ok, it starred Naomi Watts, had a decent director (Gore Verbinski) and was fairly well put together on a technical basis.  Much like the original too, the use of a creepy videotape and hallucinations helped build an unnerving atmosphere.  Yet then the movie does the unthinkable, and humanizes the character of the evil girl, this time named Samara, by showing footage of her time in a psychiatric hospital, and instead of the horrible vision of a small figure with hair over their face, we see it’s actually just a very troubled child.  Naomi Watts over-acts somewhat from the very beginning and frankly her young son is creepier than Samara, which just baffles me.  Now looking back at the original ‘Ring’, I recall only glimpses of the girl, Sadako, a flash of a hand with no fingernails, the same creepy atmosphere, but very little humanization – and you never saw her face.  This then makes the ending something of horror legend, copied in the remake, much more terrifying as what crawls out of that TV and stands up to scare its victim to death, is not human, but pure evil – and just a close up of a blood-shot eyeball is all the viewer gets.  In the remake we see the girl, albiet zombiefied, but still a girl, with a stern pissed off look, and guess what – it’s not scary.  Well done remake.  You just killed the money shot!

Now remakes as a rule lose something in translation, especially remakes of foreign horror, but for some reason the American studios keep churning them out.  I avoided Quarantine, the remake of Spanish horror [REC] mostly because I loved that movie and didn’t want that love ruined by a pointless remake and hey, the reviews were bad anyway.  At least The Ring tried with a good cast and decent production values.  More recently though Hollywood has turned to remaking itself (!) with the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Amityville Horror etc all getting modern updates.  In the case of Halloween, rock star turned director Rob Zombie brings an origina story to Michael Myers that although fascinating, is totally pointless, then just copies and pastes the original movie’s scenes into the second half, avoiding much of the style and suspense of John Carpenter’s classic but making it a lot more violet.  D’oh!  Elm Street was another sad story, with high expectations with the casting of Jackie Earl Hayley as Freddy – I thought, this just might work!  But guess what – the movie reveals Freddy in the first five minutes – so no build up, and copies every major set-piece from the 1984 original with none of the panache or shock factor.  So I came away thinking – what on earth were the film makers trying to achieve?  With no knowledge of the original, I guess it works as a fairly entertaining horror, but this is a remake, so comparisons are inevitable.

Some remakes do work though and bring something the original ultimately lacked.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for one was originally a very low-budget, not particularly gory but still thoroughly nasty experience.  The remake fleshed out the story, gave the cannibalistic family more depth and well gore fans, served up more blood and carnage than could ever have been hoped for – and it delivers in ways so many remakes fail.  The follow-up, granted a prequel, still had enough of its own personality to justify its existence – and was even more gory!  Amityville also works and brings plenty to what is basically a classic haunted house concept with some genuine chills and good casting.  It takes little away from the original, but doesn’t ruin its name either.

When done right, which sadly is rare, remakes can improve upon a tired and out dated premise.  Depending on the casting, director and what has been added to what is usually a very familiar story, I’ll still give them a go – with the forthcoming Let Me In, dodgy title aside being one remake (of Swedish vampire hit Let The Right One In) I just have to check out – although I’m already preparing myself for disappointment.  All I’m saying though is if you are a fan of the original movie, then do your research before checking out the remake, wait for the reviews, see if the casting works and if the director has the talent needed to do the movie justice.  Otherwise steer well clear and leave the good memory of that great horror intact.


2 thoughts on “The problem with remakes

  1. This seems to be a general problem. Typically a remake is not the product of a creative mind with clear purpose. Instead, the studio chooses the proper pawns and sets them at play, hoping to rake in the cash based on a pre-existing property. The advantage of horror is that, even today with lavish visual effects, they’re dirty deeds done dirt cheap. The crap remake makes back its budget in the theater and initial home video sales, and then the original continues to be the standard bearer of quality. Even worse, the general public might ask that Hollywood try again in 20 years, perpetuating the cash cow. In the end, it’s all about branding.


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