Horror is all about surprise and shock. Something happens that you didn’t expect or feared, and suddenly, you’re hiding behind your hands, looking through the slits in between your fingers and making whimpering noises (guilty as charged). So yeah, remaking a horror movie and attempting to recapture those classic scares and moments a second time is usually doomed to fail. And they have failed. Many, many, many times.
The upcoming remake of Sam Raimi’s twisted cult classic "Evil Dead" – opening this Friday – is hoping to avoid joining the ranks of notorious bombs like "Prom Night" and "The Wicker Man." Instead, it hopes to be remembered alongside these five quality horror movie remakes that managed to break with convention and not be abysmal.
"Dawn of the Dead"
How do you like your zombies: speedy fast or lumberingly slow? I know it’s horror movie heresy to say the former, but fast zombies are simply scarier for me. Slow zombies may have numbers and a slow sense of dread, but fast zombies have equally large numbers, and I wouldn’t be able to outsmart them with a brisk jog.
Luckily for me, director Zack Snyder – who would follow up his surprisingly successful remake of Romero with "300" and "Watchmen" – piles on the speedy man-eaters in this 2004 remake. Snyder mostly lays off the social commentary that made Romero’s 1978 horror classic more than simply a scary movie, but what the reboot lacks in complexity, it makes up for with slick, energetic zombie action. Plus, there’s a little extra dark, gory bite (not of the infectious kind) from writer James Gunn’s zippy script.
Zack Snyder’s "Dawn of the Dead" is a lot of bloody fun, but it definitely couldn’t outdo Romero’s original or his crown jewel, the genre defining "Night of the Living Dead." Most of these horror remakes, in fact, are always held back by the fact that they could never dream of matching their source material.
That is, except for John Carpenter’s "The Thing."
The 1982 remake of "The Thing from Another World" takes the concept of the original – a band of scientists and crewmen in the Arctic cold under siege from a vicious alien – and gives it a dark, uncompromising sense of paranoia. The enemy is the alien – which comes to disgustingly creative life thanks to Rob Bottin and Stan Winston’s still impressive effects – but it’s also the grizzly crew, led by Kurt Russell in the midst of his charismatic everyman heyday, that is growing distrust in one another. The ending is a chiller and not just because they’re stuck out in the Antarctic.
Go figure! A horror movie countdown column in which I glowingly reference director Alexandre Aja’s "Piranha 3D" and talk about how much damn fun it is? I’ve become such a cliché. Maybe I hold this goofy horror comedy up on such an absurdly high pedestal because there have been so many movies – of both the action and the horror variety – that go for dumb fun but only achieve the first part (for example, its sleazy sequel "Piranha 3DD").
"Piranha 3D" goes all in on stupidity (Paul Scheer’s character disappears from the movie altogether. He doesn’t die; he just … vanishes), but it also goes all in on the fun. Besides one brief scene with a murderous bro on a jet ski, "Piranha 3D" embraces its schlocky nature and becomes pure giddy, gory entertainment. And fine; I’ll stop talking about it now.
Imagine "Jurassic Park" – its questions and fears about man’s tampering with science – but subtract any sense of wonder and replace it with dread and sickeningly horror. Then add a strong dose of director David Cronenberg’s usual themes and fears of the human body, and you’d pretty much have "The Fly."
Much like Carpenter’s "The Thing," much of the attention the movie earns is for its special effects, which fascinatingly capture the multiple stages of Jeff Goldblum’s transformation with revolting detail. But as the shock of the effects wears off, you find a human story of a man falling apart, both mentally and literally, and the tragedy of attempting to keep his relationships and humanity together. It turns out that underneath all of that hideous make-up is a surprisingly touching heart.
When I first saw "The Ring" on DVD, I asked my sister – who had already seen director Gore Verbinski’s surprise 2002 horror hit – to warn me when the scares were going to happen. My cowardly plan backfired, however, when my sister somehow "forgot" about the notorious closet scene, which resulted in about a month of sleepless nights and a serious decline in future sibling trust.
Looking back on the film with many more horror films under my belt and a stronger horror backbone, I’m not sure how much my sister’s warnings would’ve helped make "The Ring" any less scary. Of course there are the famous scares, like the aforementioned closet scene and Samara’s climactic crawl out of the television, but what makes Verbinski’s remake of 1998’s "Ringu" really chill is the gloomy sense of dread filling every frame of the movie.
After "The Ring," Verbinski helmed the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" installments and other flashy, big-budgeted action films – including Disney’s upcoming "Lone Ranger" update. I’d say he’s due for a return to horror.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.