Sunday, November 4, 2012

10 Horror Remakes That Are Actually Worth Your Time & Money

This past Halloween, my friends Jess, Kate, and Lor had a costume party (I went as Chief Brody from Jaws, in case you're wondering). At one point in the evening, Jess decided to throw a horror movie on in the background, settling on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. However, when I noticed that she was talking about the 2003 remake, I badgered her into not putting it on, and in the fallout, no one could settle on an appropriate movie. This says two things. 1) I am not much of a party guest. And, 2) my reputation as a remake hater precedes me. Granted, I do generally roll my eyes at the thought of an idea-starved Hollywood throwing more and more of my childhood favourites into the Platinum Dunes meat grinder. But, that being said, there are a number of horror remakes that I do enjoy, and some that I downright adore, even more than the originals that inspired them. I even find myself looking forward to 2013's remakes of Carrie and The Evil Dead--the former because of the talent involved, the latter because of the back-to-basics approach and wild gore seen in the film's red-band trailer. So, in the interest of proving that I'm not just a snobby old-school purist, here are ten horror remakes that I would happily recommend, in no particular order.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): Zack Snyder's ultra-grim, fast-moving variant on George Romero's 1978 masterpiece ditches the original's biting consumerist satire, and is most definitely the poorer for it. But this update switches out social commentary for new spins on the zombie apocalypse setting, like the friendly game of "Spot-The-Celebrity-Zombie-Lookalike" and the much-maligned, but frankly scarier, running ghouls. Snyder's spin on the material lacks the dramatic weight of the original, but it's still a gory, hair-raising crowd pleaser.
FRIGHT NIGHT (2011): I still prefer the 1985 original with William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, and Chris Sarandon, but that doesn't mean I didn't get a kick out of Anton Yelchin, David Tennant, and Colin Ferrell in this Las Vegas-set revamp (ouch!). The sharp script by Buffy vet Marti Noxon wisely maintains the original's tongue-in-cheek tone, and the 3D in the theatrical release was surprisingly effective. The '11 version loses points for its reliance on CGI over practical effects, but gains them for Ferrell's sly turn as a himbo bloodsucker named, of all things, Jerry.
THE THING (1982): What modern-day horror fan doesn't love John Carpenter's gooey, apocalyptic update of the Cold War classic? Besides featuring Rob Bottin's most accomplished effects work, the '82 model also features a bearded Kurt Russell at his most badass, and has one of the cinema's great bleak endings. You could argue that this is merely a new, more faithful adaptation of the short story "Who Goes There?" By John Campbell, which inspired the 1951 version as well, but as long as we all agree to skip the unfortunate 2011 version, we'll all get along just fine.
DRACULA (1979): As I said about The Thing above, John Badham's romanticized take on the classic chiller is also a new adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel more than it's a remake (well, technically, it's an adaptation of the stage play version, as was the 1931 Lugosi film). It's also the first version of the Dracula story I ever saw on screen, when CTV debuted it during prime time in the early Eighties, and it remains my favourite take on the material. Frank Langella, magnetic in the role of the legendary Count, headlines an impressive cast that features Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasance, and Kate Nelligan, and John Williams' elegant score is one of his unsung masterpieces.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978): The 1956 original Don Siegel film is still a white-knuckle classic of Cold War paranoia, but Phillip Kaufman's reimagining of the Jack Finney novel remains one of the scariest tales of alien terror ever made. Kaufman's film stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, a very young Jeff Goldblum, and perpetual extraterrestrial hysteric Veronica Cartwright. Substituting Communist hysteria with New Age psychobabble, the '78 version unfolds with an air of inescapable dread, ending with one of the most downbeat final images of the genre. And no, I'm not just talking about Sutherland's perm-and-moustache combo, either.
LET ME IN (2010): The only movie more doomed to fan derision than a remake of a beloved horror movie is a remake of a beloved foreign-language horror movie. The Swedish original, 2008's Let The Right One In, is a deeply affecting tale of doomed adolescent love, but I think I prefer Matt Reeves' Americanized redo just a bit more. Chloe Grace-Moretz is commanding as the forever-young vampire, and the always-great Richard Jenkins is heartbreaking as her past-his-prime human protector. The New Mexico setting adds an interesting layer of guilty history to the story (this is, after all, where the atomic bomb was built), and the crash filmed from the inside of the car is a show-stopping sequence.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006): I've never been much of a fan of Wes Craven's 1977 original, which sees an extended family battling their cracked-mirror reflections in the form of a hillbilly clan mutated by atomic testing in the desert. But Alexandre Aja's supersick update is leaner, meaner, and much scarier. By the time this movie hit theatres, deformed white-trash villains were becoming more than a little cliche, but Aja uses the remote setting to make them terrifying all over again. And the final showdown, set in a 1950s-style, mannequin-inhabited mock neighbourhood built to be nuked, is inspired.
THE BLOB (1988): The scariest thing about the 1958 original might be the theme song by Burt Bacharach, so writer Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell had their work cut out for them. The '88 Blob goes the '82 Thing route, filling its running time with scene after scene of highly imaginative gore. The new-model alien glop doesn't just consume its victims, it corrodes them, and will stop at nothing to continue feeding--pulling victims through drains, manholes, walls, even crushing them inside phone booths. There's also a cool new government-paranoia-inspired twist on the Blob's origins, and a nifty final scene that sets up a sequel which, sadly, never happened.
PIRANHA (2010): Calling Alexandre Aja's (him again!) gleefully gory 3D offering a remake of Joe Dante's 1978 drive-in favourite might be a bit charitable. Other than the toothsome antagonists, the two films have very little in common. Whereas Dante's Roger Corman-produced original unleashed the title carnivores (the product of genetic weapons research conducted for river warfare in Vietnam) on a summer camp full of unsuspecting children, Aja's film lets the evil little fishies (here, prehistoric creatures released from an underwater fissure) loose on a phalanx of bikini-clad Spring Breakers. As a result, the refreshingly R-rated movie has boobs and blood in equal measure, plus an Eighties-friendly cast that includes Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss in a cameo nod to his iconic Jaws role.
THE FLY (1986): I actually haven't watched David Cronenberg's remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic in years, and I'm a little afraid to--I've seen a lot of disgusting movies in my day, but none are as quite as stomach-churning as this one is. Part tragic romance between winning leads Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, part STD-allegory (Cronenberg's film landed during the early years of the AIDS crisis), all flesh-crawling body horror, The Fly set a new standard for animatronics, gore effects and the science of accidentally turning lab monkeys inside out. The 1989 sequel starring Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga may have even been more gory, but it lacks the heartbreaking human drama at the centre of Cronenberg's original.

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