Saturday, 6 September 2008
I Spit on Your Remakes!
Remakes are nothing new. Hollywood has been making money out of them since cinema was invented over a hundred years ago. Some of the most popular movies of all time have been re-imaginings of someone else's work; The Wizard of Oz, Scarface and Ben-Hur were all updates of older, less famous films. But it seems that now they are taking it a step too far. Look on any movie forum or in the letters page of a magazine and there's usually at least one angry fan protesting at his favourite film being retold.
And no genre has suffered from this more than horror; with not only the classics (The Omen, The Wicker Man) being rehashed, but now even long-forgotten atrocities (The Toolbox Murders). And it seems that it will only get worse, with a slew of other gems about to receive the 'makeover' treatment.
Thanks to such companies as Dark Castle (which were responsible for bringing back the flicks of yesteryear with a successful run that included House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts and House of Wax), it seems that almost every genre classic is now up for grabs, resulting in everything from The Creature From the Black Lagoon to C.H.U.D. being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Studios such as Sony Screen Gems and producers like Michael Bay are milking this current fad for all it's worth, probably aware that one day audiences will have had enough. Bleeding an idea dry is common within horror cinema; Universal released various spin-offs of their more successful creations and the 1980's saw the birth of several franchises which still continue to release inferior instalments today.
Probably the first movie for Hollywood to remake was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was originally made by William Selig in 1908, only to be rehashed four years later. By 1920 there had been eight international versions, as well as two spoofs. A more renowned version was later released in 1931, directed by Rouben Mamoulian. The James Whale classic Frankenstein was not the first to be based on the Mary Shelley story, that honour went to a 1912 Edison-produced adaptation. When Universal released their seminal Dracula, a Spanish version was made simultaneously, using the same sets. Which went into production first is unclear but by now the remake was a viable commodity. All the old Universal classics were remade again, not only by Hollywood but also by Hammer in the 1950's and '60's. To this day there are still movies based on Dracula and Frankenstein.
Many of the cult B-movies from the 1950's were rehashed years later. Don Siegel's political sci-fi hit Invasion of the Body Snatchers was remade to critical acclaim in 1978 and then again, to a lesser extent, as Body Snatchers in 1993 (and, more recently, as the Nicole Kidman flop The Invasion). By the 1980's, the children that were brought up on the old 1950's classics had grown up to become filmmakers in their own right and, thanks to advances in prosthetic make-up, were able to bring to the screen what had only been hinted at thirty years before.
The best of these was The Thing, John Carpenter's retelling of the Howard Hawks-produced monster movie, this version taking it closer to its source material, the John W. Campbell short story Who Goes There?. David Cronenberg, renowned for his body-horror efforts such as Rabid and Videodrome, remade The Fly in 1986, which saw scientist Jeff Goldblum's slow deterioration after an experiment-gone-wrong melds his DNA with that of an insect. Chuck Russell's update of The Blob was a more light-hearted affair, which saw James Dean-style rebel Kevin Dillon and cheerleader Shawnee Smith up against a man-made life form, determined to swallow up a small American town.
While Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 hit Bram Stoker's Dracula and the Kenneth Branagh-directed Mary Shelley's Frankenstein both claimed to be the most faithful adaptations of those stories, indie director Gus Van Sant took it one step further with his 1998 remake of Psycho by filming it as a shot-for-shot copy of the Alfred Hitchcock original. Why anyone would want to tackle such an iconic movie was anyone's guess but whatever Sant wanted to achieve with the movie he failed on, as it is a bland and frustrating experience, with Vincent Vaughn's turn as Norman Bates too over-the-top.
But the movie most likely responsible for the current wave of remakes is the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The original had been made for next to nothing and over the years had become a genre favourite, the movie's visceral impact even resulting in it being banned in the UK for almost thirty years. But the MTV-style directing and fancy editing (the camera passes through a hole in a girl's head) have made the film far more glossy than the original, but it also took away any sense of dread that the Tobe Hooper classic evoked on the viewer.
Probably the most pointless of the recent remakes, though, was the 2004 update of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. While it certainly wasn't the worst of its kind – it's far superior to The Texas Chainsaw Massacreupdate in every way – it is the title should have been changed. This did not need to be a remake. While the mall in the original movie served as a major plot function, showing the protagonists being brainwashed by capitalist greed, it had no real purpose in this version. The setting could just had easily have been a school, library or apartment block and the movie could have been called something else. Then maybe people would have appreciated it more as a homage, as opposed to just another remake.
Despite each individual director obviously taking their projects seriously, one cannot help but feel sceptical by the studio's desire to make one remake after another. For instance, when The Ring became a hit back in 2002, studios fast-tracked as many remakes of Asian horrors as possible, resulting in the likes of The Grudge and Dark Water. With The Hills Have Eyes becoming one of the biggest horror blockbusters of 2005, producers decided to raid Wes Craven's back catalogue to find similar successes, resulting in upcoming adaptations of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs and even The Last House on the Left.
Surprisingly, the new way for producers to make money is with the slasher movie; a once-despicable subgenre that, since the success of Scream, suddenly became bankable again. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was followed by the likes of When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas, both of which had been reduced to ineffective, harmless teen movies. Tobe Hooper jumped on the bandwagon with the above-average The Toolbox Murders, which was based on the forgettable 1977 movie. Even Robert Harmon's classic road movie-slasher The Hitcher was ruined by Michael Bay's production company. But now studios, particularly Screen Gems, have gone overboard, with producers rushing out new versions of Prom Night, Terror Train, Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Driller Killer, Motel Hell and Friday the 13th.
Probably the biggest offenders of the current wave of slasher remakes are Platinum Dunes, the production company owned by action director Michael Bay. Thanks to the success of their first venture, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which recouped it's $9.5m budget on its opening day), other projects to follow have included The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher. The next eighteen months will also see them produce new versions of Friday the 13th, The Birds and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
One thing that several of the recent remakes have angered fans for is the studios insistence to aim for a PG-13 teen crowd, thus forcing the filmmakers to tone down on not only the gore but any real threat of violence within the film. Quite ironic, really, when you think of what the original versions of some of these movies were like. Some of the films also have a glossy MTV look to them mainly because many of these directors have moved on from music videos.
So what other remakes are we being threatened with? Well, how many classics are there left untouched? We've already been subjected to awful updates of The Wicker Man (Nic Cage and his wig should never work again for being involved in such a dire film!), The Omen and 2000 Maniacs (remade as the imaginatively titled 2001 Maniacs). Next up will be Faces of Death (yes, that so-called snuff movie that was banned in God-knows how many countries for so many years), Sisters, Hellraiser and a possible new version of The Evil Dead (which was even turned into a musical recently!).
So what else is there they can sabotage? Well, so far I haven't heard of plans for an Exorcist remake, but it will only be a matter of time. Also, no doubt Michael Bay would love to fill A Nightmare on Elm Street with CGI and O.C.-style teens. Or a lame-as-hell update of Deliverance? It's over thirty years old now, so surely it's past its Hollywood sell-by-date. The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave; it'd be amusing trying to watch them make a politically correct version of them that they could sell to the multiplexes. Others for them to ruin are Don't Look Now, Twitch of the Death Nerve, Phantasm, Alien, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Basket Case, An American Werewolf in London, Q – The Winged Serpent or Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
In conclusion, one site last August pointed out a rather worrying statistic; "Since 2005, Hollywood has remade no fewer than 13 horror movies, leaning on 1970s titles such as The Omen, The Wicker Man and Black Christmas. That doesn't count US clones of Japanese pictures (The Grudge 2, Pulse, ad nauseam) or unofficial remakes such as Disturbia, which bore a disturbing resemblance to Rear Window." The writer on sfgate.com also stated that, "If it seems as if you've seen that blood-spattered, knife-wielding maniac chasing that girl before, you probably have. Ditto the dude with the chain saw, and those naggingly familiar flesh-eating zombies. More than ever, Hollywood is resurrecting horror classics (and not-so classics) - but is this giving old favorites new lives or just robbing their graves?"