Media : Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Remake?

Sometimes, the scares are sweeter the second (or third) time around

By no stretch of the imagination am I what you would call a fan of horror films, and yet, I find myself scratching my head over how many critics (as well as many so-called fans) bemoan the recent resurgence of horror-film remakes. For one, critics have liked so few horror films throughout history that it’s almost senseless to listen to their opinions since they very clearly don’t get the genre, and second, remakes are as common within this genre as dead virgins.

Consider some of the greatest horror films of the last 30 years: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), Evil Dead II (1987), and The Ring (2002). These movies are almost universally hailed as great both within and without the horror genre and, more importantly, they’re all remakes. Some of them, like Invasion, The Thing, and Evil Dead II, are even arguably better than the originals — which, by the way, today’s horror fans don’t even consider when uttering these titles.

Remakes, you see, are not inherently sucky, as the critics and film purists will have you believe. In fact, many of our favorite films are remakes, like The Maltese Falcon (1941), Ben-Hur (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Ocean’s Eleven (2001). The surprising thing is, even as critics attack George Lucas for not being able to leave well-enough alone with Star Wars, they applaud Cecil B. DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock, who actually remade their own films: The Ten Commandments (1923, 1956) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, 1956). Even Sam Raimi knew he could get The Evil Dead (1981) more right, and that’s why six years later he made Evil Dead II — the same movie, just better.

Of course, lists don’t amount to damning evidence against critics of remakes. What’s most important to note is that today’s filmgoers are almost universally unaware that there is an original The Ten Commandments or Ocean’s Eleven. Even fewer have seen The Man Who Knew Too Much, either version. So, if the only people who know of the originals are the critics and a handful of film-theory grad students, then why can’t film studios remake often-forgotten, often-out-of-date films into something relevant to today’s audiences? You don’t have to convince the studios of this, obviously. All the tickets you buy while grumbling about remakes continue to encourage them of a truth so many are unwilling to accept: Remakes are not always a bad thing, for ticket sales or for fans.

There is also the argument that calling remakes “remakes” is actually a misnomer because, in truth, they are, as all remakes have always been (well, except Gus Van Sant’s Psycho), reinterpretations of story ideas and themes so that contemporary audiences can discover a story they would have never bothered with beforehand. This is a valid point, since I don’t really remember Vincent Price’s cock falling off in the original The Fly, or King Kong duking it out with three T-Rexes in his first shot at the big screen. Purists will insist moviegoers should just rediscover the originals, but, as evidenced by the fact that they make a regular habit of praising remakes when they approve of them, their opinion can’t be trusted to be anything other than hypocritical.

No, the truth of the matter is, films like this week’s The Omen, a remake of a 1976 classic, have little chance of wooing anyone other than the millions of moviegoers who just love horror films and, let’s face it, most horror films suck to a certain degree. Horror fans will usually admit it, too; they’re there for the thrills and inventively wicked deaths. The Omen, however, will present an interesting study in the horror fan’s willingness to endure remakes, since most horror fans have seen the original and, well, love it. Why remake it, then? Wait until you see the box-office receipts next Sunday and you’ll have your answer. Horror fans need horror, and sometimes the remakes get it right. Just don’t let the shitty ones like The Blob (1988), The Haunting (1999), or House of Wax (2005) bring down the whole big show.

Even worse is when unbelievably bad originals are remade into even worse fare, like 2005’s The Fog and this year’s When a Stranger Calls. Then again, sometimes unbelievably bad originals are remade into something remarkably better, like this year’s The Hills Have Eyes. Don’t act all surprised if The Omen the remake delivers the goods, too. But hey, even if it doesn’t, there are plenty of other remakes to look forward to, like the upcoming updates of The Fly, Day of the Dead, The Blob, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon and, more interestingly, Benicio del Toro as The Wolf Man in 2008. At least one of these is sure to be brilliant.

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