Having just reviewed Robocop (2014) I found myself thinking about the handful of remakes that actually got it right. Every year we get another batch of old school horror films getting the teenage PG-13 CW makeover, or the occasional foreign film somebody decides HAS to be recast with dumb Americans, but rarely do we encounter a remake that stands up to it’s source material yet alone outshine it. This list is by no means exhaustive. There’s a lot I haven’t seen, like Carrie (2013) or Prom Night (2008) and still more that I felt were kind of a given; The Departed, Insomnia, The Thing. Instead I focused on remakes I thought I’d probably hate, or that I’d at least not enjoy. These are the few that surprised me. True Grit The original True Grit was one of my grandfather’s favorite films. He only ever insisted that I watch two films: True Grit and Where Eagles Dare. I loved them both, but True Grit struck me deeply and stuck with me for the remainder of my young life. I love the Coen Brothers, but I was skeptical that their penchant for irony might sully a film I hold in such (albeit incredibly nostalgic) high regard. I need not have worried. The Coen’s treatment is impeccable, and may in fact surpass the original despite committing that most abhorred remake cliché in providing us with a (slightly) happier ending. The cast and their performances are steeped in period and regional dialect, quirks and odd mannerisms, a hallmark of the Coen’s work, lending incredible depth to the characters without tarnishing the film’s central morality. Fright Night The original film has many loyal fans and I count myself among them. I saw the original as my youthful interest in horror film peaked, and along with The Lost Boys I considered it a stunning bit of 80’s new wave vampire cinema. I wasn’t expecting to like the remake, but was pleasantly surprised. A lot comes down to casting. Anton Yelchin shines as Charley Brewster and Colin Farrell may in fact have been born to play an asshole douchebag vampire. Throw in Christopher Mintz-Plasse for comic relief and David Tenant as a Vegas magician and there’s just a lot to love here performance-wise. The move to suburban Las Vegas also pays off, there is really nothing creepier than the desert at dusk and the rows of identical houses comprising the neighborhood lend a weird anonymity to the proceedings. Evil Dead “You don’t fuck with the classics.” they say. But when you have the blessing of the original director, maybe that line is a little easier to cross. And when the end product is as savage and brutal as this remake, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t the right move. Let’s also not forget that Sam Raimi himself essentially remade The Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. It was a chance to revisit his initial concept with a bigger budget, to explore new camera techniques, to inject some pitch black humor into it all. In fact, if anything overshadows the legacy of the original film as well as the remake, it’s Dead by Dawn. Thankfully, the remake didn’t try to outdo the sequel and instead focused on fortifying the original film. It does so by upping the ante on all counts, from sheer terror to gore to crafting one of the most satisfying answers to the question everyone asks themselves when watching a horror film: “Why don’t they all just get the fuck out of there?!?” While it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the theatrical release poster which claimed “THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE”, it certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of re-crafting the original. Piranha 3D While the original shares some renown as a cult classic, there are few willing to defend it as anything more than a sensational exploitation film. When it came time to remake the film, it would have been easy to take a darker more serious approach to the horror of being eaten alive by piranha. But that’s not what director Alexandre Aja did. That’s not what he did at all. He decided instead to make one of the most sensational exploitation flicks of all time. Piranha 3D is chock full of tits, ass, gore and genital mutilation. It’s essentially an installment of Girls Gone Wild colliding with a horror film about mutated carnivorous fish, served up in gloriously cheesy 3D. I cheered out loud in the theater as a parade of porn stars, partygoers and Jerry Fucking O’Connel were gleefully eaten alive. Rarely does a remake so overdeliver. Let Me In I was incredibly skeptical of this Americanization of the excellent original Swedish film, Let The Right One In. As a fan of not only the original, but also of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel by the same name, I was prepared for the ham-fisted dumbed-down USA-ification of one of my favorite horror properties. Thankfully, director Matt Reeves spared us any such embarrassment and delivered a thoughtful and thoroughly respectful treatment of the original. There are differences, elements from the novel not present in the original film that work their way in, themes that are emphasized with greater importance, enough nuance to still be of interest to anyone who has read or seen the source material. The two child leads (Kody Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz) deliver rare performances, bringing gravitas where lesser actors might have stumbled or struggled to do so. Let Me In is a profoundly engaging film and were the horror genre not so generally maligned it would have been showered with critical accolades beyond even those few already laid at it’s feet. The Crazies Playing up very topical concerns about pandemic, biological warfare and government conspiracy, this remake effectively updates the original’s post-Vietnam paranoia without losing any of the creep factor. The scope is expanded, the effects updated, the kill scenes are gorier and more inventive and you’ve got Timothy Olyphant cast in the lead doing what he does best: playing a ridiculously handsome rural lawman. The remake also keeps what was so memorable about the original intact: the crazies themselves. The idea of normal everyday people, your friends and neighbors, suddenly succumbing to their most sadistic and violent urges is profoundly disturbing and creates a panicky tension that builds throughout. The original film has an incredibly bleak third act, and while the remake doesn’t devolve into such grim specifics it does offer a dark ending that satisfies on a larger scale. Maniac There’s no way to match the grime of the original, it’s a true artifact of the 80’s grindhouse/exploitation era. Thankfully, what the remake lacks in filth it more than makes up for in pervy sleaziness courtesy of star Elijah Wood. Wood makes the transition from everybody’s favorite hobbit to bug-eyed serial murderer seamlessly. The entirety of the film is shot in first-person perspective (an effect used only briefly in the original) and while this feels like a bit of a student-film gimmick at first, the effectiveness builds. As the film wears on, the audience begins to feel complicit in the acts of violence taking place, as though you were strapped into some sort of sadistic carnival ride. The kills are phenomenally well-acted by the victims and given the never-flinching eye of the camera, very cleverly managed to maintain realism. Wood’s whiny and pathetic portrayal of Frank Zito makes the character that much more menacing. Despite being less physically intimidating, Wood’s Zito is just downright psychologically terrifying. The Hills Have Eyes The third film on this list involving Alexandre Aja (he directed Piranha 3D and wrote the screenplay for Maniac) is a remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 original. The original has a strong fan following but I’d always found it a bit cheesy. Maybe it’s just that Michael Berryman never really scared me, but I always felt that it was a film that got by on concept but fell a bit short in execution. Aja’s remake is quite the opposite. The first half of the film builds tension by delivering on the basic premise of the original: a family stuck in the wrong part of the desert being menaced by a pack of brutal savages. It’s as the film progresses that it explodes into something much more than anticipated. Involving massive set-pieces and make-up effects so haunting they will likely stay with me for the rest of my life, the remake blows the scope of its source material out of the mutated, irradiated water. Dawn of the Dead I was as apprehensive as any Romero fanboy going into this, but by the time Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around” rolls out over a remarkable aerial shot of a vehicle fleeing the ensuing zombie chaos my skepticism had turned to delight. The film delivers everything a horror fan could want in gratuitous heaps while still paying tribute to the social commentary of the original. So what if these are “fast” zombies? It’s a change that many decried, but seeing it on-screen there’s no arguing that the quick and agile undead ratchet up the tension more than any horde of slowly shambling zed-heads could have ever hoped to. Holed up in the mall for an extended period of time, we also get a chance to see some character development as our protagonists struggle to come to terms with the zombie apocalypse. We see new depths, new lows, as well as some downright heroic solidarity. I’ll always love the original, but props to Zack Snyder and James Gunn for delivering a remake worthy of the Romero legacy. Oldboy There’s not a film on this list I was more worried about being remade than Oldboy. The Korean original is one of my favorite films of all time and frankly I just didn’t see the need to remake a film that wasn’t even a decade out of release all because Americans are scared of subtitles. My trepidation grew to overwhelming heights upon hearing that Will Smith was being considered for the lead, and I maintain that his involvement would still have ruined the film. Thankfully, we end up with Josh Brolin, who delivers a jaw-dropping performance. It’s Brolin and director Spike Lee’s deft hand that makes this a film worth watching for fans of the original. There are alterations, some more subtle than others, to tantalize those who may already know the story, but by and large it’s a remake that stays very faithful to the source. Brolin is riveting, and his character’s transformation throughout the film is by turns intense, horrific and redemptive. As the film draws to a close, whether you think you know the ending or not, you cannot help but hold your breath as each second unravels more clearly the tangled web of crossed relationships, deceit and scathing revelation. Had I never seen Park Chan-wook’s original, I would declare this an unequivocal work of genius. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses leikyloco July 2, 2014 Well Done Adam! I haven’t watched Maniac all the way through so I’m willing to give it another try, now. I will say this however, The Crazies did me proud. Log in to Reply Adam Barraclough July 2, 2014 Thank you! When it comes to the Maniac remake, it really isn’t going to be for everyone. The first-person perspective can (understandably) throw you off, and I completely get why people can’t take Elijah Wood seriously in this role. The key for me was noting how he works his lack of physical power into the performance. There are moments where it seems the character may not even succeed in his kill, and it makes his compulsion to do so all the more creepy. This isn’t a guy overpowering his female victims, it’s a pathetic puny man-child who has to summon every ounce of strength he possesses in order to pull this off. And the effort leaves him exhausted. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.