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Shock-O-Rama: Reanimated Remakes
The dirty word we all buy into
By Chuck Francisco
June 23, 2012
Remake might as well be a dirty word; the very utterance landing twenty-five of your hard earned cents in the swear jar. It's such a hated and loaded term that it's been re-minted as the delightfully whimsical (and decidedly safer) "reimagining". High fructose corn syrup was set to try the same thing, attempting to become the beautiful butterfly known as corn sugar but no one was buying that fast one. Why do we hate the idea so much? I know it pops my figs every time I hear about a property I loved as a child is being ravished by a director who can't possibly weave the amazing magic that I grew up on. Now I'd like to believe that, but shit ain't the truth.
The truth is that Hollywood has always been recycling ideas, rebranding plots and repackaging our nostalgia; all in an intelligent move which earns them cash. They've been doing this just as long as we've been gullible enough to hand them our money and it's ludicrous to bitch out one side of our mouthes while at the same time asking the theater booth attendant for a ticket out of the other. In an ideal world, each newly released film would be filled to bursting with new and fascinating concepts, heretofore untouched upon. I'd also have unlimited free time, a bottomless bank account, and would cruise around in a mint 1970 Dodge Challenger with Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin, fighting crime and engaging in general badassery.
In reality land, we've got remakes; scores of them, in fact. While the majority of them are bad (though not as bad as the unwashed Internet masses want to imagine), there are some that manage to rise above, entertain us and live up to their predecessor. In some rare cases these remakes become the legendary, untouchable properties which we elevate to the gilded pedestal. Let's take a look at three flicks considered luminaries of the horror genre that are actually remakes and two lesser remakes that are still pretty damned good in their own right.
The Mummy (1999) vs. The Mummy (1932) and The Mummy (1959)
When Brendan Fraser took to the silver screen in an attempt to revive the long dormant Universal Monsters branch, we were bristling with hope and armed with potential scorn. On the one mummy's hand (ha!), how dare they try to remake a revered classic like The Mummy, but on the other: it already had been remade. Over and over Universal went to the well for spin off sequels with kookie cool titles until rebooting it at the tail end of the 50's. We accepted this remake though for a number of reasons: it was well told, packed with adventure, wonderfully reminiscent of past pulp indulgences and, more than anything, entertaining spectacle.
Piranha (2010) vs. Piranha (1978)
I'm a Roger Corman fanatic, truly. I measure my Corman film collection in the vertical inches of a tape measure rather than number of films; that's how many I own (thank you kindly Shout! Factory). There was no way that some modern imitation of exploitation could deliver better than the man himself. And yet the remake was as good as Piranha and delivered so much more. If it's at all believable, the new made the old like tired and dry. Piranha 2010 exploited the hell out of a number of things: 3-D, Vin Rhames' stock character, Christopher Lloyd as a half crazed scientist, almost as much gore as there is nudity (truckloads of both), our desire to watch Richard Dreyfuss whistle "Show me the way to go home", and Jerry O'Connell's trouser snake (in 3-D)! If we were only still addicted to 70's passion pit era drive-ins, this film would have taken them by storm.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) vs. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The 70's version of this often reworked classic (again remade in 2007 as The Invasion) comes replete with hot Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum action. I'm not too macho to admit that it terrified me as a child. The isolation and paranoia are paramount in the remake's atmosphere; they also happen to be two things tailor made to scare a six year old. I didn't actually see the '56 version until just a few years ago, it's a good flick but it's not at all what I think of when someone says "Invasion of the body Snatchers" to me. This is because director Phillip Kaufman created the definitive adaption of Finney's novel, even if someone had tried to previously.
The Fly (1958) vs. The Fly (1986)
Vincent Price was in the prime of his macabre horror machinations in the late fifties, early sixties. How is it then, that an 80's remake of one of his films could surpass the original, so much so that many younger genre fans don't even know about the former? Is Jeff Goldblum the key to unlocking a successful remake? Does his long, strange gaze ease the angry hearts of film purists? I think it probably had to do with the advance in physical gore wizardry. At it's core, the tale told in The Fly is one of body horror; there wasn't a soul better at portraying the inner most terror of a melting physical mutation than director David Cronenberg. He grabbed us by Jeff Goldblum's confused, pain wracked form and never let up.
The Thing from Another World (1951) vs. The Thing (1982)
Here's a tough one, at least for me personally. I was first terrified by The Thing From Another World as a child. For my first viewing, my grandfather flew copilot (O.K. He was probably really the pilot). Vivid memories of hiding my face into the side of his arm flash to forefront. Normally, he was a dead ringer Bela Lugosi, but tonight he would alternately morph between the Thing and pop-pop (always as the musical tension dictated). Both films are adaptations of the novella "Who Goes There?"; both are absolutely fantastic, but only one had the staying power and terrifying creature effects to have captivated generations and still send electric heebee-jeebees up my arms. John Carpenter's The Thing is so ambiguous, so loaded with terrifying paranoia, that it could almost stand on it's own without the horrific monster alien effects. Amazingly, it has both and leverages them to spine tingling perfection.
I'm not saying that five of these movies aren't good films, I'm not saying that you see all ten to punch that particular hole on your horror genre nerd-cred card (yes I am). What I'm outright stating is that horror is a genre well accustomed to reanimating their sacred cows, so much so that it shocks me that we're surprised by it at all. By and large, remakes aren't of the highest caliber because, with a built in nostalgia audience, they don't have to be in order to gross a profit. But when enough time passes, films can (but not always) lose relevance to Joe Q. Movie-Goer. If a caring hand guides the project, a spark of genius is given purchase or fortune just favors the foolish, you may just have a good time. Keep an open mind.
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).
Netflix - The Big Boss - Kung-Fu (Bruce Lee) (1972)
Crackle - Pumpkinhead IV: Blood Fued - Horror (2007)
YouTube - Dat of the Triffids - Horror/Monster (1962)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking outTuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.