5 Great Genre Remakes
For a film that was so much of its time, and was tied so closely to its McCarthy-era subtext, 1956's "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (or, more accurately, Jack Finney's 1955 novel "The Body Snatchers") has remained a remarkably resilient tale. Even aside from the many rip-offs, it's been remade directly three times -- most recent being 2007 Nicole Kidman vehicle "The Invasion" (more on that in a second) which comfortably could fit on any "worst remakes" list, with Abel Ferrera's "Body Snatchers" in 1993 before that. But neither came anywhere near the second go-around, Philip Kaufman's 1978 "Invasion of The Body Snatchers," which might surpass the original in sheer terror and execution, if not necessarily in richness of subtext. The set-up is mostly the same, albeit transplanted to San Francisco, following a health inspector (Donald Sutherland), his colleague (Brooke Adams) and his friends (Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy) as they discover that some kind of alien race has surreptitiously invaded Earth, and are replacing humans with exact replicas. Kaufman takes the potent premise and cranks up the fear factor, thanks to half-grown creatures, dog/human hybrids, taken bodies crumbling to dust and one of the bleakest and most terrifying endings in sci-fi history. Some of the swinging '70s stuff hasn't aged so well, but even so, this is by far the most effective take on the tale we've had to date.
Remakes always have a stigma attached to them before they're even out the door, with fans holding certain films tightly to their bosom as if they were delicate, precious offsprings. If there was one production that was not only completely bereft of those feelings, but instead lathered with excitement, it'd be this Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski joint. Taking cues from Murnau's classic, Herzog makes a masterpiece of his own by neglecting the "Dracula" source material and cracking open the silent film to see what made it work. This newer version contains the same premise, following estate agent Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) on his visit to see Count Dracula (Kinski) in order to settle a property sale. After a few perturbing nightmares (also shared by his wife Lucy, played by Isabelle Adjani, back home), Harker discovers Dracula is a vampire and will use the land to wreak terror on the surrounding area. Unfortunately, Dracula takes off in the night to claim his newly purchased land, leaving Harker locked in the castle and everyone else completely vulnerable. Herzog's powerful command of the material elevates it above your standard vampire fare, allowing the gorgeous locales of Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands to devour every frame. The story is told both quietly, with an undercurrent of foreboding dread, something that is immediately snapped once Kinski's confident possession of Dracula sneaks onto the screen. A highly successful union between a genre picture and an epic, "Nosferatu the Vampyre" is such an engrossing and satisfying experience that it makes the director's newer, more satirical romps that more disappointing.
In John Carpenter's classic "Halloween," some of the kids and babysitters are watching a television airing of "The Thing From Another World," a Howard Hawks production from 1951 about Antarctic researchers who unleash an extraterrestrial evil. A half decade later, Carpenter would get the chance to remake one of his favorites, this time as a claustrophobic, paranoid, downright apocalyptic tale about male distrust and insecurity, updating it with the drippiest special effects money could buy. Carpenter's creature not only copies the human members of the research team (a ragtag group of roughnecks led by Kurt Russell), we also get to see the weird-ass alien monsters the creature impersonated on his journey across the galaxy (brought to life through the special effects wizardry of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston). Unrelentingly bleak, "The Thing" took an entirely different approach from the original, going for more explicit violence and a more somber tone, and the results are just as unforgettable and brilliant.
David Cronenberg, who adapted this high-tech revamp, knew better than to mess with some classic. Instead, he took a crummy B-movie that starred Vincent Price and featured some pretty ludicrous make-up effects, and chose to make it an ooey-gooey showcase for cutting edge visual effects while slyly commenting on the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging North America at the time. Jeff Goldblum, in a still-career-best performance, plays Seth Brundle, a mad scientist working on a teleportation pod, whose DNA is accidentally jumbled with that of a housefly. He begins to exhibit exceptional strength and heightened abilities and then things get uglier, turning into a surprisingly poignant melodrama as his partner (a journalist played by Geena Davis) is forced to watch him physically decay. It's powerful, frightening stuff and still one of Cronenberg's best.
Many cried foul when Matt Reeves, director of found footage monster mash "Cloverfield," decided to remake the Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In" only two years after it was released, abandoning the Morrissey-indebted title and swapping out windswept Sweden for equally blustery Los Alamos, New Mexico. But naysayers (ourselves included) were silenced when we actually saw the film, which retained much of what was so amazing about the original (the '80s setting, the gender politics, the shockingly straightforward depictions of violence) while also offering a more streamlined and emotionally satisfying storyline. It got rid of all of the junk from the first movie (like that awful cat attack sequence and the overlong subplot involving a neighbor figuring out about the vampire) and kept everything that worked. It was all killer, no filler, and the rare example of a domestic remake besting its foreign counterpart.