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5 Great Genre Remakes & 5 Terrible Ones

by The Playlist Staff
September 21, 2012 1:06 PM
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Dredd Karl Urban

Is this week's "Dredd 3D" a remake? It's a murky question. It's not the first time the popular 2000AD comics supercop has made it to the screen, with a less faithful, famously terrible Sylvester Stallone dropping into cinemas in 1995. Some would argue that it's merely the second adaptation of one piece of source material. But given the proliferation of adaptations, we'd argue that it does indeed qualify as a remake.

Fortunately, reviews, including ours (which is a little more middling than most) agree that Alex Garland penned, Karl Urban starring movie hitting theaters this weekend is definitely superior to the first stab at the material. To put the new film into context, we've decided to pick out five other remakes from within the genre world that surpassed or matched the source material, and for good measure, five others that fell way below the bar set by their predecessors. Agree? Disagree? Got your own suggestions? Let us know in the comments section.

5 Great Genre Remakes

Body Snatchers '78
"Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (1978)
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. 

"Nosferatu The Vampyre" (1979)
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.

The Thing
"The Thing" (1982)
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.

The Fly
"The Fly" (1986)
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.

Let Me In
"Let Me In" (2010)
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.

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  • John Crye | October 4, 2012 2:06 AMReply

    "But given the proliferation of adaptations, we'd argue that it does indeed qualify as a remake." What? You are going to qualify DREDD as a remake of 1995's JUDGE DREDD - even after you clearly noted that it is actually a second adaptation of the same source material - because... there are a lot of adaptations out there? You obviously recognize the difference between a second adaptation and a remake, so how can you so glibly dismiss that fact? Why do you bother writing these articles if you won't even adhere to your own logic?

  • Reyn | September 25, 2012 9:08 PMReply

    Hey, you forgot to insert 'IMO'. You are an illiterate if you think that barely OK Hollywood film is better than the Swedish version. It is a cheap remake with a shock-effect confetti sprinkled on top.

  • nechoplex | September 25, 2012 9:05 PMReply

    Like the other two commenters, I honestly do not understand how you guys consider Let Me In to be superior than Let The Right One In. The only thing that really worked in the remake was Richard Jenkins. His scene killing people were creepy, atmospheric and really effective. Unfortunately his character was watered down considerably and given very little screen-time. Besides that the score was good, but that's about it. Moretz performance was lacklustre and dull, and the boy who's name I can't even remember was quite unlikeable. All the subtleties that made the original so brilliant and special were lost in the American remake. The remake is just a straight-up horror film devoid of real emotion.

  • Phillip | September 25, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    I'm utterly baffled at how anyone could think Let Me In is on par with Let the Right One In, let alone BETTER. It's the definition of watered-down over-simplified American remake. There's a reason why Tomas Alfredson went on to do Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while Reeves is relegated to B-level genre dreck like a "They Live" remake or the Twilight Zone film.

  • GeeBee | September 24, 2012 6:59 PMReply

    I expected to see the recent rehash of "Straw Dogs" mentioned in one of these lists, most likely the Bad one. from what I hear. Anyone have an opinion on that? I will be watching the Dustin Hoffman original this weekend.

  • Daniel | September 24, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    Yeah sure, if you liked a dumbed down simplified version of Let the Right One In then it may satsify...but for me, the original still runs rings around it. It's funny people mention the poor cat scene, yet they forget about the laughingly bad Gollum CG effect that they had in the American version that made Abby non threatening and just laughable.

    Gender politics? What Gender politics? They stripped out everything to do with Gender in the remake and instead made it a basic morality play. The original touched upon Gender, the book goes heavily into Gender...but the remake? It's non-exsistent in the remake...instead a bland morality play takes its place

    Emotionally satsifying??? It's a downright tragedy in Let Me In...I never saw it as emotionally satsifying when the whole movie is basically playing out a tragedy...I thought the original was far more emotionally satisfying (and simealtaneously creepier at the same time)

    I know this is just an opinion...well my opinion differs, I think Let Me In is completely average next to the original film

  • Clome | September 24, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    Dredd 3D is not a remake. It's another attempt, but not a remake. Another attempt at an adaptation. I'm sorry. this is infuriating!

  • Duddi | September 22, 2012 4:05 AMReply

    Very Interesting List - Congrats !!!

  • MJ | September 22, 2012 1:43 AMReply

    I still wish we could see Hirschbiegel's cut of The Invasion. What a bone-headed move by WB, you hired the man, you knew his vision & the screenplay he was shooting. If it wasn't going to be actiony or commercial enough for you, you shouldn't have given it the greenlight. Instead we got two halves of two different remakes glued together.

  • Stevo the Magnificent | September 21, 2012 11:46 PMReply

    It's a pity John McTiernan wasted his considerable talents on a pointless 'Rollerball' remake - not least because it eventually led him to jail - I would rather have seen McT direct 'Red Dragon' (instead of Brett Ratner), he would have done a grand job of it, methinks, alas...

  • Archer Slyce | September 21, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    This one is kind of a no-brainer I guess ... which would be why I agree with most of it. Except maybe for Let me in (don't know what I would replace it with though) in the "good ones". The "bad ones" has only must-not-see flicks. As far as the "ugly" is concerned I'm surprised the Pulse remake is not in (specially with Oliver involved). PS : still Rotch has a point... even The thing is rather a new adaptation.

  • rotch | September 21, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    How is Dredd a remake of the '95 Judge Dredd? Under that failed logic, Batman Begins is a remake of Burton's Batman, Amazing Spider-man a remake of Raimi's Spider-man... scratch that, Amazing Spider-man is totally a remake of Raimi's Spider-man and a failure at it.

  • Clome | September 24, 2012 2:31 PM

    to MJ
    Are you talking about the mistakes of having a great cast? Jokes? An actual sense of Spider-man? Fun? None of those are in Amazing Spider-Man.

    Marc Webb wouldn't know style or substance if it slapped him in the face. He should have watched some more Raimi. Learned how to make a movie.

  • MJ | September 22, 2012 1:40 AM

    Yes you're right, The Amazing Spider-Man did fail to make all the mistakes of Raimi's Spider-Man.

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