The 5 Best & 5 Worst Horror Movie Remakes

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by Drew Taylor
April 2, 2013 12:01 PM
19 Comments
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This weekend the new, gore-soaked remake of Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" (review here) chainsaws its way into theaters nationwide. A bold reimagining that jettisons much of the original film's humor, replacing it with an unrelenting bleakness, it's the kind of movie that sometimes feels less like an entertainment and more like an endurance test. It also got us thinking about other horror classics that have been brazenly retrofitted for modern audiences (and the other ones that absolutely do not work). So we've cooked up a list of five of the best horror remakes and five of the worst, omitting movies that were too sci-fi-y (sorry, "The Thing") and focusing specifically on what worked and what didn't work as it related to the original. Get ready for some pretty scary stuff.

If the list looks too "modern," keep in mind that almost all of these remakes were born post-"Scream," when the studios figured that they could mine their back catalogue for the movies that were referenced within "Scream," updating them for new audiences, sometimes referencing the fact that the same audiences had seen the original (and countless other horror remakes). And it's also worth keeping in mind that there are at least two other big time horror remakes on the horizon. This fall sees the release of Kimberly Peirce's "Carrie," a remake of Brian De Palma's 1978 masterpiece (the new script by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is supposedly a more faithful adaptation of Stephen King's original novel) and in development is a new take on the underrated 1976 true-crime shocker "Town That Dreaded Sundown," this time from "American Horror Story" mastermind Ryan Murphy and "Paranormal Activity" producer Jason Blum (it was also, coincidentally, written by Aguirre-Sacasa).

Take a look and note: this list caused some internal debate and water cooler showdowns in the offices and hallways of The Playlist, so prepare for some controversy and be sure to share your thoughts below.

Best

Evil Dead II” (Sam Raimi, 1986)
Despite its title, Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead II" is more a remake than it is a sequel, following the events of the first, ultra-low-budget film fairly closely, while widening the film's scope and incorporating different tonal elements, all of which add up to an absolute classic of the genre. Anyone who saw the original "Evil Dead" and then went to "Evil Dead II" were probably surprised (and maybe a little saddened) by just how much like the original the second film is – Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend go to a cabin in the woods and unwittingly unleash an ancient evil that terrorizes them endlessly. But Raimi and co-conspirators Scott Spiegel and Rob Tapert wisely open up the world, by both adding more characters and creating a more sustained, unpredictable atmosphere where shocking violence and slapstick humor sit comfortably side-by-side, sometimes in the same scene (goodbye hand!) Raimi also pushed things, in a visual sense, into the uncomfortable realms of surrealism, sometimes going a little too far (the tree rape sequence is a little much). By the time the movie concludes with our hero being zapped into the literal dark ages (a gag that would eventually pay off with the gonzo third film, "Army of Darkness," that would swing the horror/comedy ratio in the other direction), you've either fallen in love with "Evil Dead II" or lost all patience with it. As far as remakes go, it's the most successful because it wasn't happy on just slavishly reproducing the film that came before it. It's impish, creatively restless, and utterly fearless, with a lovably fuck-you, take-it-or-leave it attitude that has proven even more endearing as it moves out of "cult classic" territory and into straight-up "classic" terrain. (The success of "Evil Dead II" also makes the decision to play this new "Evil Dead" remake completely straight even more baffling, especially when they had "Juno" author Diablo Cody assisting. She's the queen of the quips. But they seem to have lobbed off her razor-sharp contributions like an unwanted severed hand.)

Piranha 3D” (Alexandre Aja, 2010)
“Horror remakes directed or produced by French filmmaker Alexandre Aja” could have practically been its own list, as the “High Tension” auteur has directed the exemplary “The Hills Have Eyes” (remaking Wes Craven’s mutant cannibal classic) and the underrated “Mirrors” (a Japanese horror remake that uneasily melded with his more Fangoria-subscription sensibilities), plus he’s got a writing/producing hand in the super cool remake of “Maniac” that opens this spring from IFC Films. But “Piranha 3D” is his true triumph. A redo of Joe Dante’s cheapo “Jaws”-rip off from 1978 (written by a then-unknown John Sayles), Aja swaps the original’s post-Vietnam social commentary for a more barbed (razor-toothed?) satire of American excessiveness, while keeping the original’s goofy, blood-splattered spirit. A sort of “Spring Breakers” with blood geysers, it concerns the fate that befalls a group of clothing-allergic coeds who run into prehistoric piranhas on their anything-goes holiday. The characters have a nicely seventies-disaster-movie diversity (there’s the tough female sheriff played by Elisabeth Shue, the geeky seismologist in Adam Scott, the crotchety fish expert Christopher Lloyd and the pervert pornographer Jerry O’Connell), and Aja (along with frequent confederates writer-producer Gregory Levasseur and editor Baxter), rendering the carnage in somewhat rudimentary 3D, has a sense of how depth can affect and enhance the shocks and scares, culminating in a feeding frenzy sequence that might chart as one of the most violent in cinematic history. As funny as it is scary, “Piranha 3D” is the kind of movie that only a French filmmaker could make about American culture. And as the original begat the sort-of James Cameron-directed “Piranha II,” so too did “Piranha 3D” inspire a hokey, half-assed sequel – 2012’s barely-released “Piranha 3DD” (when the funniest thing about your movie is the title, you know of know you’re fucked).

“The Ring” (Gore Verbinski, 2002)
At a certain point, Hollywood was gripped with the need to remake every even marginally popular Asian horror movie, and the results were typically (at best) mixed. In the transition from a more philosophical “Eastern” mode of storytelling, in which dreamy connective tissue is more important than concrete plot specifics, to a more fundamentally “Western” form, in which narrative structure and plot articulation is paramount, more was lost than gained. Besides “Audition,” which has mercifully avoided the remake treatment, the scariest and most profoundly influential Asian horror film from the period was “The Ring,” about a cursed videotape, it's remake ended up easily being the best and brightest of this crop, partially because, after some narrative dead-ends (a whole subplot that featured Chris Cooper as a serial killer of children was completely deleted), Verbinski, a director with a decided visual bent towards the surreal, embraced the more ethereal Asian narrative style. The result was a winning combination of both aesthetics, one that placed a headstrong female protagonist (Naomi Watts), who doggedly tries to solve the mystery of the cursed videotape before it claims the life of her young son. Visually, it's a completely different beast from its Japanese counterpart and that's a good thing – Bojan Bazelli's rain-streaked cinematography creates a wonderfully downbeat mood, eerily complimented by Hans Zimmer's droning ambient score and Craig Wood's idiosyncratic editing. Sure, the unexpected punch of the ending is absent, but Verbinski's visualization is still pretty neat. "The Ring" is the "best case scenario" for these Asian adaptations, one in which the original intent isn't diluted and the Americanization makes it feel enlivened instead of overtly explained.
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19 Comments

  • Shane | May 15, 2013 8:07 PMReply

    If you leave The Thing and The Fly off of the "best" list then it seems to me that you have no idea what you're talking about. Piranha 3-D and House of Wax? Really?

  • huffy | April 15, 2013 7:51 AMReply

    " is largely considered the "Citizen Kane" of horror films"

    Bullshit, by who? Universally accepted classic sure, one of the most singular horror films ever made, but I have never, ever heard anyone refer to The Wicker Man in that kind of context. The "Citizen Kane of-" label (which is ridiculous to begin with) implies that a work was a massive leap forward in terms of innovation, style and technique and that it was imitated by everything after it. So how exactly is The Wicker Man anywhere near as influential as things like Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nosferatu?

  • John | April 11, 2013 7:27 AMReply

    The Thing (1982) was in no way or form a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World, they have little in common except for alien and snow, there are a couple of homages to the 1951 movie in Carpenter's movie like circle of men and the opening titles but the locations, the nature/methods/discovery of the alien (one being a vegetable vampire that reproduced itself and the other was a shapeshifting parasitic creature that would imitate any animal or human), the characters etc. are all very different, they share a name but they have different stories/plots. Both movies are adaptations of John W. Campbell's Who Goes There, the 1951 movie was very good but a terrible terrible adaptation of the story where Carpenter's movie is an excellent and very faithful adaptation that did the story justice.

    Remakes and re-adaptations are 2 very different things. Remake means if the previous film was based on a screenplay that is an original for film story not based on a book/novella/comic then it's a remake like say The Blob or Hills have Eyes, 2 TRUE remakes. Re-adaptation means another adaptation of a book like say Dracula, Frankenstein, John Carpenter's The Thing etc.

  • Larry Underwood | April 3, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    Absolute worst remake is Gus Van Sant Psycho, hands down. Complete garbage. And House of Wax on the best remake list? Seriously? Someone is doing crack.

  • Gadavina | April 7, 2013 10:22 AM

    Psycho was a shot-for-shot remake, having distaste for the casting choices, director or the fact that Danny Elfman essentially did nothing as far as scoring that film was concerned is a fair gripe but I can't really fathom how anyone could call it the worst remake effort. Day of the Dead stands in my mind as the worst. Compared to Van Sant's Psycho, the lack of effort in Day of the Dead all around outright blows.

  • Arch | April 3, 2013 11:11 AMReply

    Not-goods were obvious. Don't have much to say (except: The Fog not a crown jewel? c'mon).

    But E.D.2 proves you had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for good-ones. Worth the list, but I'd agree it's not a remake (The Thing still makes more sense). No offense but I feel a classic "lowering standards" vibe somehow: House of Wax, TCM 2003 (then overpraised by a burgeoning blogosphere) and others (enough with Piranha's pseudo-subversiveness it's just a terrible flick). Herzog's Nosferatu is still better for me and I'll take J. Hayashi's iconic harsh cinematography over The Ring's slick remake anytime (among other things).

    Still I'll be the one to give credits for avoiding the blueprint of 2000s remakes (Snyder's Dawn: dull characters, American shots and poor use of settings) and for your inclusion of Halloween; the 1st was contrived but the 2nd was a great dive into Myers' and Laurie's minds (master-shots, new mythology, grainy image etc.). Kudos for Willard and Savini's NotLD too.

    Anyway the TCM reboot (reremake?) was a hit, Evil dead will probably be #1 at the BO (ridiculously ingenious and huge promo) and Carrie will probably be a critic favorite (for wrong reasons like Piranha ?). I guess then we'll have the landscape of mainstream horror after torture porn for the next 10 years or so. Yay ?

  • Richard Schitz | April 3, 2013 9:21 AMReply

    I Spit On Your Grave remake is a big omission

    - Dick Schitz

  • Olli | April 3, 2013 5:39 AMReply

    While I would have never put the just ok "House of wax" on the best list, your selection of Rob Zombies "Halloween"-misfires really baffled me. Those movies are just bad (my IMBD ratings were 3 for Part 1 and 1 for Part 2) in just every category from acting, cinematography to the writing. Worst of all they don´t include a single bit of suspense.
    But I agree that Wainwrights "Fog"-Remake was even lousier.

  • RNL | April 2, 2013 7:17 PMReply

    Evil Dead 2 is not a remake, it's a sequel that picks up immediately where the first film ends. The first 7 minutes of the film is a recap of the events of the first film that retcons several details. This is both confirmed by the filmmakers and obvious to anyone who's paying attention when watching. Army of Darkness also opens with a short retcon recap of the events of the first two films, but nobody calls that a remake.

  • Andrew | April 2, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    Glad you at least mentioned in, but in my opinion Let Me In is a modern horror masterpiece, and ever so slightly better than the original.

    And yeah although the original Dawn of the Dead is one of my absolute favorite films, Snyder did a good job with the remake. It's an entirely different kind of movie, but still well worth it.

  • tristan eldritch | April 2, 2013 1:42 PMReply

    Although probably both too sci-fi-y, The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are absolutely the only horror remakes worth a damn. The Evil Dead II feels like a bit of a cheat, because the line between sequel and glorified, more expensive remake is often a very fine one.

  • AJ Wiley | April 2, 2013 1:35 PMReply

    The tree rape occurred in the first Evil Dead.

  • Gadavina | April 3, 2013 8:41 AM

    Exactly, that it's even mentioned in this article draws back on comments left on the 2013 remake where someone points out that perhaps they were expecting it to be a remake of Evil Dead II vs. The Evil Dead since they were (and as this article exhibits - still) lamenting how hiring Diablo Cody to "tweak" the script led to very little of the "wit" or biting hilarity that they seem to exalt upon her seeping through to the film.

    Clearly having everyone on board (that mattered) that worked on The Evil Dead wasn't enough to satiate their thirst for funny (I mean - what do those guys know? They only made the first film they list as "best" in this article and it was supposedly funny but it must have been some weird fluke resultant of bodysnatching comedians masquerading as Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, etc). It just further cements in the notion that they either haven't seen The Evil Dead or if they have, it's been long enough that their memories of it are mixed so far in with Evil Dead II that it's become next to impossible to get facts between the two separated. The rape scene was in The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II featured a similar yet rape-free tree attack scene.

  • Jacque DeMolay | April 2, 2013 1:34 PMReply

    Okay, so I still haven't forgiven him for Sucker Punch, and probably never will, but... credit where credit is due, and all, so... yeah, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake is definitely better than Zombie's Halloween films, and probably House of Wax too. Fie on you all for leaving that out. Not even an honorable mention? Inexcusable.

  • Bill Graham | April 15, 2013 2:57 PM

    Actually, Cirkus, THE CRAZIES is on here in the honorable mention. But yes, surprised DotD wasn't even mentioned here.

  • cirkusfolk | April 2, 2013 3:26 PM

    Yea Dawn of the Dead and The Crazies are my two favorite ones and neither are here. Amazing how many there are though!

  • Chris | April 2, 2013 12:44 PMReply

    I can't believe someone just called the "Halloween" remakes "psychologically adroit." If you have a Kindergarten understanding of psychology, I guess. Jesus.

  • Joao Paulo Rodrigues | April 2, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    Mirrors is not japanese, is korean ...
    But amazing list!

  • El Hanso | April 2, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Okay, you made the rules and excluded "The Thing", but any list on Horror Remakes missing out on "The Thing", "The Fly", and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" seems a little weird. Especially when you count the mediocre "House of Wax" and Rob Zombie's horrible "Halloween" films among the good remakes.
    Completely agree on the "worst" selection, though.

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