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The 5 Best & 5 Worst Horror Movie Remakes

by Drew Taylor
April 2, 2013 12:01 PM
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“House of Wax” (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005)
For a while, Joel Silver’s Dark House production shingle, set up at Warner Bros and specializing in down-and-dirty genre fare, almost exclusively remade old horror movies, with most coming from the back catalogue of William Castle, a gimmicky, cigar-chomping producer who considered himself in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock but was more along the lines of P.T. Barnum. The results were often well-intentioned misfires (“House on Haunted Hill” was too arch, “Thirteen Ghosts” tonally and editorially uneven), but they struck gold with their remake of the 1953 Vincent Price shocker “House of Wax,” this time by then-unknown Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (in the years since he’s become one of the most in-demand directors in Hollywood). Sadly, most of the remake's notoriety comes from the stunt casting of Paris Hilton in a pivotal role; it should surprise no one that the movie becomes significantly better once she is unceremoniously killed off. The “House of Wax” remake is impeccably crafted, combining direct references to the 1953 original while incorporating more modern influences, including the work of Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” to be sure, but also flourishes of “Eaten Alive” and “The Funhouse”). While some may feel the film’s pacing is a little too deliberate, the last act of “House of Wax,” in particular, gallops along; it’s breathlessly exciting filmmaking that you can’t help but goggle at, and feels like the only remaining evidence of original Dark House principle Robert Zemeckis’ tangential involvement. It’s that damn good.

Halloween”/”Halloween II” (Rob Zombie, 2007 and 2009)
Initially, Rob Zombie's skewered, hyper-detailed approach to the mythos of John Carpenter's 1977 classic (the gold standard by which all other slashers are compared against), an approach critic Nathan Lee rightfully described as not "so much a horror film as a biopic, and a superb one at that," was either completely dismissed or outright ignored. It was long on the tortured childhood of young soon-to-be-serial killer Michael Myers and short on the blood-splattered mayhem, with Zombie essentially getting down to the business of remaking the original in a truncated, overtly hectic third act which felt less like an organic conclusion than something that the studio tried to aggressively force on him. The fact that Zombie came back to helm a sequel, mostly in order to get away from what he considered to be a constrictive contract with The Weinstein Company, is something of a shock. The fact that he made a movie even uglier (shot in ragged 16 mm and blown up to 35 mm for theatrical exhibition) and more divisive than his first film is nothing short of miraculous. Taken together, though, as some online have suggested is the only true way to "watch" the movies, and it's like the "Kill Bill" of horror remakes – an expansive, utterly personal epic that, for scope and adventurousness, trumps nearly every horror movie, remake or otherwise, from the past decade. (It should be noted, for the sake of honesty, that when reviewing the sequel for this very website, yours truly called the sequel "baffling and half-baked.") The whole bloody "Halloween" affair is psychologically adroit and unpredictably nimble, weaving between "prequel" and "remake" and showcasing what went into Michael Myers' transformation into the homicidal maniac we know and love today, which then gives way to a more impressionistic (but just as grubby) examination of the same evil. It might not be perfect but it's incredibly personal – the interpretive work of a singular artist deathly afraid of the same old shit.


"The Omen" (John Moore, 2006)
"The Omen" remake was so creatively bankrupt that, after some initial development, Fox just said "fuck it" and reused David Seltzer's script for the original, vastly superior "Omen" (directed by Richard Donner and released in 1976). The studio then installed hack du jour John Moore in the director's chair and listlessly filled out the cast with bland performers uneager or unwilling to bring even a remote sense of freshness or unpredictability to the production (Mia Farrow, making a long-awaited return to the screen, just screeches maniacally). Moore pointlessly photocopies sequences from the original – the photographer's decapitation (now with digital blood!), the priest's impalement, the army of menacing dogs – making everything more blatant and less elegant than its predecessor. There's no surprise as to whether or not Damien is a demon child, since they cast a kid that you would cross the street to avoid, and the couple (Liev Schrieber and Julia Stiles) are too young – they lack the desperation that made the original scenario work on such a profoundly sad level. When "The Omen" franchise started out it was sharp and scary – a religious chiller for the nonbelievers who had already been disillusioned by the horrors and atrocities of the sixties and seventies – but it quickly devolved into low budget schlock, a kind of proto-"Final Destination" where Damien would trigger all sorts of crazy things to happen and kill people. "The Omen" remake leans more on the elaborateness of the sequels, while somehow pummeling the original script into a shapeless pulp. Satanically awful.

"Nightmare on Elm Street" (Samuel Bayer, 2010)
Wes Craven has had pretty good luck with remakes of his films – both "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Last House on the Left" turned out to be lively takes on the original material – but the "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake, shepherded by the folks at Michael Bay-run production company Platinum Dunes (who also remade "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Hitcher," "Friday the 13th," and "The Amityville Horror") – was an out-and-out disaster. What made "Nightmare on Elm Street" particularly unforgiveable was that it was released in an era when, thanks to modern technology, literally anything is possible; the nightmares and dreamscapes of "Nightmare on Elm Street" could have far surpassed anything previously envisioned in the franchise (or anywhere else for that matter). Instead, director Samuel Bayer (who helmed the influential "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video for Nirvana) and screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, turned in a remake that was gravely unoriginal, neither expanding nor improving on Craven's beloved 1984 feature. Future girl with the dragon tattoo Rooney Mara plays the Nancy character, who is menaced in her sleep by Freddy Kruger (Jackie Earle Haley, playing a burnt up version of his character from "Little Children"), a child murderer her parents killed many years earlier. The dream sequences lack visual splendor (Tarsem's underrated, uneven "The Cell," released a decade earlier, is still more impressive), the script is humorless and dull, and, most damningly, it isn't scary at all. In fact, it's a total snooze.

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  • Flu-Bird | June 6, 2014 7:20 PMReply

    They remake a classic horror film and add the usial Blood and Gore Whats with these fools?

  • 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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