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The 5 Best & 5 Worst Horror Movie Remakes

Features
by Drew Taylor
April 2, 2013 12:01 PM
20 Comments
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"The Fog" (Rupert Wainwright, 2005)
The original "The Fog" isn't exactly the crown jewel in the John Carpenter oeuvre, but it is commendable and quite scary – it's sort of like a Robert Altman movie mixed with an Irwin Allen disaster thing; a small scale drama of intersecting, sometimes overlapping plotlines and malevolent spirits (back from the past to exact their revenge). Typical of Carpenter, the original film is shot beautifully and features a wonderful cast of characters that included Adrienne Barbeau -- who Carpenter was having an affair with at the time -- Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook. For the remake, which Carpenter and his co-writer (and wife at the time of the original "Fog") Debra Hill produced, and the loose structure of "The Fog" remains – an odd, milky vapor overtakes the small coastal town of Antonia Bay and people start mysteriously dying – but everything else has been replaced, gutted, or substantially underplayed. A lame, PG-13 movie that toothlessly depicts the murders and minimizes any sexual activity, "The Fog" was a slog, through and through. The digital effects pale in comparison to the practical ones from 1980 and Wainwright, a limp horror director more notable for his appearance on "The Millionaire Matchmaker," can't manage to make any of the scares or gags connect in any kind of meaningful way. It doesn't help that the ghostly pirates were thoroughly outclassed by the "Pirates of the Caribbean" two years earlier. Shiver me timbers!

The Haunting” (Jan De Bont, 1999)
For a while there it looked like Jan de Bont, the cinematographer-turned-director behind two of the nineties' most exhilarating thrill rides ("Speed" and "Twister") would be one of Hollywood's next great directors – he had an uncanny sense of pacing and spatial geography and his movies zipped along with moments of genuine awe and wonder. And then he closed out the decade with "The Haunting"… a movie so laboriously overwrought you can practically hear it sag under the weight of its opulent sets and revised-to-death screenplay. Ostensibly, it's a remake of the 1963 black-and-white haunted house romp "The Haunting," directed by Robert Wise and notable for the fact that the film's conclusion leaves the possibility open that everything that transpired beforehand was the work of psychological, and not paranormal, demons. There's no room for ambiguity in the new 'Haunting,' because it's so overstuffed with loud noises, blatantly provocative, and goosed-up with clumsy visual effects. What makes "The Haunting" even more lamentable is the fact that at one point it was supposed to be a more faithful adaptation of the source material ("The Haunting of Hill House" by "Lottery" author Shirley Jackson), to be written by Stephen King and directed by Steven Spielberg (the project fell apart over strained creative differences). The failure of "The Haunting" effectively killed de Bont's career, directing a single film (2003's "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life") since the critical and commercial drubbing "The Haunting" received. "Speed" still rules, though.

The Wicker Man” (Neil LaBute, 2006)
Fuck. Where to begin? The original "Wicker Man," released in 1973 and directed by British weirdo Robin Hardy (the script was written by Anthony Shaffer of "Sleuth" fame), is largely considered the "Citizen Kane" of horror films, a movie that's so sophisticated, elegant, and smart that few could ever top it. Which makes sense that Neil LaBute, a man of seemingly limitless ego, would attempt to remake it (attempt being the key word). While the original was a sharply spiritual affair, with a Christian constable investigating a disappearance on a pagan island, something that rattles every belief in him, the remake is more nebulous and aloof. Again a policeman (this time played by wholly unhinged Nicolas Cage) goes to investigate a disappearance, and again it's on a pagan island, but the island is off the coast of Washington state (um spooky?) and instead of weird sex stuff and questionable, cult-y practices, Cage finds a bunch of women who are basically running an island-sized version of the feminist book shop from "Portlandia." LaBute's ugly misogyny has never been so loudly on display, and Cage's performance is the stuff of a thousand YouTube "best of" videos, which normally include bits of a sequence where he's trapped in a mask filled with bees, another where he's dressed up in a giant bear suit, one where he's yelling about a burnt doll and yet another where he punches a woman, for no apparent reason. Offensively dopey and dopily offensive, "The Wicker Man" is what happens when you don't leave well enough alone (although Hardy didn't either, he released a bizarre sequel in 2011).

Of course, any list like this is littered with corpses of the almost-good-enough, which includes Matt Reeves' excellent remake of "Let the Right One In," this one entitled “Let Me In” (2010), a movie that retrains the original's period setting but shifts the vampiric action from snowy Sweden to equally snowy New Mexico; “Night of the Living Dead" (1990) directed by Tom Savini, is an interesting remake that's almost essential (mostly for Savini's outrageous make-up effects and the fact that original director George Romero rewrote his original script without the help of John Russo); “Last House on the Left” (2009) a remake of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham's shocking 1972 original, doesn't have quite the same visceral oomph but it does have an unexpectedly wicked sense of humor; “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (2009), a stereoscopic remake of the 1981 slasher classic, throws subtlety out the window (an entire sequence features a woman fighting with a lover, then running in terror, all while completely naked) but the most part it works; Gus Van Sant’s much-berated 1998 “Psycho” remake is an ambitious, lovably bizarre contraption that doesn't deserve half the heat it got; the Platinum Dunes' 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” goes for the earthy grittiness of the 1973 original but comes away slick, still, it's pretty intense; Stephen Sommers took a retro adventure take on the 1932 original, and the resulting “Mummy” (1999) was a total blast; Breck Eisner's “The Crazies” (2010) isn't quite as confrontationally political as Romero's 1973 original but it is more streamlined; Glen Morgan and James Wong were responsible for two of the more underrated remakes – the rat-tastic remake of “Willard” (2003) and a more breathlessly splattery take on “Black Christmas” (2006); and if you have to watch one Japanese horror remake that isn't "The Ring," it might as well be "The Grudge" (2004), produced by Raimi and Tapert and directed by the original's Takashi Shimizu.

In the "best buried in a deep, deep grave" contenders, we have the witless 2009 remake of "The Stepfather," this time swapping out the subversive political commentary for Amber Heard strutting around in a bunch of bikinis; "One Missed Call" (2008) and "Pulse" (2006), two of the more horrendous Japanese horror remakes ("Pulse" was originally supposed to be directed by Wes Craven, who still shares a screenplay credit); "The Hills Have Eyes 2" (2007) is ostensibly a sequel to the superb Alexandre Aja remake and a remake itself of the original film's sequel, although after the mutant rape sequence it all became a blur to us; "Prom Night" (2008) is a humorless remake that doubles as the longest 88 minute horror movie we've probably ever seen; "When A Stranger Calls" (2006) swaps out eerie simplicity for amped-up thrills, to decidedly unspectacular effect; "Carnival of Souls" (1998) tries to capture what was so magical and unsettling about the 1932 original and fails miserably; and a special shout-out goes to almost all of the remakes from Platinum Dunes (including "The Hitcher" and "Friday the 13th") and Dark Castle ("Thirteen Ghosts," "House on Haunted Hill") – you filled them with cute young people but not nearly enough scares.

"Evil Dead" opens on Friday. Might be a good idea to bring a plastic sheet, like you're going to a Gallagher show.

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20 Comments

  • 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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