Just after Scene-Stealers panned Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” (a nice discussion about the movie is brewing right here, by the way) and since I included two horror movies (one from this list) on a list of Top 10 Pointless Remakes, we have received a passionate plea for respect of the modern horror remake pandemic. Bill Heinen has jumped into the fray, defending these films on his own terms, and has produced this list of the Top 10 Best Modern Horror Remakes. If you have a list you’d like to contribute, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s Bill:
Well, here we are right after opening weekend for both “The Final Destination” and “Halloween II” and just before my favorite cinematic time of the year: the Fall, or as I like to call it, “horror season.” After both thriving and then dying in the 80s, only to be resurrected (somewhat, but never to the extent of the 80s) in the mid 90s, slasher films are back, and remakes of some classic slashers are popping up all over the place. (If you’re really into the history of the slasher, I recommend “Going to Pieces,” one of the best horror docs I’ve ever seen.)
In just the past five years, we’ve had three classic horror films – including the father of all slashers – completely overhauled with a sleeker, glossier, and one could easily say, sexier approach. And there are plenty more coming, including a new take on Freddy Krueger as more a pedophile and less a dream-monster in the upcoming “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and Shannon Elizabeth playing every horror nerd’s favorite party hostess, Angela, in the “Night of the Demons” remake. I’ve been looking into a lot of online rumors about horror remakes that are yet to come, including Raimi’s absolutely fantastic cult classic “The Evil Dead,” to a new, improved Chucky in a “Child’s Play” remake. And, like me, most horror fans are somewhat irritated, hoping producers shouldn’t tread on films that are far from perfect, and yet perfect in their own ridiculous ways.
I personally am a huge fan of cheesy 80s horror films – you know, the ones with zero plot, fake-looking blood all over the screen, a lot of barely-clad coeds, and someone with a vendetta, a power-saw, a screwdriver, a drill, and of course, the ol’ standby, a nice big knife. That said, because I’m such a fan of these films, and by no means a tenured film critic, I have to give Hollywood some credit for at least making some interesting remakes that may not do the original film justice, but are a bloody good time in their own right. So, because we have plenty more to look forward to (or dread, depending on where you stand when it comes to these movies), here’s a list of my top 10 horror remakes thus far. Final Note: I am not going to dive into the plots of most of these, just my reasons for thinking they are decent remakes. Enjoy, and bring on the comments.
10. Shutter (2008)
Yes, Joshua Jackson is in a horror film. Yes, it is a remake of a Japanese horror flick, and many horror connoisseurs claim that Japanese horror is the best horror. I am definitely not one of them. And yes, this movie has some wonderfully creepy moments. One thing I loved about this very underrated movie is that the ghost isn’t grotesquely scary, i.e. “The Ring” or “The Grudge”; faces don’t get morphed into frozen expressions of sheer terror. The film is a little more subtle than that. Instead, we get (pardon the expression) snapshots of a supernatural nature. In the vein of films such as “Stir of Echoes” and “What Lies Beneath,” our photo-friendly ghost leaves clues for Jackson’s wife, helping her discover an ugly truth about her husband’s past. It is kind of predictable, but the moments of discovery in this film are actually unsettling, culminating in Jackson’s realization at the end that the source of his neck pain is more than just a bad mattress. I could watch that scene again and again. Not a great film, but good enough to hit number 10 on the list.
9. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Just so we’re clear, I am talking about the remake directed by Tom Savini (the makeup and effects god of horror/slasher cinema), not the horribly crappy 3D version that should have never, ever been made. Savini knows horror; he’s had a hand in tons of slashers since the original “Friday the 13th,” and he understands what this kind of audience wants: blood, and lots of it. There are plenty of heads lopped off, limbs scattered and flung around, and, of course, zombies ravenously eating the living. Barbara isn’t a neurotic nut-job like she is in Romero’s classic; instead, she’s blowing away zombies left and right, taking charge of the situation and calling out orders like a platoon sergeant. While I think the original is probably one of the best horror films ever made, Savini had fun with this and it shows.
8. Quarantine (2008)
This one is actually closest to its source material, the Spanish film “[Rec].” If you haven’t seen the original, check it out. Even with subtitles, it’s fantastic. I saw this movie in a huge theatre and made the mistake of sitting in the front row. I can handle rollercoasters just fine, and this film, at that vantage point, made me dizzy as hell. When I rented it and watched it from the comfort of my couch, I realized it really is pretty dizzying regardless. But so is the original. Like “28 Days Later,” one of the best zombie films ever made (and completely redefined the genre, but that is for another discussion), this movie deals with an infection that rapidly spreads and immediately changes one’s nature as opposed to having the dead rise from their graves in search of tasty flesh. A fair amount of violence and gore, a LOT of jump scares (which I still think are the best kind), and plenty of terrifying night-vision episodes of cat-and-mouse, hunter-and-the-hunted sort of thing. I liked it a lot more than I expected to, so it makes the cut at number 8.
7. Last House on the Left (2009)
OK, so the original somehow, and I have no idea how, seemed so much more tame after viewing this remake. Probably because it was filmed in 1972 and there were a lot of barriers that Wes Craven couldn’t cross, as groundbreaking as it was. I can barely stand to watch rape onscreen, and LHOTL’s unrated version had a pretty long rape, the worst part being that instead of explicitly showing the event, we hear it, we see the sweat and dirt on the victim’s forehead and chin, her knuckles fruitlessly grasping at leaves, and the rapist’s son watching with a blend of horror, guilt, and the calm of a Zen monk. You can feel this scene, and it’s gut-wrenching. I don’t want to sound like a sadist here, but watching the murders of the rapist’s friends later is actually a lot of fun, his brother’s death being my favorite (a bottle of wine and a hammer in the head, plus a few fingers in the kitchen sink? awesome. fucking awesome). Yes, the ending is lame (and by that I mean the going off into the sunrise and ‘everything’s gonna be ok’ part, NOT the microwaved face, which was great), but it works overall.
6. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
I really don’t need to justify this being number 6 on the list, I just need to say two words: zombie baby. That’s right, a fuckin’ screaming, shitting, flesh-eating zombie baby. This movie didn’t have the sociological commentary like the original (claiming consumers are much like zombies, people in death do what they did in life, as in shop compulsively without knowing why, etc.), but what it did have was a lot of action. And I mean a LOT. The movie starts with a bang, probably one of my favorite horror intros ever, and only lets up a few times when everyone is in the mall doing somewhat “human” things. The escape from the mall in the armored truck with chainsaws taking out body parts all over the place was pretty great too. And Sarah Polley is not too hard to look at, especially when she’s kicking undead ass.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Leatherface is one of the most mysterious horror icons. He apparently is the product of a bunch of ass-backward inbred butchers who decided a while back to stay in a deserted Texas town and murder and eat anyone unlucky enough to stumble across their way. Still, it’s never explained what prompts this individual to wear other people’s faces or hunt them down with a chainsaw – a very heavy, not-too-pragmatic murder weapon. The remake came out 29 years after the original, and while the first had plenty of scary, shocking moments, this one beats it with more violence, more gore, and waaaayyyy more cruelty. Slamming a bag of salt on an amputated leg while hanging him on a meathook … ouch. The movie had a lot of chases, with Jessica Biel having to run and fight with all she has. By the end, after the ordeal she’s had, after seeing her boyfriend’s peeled face hanging off his killer’s head, after killing her friend to ease his pain, it’s actually somewhat believable that she becomes such a badass and kills the fuck out of the sheriff. This is truly one of those very rare horror remakes that I ended up liking more than the original.
4. My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)
This remake is a LOT of fun, and it is, without a doubt, the best 3D horror film ever made. Not like that’s saying a ton, but it’s something. Just like the original, the town thinks Harry Warden is dead and gone, and then the murders start up all over again. And in both films, the killer isn’t Harry at all (well, in the beginning of both films it is, but not at the conclusion). So the remake kept that part of the original … and that’s about it. The deaths in the original were more left up to the viewer’s imagination, whereas in the remake, through 3D lenses, we get to view eyeballs popping out, guts being strewn all over porches, and pickaxes flying towards us. It’s violent as all hell, it’s reckless and gory, and it’s basically a lot of running and killing. My kind of movie.
3. Halloween II (2009)
I am not pleased with two things in this movie, so I’m gonna list those first:
1. The first scene. It really doesn’t set the stage well. It showcases some bad acting from Sheri Moon Zombie, and the young Michael isn’t as evil-looking as Daeg from Zombie’s “Halloween.”
2. The mother/son Freudian thing and the Jungian/archetype thing with the white horse. Just didn’t work for me one bit. I thought it was pretty much a waste of time, though I guess it somewhat explained Myers’ purpose.
OK, that being said, I loved this movie. Now, I am biased, as I think Rob Zombie is the best horror director out there today, but it was fucking fantastic. As with his first “Halloween,” you really feel the force of Myers’ stabs, and it’s impressive and scary just how strong and powerful he is. Somehow, Zombie makes it hurt to watch, and it is graphic, but only for glimpses and seconds at a time. The original “Halloween II” (1981) took place entirely in a dimly-lit hospital with Jamie Lee Curtis basically hiding the entire time. It was somewhat scary, but not nearly as much as the first film. Though the hospital scene in Zombie’s is about 10 minutes long, it is by far scarier and more realistic than original director Rick Rosenthal’s. When she is stuck in the guard’s booth in the rainy dead of the night and Michael is slashing away at the walls, it’s hard not to feel how helpless Laurie really is. Annie’s death scene may be one of the most tragically sad and horrific scenes in the series, and her murder isn’t even completely shown onscreen. Laurie’s transformation from all-American good girl to understanding her true roots (“Angel O Myers”) is fairly devastating and uncomfortable, and you feel more empathy for her than any other Zombie character, in my opinion. Finally, this film will piss off a LOT of horror fans, or fans of Rob Zombie; it’s not simply a slasher movie, it’s a very artistic/archetypal/symbolic version of a slasher movie. That being said, I thought it was done in a beautifully horrific manner, with some shots that are hauntingly pulchritudinous.
2. Friday the 13th (2009)
OK, I might get some shit for the final two on my list, but I don’t care. There are plenty of reasons why I feel this remake was fantastic, and I’ll start with what my favorite kinds of horror films are all about: lots of breasts, lots of deaths. This movie was not only a damn good rehash of Crystal Lake massacres, it was basically a 90-minute homage to past films of the series. Instead of Jason’s mother being the killer throughout the entire movie, we see her for about a minute during the opening credits … and then we see her lose her head. I’ve talked to tons of my horror-nerd friends and we all agree that Jason is the centerpiece of the “Friday the 13th” world, not his mother, and we get both versions of Jason: potato-sack Jason, and of course, hockey-mask Jason. I’d say about half of the deaths in this film, while creative in their own right, definitely borrowed from previous films, which really excited me. Throughout my first viewing I kept thinking about how he jumped through the glass in part 5, how he used a bow and arrow (well, a harpoon really) in part 3, how he used a sleeping bag to kill someone in part 6, etc. It really was a lot of fun, and that’s what this franchise really is all about. Well, fun and buckets of blood, I suppose, but Glenn Danzig put it best when he was singing for Samhain as he chanted, “All murder, all guts, all fun.” Another thing I loved about this remake was that Jason was presented more as a highly-skilled hunter defending his land, and he defends it with a brutal force. Hell of a flick.
1. Halloween (2007)
I’m going to begin my explanation for our number one on the list by telling you all what my good friend and fellow horror guru (he actually knows WAY more about horror films than I) Kevin said after we left the theatre: “I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and most of them in theatres, and I have never felt the way I feel right now after a movie. I have never seen something like that on screen.” And I couldn’t agree more. Rob Zombie gives us a brilliant retelling of not only the events in Carpenter’s classic boogeyman feature, but he allows us to understand that Michael Myers’ homicidal tendencies are not the result of a pagan curse or astrological anomalies (see “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers”), it simply stems from an intensely fucked-up childhood. Malcolm McDowell was a genius choice for Dr. Loomis, played originally by the great Donald Pleasance, and he was a drawing point for many people that may not have gone to see this movie for any other reason. The movie is completely unapologetic, it is brutally in-your-face, and it doesn’t let up. At all. From young Myers beating a fellow classmate to death with a large stick to adult Myers chasing his sister through a decrepit, abandoned home, tearing up floorboards and constantly slashing inches behind her, this movie is incredibly intense. Of all the horror franchises, the “Halloween” films are my favorite. Something about Michael Myers is less hokey than Jason, less comical and silly than Freddy Krueger; he’s just evil incarnate, and he doesn’t even show a passion for killing. He simply kills. Zombie may not have used too much suspense or tension or cat-and-mouse tactics that made the original such a joy to watch, but he makes up for it with a sadistic intensity that I don’t believe any remake so far has matched.