With the remake of the iconic ‘80s campy horror/comedy film Fright Night just around the corner, I’m thinking about the good and bad of horror remakes. Usually these are looked down upon (for good reason), but there have been a few noteworthy horror remakes that actually improved upon the original instead of butchering it. That leads me to today’s list; the Top Ten Best Horror Movie Remakes.
1. The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best horror movies ever made, hands down, much less a remake. It’s a sci-fi horror set in the sub-zero temperatures of a remote Antarctic research station. When an alien force that can shape-shift gets lose in the compound, everyone is a suspect. Kurt Russell led an impressive all-male cast in this 1982 horror classic.
The original, The Thing from Another World, was a 1950’s sci-fi/horror that features monster effects akin to lower budget schlock pics of that period like Attack of the Crab Monsters. And looking back on it with modern eyes, it’s more campy than probably intended. The alien is dug up by a crack research team, and a smug know-it-all professor fights to keep the “plant-based” life form alive for research. But of course.
While the original is fun enough, in its way, it’s doesn’t stand up to Carpenter’s tense, slow-build horror. And the remake boasts of some of the most gruesome and frightening special effects of any horror I’ve seen, past or present. The bleak landscape becomes another force acting against the human contingent, and thus another layer to the horror element of the film. Still another layer is the dynamic between the survivors, who all begin to suspect one another and can trust no one in what becomes a very individual struggle for survival. This is a classic horror, and a remake that outshines the original.
In an interesting aside, The Thing is about to get remade again. A remake of this remake is set to hit theaters this October.
2. The Hills Have Eyes
This is a disturbing mutant cannibal blood-fest, with a tension-fraught remake that definitely improves upon the original. The original, from horror master Wes Craven, lacked the subtlety of French director Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake.
Aja’s remake brought audiences tighter, sleeker violence and a slow-build tension that actually paid off in a blood-splattered final act. The original Hills Have Eyes didn’t have very mutant looking cannibals, despite the odd physiognomy of horror regular Michael Berryman, who played the disturbing Pluto in the 1977 version. It also lacked the remake’s production values, and had an empty austerity that took away from the film.
3. The Fly
Under the deft touch of yet another maven of the horrific and bizarre, David Cronenberg, the remake of The Fly is better known than the original and that’s a very large compliment. It’s a feat because the 1958 original is iconic in some ways, like the famous last scene when the fly/man is caught in a spider’s web, and the fact that the original starred iconic gentleman of horror, Vincent Price.
All that said, the 1986 remake is a new classic in its own right. Cronenberg can create a twisted and unsettling atmosphere with the best of them, and the special effects are much more realistic and believable in the remake than the original. With the grotesque and disturbing Videodrome and Scanners under his belt, it’s no surprise that Cronenberg brought some eerie realism and graphic tech-gore to The Fly, making it a new classic.
4. The Ring
This movie scared the crap out of me when I first saw it, and I didn’t even realize The Ring I was watching in 2002 was a remake. The early 2000s saw a whole slew of American remakes of Japanese horror pics, and in general I have preferred the remakes each time. The Ring stands out as one of the best adaptations, with some bizarre visuals and creepy filming techniques.
The original, Ringu, is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. Done only a few years earlier than the American remake, its popularity is what led to the Western adaptation. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. But director Gore Verbinski (Rango) brought some great imagery, a bleak atmosphere and heart-pumping horror to the remake, as well as some story tweaking to make the film more accessible to American audiences.
5. Dawn of the Dead
There are plenty of legendary horror filmmakers in this list, and George Romero is certainly not the least among them. He brought zombies to the public stage with his seminal zombie horror Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Then he proceeded to make a number of sequels, one of which has been remade and improved upon.
1978’s Dawn of the Dead, like its predecessor, is rife with social conscience and not-so-subtle metaphor. That being said, it has a terrible cheesy soundtrack full of typical ‘70s exploitation tunes and groovy mixes, and it also looks dated with low production values.
Director Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake isn’t so heavy-handed with the social messages of racism and consumerism, but it is one of the best zombie apocalypse pics around, and is in a class above the source material.
After a group of survivors hole up in a mall, things spiral out of control (as they tend to do when zombies are involved). Snyder went on to direct 300 after Dawn of the Dead, but the two films couldn’t be more different. Synder kept it old school with Dawn of the Dead, as far as filming techniques and style. And the film wouldn’t have been so successful without a truly great script and modernized story by writer/director James Gunn (creator of the quirky DIY superhero pic Super).
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Ok, the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a cult classic, I can’t explain that away. But Leatherface got a needed updating in 2003 with a remake that outdoes the original in more than a few categories.
In 1974 Tobe Hooper scared the crap out of audiences all across America with his film of incestuous cannibals in rural Texas. They just don’t eat innocent detoured travelers, they psychologically torture and mutilate them. The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had Leatherface chasing down teens in a real-people face mask, and achieved iconic horror status doing it.
But the remake, helmed by Marcus Nispel and written by experienced horror scribe Scott Kosar (The Crazies, The Machinist), is sleeker and fills out the original story. Nispel has a knack for smooth and impressive violence and gore, giving his horror action a certain poetry lacking in the original. The story in the remake is also filled out and given some better dialogue, and thus has a depth lacking in the first grab’n’stab movie.
If the name Nispel sounds familiar, it’s probably because he has another remake about to hit theaters in Conan the Barbarian.
7. The Amityville Horror
Here’s another cult classic. The original 1979 Amityville Horror saw a family ravaged by an evil house, and gave birth to a new sub-genre of possessed house pics. I might go so far as to even say it’s a quintessential horror movie. All that being so, the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds was a slight improvement on the original, and a needed modernization of this devil/cult horror pic.
The original has some pacing issues; an overly slow build and a hurried conclusion. It also has a suffocating religious atmosphere that aids in some respects when it comes to the devil/cult storyline, but also keeps it dated and heavy.
The remake had a bigger budget, so visually there’s an improvement already. Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) wrote the screenplay, and his experience in writing horror pics proves itself with a sleek story and improved dialogue. The special effects are creepier in the updating, and the story better paced. It’s just eerier than the original, and has more scares, so for me it’s a horror remake that works.
8. House on Haunted Hill
The next two items on the list are both based on 1950’s spook fests that needed updating and aren’t hurt in the translation. House on Haunted Hill came out in 1999, and had some great spooky effects, fabulous atmosphere, and a creepy mental-asylum-gone-bad storyline. The original 1959 version starred Vincent Price, so again some iconic star power. But then again, the remake starred Geoffrey Rush, an Academy-Award winner. Plus, the remake was sleeker, had better special effects, and was just plain scarier.
9. Thirteen Ghosts
Here’s the partner to the above mentioned film. It came out around the same time, and is an updating of the 1960 film 13 Ghosts, which looks like an amateur video in comparison to the sleek 2001 remake starring Tony Shalhoub.
The stories are similar and surround a house haunted by ghosts that can be seen by wearing special goggles. But whereas the original had amateur effects and awkward scenes, the remake is a well-oiled big budget horror pic with great CG and practical effects, as well as some awesome set designs and a needed modernization of the basic story.
10. The Blob
Most people don’t realize that the sometimes cheesy ‘80’s film The Blob is actually a remake of an even cheesier 1959 film which has the same title and starred Steve McQueen. The original actually opens with a “Beware of the Blob” theme song, which sets a campy mood that is belied by some subtle scares.
The ‘88 remake starring Kevin Dillon has plenty of camp as well, but better practical effects and some of that ‘80s style that makes that decade’s horror so compelling and fun. The blob, a jelly-like alien life form that absorbs people and gets bigger and bigger, goes on a killing spree in the sequel with teens trying to stop it instead of the “older” teens of the original. This little change gives it more of that hip ‘80s feel that may not age well, but is a lot of fun to watch.
That’s the end of the list, and by number ten I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Remakes/reboots are a dime a dozen these days, and nothing iconic or otherwise is sacred. If it’s not bad enough that they’re remaking great films that have withstood the test of time, the remakes are rarely as good as the originals.
This list has the best of the best as far as remakes that outdo the originals, but like I said, it was hard to find ten of these remake rarities. Here’s hoping Fright Night challenges the norm when it comes to horror remakes, but I‘m not holding my breath.