This weekend’s release of the new Fright Night has already got the blood boiling of numerous horror fans and columnists, many of whom are acting like remaking Tom Holland’s 1985 classic is somehow akin to raping their mother while punching their dog in the face (or vice versa). With that in mind, I figure it’s time to share a little something about myself:
My name is Trevor Snyder, and I am a horror fan that fully supports and encourages remakes.
Now, I realize that probably doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to those of you who are not die-hard horror fanatics. But believe me; I might as well have just shouted “FUCK YOU” to a large contingent of genre fans. If there’s one thing that modern horror fans love, it’s getting worked up about remakes. Trust me. Or better yet, see for yourself. Jump on any horror site and post in the message boards about how your favorite horror movie is one of the recent “re-imaginings” from Platinum Dunes. NOTE: I am not responsible for what happens to you afterwards.
Again, you might be wondering – why? Well, it has a lot to with the fact that the horror fan community is one of the most annoyingly proprietary around. I know that sounds harsh, so before going any further let me just assure you that any fan of horror – even those whose views differ from mine – is in my cool book. If you’re a supporter of the genre, than you are my blood-brother or sister, and I’ll gladly talk horror with you given the chance. But, still, let’s face it, a lot of genre fans do get a little too defensive about the direction their favorite franchises are taken, often suggesting they know better than anyone (including the filmmakers themselves) how things should be done. That kind of passion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in many cases they might even be right (heck, I’m fairly positive that given the resources, I could have delivered a better Nightmare on Elm Street remake than Samuel Bayer). But it still goes a long way towards explaining why they get so angry about the idea of remakes.
Look, I know what I’m talking about, because I used to be one of those fans. That’s right…I still remember how I felt when I first heard about the big-budget remakes of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To say “incensed” would be an understatement. How dare Hollywood put its grubby mitts all over two of the finest independent horror films ever made! Of course, I still had to go see the new versions – if for no other reason than to see for myself how bad the butcher-job was and bitch about it for months afterwards– but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it. So twice I grudgingly hiked into the theater, and…well, twice I walked out thinking “well, that wasn’t so bad.” In fact, I quite liked both of them.
Now, let me be clear – I’m not suggesting the Dawn or Chainsaw remakes surpass the originals. Not even close. But they are perfectly fine films in their own right. Zack Snyder’s Dawn eschewed the consumerist satire of George Romero’s original, but amped up the action to create one of the most viscerally exciting zombie films ever. Meanwhile, many (including me) feared the Michael Bay-produced Chainsaw remake – with its way-too-good-looking young cast – would be a Scream-esque take on Tobe Hooper’s gritty original.
As it turned out, however, it was at the time one of the most intense, hard-edged mainstream horror films to come along in years. In fact, the Chainsaw remake might just be the film that started swinging the horror pendulum back to brutal hard-R films after a decade’s worth of increasingly watered-down Scream wannabes. It finally returned the sort of hopeless feeling of dread that many fans dig to the genre – which might help explain why Roger Ebert blasted it as a “contemptible film: vile, ugly, and brutal,” that only wanted to”cause disgust and hopelessness in the audience.” This was a particularly odd complaint, I thought (especially coming from Ebert, who has praised the original film). I remember reading it and thinking, “well, yeah…is that really a bad thing when you’re talking about a horror movie?”
So, after having my initial negative feelings about remakes blasted away by these two films, I was forced to reassess my overall opinion on the whole issue. It wasn’t immediate, but over time, I came to a whole new conclusion, one that I still hold today. Not only do I no longer take issue with the idea of remaking classic horror films, but for the most part I support it. And yes, I am prepared to explain why.
First, though, I thought it might be interesting to examine some of the most common arguments critics always throw out against horror remakes, and offer my takes on why they are flawed.
”They’re destroying the originals!”
This is probably the most frequent complaint. You can’t announce a remake of anything without some fanboy whining about how the new filmmakers are “pissing all over my childhood” or some such nonsense. I get it…kinda. That is how I originally felt about the Dawn and Chainsaw remakes. But then a funny thing happened. After seeing them, I came home, checked my DVD shelves, and…*GASP*…the originals were still there!! What a shocking turn of events! It turns out that when somebody does a remake, they don’t first track down and destroy every copy of the original film! You wouldn’t know this is the case from listening to angry fans, but I’ve done the research, and it’s true. The original films do still exist, and are just as great as ever, even after they are remade. What a relief, huh?
”Only high-profile directors should do remakes.”
When arguing the merits of remakes with those who hate them, there will inevitably come that moment when you can temporarily trump them by pointing out films like John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Paul Schrader’s Cat People, or Phillip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. No self-respecting horror fan would dare have anything bad to say about any of those efforts. In fact, many would agree that they are better than the originals. So, instead, they might fall back on the argument that these remakes were OK because they were done by true artists, not the former music-video/first-time feature directors who seem to helm most of the remakes today. Man, does this argument piss me off.
I mean, let’s put aside how ridiculously elitist it is, and instead just focus on the stupidity of the statement. Really? Only the true visionaries of cinema should be allowed to remake something like Friday the 13th or April Fool’s Day? Hey, I’ll be first to admit the remakes listed above are great because they were helmed by amazingly creative filmmakers. But does that really mean only directors of their ilk should be allowed to put new spins on old favorites?
I have a couple problems with this logic. For one thing, it’s imposing an absurdly high standard on the genre. The notion that only a brilliant filmmaker should be allowed to remake Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance, sort of ignores the fact that Tobe Hooper is not exactly a brilliant filmmaker himself. Don’t get me wrong, Texas Chainsaw Massacre might just be the most effective horror film ever made. But how much of that was pure filmmaking skill from Hooper, and how much of it was just a perfect storm of every element coming together perfectly while filming, even to the degree of almost being a fluke? Those of you familiar with the making of that movie might already already know the answer, but one look at Hooper’s post-Chainsaw filmography (as much as I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Life Force, and Poltergeist), might help seal it.
And that’s me talking about an original film that is an undisputed classic (Chainsaw, not Crocodile). More often, you will hear horror fans acting as if it’s a travesty something like Friday the 13th or even April Fool’s Day is being remade, without stopping to ask themselves if the original is really as good as they prefer to think, or if they are just fondly remembering the impact it had on them at the time, more than its actual quality as a film.
My other problem with this argument is its exclusionary vibe. One of the great things about the horror genre has always been its development of exciting new talent. So why only allow already well-known directors to tinker around with its classics? In many cases, the original films being remade came from inexperienced, first-time directors. Why not allow similar newbies to take a shot at them as well? Look, I’ll agree that it’s probably better for a new director to make his or her name with their own original idea, but the genre just isn’t the same today as it was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Nowadays, it’s often easier for a new filmmaker to get a crack at a remake or sequel then it is for them to get the funding for a bold new idea. Maybe that’s a shame, but it’s the truth, and I for one don’t want to demand that they start refusing these remake jobs, and perhaps deny the emergence of the next great genre filmmaker in the process. At the end of the day, unknown directors have just as much reverence for their favorite movies as famous directors do. If Joe Schmoe really wants to pay homage to an old classic with his own personal take on it, then so be it.
”It represents the lack of creativity in Hollywood.”
This is another one of those arguments that suffers from a simple lack of common-sense. People love to bitch about how the horror films that are getting the big releases now are always the crappy “looking-for-a-quick-buck” ones, but that has almost always been the case. Yeah, the ‘70s and ‘80s produced a few studio-backed classics, but for the most part the biggest and best horror films have always been independent ventures. Why would we suddenly want to change that? Horror is the renegade genre of the film-world, and its truly groundbreaking work should primarily come from outside the system. People like to act like there are no more great horror films simply because all they ever see at the multiplex are sequels and remakes. But these are folks who are just too lazy to go track down movies like The Signal, Mulberry Street, Stake Land, Midnight Meat Train, Splinter, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Black Death, Triangle, Dance of the Dead, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Hatchet, May or any number of other truly fun and captivating lesser-known horror films of recent years. The good stuff is out there, and half the fun of being a horror fan is discovering it. IfHollywood wants to throw us a bone and make a good horror film every now and then (like Drag Me to Hell), then that’s great. But we shouldn’t rely solely on them to do so.
And speaking of Drag Me to Hell, do you remember that movie? It was the high-profile return to horror of genre icon Sam Raimi? It was the thrilling antidote to all the studio remakes and sequels being cranked out? It was the chance for horror fans to finally put their money where their mouth is and support an actual quality scare-film instead of the same old crap? Remember that?
Now, remember how much it bombed?
Fans can whine all they want about how Hollywood doesn’t give them what they want, but look what happens when they do. Drag Me to Hell was one of the best horror films to grace theaters in years, and in the end it couldn’t even come close to competing with remakes of My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th, or a third Final Destination sequel. And don’t tell me it’s because the studio didn’t support it, because that movie was hyped to hell (pardon the pun). Sometimes a movie like Paranormal Activity comes along and blows up, proving that there is still a place for new kinds of genre fare. But, more often than not, the general audience would rather watch their favorite franchises continue or be re-imagined than try out something new. It’s just the way it is, and I can accept it. It doesn’t mean we are denied new original material. It just means you have to go out and find it, and that you then might end up sharing it only with a smaller group of truly dedicated fans. Call me crazy, but that kind of sounds like a good thing.
”The remake trend is holding back the good, original films.”
As already mentioned, there are still plenty of great new horror movies out there for those who want to find them. Would there suddenly be a lot more if studios stopped cranking out sequels and remakes? I doubt it. Some haters seem to operate under a deluded assumption that if these remakes weren’t being made, it would free up the filmmakers to make amazing original films instead. Well, who says? If somebody is making a crappy remake, chances are good they would just make crappy original films as well. There is no evidence to suggest the horror genre would see a significant upswing in awesome films if only studios cut back on the easy money-makers. We may remember certain eras fondly, but point to pretty much any given time in horror movie history, and I guarantee the ratio was probably something like 20% good movies and 80% awful ones. That’s the way it always was, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be. For every Drag Me to Hell, there are dozens of films like Dead Silence, Cursed or The Unborn – original, non-remakes that still suck balls. So, really, if that’s the case, why get bent out of shape over whether the crappy movies are remakes or not? Shit is shit no matter what.
”These remakes are nothing more than transparent attempts to make a quick buck.”
To this one I can only say, “uhhh, yeah….so what?” It amuses me to no end to hear so many fans complain that something like a Friday the 13th remake was just made to cash in on the franchise’s name value. Well, isn’t that exactly what every Friday the 13th film was? Let’s not act like these remakes are always dumping all over some sort of grand cinematic legacy. Believe it or not, a large part of the horror genre has always been about making a buck, even more so than artistic statement.
But, alright, I understand that sometimes the films being remade are of a higher quality than Friday the 13th, and I’m a little more willing to listen to this type of criticism when it’s concerning something like a new version of Suspiria or The Brood. But, let me approach it from a different angle. Even in these cases, the critics complain the filmmakers are just cashing in, and have no respect or affinity for the source material. But why do we always assume that’s the case? Sure, I have no doubt the studios themselves often sign off on these projects because they look like a sure profit. That’s what studios are supposed to do. What studio wants to lose money?
That said, just because the studio executives might not “get it,” that doesn’t necessarily mean the filmmakers they eventually attach to the project don’t as well. For instance, Michael Bay clearly didn’t understand what was so special about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as evidenced by his claims that the remake wouldn’t be about gore like Hooper’s film was. But, judging by their approach to the film and the final product, I believe Marcus Nispel and screenwriter Scott Kosar had a lot more respect for Hooper’s film than Bay did. And I think that’s often the case. Directors try to get attached to particular remake projects because they are fans of the original. I get that. There are certain movies that mean a lot to me (like the Vincent Price classic The Abominable Dr. Phibes) that, given the chance, I would love to to get to remake and put my own personal touch on. Not out of disrespect for the original, but exactly because I love it so much, and think it would be fun to offer my own take on those characters. It’s the same reason writers have continued to deliver stories of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Spiderman and numerous others, long after the original writers have had their say. It is not always a cynical cash grab…sometimes, it really is about admiration.
OK, so now that I’ve looked at some of the more prevalent criticisms of the remake trend, I suppose it’s time I offer up my opinions on why remakes are a positive thing.
It only helps the original films.
This is one that I think the detractors secretly understand, but don’t want to admit to themselves. Remakes not only do not destroy the originals, but in fact often serve to boost their profile. I’m willing to bet remakes of films like Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes and Fright Night not only create new horror fans, but also drive many to see the originals. A lot of those viewers probably wouldn’t have watched the originals if not for the newer versions. Whether or not they prefer the old or new version is irrelevant – the fact is the older movies get a little extra attention once remade, helping prevent certain films from being forgotten or unjustly ignored as they age. Plus, from a purely “selfish horror fan” perspective, remakes are also great because they often lead to brand new special editions of the original. Check out My Bloody Valentine, which undeservedly suffered from a lame bare-bones release until the 2009 3-D version led to the special edition DVD fans had always hoped for, complete with the infamous cut footage. If it takes a remake to dust off and polish up some of the lesser-known films, then that’s perfectly fine by me.
It’s good for business.
Yes, the horror genre is a business. Let’s not forget that. And, as I mentioned before, right now remakes and sequels tend to make money. You might not be happy about it, but as a horror fan it’s hard not to be happy just to see the genre thriving, plain and simple. Do you really think movies like Paranormal Activity would have been given a wide release if not for the recent success of some of the more derivative horror films? We all know money talks – that’s never going to change. But the good news is that as long as these movies are doing well, it creates a boom for the whole genre. I already said that there are plenty of well-done indie horror movies out there…and the reason they’re getting easier to find right now is because the recent surge in horror’s popularity has once again made the genre a highly profitable one. There’s a whole butterfly effect thing going on here. You might get annoyed that every ‘80s horror property is being remade, but as long as enough of those remakes do well, it convinces companies that maybe its worth their time to put out some smaller horror films in limited or straight-to-DVD releases.
The “Fairy-Tale Factor.”
This is my final and biggest reason for supporting horror remakes, one that you’ve already heard me go on and one about if you’ve been listening to the “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It” podcast, and I have Tobe Hooper to thank for it. I know I took some shots at him before, but truthfully I like Hooper; not just because he made one of my favorite movies, but because he always comes across like a genuinely funny and decent guy whenever I read an interview with him. And my impression of him only improved when I first heard him describe how he felt about the Chainsaw remake.
“I think the Chainsaw remake is very good and captures the spirit of the original film. It’s true to the tone of the original, to the point that it’s almost a companion piece….Yeah, it’s great….it’s different from the original, but it’s scary and it’s fun….it’s kind of like a Rashomon thing. It’s a different point of view.”
Not only was he pleased with the film, but he seemed almost flattered by it. He seemed to really dig that an idea of his was powerful enough to be re-visited years later, and I’m sure he loved the chance to see his vision filtered through the eyes of another filmmaker. But it was one thing in particular that he said that stuck with me – and I apologize for not remembering the exact quote, so I’m paraphrasing here – he compared Texas Chainsaw Massacre being remade to the multiple versions of Dracula that have been made. It seemed like he felt as if the Chainsaw remake was a sort of validation that Leatherface might just be worthy of that same sort of grand horror tradition. And I think he’s right.
Can we all agree that characters like Dracula and Frankenstein (the doctor and the monster) are not the icons they are solely because of the original novels by Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley? They became legendary because of their numerous media adaptations. There was something to their stories that enabled them to be done over and over again…and not many horror fans have ever complained about that.
Well, the horror-villains of today, while perhaps not as complex or memorable as Dracula or Frankenstein, are still this generation’s horror icons, and as such should be awarded the same sort of ability to be revisited with a fresh perspective from time to time. I’m not saying that every horror remake is going to do the original justice, or bring something new and original to the table that wasn’t there before. But there’s always the possibility that it will, and that’s why I no longer nay-say the general idea. Both Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven have embraced the idea of remaking their old films, because they recognize a simple fact (and I think Hooper might have actually said something along these lines, too) – horror films are today’s fairy tales (after all, what is Texas Chainsaw Massacre if not an incredibly twisted version of Hansel & Gretel?), The original fairy tales we know and love did not get their power just from their initial telling; their staying power and impact grew from being told over and over again, passed down from generation to generation, culture to culture, sometimes with slightly different plot-points, but always with the same basic heart of the idea.
If horror movies have become today’s fairy tales, then it only makes sense for there to be a generational re-telling of the classics. No, all the details won’t be the same each time…but that’s the point. This is not something to shun. Heck, horror fans should celebrate it. The very fact that horror is the only genre to remake its best movies as often as it does is a testament to the power of these stories, and their primal ability to shock and scare year after year. Characters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface and, heck, even Chucky have already started to enter the same sort of horror hall of fame as the classic Universal monsters. Given time (and let’s face it, there will be even more remakes of their original films in the years to come), they might just become as relevant as Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. That’s not to say you should tell their stories to the little ones when trying to put them to sleep. But it is to say that these characters will live on, most likely in various forms. That goes for all great (or sometimes just decent, or even terrible) horror movies – they need not be held up as some sort of untouchable relic, too important to update. I say bring ‘em out to play every couple decades or so, give ‘em a whole new spin. Why not? There was probably some one who was bothered that John Carpenter was doing a new version of The Thing because the original meant so much to them as a kid. Likewise, just because a film like Fright Night was important to you when you were young, doesn’t mean the remake of it won’t possibly be important to the future horror fans of tomorrow.
Don’t take this article to mean that I believe all horror remakes are good, or that they are always worth your time and money. I’m no idiot. I recognize a large number of these remakes have been awful (Prom Night, The Fog, The Hitcher, and When a Stranger Calls certainly come to mind). But I don’t mind that somebody made them. And that’s all I’m saying. I’m not telling you to like every remake that comes out…I’m just getting sick of people complaining about them even being made. You can continue to waste your time crying out against the onslaught of remakes, or you can just get over it, and treat them like any other type of horror movie (or movies in general) – skip the ones that look like shit, and try to enjoy the ones that are actually fun (The Blob (1988), My Bloody Valentine 3D, Pirahna 3D) and maybe even better than the original (The Hills Have Eyes, Willard, The Crazies). C’mon, remake haters, just put aside the anger and give it a try. There will still be new original horror movies waiting for you on the other side. I promise.
– – – – – Trevor Snyder
Also check out Jeff Goldblum’s Black Daughter, #1 – In Defense of Megan Fox at http://culturewedge.com/2011/06/28/jeff-goldblums-black-daughter-1-in-defense-of-megan-fox/