Breck Eisner’s The Crazies is coming out tomorrow, which is a remake of a horror film so little seen that most people don’t even realize it’s a remake (for the record, it’s a remake of a George Romero 1973 film). It’s one of about 100 horror movie remakes that have come out in the last century (most of those in the last decade or so). But hell if any of them are any damn good — it’s so bad, in fact, that my list of the top five horror movie remakes jumps the shark right after number four.
But why? Why hasn’t a studio been able to make very many decent horror movie remakes? It’s a fairly easy explanation, really. Horror films are low-risk investments, if they’re produced correctly . Most horror films will manage to eke out in the range of $30 to $60 million at the box office, but there’s a ceiling, too. Only a relatively small segment of the population will seek out horror movies, but that segment — by and large — isn’t that discriminating and they’ll go to almost any goddamn horror movie (I once belonged to that segment, and I was willing to sit through anything that had a little blood and violence in it). So, there’s a $30 million safety net for most horror films, but only a very small number — no matter who is attached — will actually break the $100 million mark. Therefore, budgets on horror movie films are limited to $10 to $20 million per picture (there are outliers, of course, but they are the exception).
All of which is to say: A top notch cast and a great director are hard to come by with horror movies. If you get lucky, you can grab an great up-and-comer on the cheap, or maybe an A-list director will pity-fuck a horror movie in between blockbusters because he’s never been able to rid himself of that horror boner (thank you Sam Raimi). And the cast? Forget about it. Nameless, faceless nobodies. And what happens if you put a big name in a horror movie? More often than not, it’s a waste of your money (see Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman in The Invasion) or it’s a moot point (John Cusack and Sam Jackson probably added enough to the 1408 box-office tally to make up the difference between what the movie made with them, and what it would’ve made without them).
So you see the business predicament: Horror movies are easy money, as long as you do them on the cheap. And doing them on the cheap means you’re likely to get a bad horror movie. The biggest expenditure a horror-movie remake is willing to make, in fact, is probably for the remake rights, which is usually the only thing about a remake worth having. You can slap a “Nightmare on Elm Street” title to a blank movie poster and pull in $30 million. But you’re probably still not going to get more than $60 million. (This rule also applied to View Askew Kevin Smith: He could make any damn movie he wanted to, as long as he did so with less than $10 million).
All of which, sadly, brings me to the topic of today’s Seriously Random List — The Five “Best” Horror Movie remakes.
5. The Last House on the Left: If Bob motherfucking Dylan made a song famous, what are you going to do differently to make it your own? This is the trap that killed the remake of Psycho, shot-for-shot leeching the soul out of the original. Homage is just mutual masturbation unless you shoot for something greater. Last House on the Left succeeds at reaching but falls short in the execution of its grasp. It isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t a great film. It seems to be very uncertain of what it actually wants to be, swinging between moments of casual brutality and over the top horror movie gore. The film works during the former, not so much during the latter. The original film is legendary. Brutal. Over the top. Complex. Surreal. But it was not necessarily all that great of a film independent of the context of its cultural shock. This remake gets points for genuinely attempting to make something different and significant. — Steven Lloyd Wilson
4. The Ring: Gore Verbinski’s American remake of the Japanse original is rare on two counts: 1) It’s one of the few (maybe only) really good remakes of a supernatural horror film, and 2) it manages to succeed despite basically recycling most of the original movie, occasionally down to the same shots (it helps that the original was little seen in America). It’s also effective without the use of much blood or violence — it ratchets up the suspense, fills the audience with dread, and then sternum punches the ever-loving shit out of us. The Ring is disquieting and creepy, and would be beautiful to look at if it weren’t so goddamn horrifying. — Dustin Rowles
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers: The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was superior to the original 1958 version, and part of its success was owed to the fact that — in the ’70s — they didn’t scrimp on the expense. They got a decent director in Philip Kaufman (this was before The Right Stuff and Unbearable Lightness of Being made him a more respected director), and they got motherfucking Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland. Invasion of the Body Snatchers gets a little sloppy near the end, but it’s a movie full of ideas, of great evocative shots, and was reflective of the nation’s paranoia back in the late 1970s. What’s best about the 1978 version — and what so few horror-movie remakes today do — is that it took the original and it expanded on the ideas, and added a few new ones of its own. — Dustin Rowles
2. Dawn of the Dead: Taken as its own film, the 2004 Dawn is an excellent action movie with horror elements that should please the majority of audiences and serious zombie connoisseurs alike. Taken as a remake, it’s a faster, grittier version of a classic, minus the additional depth of social commentary. Call it an aesthetic modern update if you want, but comparisons only bring its inferiority to greater light. To then first-time filmmaker Zack Snyder, plenty of credit is due. This re-imagining of the story is fresh and exciting. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead manages to be an engaging and quality action film, containing many of the gory and horrifying elements that made the original so captivating. Standing against the original however, it ain’t that hot. — Phillip Stephens
1. The Thing: 1982’s The Thing may well be John Carpenter’s best film. Theoretically a remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World (though some, including myself, call it more of a sequel), The Thing is actually both a more accurate version of the short story “Who Goes There,” by John Campbell, Jr. and certainly a superior film. The Thing is a near-perfect horror film. It’s well-acted, the tension is palpable, the effects still hold up, the setting, cinematography, everything about it is fantastic. The Thing belongs in the company of the great tin can movies such as Alien and The Abyss. It’s a gut-clenching piece of filmmaking that probably ties with Halloween for the apex of Carpenter’s achievements. (Oh, and of course they’re re-remaking it). — TK