Review Index

"The Remake Thing"

Looking at Hollywood's recent output, I find that one thought immediately becomes apparent: this remake thing is really getting out of hand.

     Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.  Over the past year there has been SOLARIS, INSOMNIA, RED DRAGON, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE, THE RING, THE TIME MACHINE, SWEPT AWAY and MR. DEEDS...all, in the event you don't already know, remakes of older (and mostly better) movies.  In 2003 we can expect new versions of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, THE 39 STEPS, THE WARRIORS, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SUSPICION, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, FORBIDDEN PLANET and DR. ZHIVAGO.  The conclusion?  Remakes are an integral component of modern-day filmmaking, and clearly they're here to stay.

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     Certainly, remakes have been a staple of Hollywood programming from its earliest days.  FRANKENSTEIN has been remade so many times it's often forgotten that James Whale's "original" 1931 version was in fact a remake of a 1910 one-reeler.  Ditto the '31 DRACULA, which was already adapted (albeit unofficially) in 1922's NOSFERATU.  It's impossible to count how many Shakespeare adaptations have graced American screens.  Alfred Hitchcock went so far as to remake one of his own films, 1934's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, in 1956.

     Nevertheless, you'll have a difficult time finding another period in history when such an astonishing plethora of remakes have cluttered the movie marketplace.  Why? 

     One reason is the perceived built-in audience awareness factor, which in effect does a large part of the movie marketers' jobs for them.  In other words, it's far easier tapping into properties moviegoers are already familiar with than it is trying to sell them something new.  The concept of "Synergy" is based is based on this idea: movies, CD's, books, etc. are used to cross-promote themselves by trading on one another's success.

Remember just a few years ago, when movie versions of THE BRADY BUNCH, WAYNE'S WORLD, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, CHARLIE'S ANGELS, THE AVENGERS, THE MOD SQUAD, etc. were the norm?  That was synergy in action, at least until Hollywood ran out of old TV programs to adapt.  We still get scattered TV adaptations nowadays, such as the recent SCOOBY DOO and I SPY, but the well has pretty much run dry (we should also take into account all those synergistic comic book movie extravaganzas, like SPIDER MAN and DAREDEVIL, which have become so prevalent that comic companies, Marvel in particular, make more money nowadays selling off the movie rights to their properties than they do selling comics).

I also believe the Hollywood remake boom is directly tied to the industry's current love of sequels. 

     Sequels have been an integral movie staple (and one certainly not unique to Hollywood) since day one, and yet the sequel quotient, like the remake craze, has exploded in recent years.  Last year alone saw the releases of ATTACK OF THE CLONES, THE TWO TOWERS, ANALYZE THAT, STUART LITTLE 2, HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, JASON X, THE SANTA CLAUSE 2, AUSTIN POWERS 3, DIE ANOTHER DAY, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, FRIDAY AFTER NEXT, BLADE 2...the list goes on, and there are plenty more in the works. 

     More than ever before, movies are fast food products to be churned out assembly line style.  In such an atmosphere, it shouldn't surprise anyone that corporate-controlled Hollywood finds sequels and remakes such attractive propositions.  They've got that crucial built-in audience awareness factor, after all, and furthermore don't require much effort on the part of the puppet directors, producers and committee of screenwriters hired by the studios to crank 'em out.  There's less chance of things like originality or complexity creeping in; such things are products of artistic rather than corporate sensibilities, and thus strict no-no's. 

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    Of course, this is about horror movies, and it's horror movies that have been most aversely impacted by the recent remake boom, just as they were by the sequel craze. 

Speaking of sequels, I won't go into all the Part 2's, 3's, etc. we horror fans have had to put up with over the years (any anyway, I've long since stopped keeping track of all the Jason, Freddie and Pinhead flicks), but they've definitely had a negative impact.  For years a horror movie's worth was based solely on the amount of sequels it generated.

Nowadays, though, it's the remakes that are doing their share of damage to the integrity of the genre (integrity is a word that, like those other suspect terms art and talent, doubtless makes Hollywood execs wrinkle their noses).  With the success (financially, of course, NOT artistically!) of last year's RING remake, Hollywood redoes of foreign flicks--the '02 Thai film THE EYE is currently being redone, as is the '99 Japanese chiller PULSE--are more popular than ever. 

That's NOT to say that foreign films are the only ones affected, as nearly every 70's Hollywood horror movie you can think of, from WILLARD to THE HILLS HAVE EYES, is being remade.

To be fair, there have been many horror movie remakes that I've liked...and, in some cases, actually preferred over the original film.  This would apply to Paul Schrader's 1982 CAT PEOPLE, which gave the forties original an unforgettably perverse make over.  John Carpenter's THE THING remake is an all-time fave that for me leaves the Howard Hawkes original in the dust, and I find David Cronenberg's stunning 1986 version of THE FLY leagues ahead of the 1958 chortler.

But those are aberrations.  The fact is, most remakes tend to look like exactly what they are: shoddy, cynical and vastly inferior imitations.  Don't believe me?  See NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), LORD OF THE FLIES (1990), THE VANISHING (1993), BODY SNATCHERS (1993), FRANKENSTEIN (1994), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996), DIABOLIQUE (1997), PSYCHO (1997), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998), CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1998), GODZILLA (1998), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999), THE HAUNTING (1999), THIRTEEN GHOSTS (2001) and CARRIE (2002).  A pretty sorry list to which I'd add, regardless of how many millions they made, DRACULA (1992), THE MUMMY (1999), the aforementioned RING abomination and ABC's equally abominable 1997 SHINING miniseries.

Clearly, remakes are dicey propositions, and yet they continue to be churned out in record numbers.  I'm sure you're extremely anxious to see THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remade with TV stars like SEVENTH HEAVEN'S Jessica Biel and 24'S Eric Balfour.  Likewise a WICKER MAN update from the creators of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (no, I'm not making this one up!).  And do we really need a new DAWN OF THE DEAD from James Gunn, a Troma veteran partially responsible for last year's SCOOBY-DOO?  Universal apparently thinks we do, just as Warner Brothers seems to believe we're all hankering for a new EXORCIST.

For those of us who appreciate the genre and its potential, the "remake thing" is bad news.  Films like DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were nearly perfect to begin with (not to mention, in both concept and execution, very much products of their time) meaning remakes can only result in inferior films. 

The problem used to be (as detailed by Chas. Balun in his unforgettably acerbic booklets BLED TO DEATH '94 and RED INK '95) the innumerable sequels, and now it's too many damn remakes.  Both are symptomatic of the same things: a complete lack of imagination on the part of filmmakers and a blatant contempt for their audiences.

Yes, there are original and interesting American made horror movies out there: FRAILTY ('02), ONE HOUR PHOTO ('02), PANIC ROOM ('02), TED BUNDY ('01), DONNIE DARKO ('01), THE PLEDGE ('01), RAVENOUS ('99), SUMMER OF SAM ('99), APT PUPIL ('98) and a handful of others, none of them remakes, sequels or what have you, and all of them powerful, original, freaky films.  It's these films we should be patronizing...otherwise we can almost certainly expect new--and definitely not improved--versions of FREAKS, THE WOLF MAN, DEAD OF NIGHT, SUSPIRIA, THE HOWLING, VIDEODROME and God only knows what else.

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