It has long been a known fact that Hollywood’s well of ideas has run dry. The box office success of countless retreads, remakes, reboots and updates (whatever you want to label them) only serves to condemn the movie-going public as accomplices in this crime of imagination. Yet for every rule there is an exception and, while some would be reluctant to admit it, Hollywood has indeed produced some remakes worthy of their original’s legacy. This list counts down the top five horror remakes that achieved the impossible: they did not suck…
5. Dark Water (2005)
Directed by Walter Salles
Written by Rafael Yglesias
American filmmakers are obsessed with remaking foreign films in their own image (it’s like they’re afraid we’ll fall asleep from having to actually read subtitles). In the case of Japanese Horror Cinema the American versions tend to eschew the quiet tense dread that is the staple of J-Horror and instead go for the all-out hit to the gut. Thankfully the Jennifer Connolly starring Dark Water redo is a more back to basics approach. Instead of following the more Japanese-based elements of the story, this version hews closer to a Hitchcockian vibe where lush cinematography (provided by Affonso Beato) creates a sense of creeping dread and the apartment complex seems to be a living-breathing character all its own. Including a perfect character actor cast (John C. Reilly and the late Pete Postlethwaite among them) this is one remake that deserves a second chance.
4. House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Directed by William Malone
Written by Dick Beebee
This grossly overlooked gem is the rare case in which the remake is actually better than the original (see: The Thing, The Fly (which is also an honorable mention on greatest remakes)). The original William Castle directed, Vincent Price starring schlocker was a campy and cheesy take on the haunted house genre that, while it has its moments, is just mediocre at best. This remake stays closely to the main set-up of the original: a group of individuals are invited to a haunted house party on a very spooky building atop a hill. Once the guests are locked in though all bets are off and what happens to the guests veers completely from what has gone before. The film’s setting (an abandoned insane asylum) is exquisitely creepy and the many ghosts (real and imagined) are unique and frightening. Two highlights include the trippy deprivation device hallucination scene and Geoffrey Rush’s pitch-perfect impersonation of Price (right down to his little mustache).
3. Cat People (1982)
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by DeWitt Bodeen and Alan OrmsbyOne of the loosest adaptations on this list, Paul Schrader’s update on Val Lewton’s much praised Cat People amps up the sexual tension and asides from the plot outline and some key scenes it feels like a completely different movie. It must be said that the way the cat transformation works is a unique one. Basically if the afflicted person has any sex whatsoever they will shape-shift into a giant Leopard. There are two options one can choose from in attempt to rid themselves of the curse and neither of them is pretty. The first choice is to kill someone; now if you don’t have it in you to commit murder the other option is to do the nasty with your sibling, yet you become the Leopard permanently. Incest never sounded so good… (I joke!)
2. Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
Directed/Written by Werner Herzog
While the original Nosferatu is a tough act to follow, let alone remake, Herzog is not one to shy away from a challenge and he succeeds in this homage to Murnau’s classic vampire tale. Opting to have his version be in color and sound, Herzog stays mostly true to the original with some added tweaks here and there to spice up the action (such as that devilish twist of an ending). The main draw though, is Klaus Kinski’s superb performance as the titular bloodsucker. While his mannerisms and movements are an obvious ode to Max Schreck, Kinski makes the role his own by adding a pathos that hasn’t been seen before or since in a vampire film. His Count Dracula, while readily admitting that his vampirism is a curse and a punishment, has come to terms with his affliction and lets the inner animal out; he is a “hunter”, a killer who stalks his prey and makes no apologies for his behavior. He doesn’t whine like Anne Rice’s vampires and those Twilight brats with too much hairspray, he is too far gone to care.
1. The Thing (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
Surprised? Possibly the greatest remake period, Carpenter’s 1982 classic is a far-superior adaptation of the source material (John W. Cambell’s novella “Who Goes There?”) than the original film, The Thing from Another World. Gone is the campy mutant carrot-man and the gung-ho heroism that populated much of ‘50’s science fiction films, instead we get a doppelganger E.T. that is really pissed off and wants to do anything but phone home. The film captures the isolation and paranoia of the novella perfectly and a sense of dread permeates the air from the very first scene and builds until the bleak ending. When it was first released The Thing was a commercial and critical dud. Some speculate that audiences, who were weaned on too many good-guy alien films such as E.T. and Close Encounters…, were not prepared for an evil space-invader that looked like a Lovecraftien beast. Of course, history has proven them wrong…