Article: My Problem With Remakes.
Every now and again, any given person might feel the need to re-invent themselves
and the same is definitely true for films. In the last 15 years, the public has been exposed to more re-makes, re-imaginings and re-boots of popular films and franchises than in the entirety of film history.
Some of the films that were made such as the ‘re-boot’ of the Tobey Macguire spider-man films, ‘The Amazing Spiderman’, a name which still seems pointless, surely anyone who can perform amazing acrobatics that defy physics and can fling around a city using a thin, sticky substance that is fired out of their wrists has to be classified as ‘amazing’, are all in an already established universe. The numerous Batman re-incarnations can also be thrown into this category aswell which range from the fun, campy editions starring
Adam West, to the truly absurd involving George Clooney and finally finishing with the most recent dark and gritty versions starring Christian Bale which try to keep a serious tone whilst the plot revolves around a rich man in a ridiculous costume who beats up bad guys and no one figures out that Bruce Wayne is the only man in the whole of Gotham who is rich enough to afford the Batmobile. All the other superheroes from the Marvel and DC Universe can also be used as examples.
The only benefit from a re-make that I can see is that if a film from around 30-40 years ago had a good idea and good premise but maybe didn’t have the budget or the technical advances that we have today. I like to use George Romero’s 1978 film ‘Dawn of the Dead’ as an example. Whilst the film had a lot of talent behind it with the fabulous Tom Savini in charge of the make-up effects and the superb Ken Foree in the title role
of Peter Washington, the low budget of $1.5 million meant that the extras playing zombies were painted white with dark circles under their eyes. They were slow, shambling and all together not very scary. Nevertheless, the film opened to mostly positive reviews and earned a total of $55 million worldwide, so hush my mouth.
However, this film was too good for modern audiences of the 21st century to miss out on, so enter the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. The premise was largely kept the same with the only major change being the overall look and indeed, speed of the undead. They were more animistic and faster on their feet than the previous zombies and guaranteed that watching the film would require a change of underwear at some point. One could speculate that the need for faster zombies could have been because this film was made after ’28 Days Later’ which came out in 2002 but if you call the creatures
in that film ‘zombies’ then the fans start throwing things at you because technically, they are not dead just infected.
But still, the direction of the remake took a harsher turn with a faster pace and a bigger budget to play with, to the tune of $26 million, which meant more explosions and larger hordes of ravenous undead, giving a true sense that the main characters were trapped inside their own hell. There was also a nice cameo from Ken Foree as a TV evangelist who commented on the coming apocalypse with the now and infamous phrase, ‘When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.’ Tom Savini also made an appearance as a sheriff who was being interviewed and told the survivors how to put down the zombies. The remake made a grand total of $102 million and like the original, gained positive reviews.
So, if remakes have proven to be beneficial in the past then why do I have a problem with them? I have a problem with remakes because 99% of films that are remade, don’t need to be remade. Case in point, Psycho (1960). To me, the original Psycho is the greatest horror film that has ever been made because it was (arguably) the first film to bring horror into the modern day and away from Dracula, Werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster (unless you count ‘Peeping Tom’ in 1959 but not many people do). The film was beautifully shot under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock; it was perfectly performed by the wonderful Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh and the script provided characters of depth and complexity. Janet Leigh’s character could have been viewed as a criminal and a thief or a woman who was trying to make a better life for herself. Even more complex is the character of Norman Bates. Even though he is the antagonist, the audience feels sympathy for him because of the domineering presence of ‘Mother’ and his mental illness that was the driving force behind the murders. Even though he committed the murders in the film, he was not solely to blame. It was terrifying because of the premise and the situation rather than relying totally on a series of strung together jump-out scares that have barely any relevance to the plot that was the turn that horror films took in the years to follow.
The remake of Psycho in 1998 was in a word, pointless. It attempted to be a shot-for-shot remake in colour with updated references and actors that were popular at the time, regardless of whether or not they were right for the role. Vince Vaughan of all people was cast as Norman Bates and was clearly trying to be as sinister and questionable as Anthony Perkins’ portrayal but lacked the sweetness and indeed innocence that made him seem harmless. Anne Heche certainly looks like Janet Leigh and tried to make the character her own and in that respect, may have been where she went wrong. The stuff that was added on top, most notably the weird masturbation scene pushed the tone of the film over a line where the original knew where to stop. My point is, the remake could have gone down either one of two lines. It could have attempted to retell the story to create new surprises for the audience or it could have tried to outdo the original with the technological advances that had been made since 1960. By keeping to the same story and re-doing it shot for shot, Psycho (1998) did neither.
In the last 15 years, a number of films deemed to be classics have been brought into the 21st Century. Films that have been remade include; Psycho, Halloween,
Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Amityville Horror, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Fog, Prom Night, The Last House on the Left, When a Stranger Calls, Fright Night and the Omen. These are just a few selections from one genre. The most recent high-profile remake was that of the 1984 blockbuster, Ghostbusters. But that’s for another day.
Why are remakes so popular? Since I asked, I will answer and the answer is simple. They make money. There is virtually no need to spend any money on advertising a film
that already has an established name with a fan-base. I gave you a list of horror films that have been remade in the last 15 years because horror tends to have the greatest following due to its tendency to explore new territory, frequently step over the boundaries of taste and decency and show what most people don’t see everyday which is why they tend to get the most attention when production companies who are looking to make some quick cash are on the prowl. The remake can be awful and insulting to the original but still gets people in the theatre because of the name.
It takes true film makers who have been in the business for a while to take the bold and shaky ‘remake’ step because they care about their property and don’t want it to
be lost in time. One horror film that was missing from the list above was the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead. I left it off that list because it is unique to the remake formula.
Whilst the original which was released in 1981 was a classic in its own right with an idea that hadn’t been seen all that much at the time, the production was limited by the
lack of a budget. But that didn’t stop the eager 20-somethings from belting out a film which gained both praise and disdain from its audience and critics. The remake was a
faithful retelling of the original story with some young talent and other little touches from the Evil Dead sequels with a darker undercurrent rather than a mix of horror/comedy
that the series became. The difference between this and the other remakes is that Evil Dead (2013) had the original filmmakers seal of approval, bringing Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell together as producers to make sure that the film would appeal to newcomers aswell as please the fans. The remake made $97.5 million and received positive reviews.
Take a note, directors. This is how its done.