Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Horror Remake Debate

I remember watching my first horror film.  A newly purchased Betamax video player, my brother, my dad, myself and Creepshow.  It terrified me.  My second horror film followed soon after.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It terrified me.  I think I should add that I was 7 years old.

In all it was a bit too much for me and I didn't see another horror until I was the ripe old age of 10.  My brother convinced me to watch The Thing and to say I loved it would be a huge understatement to the raw, chilling excitement I got from it.  There began my true love for horror.  However there is now another connection between these three films, one which saddens me and makes a real statement about the current position of horror today within the Hollywood movie machine.

I am talking about the modern penchant for remaking horror films. 

While Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing have already had suitably poor remakes, Creepshow's remake is currently in development.  I'm not holding my breath for anything that will deliver the same sense of fun and fear that the original did.  So why is it happening?  Is it a new phenomenon?  And the big question; should we be saying no to remakes?

Lets start at the top.  Why is it currently happening? 

Well during the 2000's we saw a rise in the volume of remakes being released with perhaps the largest volume in 2008.  But in 2009 the big horror remake releases made over $370 million for the studios with the likes of Friday 13th, Sorority Row and Last House on the Left. Putting this alongside their notoriously lower than average budgets it kinda became a no brainer.  But with two years of concurrent high volume and high performance would the bubble break?

Lets look at 2010 and did it follow the trend or were the audiences already saturated with remakes and therefore protesting about their slew of releases by staying away from the cinemas?

Simply, yes it did follow the trend with over £450 million being taken through the likes of Piranha 3D and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  However 2011 saw the slow down in both releases and box office success with $100 million from Fright Night, Silent House, The Thing and Straw Dogs.  There was a continuing decline this year with only the one notable remake getting a release which was The Woman In Black (the original was in 1989) taking $128 (Maniac is still yet to see a general release - however it's actually really quite good). 

Yet this doesn't seem to have stopped the studios giving the greenlight to continue this way of making a quick buck.  I guess they've looked at the 2000's overall and seen the likes of The Omen, The Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes, Black Christmas, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Fog, Halloween, Prom Night and When A Stranger Calls having performed well.  This is by no means an exhaustive list as the last 10 years has seen such a variety of remakes it's a wonder to think anything original is being done (especially when you add in sequels!!).  The studios can find a cheap director wanting their big break with almost a guaranteed hit.

So we've looked at why.  Now lets look at whether is this something particular to our generation of movie goers. 

It certainly isn't a new thing to remake films but the way in which they are remade and the choices of films to remake is certainly something unique to modern movie making.  Previously directors would take films they loved or saw potential in but perhaps were long forgotten or never particularly performed well.  They wanted to get these films to a wider audience with their own stamp on them.  John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly, Paul Schrader's Cat People, Chuck Russell's The Blob and Philip Kaufman's Invasion of The Body Snatchers are some examples.  These in their own right have become well loved films.  The horror fans were not particularly happy about Carpenter's remake getting a remake (well technically speaking the 1982 version of The Thing is a sequel to the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and the 2011 is the remake of the '51 version).  Would anyone touch Cronenberg's The Fly without getting lynched?  So these outcomes suggest remakes aren't always hated and it obviously isn't new.

What is a new phenomenon, however, is taking well loved, successful films and needlessly remaking them.  When did The Fog or The Omen become so bad to watch or forgotten that we needed a newer version of it?  The result of this need to spin remakes out is that we get gun for hire directors making films that Hollywood have asked for simply as they see them as a cash cow.  And in turn that makes for rushed, uncared for films which generally and simply put, suck.  In fairness this isn't the case with all of them as some are actually better than the originals such as The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left (sorry Wes, I know they're both your originals).  But these two almost fit the mould of how remakes used to be done. And some are okay films like Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies and The Amityville Horror.  However did these need to be made?

But it's when films like the aforementioned The Omen and The Fog as well as Day of the Dead, Friday 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street which are just truly awful that you fear for the memories of the originals when there will be those people that only ever know these versions. 

I can't imagine the current crop of remakes giving kids the same amazing memories that I had from my early days of watching horror films.  So many are so average and who remembers an average film.

So this brings us onto my last question. Should we be saying no to remakes?

When you look at the list of upcoming and rumoured remakes; Carrie, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead, Susperia (even Argento doesn't understand why this is being remade), Hellraiser, Near Dark, Return of the Living Dead, Childs Play, Creepshow and all the others, you would have to say we absolutely should be saying no to remakes and the way to do this is with our wallets.  Stop going to see them, stop handing over your cash to watch an inferior version of a film you love.  If you have kids that you think are old enough to go see it, show them the original.  Let them love the films you loved.

However when you think of the films that could be remade such as Evilspeak, The Black Cat, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, The Burning, The Prowler, Slumber Party Massacre, Rawhead Rex, Pin, 976-Evil, Deadly Friend (sorry again Wes) there is an argument that the remake remains relevant.  I am hoping that your reactions to my suggestions were either "oh yeah" or "hmm not heard of that".  That should be the litmus test to if a horror film should get a new treatment.  Bring back something that was inventive or cool or great but budget prevented it from going anywhere.  There are some which had brilliant ideas but lacked the execution.  Or it has been so long people have forgotten they ever existed.  The Black Cat was one of Universal's most successful films the year it was released.  But it's themes (which would sit very nicely in today's horror environment) were a bit too much for it to be given the positive notoriety it deserved at the time.

Remakes (even the bad ones) also serve their purpose in us seeing those brilliant new and cool low budget horrors (which no doubt will be remade themselves in 20 years) due to the profits they bring in.  These will be redistributed by the studios, funding some of these smaller films that no-one ever knows have studio involvement.  For anyone that has been lucky enough to see American Mary, it could well be the case brought in from The Wolfman that enabled it to be made.  

Personally I think there is room in the world for a remake.  Sometimes it is a necessary evil.  That said I do think we need to protest with our feet and stop them taking every great horror film and turning it into something grossly inferior.  If audiences get too fed up of this then it could be detrimental to the horror scene as a whole (sequel after sequel, remake after remake) with people simply not wanting to bother with it at all. 

What I'd hate is in 20 years to hear people saying "oh do you remember The Fog?", "yeah, God that was a rubbish film".  Replace The Fog with any other poor remake and you get the picture.  The films we loved and watch over and over will be replaced in the memory of the next generation with their poor copies, lost to time and perhaps never heard from again.  In the words of the current Hate Piracy advert; Just Imagine.