by Elizabeth EstenIf you can’t tell by the many times I’ve written about them, I am a huge fan of horror movies. Ever since I was 16, horror has always been there to not only scare me, but also open my mind up to new ways of storytelling. But one trend in the genre that has never sat well with me is the overabundance of remakes. While the remake is almost as old as film itself, giving classic horror a new spin has produced movies that became either new staples (The Fly, The Ring, Dawn of the Dead) or complete duds. I have subjected myself to many of these duds, and here are seven of them.
Psycho (Van Sant, 1998)
Have you ever seen a movie that makes you question its very existence? That was me watching 1998’s Psycho for the first time — mouth agape, wondering what I’m even seeing. When approaching a new interpretation of the classic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock, Gus Van Sant decided to not change a thing from the original. Same script, same blocking, same edits. Why did he choose to do this? It flabbergasts me just trying to find an answer.
But it’s not just the fact that nothing new is brought to the table, though. The biggest flaw is one casting decision that taints every potentially good aspect of the film: Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. This is the worst case of miscasting I’ve ever seen, as Vaughn doesn’t get even close to the effectiveness that Anthony Perkins brought to the role. Vaughn takes a compelling character on paper and makes him boring by sleepwalking through most of the film. He tries a little bit at some points in the film (which you can see in some of his delivery and the shower clean-up scene). I commend him for making an attempt, but he doesn’t earn a participation trophy as far as I’m concerned.
What irritates me the most about this movie is the potential it had to be at least decent. The film could have been a closer representation of the original novel by Robert Bloch, making Norman less of a “boy next door” and more visually creepy. But they went the direction of the original, in every way possible and completely bombed. This thing makes Gerry (that Van Sant movie where Casey Affleck and Matt Damon walk around the dessert for 90 minutes) look like a masterpiece of cinema.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Bayer, 2010)
I am a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, even if the sequels got kind of ridiculous as they progressed. But no matter how stupid the concept of Freddy Krueger taking over a baby is, the remake is the worst thing to happen to the character’s legacy. This film has a laundry list of problems that I won’t get to in this blurb, but here are a few of them.
First off, Jackie Earle Haley is an awful choice to take over the mantle as Freddy. He essentially plays Rorschach from Watchmen, but a Rorschach who’s either taken a shit ton of sleeping pills or is just bored. Haley brings nothing memorable to the role, simply standing around, waiting to kill the boring teenagers and make terrible one liners. However, he does this thing where he rubs his claws together which is kind of cool. But speaking of boring teens, the main cast is just as awful as our killer. Rooney Mara has said in interviews that she regrets making this movie and it shows. You can see in her delivery and general lack of emotion that she’s entirely disinterested in this thing.
But the biggest problem is the screenplay, which is a seemingly cobbled together loaf of at least four separate scripts credited to Wesley Strick and Eric Andrew Heisserer (who went on to write Arrival). There are so many things set up without a payoff that I lost track by the 20-minute mark. The dialogue is bland, the story makes no sense and they make the pedophile aspects of Freddy more prominent in a way that just doesn’t work. This is what kills the movie and keeps it from being a solid addition to the Nightmare canon. I’d rather watch Freddy vs. Jason again.
Carrie (Pierce, 2013)
Stephen King’s 1974 novel about a psychic teen raised in a strict catholic household has been adapted to film or television a total of four times. The first film from Brian De Palma is usually regarded as the best of the four, boasting a fantastic performance from Sissy Spacek as Carrie. The worst adaptation is the 2013 remake from Kimberly Pierce (director of Boys Don’t Cry and nothing else of note).
What kills this film is partially similar to the issue I had with the Psycho remake — it changes very little from the original film. It feels like a retread of the De Palma version, but with cell phones and the internet. The 1976 film left out a good amount of material included in the book, including Carrie killing her mother by slowing her mother’s heart down with her powers. It also omitted Carrie bringing her abilities to full power after seeing her neighbor tanning in her backyard. While the 2013 film includes Sue Snell’s pregnancy subplot from the novel, the rest of the movie feels like something I’ve already seen, but done worse and with more attractive actors. That’s all I really have to say about this one. It doesn’t stir up any frustration or anger in me like the other remakes on this list do. Watching it doesn’t piss me off because I forget about the scenes 20 minutes after viewing it.
The Stepford Wives (Oz, 2004)
Directed by Bryan Forbes and written by William Goldman (The Princess Bride), the original Stepford Wives is a very well-crafted psychological thriller, commenting on the falseness of the “nuclear family” depicted in many TV shows of the 1950s and 60s. Producing two sequels and receiving widespread critical acclaim, The Stepford Wives is often thought of as one of the best horror films of the 1970s. So how did Muppets legend Frank Oz approach the remake of this iconic feature? Making it an unfunny comedy with massive tone issues.
The remake of The Stepford Wives is abysmal. Nicole Kidman tries in the lead, but it’s clear that she lacks the comedic timing for this script to work in the very first scene. The rest of the cast also puts in effort, but besides the occasional funny moments from Bette Midler, the cast doesn’t fulfill the potential this script had. The severe change of tone is what most turns me off to this film. The remake tries to keep the commentary of the original, but substitutes humor for tension. This could work, but the film fails because the commentary is lost among the awkward attempts at comedy. In the end, this movie is just frustrating to watch. Oz is incredibly talented, but maybe he should avoid remaking horror movies. I don’t need to see a comedic version of The Exorcist or even Suspiria.
The Thing (Heijningen Jr., 2011)
With standout performances, great scares and tension, and revolutionary practical effects, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is not only one of the best horror films of 1980s but one of the greatest of all time. The remake from 2011 was never going to live up to the original, but was it at least good on its own merits? No, it wasn’t.
First off, this movie is technically a prequel to the 1982 version, following the Norwegian team whose base MacReady and company explore about midway through their respective film. While this could work in theory, the 2011 version borrows so much from Carpenter’s film that it feels like a retread. The story kind of works, but the logical issues, both within its own narrative and the universe of the 80s version, bog the story down for fans and non-fans alike. The characters are bland as well, although putting the talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead was a good idea (especially because the 80s version lacks a female presence).
The effects are what really keeps this movie from being decent. The film originally had amazing practical effects, but the studio got scared and painted over them with CGI in post production. The new look of the effects just seems like an afterthought, and the aesthetic feels out of place. The transformation scenes should make the audience feel astounded, and their fear should be heightened because the threat was filmed on camera. But the final edit makes the monster feel fake and it drains any tension the movie could have had. The film has solid production design, especially in the details, but the overall story and sense of fear falters, creating yet another unremarkable horror movie.
The Stepfather (McCormick, 2009)
A lot of you probably haven’t heard of The Stepfather (1987). The film starred Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as Jerry Blake, a killer who assumes various new identities and infiltrates families of single moms by marrying into them. It was relatively successful in its day, but the film has gained a cult following over the years, even producing two sequels. When Screen Gems got their hands on this property in 2009, they made something you could call a movie, but resembled more of a student filmmaker’s attempt to be scary.
What made the original work so well and what has stuck with people is O’Quinn’s iconic performance. He’s scary when he needs to be, but also puts forth this incredible charm that you can’t deny. The problem with the remake is that it has no Terry O’Quinn to carry it. Dylan Walsh tries to step into the shoes of Jerry Blake (now named David Harris), but he is incapable of bringing that same balance to his performance. Walsh delivers the necessary creepiness and menace well enough, but he lacks the charm to convince the audience that the Harding family, especially the mother, would fall for his schemes.
The movie also changes the framing of the story ever so slightly so it focuses more on Michael Harding (Penn Badgley), the eldest child of the family. My first issue with this character is the fact that it’s gender swapped, as the original focused on the daughter of the family. It would have been refreshing to see a female protagonist, as that would be much more reminiscent of classic 80s horror as a whole. The other issue with his character is how underwhelming he is despite the whole movie resting on his shoulders. The way the story is told could work if Badgley, who has some talent, was given a better script, but he has nothing to work with here. But the real crime this movie commits is being boring.
I Spit on Your Grave (Monroe, 2010)
The original I Spit on your Grave (1978) is arguably one of the most important horror films ever made. A response to the US’s fear of the power of the second wave feminist movement, the original perfectly balanced horror, atmosphere and character. It also has one of the most effective rape scenes in all of cinema — horrific and hard to watch but also careful not to sexualize our main character and unafraid to call out the male audience for how they have traditionally treated women for so long. The remake on the other hand does none of this.
This movie pisses me off in so many ways, but I’ll do my best to condense my thoughts. The script is awful, the performances are fine, the cinematography is just amateur. But after watching this thing twice, I’ve finally figured out what causes me so much anger. This film is essentially a depiction of modern rape culture in the eyes of filmmakers who have nothing to say about it. Our main female character goes undeveloped, while our rapists (Johnny, Matthew, Stanley, Andy and Storch) get more screen time. However, the film barely establishes their motivation to even consider raping an innocent woman. Most of their scenes are dedicated to making us see them as disgusting men, which they are, but these scenes feel like filler in the grand scheme of the plot.
The rape scene goes on for way too long and the revenge scenes feel like they were taken from the first draft of a Hostel knockoff. The gore is excessive and unnecessary, and the pacing is even worse in these scenes than in the earlier rape sequence. The gruesome nature of the revenge isn’t even justified because the movie spends very little time developing Jennifer’s character after she’s raped, instead focusing more on how the rapists feel about it. But this is the worst part: this movie also started a trilogy. I’m not kidding, look it up.