Remakes are a longstanding tradition in cinema, especially in the horror genre. But there is no doubt that the past decade saw an oversaturation. Most of these were due to studios simply wanting to put out something with brand recognition. It has become unfortunately rare for a filmmaker to attach themselves to a project like this simply because they have a distinct vision and approach. When this is the case, a remake can be great. With the right creative team it can be as good as the original film, sometimes even better.
William Lustig’s Maniac is one of the great, sleazy early slashers. There’s not a lot to it. It’s there to provide gory entertainment and make the viewer uncomfortable. It definitely succeeds on all counts. It is a tough choice for a remake. But luckily, the people involved–including High Tension director Alexandre Aja–handled the project with care. The style is changed completely, but all the changes are in service of the story. The original is told through the perspective of titular maniac Frank Zito and spends a lot of time in his head. The reboot goes even further, telling the entire story through his POV. Elijah Wood is a surprising choice but ends up being the perfect person to carry on the role.
Nosferatu is heralded as one of the best horror films of all time and maybe the very best of the classic silent era. And it is truly a classic, an adaptation of Dracula that had to change all the names of the characters and locations at the last second due to a licensing issue. It’s German Expressionism at its absolute best and may still contain the most terrifying vampire ever to appear on screen. Obviously, remaking it is a daunting task. But the 1979 film directed by Werner Herzog succeeds in the one area where the first failed. It is officially a Dracula adaptation with the names and locations intact. On top of that, it has its own unique, beautiful visual style and Klaus Kinski is incredibly creepy as the Count.
Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob is a total love letter to the original. It’s a monster movie, plain and simple. But it makes smart choices in order to keep audiences guessing. The effects are also great. The real treat in the remake, though, is the revelation that the blob is not extraterrestrial but is in fact a man-made form of biological warfare and its attack on this small town is simply a test to make sure it works. That brings an extra level of terror to the already immensely entertaining feature.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a visionary take on the source material that rebuilds the story from the ground up. It takes on many themes, but the best thing about it is the very different way it takes on the transformation. This is incredibly gradual. Little by little, Seth Brundle becomes a fly. The makeup is great, but Jeff Goldblum’s portrayal is truly fantastic. He’s quirky, haunting and intimidating and can move between the three at the drop of a hat. It’s a sad, somber and oftentimes incredibly gross take on the original story, but that’s what makes it memorable. It remains one of the best and most widely known films of Cronenberg’s career.
John Carpenter was heavily inspired by The Thing From Another World when he was younger and even referenced it in his second feature, Halloween. He had always been a fan of the movie, which meant that when he was hired to do the remake he would treat the project with the utmost respect. Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lanchaster returned to the source material and crafted a much more engaging, terrifying story. The original novella “Who Goes There?” centered on the total isolation of the Antarctic and human distrust. This time the creature can take the form of anything it comes into contact with. It can look like absolutely anyone. On top of that, the effects by Rob Bottin are legendary and remain some of the best practical effects to ever grace the screen. It’s an incredibly downbeat film, but stands out as one of the best of Carpenter’s career if not simply one of the best of all time.