Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sometimes They Get It Right: 7 Remakes That Don't Make Me Want To Vomit

Those that follow me on Twitter are probably aware of the fact that A) they are remaking Big Trouble in Little China and B) I'm not terribly happy about it.  We all know that remakes are often shameless cash grabs where production companies take a known entity and rearrange it into a bland concoction of horsehit.  And the worst part is that they'll usually make a few bucks.  They'd have to if they're going to keep doing this crap right?

So needless to say, I don't have high hopes for a remake of what might be my favorite movie of all time.  The one saving grace is that Dwayne Johnson has been cast as Jack Burton, and if someone can pull off playing the bumbling, arrogant (but likeable) asshole, it's The Rock.  So in order to keep myself from going too crazy, I've been thinking about remakes that didn't shit all over the originals and, in the rarest of cases, may have even improved on the original.  Here's what I was able to come up with, in no particular order.

The Thing

 Made in 1982 by John Carpenter, The Thing is a remake of the 1951 The Thing from Another World.  Admittedly, I have not seen the original movie, but I think it's safe to say that these are very different films.  I'd find it hard to believe that any movie from the fifties is anywhere near as gory as Carpenter's take.  This flick set the bar for freaky body horror, and it boasts a great cast in Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilfred Brimley, and an ensemble of other character actors who make this more than just cheesy B-Movie science fiction.

The Fly

Based on the 1958 Vincent Price classic (which I also haven't seen), director David Cronenberg takes a very goofy concept and turns it into a very somber look at a man's mental and physical deterioration.  And again, as with The Thing, The Fly takes the gore to a new level.  Watching Jeff Goldblum's slow, agonizing transformation is both horrific as well as impossible to turn away from.  By the end of the movie, Goldblum has turned into an unrecognizable mess of a creature that terrifies us, sickens us, and, perhaps most unbelievably, still allows us to sympathize with it.  Not a bad feat for a remake.


So I'm starting to notice a trend for remakes that I like.  It helps a great deal if I haven't seen the original.  This one is a 2012 remake directed by Frank Khalfoun and based on a 1980 low-budget slasher.  The angle (or gimmick if you're being cynical) used by the remake is that it's almost entirely shot from the point of view of the killer, who is primarily only seen in reflections.  Oh, and did I mention that the killer is Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood?  Wood is a self-professed horror fanatic, and we've already seen him play a psycho as Kevin in Sin City, so I suppose this shouldn't be too much of a stretch.  In Maniac, we get a much deeper look into Wood's madness than we did in his Sin City character, as we delve first-person into how and why his wires are crossed.  And damn are they ever crossed.  This is a very brutal movie, as Wood kills a variety of people in a variety of ways.  And while he does get his in the end, it's definitely not what you'd call a happy ending.  

Dawn of the Dead

OK, so here's one where' I've seen the original and the remake, and I definitely enjoy both versions.  While the original 1978 George Romero classic relies heavily on focusing a satirical lens on the U.S. as a consumer culture, the 2004 Zach Snyder remake is much more a straight-forward zombie flick.  And that's the reason that I think it works so well.  Snyder clearly knows and respects the source material, as there are clearly nods to the original movie.  But Snyder isn't necessarily trying to make a grand statement about society, but rather sprinkles in some commentary among heavy scares and gore.  It's much more fast-paced than the original, especially in terms of the zombies.  I know there are a lot of people who hate the idea of zombies that run, but I honestly don't give a shit.  Shuffling zombies are scary, and running zombies are scary.

Fright Night

This 2011 Craig Gillespie remake of a 1985 Tom Holland movie is not a masterpiece.  Hell, the original wasn't a masterpiece by any means, either.  It was campy silliness, and that's exactly what the remake brings to the table.  The reason that it works is that it knows how ridiculous it is.  And I'll be honest, Colin Farrell nails his turn as Jerry.  I love Chris Sarandon's version (and love his cameo in the remake), but Farrell really gets the smug nature of the character.  Jerry's not just an evil vampire.  He's also a smarmy asshole, and Farrell plays it to perfection.  Just watch him toss off a casual "Hey, guy" to Anton Yelchin's Charley and tell me he's not relishing the chance to go full douchebag.

Evil Dead

I know there are many who think this is one of the ultimate examples of a cash-grab shitting all over a beloved franchise, but I actually dug it. Director Fede Alvarez took the basic staples from Sam Raimi's 1981 classic: an isolated cabin in the woods, demonic possession due to the Necronomicon, and heavy gore.  He then took those ingredients and added some of his own.  In this case, there is no equivalent of Ash.  And that was probably for the best, because good luck ever finding someone who is going to touch Bruce Campbell's performance.  So Alvarez made the Final Guy a more traditional Final Girl in Jane Levy.  The twist that I enjoyed, however, is that as the first person possessed in the movie, she spends most of the running time as the primary antagonist.  As with the Dawn of the Dead remake, there are definitely nods to iconic moments from the original, but it tries to do it's own thing...or at least as much as a remake can possibly "do its own thing."  I'll admit this movie didn't break the walls down or anything, but it was pretty damn entertaining.

Wolf Man

This 2010, Joe Johnston-helmed remake of the classic 1941 Universal Studios monster movie is probably the most fun of all the movies on this list.  Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Hugo Weaving are all slumming it and clearly having a lot of fun doing so.  Hopkins in particular spends most of the movie with a maniacal smile that I'm not sure was part of the script.  This is the movie equivalent of going to a haunted house ride at the local carnival.  It's silly, low-rent stupidity, it was put together in slap-dash fashion, and it will put a smile on your face every time.  It's one of those movies that's very gory, yet somehow ridiculous enough to not be scary.  Which in this case is actually a plus, because even non-horror fans like my wife will like it.  That's why this is an annual tradition at our house every Halloween.

So, judging by the list above, it seems there are three primary factors in doing a remake of a movie that won't drive me fucking nuts:
  1. Take the basics of the source material and do something new or creative with it.  Otherwise, why bother making the damn thing in the first place? If you're not going to bother doing that...
  2. At least have fun making it.  With me, you'll get away with a lot if it seems like you enjoyed yourself in the process.  If you're not going to do items 1 or 2...
  3. Just hope I haven't seen the original.  I'll be less likely to pick something apart if I don't have any knowledge or concern for the source material.
All this being said, I'm still pretty sure that a Big Trouble in Little China remake will suck.

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