Welcome to a new annual segment of OcTerror that I will be calling “Macabre Movie Monday.” Each year I’ll choose a subgenre of films to give attention and review and ignore era lines, necessary quality, and the boundaries of good and evil in favor of expanding the definitions of what horror can be. We got a taste of this last year with Saw vs Final Destination, but comparing and contrasting two franchises doesn’t really tell you about a subgenre. So, without further ado, I present the first of (hopefully) many Macabre Movie Mondays.
Today we’ll be looking at remakes and reboots, with special attention to the new millennium.
Hollywood has always had a habit of digging through the old reels whenever they ran out of ideas. Some of our heyday films are actually remakes of classic films, but—for whatever reason—the 2000s birthed a new era of remakes and reboots that reached new highs and lows of quality. Some brought innovation to what had inspired them; others created shot-by-shot recreations. The remakes and reboots of the 2000s brought a shiny polish to some beloved films, but whether that was a good thing or not is up for much interpretation. Here are ten films to get you started in this particular subgenre of horror.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). The relative success of this remake may be partially to blame for the remake mania that followed. While many critics say that this film was more a sequel than a remake, I’d say there were enough elements of the original to justify its labeling. Five friends on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert pick up a hitchhiker who seems more than just a little traumatized, and fall into a series of misfortunes as they try to do the right thing in the wrong place. The change the creators made in the beginning from crazy-friendly hitcher to traumatized victim works really well, and R. Lee Ermey as the sheriff is just too good of a scary time. The reveal of what’s under Leatherface’s mask is sympathetically terrifying. However, half the film seems like an excuse to get Jessica Biel’s shirt wet, the pitch-perfect original ending is substituted for a too long chase sequence, and the shiny gloss of the production takes away from the grit of Texas dirt. Overall, not the worst Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, but it’s nothing fantastic.
- Friday the 13th (2009). A reboot of the super successful franchise that couldn’t die, this film stars the hunky Jared Padalecki and girl next door Danielle Panabaker as two youngsters who face off against the near immortal Jason Voorhees. Instead of being a traditional retelling of the standard kill-camp-counselors plotline, the reboot meshes the previous plotlines of the franchise in order to develop a little on Jason’s past, the creation of his legend, and brings all of the carnage to the 21st century. To the film’s credit, it has all the “beloved” hallmarks of a heyday film—boobs, blood, and screams a plenty. The acting isn’t terrible and there are some new scenes that are a ton of fun, but, overall, Friday the 13th is forgettable. It rehashes too many of the elements of the slasher genre without innovation, and can feel at times like a Jenson Ackles-less episode of Supernatural. The best part of the film would be Padalecki’s performance, and the welcome comic addition of Aaron Yoo. Unless you’re going for a marathon of heyday remakes and reboots or you’re in love with Jared Padalecki, this one’s fine for a miss.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). This remake is fairly divisive in terms of how people feel about it; some people absolutely hate it, and others enjoy it. I mildly fall into the latter category. The film includes some shot-by-shot recreations of popular scenes from the original as well as new background to the iconic Freddy Krueger. There are some noteworthy performances from Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Kellan Lutz, and a dark interpretation of the antagonist from Jackie Earle Haley. The film follows a group of teens who are hunted through their dreams by a mysterious figure from their shared pasts. The remake focuses a lot more on trauma and repressed memories than just on the evil burned guy killing kids in their dreams, which many people didn’t like for its tonal change but I enjoyed for the depth that it added. However, the darker tone is at odds with the shot-by-shot recreations of scenes that force audiences to compare the two films and performances with each other. It’s worth checking out, but don’t expect it to measure up.
- Fright Night (2011). Vampires were all the rage for a good five years there, and this remake came about at the perfect time. Everyone was overdosing on Twilight and True Blood, and audiences needed a reminder that vampires weren’t all love and seriousness. This film about a teen that discovers his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire set on taking over Las Vegas is pure gold. The performances from Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, and David Tennant are fantastic, and the supporting cast of deliver memorable performances as well. While this doesn’t add anything too new to the vampire genre, it plays on the tropes and the current trends in popular culture to deliver a commentary on our expectations with the undead. It delivers on the gore and effects that a vampire movie should have, and that most PG-13 paranormal romances lack. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of vampires, or just want to stare at Colin Farrell’s arms.
- Evil Dead (2013). This “soft” reboot of the franchise differs tonally from the later films in Sam Raimi’s beloved series. While five friends going to a cabin in the woods and having to fight for their lives is an overdone trope by this time, Evil Dead draws from its inspiration, sprinkles in some innovation, and updates the story for this day and age. Instead of Ash, we follow David and Mia, a pair of siblings figuring out their relationship after drugs and distance have separated them for years. This enables the audience to be more emotionally invested in the characters as they fight for their lives. While it goes for a darker tone than the original films, this works in the reboot’s favor as it focuses more on the grime and gore that made the originals so hard to watch. There are some genuine scares and hard to watch scenes that are fantastic and make this a wonderful addition to the franchise rather than a film to avoid.
- Carrie (2013). Another divisive remake/re-imagining that has a unique duplicity because it’s the second adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Carrie follows the titular character as she develops telekinetic abilities after her first period and begins to realize their potential life against the bullies in her life. De Palma’s original is a classic horror full of trauma and vengeance, but Kimberly Peirce’s remake focuses on how the monster of Carrie is made rather than on what she does, and this results in the tonal shift to tragedy. Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, and Ansel Elgort deliver decent performances, and the larger focus on the relationship between Carrie and her mother works in the film’s favor. However, there may just be too much CGI-reliance in this remake/update, and—at times—it still seems like an unnecessary remake.
- Poltergeist (2015). Using the Great Recession as background for the remake of this 1980s’ classic was a decent idea, but that’s about where the innovative ideas end. The film follows a family who moves into a new home and discovers that it may be haunted. There’s a technology update, more clowns, and a gender-swapped psychic. Otherwise, most of the plot and many of the scenes are the same and it’s ultimately forgettable in terms of performances. The little girl is cute, I guess? Jared Harris does a nice job as the psychic, and I’m happy that they didn’t even try to recreate Zelda Rubinstein’s iconic performance. The climax does have some nice imagery and there is some decent suspense (especially if you’re afraid of clowns), but it doesn’t capture the magic or terror of the original. No one would fault you if you missed this one.
- 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Whether this counts as sequel or reboot is up for debate, but this film is loosely connected to the found footage film, Cloverfield. I’d call it more of a reboot since most people had probably forgotten about the 2008 movie and weren’t expecting a follow-up, especially with this kind of tone or narrative. This film follows a young woman, Michelle, after she wakes up in an underground bunker with two men after the possible apocalypse. The suspense is top notch here as audiences are never quite sure if Emmett and Howard are lying to her or not until the very end, and whether they want her to succeed or even what success means and what cost. The setting is practically a character in itself, and helps build the tension as the film develops. There’s a subplot about a daughter, their lives on the surface, and domestic violence, but it’s all about whatever crazy shit is happening above ground. The payoff is a little hard to buy into at first, but worth it. The ensemble cast is simply amazing, and it’s a little weird to John Goodman as the antagonist but you’ll get used to it. Definitely worth checking out.
- Blair Witch (2016). Same situation as the above, this sequel/reboot takes us back into the woods as we try to figure out what happened to those damn filmmakers from the first film, underestimate the power of the witch, get lost in the woods, argue with other people, find a mysterious house, and then have a terrifying climax within its walls. The structure of the film is so similar that it is basically a reboot, and it’s been so long that I’m counting it. Once again, we’re in found footage territory, but now we have more cameras and the addition of drones to even out the shaky cam. There are some fairly effective scares and the fan theories that have connected the two films are well worth a read for blowing some minds. However, there is a definite lack of chemistry between the actors and if they’re improvising they aren’t doing it as well as the cast in the original did. I actually wanted benign small talk, and that’s saying something. The sound design on the film is pretty damn amazing though, and it’s a decent film and worth checking out if you enjoyed the original and want to go back in the woods.
- Rings (2017). Thirteen years after the first film, we watch another film about a cursed video tape. Except in this digital age the tape could be anywhere—YouTube, that link your grandma sent on Facebook, Twitter—and that’s what makes this film mildly effective. There are a ton of other moderately innovative ideas thrown into this reboot/sequel, but they’re barely developed before the next idea is mixed in. The film also goes through numerous tropes of the Asian horror subgenre in such number that almost none of them are effective. That said, Matilda Lutz does a decent job of carrying the film through all of its premises, and Johnny Galecki makes an appearance off the set of The Big Bang Theory and goes back to his horror roots. The effects are still great and some of the scares land nicely—even if the suspense isn’t as intense as the first. Overall, it’s not the worst addition that could have been made to this series, but it’s not a huge miss if you don’t see it.
Hollywood will always turn to remakes and reboots when they’re lacking in the originality department. There will be people who will hate them on principle and others who are more open to the possibilities of innovation within ideas. Some are decent, few are great, and most aren’t really needed in the first place. But who can tell? In time, some of these might be considered classics of our era with enough hindsight.
For now though they’re just some remakes and remakes from the 2000s that could cause some fisticuffs at horror conventions if you take the wrong position on quality.