Hey friends. Looks like this Friday we’re going to be seeing a remake of Wes Craven’s debut film, 1972′s can’t-say-it-isn’t-interesting The Last House on the Left. Unnecessary, sure, and hitting us just one month after Marcus Nispel raped the world with his bastardization of Friday the 13th. I have to say I like the trailer for the new Last House, but I kinda mean that only as a reflection of its construction as a movie trailer. (It’s a cool song choice, give it that!) I’m sure the movie will probably suck.
It’s pretty frustrating to live in a world, though, where we’re out of good ideas and we’re recycling everything we can get our hands on–especially in terms of horror. Hell, the original Last House was a (very, very, very, very loose) remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. It’s a little easy to forget that some remakes actually aren’t too bad. Here are five horror remakes that are actually worth your time.
5. The Faculty (1998, dir: Robert Rodriguez)
Remake of: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, dir: Don Siegel)
There are about five theatrical versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that I can think of right off the bat. And who knows–maybe there are more. There’s the 1956 original, Philip Kaufman’s very good 1978 version, Abel Ferrera’s very interesting 1993 film Body Snatchers, and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2007 version, The Invasion, that neither I nor anyone else saw. But my favorite has got to be Robert Rodriguez’s 1998 high school-set interpretation, The Faculty. Rodriguez knows that we know the formula pretty well by now and uses that to his advantage, creating a film that’s frequently funny, surprisingly scary, and always a blast. There’s a great snorting-drugs-through-a-pen scene to determine who’s an alien and who isn’t, a nice little nod to another film that might be showing up on this list. The cast is great–you’ve got good ol’ Elijah Wood and Clea Duvall, and it’s the first movie that made me fall in love with Josh Hartnett. (He’s just so DREAMY!) But the titular faculty, the aliens trying to convert the entire student body, is where the casting gets really fun. As if Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, and Jon Stewart weren’t cool enough, there’s the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick, doing that creepy mechanical stare thing that he does so damn well. Kudos, Mr. Rodriguez. It’s a hell of a fun film.
4. The Fly (1986, dir: David Cronenberg)
Remake of: The Fly (1958, dir: Kurt Neumann)
No one delves into the deliriously fucked up with the gusto of David Cronenberg, and the very concept of The Fly, which involves a man (Jeff Goldblum) and a housefly merging into a terrifying hybrid creature, seems tailor-made for Cronenberg and his fascination with biological rebellion. Goldblum, who is always a terrific actor to watch, gives us his best stuff as he slowly and maniacally turns into “Brundlefly.” Festivities include inside-out baboons, arm-wrestling resulting in compound fractures, wall-crawling, deteriorating flesh, ears falling off, acidic vomit, cocooned mutant baby nightmares, and gobs of goo and puss. And would you believe that this is one of Cronenberg’s more mainstream films? Having recently revisited the film, it really is one of the most engrossing, bizarre, and massively entertaining modern horror films. I have to own up to having never seen the original film with Vincent Price, and for that I am sorry. However this is one of those remakes that has had the power and influence to go on to become its own entity entirely. It had its own sequel, 1989′s The Fly II, starring Eric Stolz. I never saw it, but it’s my understanding that I don’t really need to.
3. Dawn of the Dead (2004, dir: Zack Snyder)
Remake of: Dawn of the Dead (1979, dir: George A. Romero)
Watchmen helmer Zack Snyder’s first film was this concept-only remake of George A. Romero’s second film in his now five-movie-long zombie franchise that started with 1968′s Night of the Living Dead. I don’t know what they saw in Snyder’s previous commercial work that inspired them to give him this project, but my god, did they make the right choice. The movie starts out with one hell of a bang as poor Ana Clark (Sarah Polley) and her husband are awoken by the sweet young neighbor girl who viciously attacks them and chews off a piece of the husband’s neck. The husband, in turn, bleeds profusely and then stands up and runs to attack Ana, who locks herself in the bathroom as the rabid maniac who once was her husband busts through the door and tries to kill her. She manages to escape, along the way noticing all of the terror and carnage and savagery that has become of the world overnight. This is just the first ten minutes of the movie. We’re then treated to a fantastic opening credits sequence set to Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around” and then the movie starts. The plot revolves around survivors taking shelter in a shopping mall during the dawn of a zombie holocaust. Now, the zombies in this one run, which is certainly not characteristic of classic zombies, but if a film can pull of such a breach of well-known mythology and still have the purists on the edge of their seats, then you know it must be pretty badass. It’s a frenetic, wild, scary, and very funny two hours of film. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss it.
2. The Thing (1982, dir: John Carpenter)
Remake of: The Thing from Another World (1951, dir: Christian Nyby)
I don’t think many people will contest the argument that The Thing is easily horror master John Carpenter’s best movie. Few films can pull off brooding tone and over-the-top insane gore in such a fine and stirring balance. And there’s Wilfred Brimley acting crazy! In the desolation of Antarctica, a team of scientists (aren’t they always??) discover’s a 100,000-year-old alien buried in the snow. But they soon come to find that they would have been much better off leaving the mean, nasty shape-shifter frozen. The damn thing could be anywhere…or anyone…ooooohh! That scene I was talking about in The Faculty? Straight out of this one, only here it’s cold hard nerve-racking suspense rather than self-aware homage. Carpenter’s means of capturing an atmosphere is so inexplicably strong that watching this movie never fails to make me really, really cold. It’s a shame he started making movies like Escape from L.A. and Vampires. (Not that I have a huge problem with those movies, but come on, John!) The stop motion and make-up effects in this movie are first-rate and look way better and cooler than any shiny-looking CG crap that’s being splattered in our faces these days. When you want a good honest-to-god thrill, you can’t do much better than this one.
1. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979, dir: Werner Herzog)
Remake of: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922, dir: F.W. Murnau)
Maybe this won’t be the most widely shared opinion on this list, but I love love LOVE this movie. Bram Stoker’s classic novel has been made and remade a hundred times, but if you ask me, this one’s the best. It very much exists to be a remake of Murnau’s original silent film rather than a new interpretation of the novel. Werner Herzog uses the same rat-like Count Dracula that Max Schreck embodied in the original film, and while Klaus Kinski’s take isn’t quite as monstrously creepy as Schreck’s, it’s only because he’s got some pretty big shoes to fill. Kinski makes up for any of Schreck’s natural creepiness with an intense and despaired performance. Herzog’s gorgeous visuals and the classical score, featuring stirring compositions from Richard Wagner, conjure up a mesmerizing antique of cinematic horror and the macabre. Though the film is a product of Herzog’s admiration for the technique of the original, it’s just as character-based as anything Herzog is bound to create. Herzog uses Kinski (his frequent muse) to create a Dracula that is at once more human and more terrifying than any latter-day interpretation the character. At the end of the day, what keeps me returning to this film time and again is its haunting beauty. Several sequences of the film, particularly one in which Dracula transports coffins to an abandoned church in the dead of night, are hypnotizing. Herzog brings an eerie magic and mordant humor. The picture is ultimately one of my favorite films from one of my favorite directors–a real piece of art that shows us that remakes can stand on their own as great films and don’t always have to be money-grubbing trash.
See? They aren’t all bad! Will The Last House on the Left find its way onto a list like this one day? Or will it fall among the ranks of the remakes of The Haunting, The Amityville Horror, and Friday the 13th (to name a few)? Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.