Horror Debates: Are Remakes Ruining Horror?

Our third debate is another hot topic in Horror, this time centering on the fashionable remake trend that has run rampant in the industry. Taking on this weighty debate are Horror Blogger Alliance members Highly Caffeinated from Horror in the Making and Elwood Jones of From the Depths of DVD Hell fame:

Are Remakes Ruining Horror?

"Yes" Elwood Jones:

If there is anyone word in the English language, which brings up the bile to the back of your throat quicker than anything else, it has to be the word “Remake”. In-fact it currently seems like the last few years have been nothing but a constant bombardment of remakes with every coming soon list causing a little piece of horror loving soul to die each time I see, which horror classic is soon to receive the sterile reworking of a modern studio system.

Still why does any film honestly needs to be remade, especially when it has often been no longer than twenty years after it’s original release, especially when you consider that film making hasn’t really moved along that greatly in such time, apart moving further away from hands on effects to relying more on CGI effects. Still it does beg the question “if a film works the first time, why remake it?” After all if something isn’t broken in the first place why try and fix it? A question especially asked of the 1998 remake of “Psycho”, which was essentially a shot for shot remake of the original film, begging the question as to why Gus Van Sant, even choose to remake it. Is the prospect of watching a film in black and white really that daunting to a modern audience?

Still the Hollywood remake machine rumbles on, frequently adding to the increasingly sterile state of modern horror, with the current output often seeming like a GQ explosion on the screen, as god forbid the audience be exposed to realistic average looking people, which it could be argued was what was so great about the original films and something especially magnified by the recent series reboots for “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm St”.

Perhaps it is just that as an audience we are now to spoiled with the production quality of films that are being produced, or maybe it’s just the prospect of watching a film which is not in English that it makes it hard, for your average movie goer to watch some of these original films, especially those which are still in the same grainy prints of their original release, something that it seems the studio system feels is a justified reason for remakes, seeing how upon the release of “My Bloody Valentine” (2009) director Patrick Lussier could be found to be defending his film, by stating that it’s release had meant that the original had been given a DVD release which it wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Still this can hardly be argued as being a strong argument, for what is essentially fast cash for the studios.

Studios should be looking forward and trying to evolve on these previous films, by creating new horror legacies rather than trying to emulate and cash in on the legacy of the originals, after all “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken” and recreating a tested classic won’t always produce the same effect created by the original.

"No" Highly Caffeinated:

Are remakes ruining horror? Simply put, Hell No.

I was a late blooming horror fan, it wasn’t until my twenties when I dived headlong into the genre. A great part of that fandom was firmly cemented by the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In fact the TCM remake inspired me to hire out the original, excited to see what genius it was a remake of. Unfortunately, I can't report back on that, as I slept through most of it. While for its time, the original TCM was groundbreaking and terrifying, watching it for the first time 30 years after it was made however, and it was pretty dull. (ducks throwing fruit) Yes, I said it. But what this does bring up is that the remake worked. It worked in drawing in a new fresh crowd of horror fans.

These new fans grew up with MTV edits, fast paced story telling and shorter run times. But, as we once all were, they are now horror fans that will seek out their new genre of choice, perhaps some will enjoy running through the giant back catalog of horror, but either way, there are new fans for the genre we all love.

New fans means a wider audience appeal for horror films, with more horror films being released to feed that market, where is the downside? Sure, not all horror is great, but that just makes the great ones so much better.

But why remake a film instead of producing new materials? For starters, it is now a brand name. People (like myself) who had never seen TCM knew the branding, knew the premise, and so went in watching expecting good things from such a strong brand. The other strong appeal of the remake for studios is the returns. Horror in general is considered a low budget medium as you don't need known actors to sell it, unlike say with a drama, and generally getting returns on such a lower budget is easier to achieve. Box Office Mojo shows the remake of the Ring grossed almost 130 million dollars in theatres alone, and a further eleven upwards of 50 million. Those are big bikkies for horror films, and easier to grab with a safe brand.

Even those that hate remakes have forked out money to see it, furthering the studio cycle, and if they’ve not, then their biases are without backing.

We live in very different times now, and our horror films need to reflect that. Horror has and always will be a great way to express our fear of the world around us. And while relevant during Cold War times, a relentless William Shatner mask wearing psycho killing teens for what seems no rhyme or reason, in this day and age we now need to know why he is wearing the mask and why he is killing them.

But Carpenter’s film is still better.


Regardless of your stance, we know that everyone has an opinion on this one, so be sure to throw in your two cents in the comments section below!

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


J. Astro said...

Any type of movie from ANY genre will only be "ruined" so much as you let it be for yourself... sure, if every shitty, needless remake like THE HITCHER or THE STEPFATHER has to be considered, then the overall quality of the genre is watered down, yes. But that doesn't mean the originals aren't still masterpieces that deserve to be revered. Obvious example: just because I hate Rob Zombie's first HALLOWEEN do-over, it doesn't mean I don't still like Carpenter's original, and in fact I even like Zombie's -second- HALLOWEEN, so there. A remake, bad or not, should be judged individually, and perhaps alongside its predecessor, but certainly not as a representative of the whole genre, or even necessarily as a representative of its own specific franchise/sub-genre. Because if you do that, and you go down the road where one specific type of failure speaks for a whole genre, then you'd inevitably have to ask if *sequels*, like GHOULIES IV or PSYCHO III or something, are ruining the genre. And nobody wants that, right? Does one or two or four bad HELLRAISER movies mean that I can no longer feel the same appreciative way about the first few entries, the ones I actually enjoyed? Of course not. Point being: Too much of ANYTHING, be it sequels or remakes or just plain copycat bullshit, can reflect badly on a genre, but that doesn't mean that original, fantastic examples of that genre have to be tarnished by their failures... unless of course, you're some sort of close-minded, uneducated dickhead that can only remember the very last movie he/she saw.

Scare Sarah said...

Great debate.

I've always enjoyed a remake, or rehash, whatever.

If I've loved the original I've probably seen it a few times and know it pretty well. In this case it's good to see it "again" in a new light. Better still, with a new angle.

Yes, there have been some crap but it's all an experience right? It can't hurt the original, only bring it to an audience that may not have heard of it before.

Anonymous said...

Great points on both sides!

Are remake ruining horror? Yep. Sadly, they are for some of us old people. We have nothing original anymore. It's all been used, and used, and used. And then used again for a new millenium remake that will destroy it even more.

Dracula 1931. Classic. Bela Lugosi was poised and brought that character to life. Dracula 1979. Decent, Frank Langela bring something to the character, but also adds things that taint the story just a bit. Switching the character stories bothers me. Dracula 1992. Good movie dramatically, Gary Oldman make a fabulous Dracula, but the screenplay and two of the actor choices trash the entire concept of the real story.

Night of the Living Dead. Awesome. B&W, musical score makes the movie frightening in it's own right. Night of the Living Dead 1990. Story updated for the "90's woman". Empowered female lead, updated makeup and FX, musical score not as frightening. Scares are almost gone. Night of the Living Dead 3D 2006. Let's just not even get into how bad this movie is.

Horror isn't what it used to be, and remakes are a large cause for that. It leaves some of us feeling violated and insulted. I hate remakes more than I hate chick flicks. And that's pretty bad.....:)

Elwood Jones said...

Kudos to my debating opponent on a great arguement for remakes. Sadly it seems that remakes are currently here to stay, especially while theres a popular horror film waiting to remade.
Still if it means that more people discover the original, then you can't grumble to much, though really curious to know what is going to recive the remake treatment next, especially with alot of the safer titles already having been done....the burning perhaps??

Bloofer Lady said...

I think that a lot of the remakes are being made just to cater to one specific segment of the horror viewing audience, leaving everybody else out in the cold. This is a bad thing! I rearely go to the movies any longer because of this.

I Like Horror Movies said...

This is another great topic where I have strong feelings on both sides, however I am completely open to the idea of remakes in any genre. I love the idea of being able to see a film I love remolded and reshaped under a new director's guidance, providing an alternate take on a film that I have loved but overwatched for years. I absolutely loved the TCM remake, because it took the same basic theme but created something unique but similar at the same time. When a remake strictly becomes a shot for shot duplicate of the original film for the sake of cashing in on the earlier film's popularity, there I have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm kind of torn. If a remake brings the film and its franchise to a whole new audience, and they seek out the originals (as Highly Caffeinated notes), then I think its done a mighty service indeed. And in my humble opinion, when done right, the remake can far exceed the original. I might get shit for this, but I like the Last House on the Left remake more than the original.

And I respectfully disagree with Elwood. The current state of horror is anything but sterile. I think the last few years have done more for the genre than any other (French films and indie horror in particular stick out in my mind). Its just like mainstream music vs. indie. You just gotta know where to look.

B-Movie Becky said...

I'm not categorically against remakes and I genuinely like a lot of them. And yes, I too, thought the Last House remake was a far better film than the original and I liked it so much more. It's films like those that beg for remakes: movies that are dated, stuck in their time period, poorly shot, poorly executed, or simply have untapped potential. There are so many movies that have great concepts, but completely failed to deliver...so I don't mind a remake.

On the other hand, yes, it's silly that studios are replacing original horror with countless remakes by people who just want easy money. I think Elwood makes that point well.

In the end, I'll have to take it on a case by case basis. Some remakes piss me off, some don't. Just like when musicians cover songs by other artists. The Jay-Z stuff makes me want to rip out my hair, but god do I love Johnny Cash's covers.

Pat Tillett said...

A long time ago, I decided to accept “remakes” for what they are. And what they are, is a remake of an old movie, using modern techniques that weren’t available at the time.

They should be judged the same way they would, if the story was original. Having said that, I know I’m going to have a problem with “Wolfman” because the original, just scared the living crap out of me as a kid. I was stupid enough to watch it by myself, late at night. Part of what scared me so bad was the “feel” of the movie. The gypsy fortune teller, Maleva scared me as much as the Wolfman!

So no, I don’t think they are ruining horror, any more than I think movies are never as good as the book they may be based on. They are just different! Another telling or a familiar story!

the ringmaster's realm said...

To be honest, I am quite torn on remakes.

In one respect, a modern twist with a different perspective is great. There is so much technology available today that can make a difference. Plus, the addition of an actual budget for some of these movies can make all the difference in the world. Flicks such as Last Man on Earth has led multiple lives, and time has stuff that make it unique or a slight variation.

In the other respect, some movies should never be remade regardless of the materials, budget available, even if the directors that made the original is available. A movie such as the Exorcist should NEVER be remade, it still holds up today for people seing it for the first time, and that should be the criteria used when deciding what movies to re-do.

As a movie purest, I hate seeing Black and White classics being remade just for the sake of colorization or a modern twist. Night of the Living Dead and Psycho are perfect examples of that. There is something that comes with the grainy filming that makes it a classic.

Look at the Universal Classics that have shaped so many horror fans. While I have not seen the Wolfman as of yet, of the others, only Dracula added something for me. Frankenstein and The Mummy (which was by name only) did absolutely nothing for me (Although the Bride wasn't that bad either).

So after all of that, I guess I am still torn.

Highly Caffeinated said...

Cheers Elwood.

As some mentioned above, Last House remake was definitely better than the original, to which I had an apprehension to see the remake as I thought they were going to water it down too much. But the remake was definitely more enjoyable (I wonder if this ties into the other 'Is Wes Craven A Hack' debate?)

The other thing that may need pointing out is that while some remakes are crap, there is still a lot of original films that share that same crapness.

Maybe they just need a remake in ten years time. :)

venoms5 said...

Remakes for me are more of an annoyance than anything else. They are akin to that fly that simply will not go away. You swat at it a few times and then just give up and let it go away on its own. Years ago, they were few and far between. There were some that were definite head scratchers (ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS was a remake of IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) and some were horrific genius (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was a class act in itself as was it's '82 Carpenter reimagining).

Some of the more recent ones I've actually kind of liked. What bothers me about these movies is that, I don't about most of you, but here, there's a great many people who are oblivious that there's even an original film available. Those that do, have no interest in seeing the original, or if they have seen it, claim it to be shit.

The one problem I can say I do have with remakes is the same as that last statement. When directors or actors comment about how they are "improving the original", or "the first film was kitsch, this one people will remember"....such comments are derogatory and if the scriptwriters didn't find something of interest in said original, than there'd be little need to explore the possibilities in the first place.

I must say I am anxiously awaiting the upcoming PIRANHA 3D movie. Aja is very talented and seems to understand his audience as well as what he likes to see. His HILLS remake was a perfect example of a film that somewhat improved on the original while paying enough respectable homage to its source material.

oducerproducer said...

See there are some good remakes but most are shit. For most remakes it's either shot for shot, so there is no point, or they change it completely, then they should have just changed the title. Take last years last House on the Left, they kept it true to the original but tweaked it enough to feel new, so it worked out.

Wings1295 said...

I have always been of the mind that a remake or rehash or whatever doesn't take away from the original. That is still there, for you to watch and enjoy on its own.

Enjoy (or hate) the new stuff on its own merits too.

That said, Zombie's Halloween flicks suck! ;)

forestofthedead said...

I hope people don't hate all remakes, that they judge them by a case by case basis.
I myself love remakes in general, and love the originals too. I do not imagine a world where the originals are forgotten as fans get more into horror they will discover the originals. Give them time. My thing is despite being a remake defender, we need original stuff in theaters making money too, not just becoming popular on DVD. So again, I love remakes, but we need more original stuff in theaters. Then we can all be happy and y'all can get into watching Twilight and New Moon with me. No? Damn it.

senski said...

During the 80s, with the advent of VHS, the anti-remake line was the respected one to tout, for one reason. The presence of such films as the '78 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHER, the '86 THE FLY and the '88 THE BLOB meant that many stores - especially the Mom & Pop ones that covered the countryside - meant that the earlier versions never appeared on the shelf. (Tapes were freakin' expensive in those days, setting stores back anywhere from $70 to $100 per copy.) However, in a world of Netflix and cheap digital copies or streaming, this is much less of a worry. And call me a snob, but if you can't be bothered with watching a b&w or CGI-less movie because it's "old fashioned," film fandom has no real need of you, bunky.

Coming from a theater background, can you imagine if no one ever remade or re-staged Hamlet or Macbeth? While the final result was stillborn, I always felt that Van Sant's version of Psycho was an acknowledgment of the timeless, classic nature of the original. Sure, Tony Perkins and Janet Leigh were unforgettable, but Norman Bates and Marion Crane are too good of characters not to be shared with others, and, like all characters, had their genesis on the printed page, be it novel, stage play or screenplay.

R.D. Penning said...

I think remakes are great on many levels. 1- They show the lack of creativity in the movie business, thus making it easier for original script writers like myself to sell their stuff. 2- my rule: as long as it has been over 30 years since the original, and isn't a Hitchcock remake, I think it is ok 3- When the remakes are made it often gets people to watch the original again to prepare for the new one. 4- even if the remake blows, its always nice to see how someone else might have visioned it.