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The One Quality the Best Horror Remakes Have, and the Worst Do Not

The Thing

Remakes. The mere mention of the word almost always invokes passion from us horror fans, and whether you love them or you absolutely cannot stand them, there’s one thing that’s for certain; remakes are an incredible conversation starter.

Personally, I have absolutely no issue with remakes, and I feel that hating a movie for being a remake is as silly and prejudicial as hating all human beings that belong to a certain race.

Yes, we have seen a large handful of shitty horror remakes come out in the last couple decades, but the same can be said for original horror movies, can it not? A good movie is a good movie and a bad movie is a bad movie, regardless of whether it’s an original, a rip-off, a sequel, a remake or – gasp! – even a romantic comedy.

But I’m not here to defend remakes today. That’s a whole nother topic of discussion, for a whole nother day.

What I am here to do is provide my answer to a question that is often raised, in regards to remakes; what makes the good ones good, and the bad ones bad? Or, in other words, is there one single element that the good ones possess, and the bad ones don’t?

While it’s of course not as simple as singling out one quality that makes for a good remake, my answer to both of those questions is nevertheless a big ole YES. Yes, there is one quality inherent in good remakes, that’s not present in bad ones. And that quality… is originality.

Wait… what? Originality, in a remake? Surely that’s an oxymoron, RIGHT?!

When we look back on the history of horror remakes, there are two films that stand head and shoulders above the rest. So good are they that even fans who absolutely loathe remakes cannot possibly find a single reason to dislike them. Those two movies, of course, are John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Remakes don’t get much more original than those two stand-out exceptions to the ignorant claim that ‘all remakes suck,’ which are so boldly original that it’s almost hard to even consider them remakes to The Thing from Another World and the 1958 version of The Fly. And that, right there, is the beauty of what Carpenter and Cronenberg did; they took the seeds of ideas presented in those original films, and blossomed them into creations that were entirely their own.

Dawn of the Dead

I like to refer to The Thing and The Fly as ‘original remakes,’ and a more recent success story that falls into that same category is Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. James Gunn’s script centers on a group of survivors holing up in a mall, just as Romero’s original did, but that’s about where the similarities between the two begin and end. You’ve got the mall, you’ve got the survivors and you’ve of course got the zombies, but everything else is totally original and completely its own story, which was a brilliant move on Gunn’s part.

Much like The Thing and The Fly, the characters in Dawn of the Dead all have different names than the ones in the original film, and are completely different characters, which is one of the most important aspects of an ‘original remake.’ When the characters are the same, we as horror fans are inevitably going to compare them to the ones from the original film, and that’s a serious death blow for any remake. Complain all you want about Ash not being in the Evil Dead remake, but it would’ve been remake suicide to bring in another actor to try and tackle the role. And that’s the truth.

Another remake that I applaud for deviating from the source material is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is in my opinion one of the better reboots of the last several years. Again, the characters are totally different, aside from Leatherface, and the story very much its own, aside from the fact that it centers on Leatherface cutting and carving people up. While not as original as some of the other remakes that I previously mentioned, it still manages to feel like its own movie, with its own style, rather than a recreation of things we had already seen in the original, which I feel it must be applauded for.

Carrie

As for remakes that are missing this quality of originality, they are numerous, with Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street coming immediately to mind.

They’re so similar to the original films that they accomplish nothing but bolster the ‘remakes are pointless’ argument, and pointless is most definitely the word I’d use to describe remakes such as them, which bring absolutely NOTHING new to the table. There’s a difference between a remake and a recreation, and I see no point whatsoever in faithfully recreating an existing piece of art, without putting your own spin on it.

And there you have it. Just because a remake is a remake doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be original, and if you’re asking me, originality is the key ingredient that makes a good remake a good remake. Even if original ideas are infused into a remake, and it doesn’t turn out all that great, I still appreciate the effort a whole lot more than a lifeless and totally unoriginal recreation.

The Hills Have Eyes and Friday the 13th come to mind as remakes that aren’t exactly original, but nevertheless had original aspects to them; Hills updated the dated original, with modern day gore and effects, and Friday was presented more like a sequel, than a remake. Just goes to show that you don’t even have to be all that original, for a remake to feel fresh and new.

Feel free to continue this discussion in the comments section below, as I always love to talk remakes with fellow fans!

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • Guest

    I can agree that we all jump the gun to hate remakes. I am guilty of this, I need to relax about them, and enjoy the horror! Thanks John for keeping all of us in check and telling the truth!

  • Mr. Macabro

    Dude. Maniac was another fantastic remake.

  • Blake Brubaker

    I agree with you and applaud for you defending Remakes. This is definitely controversial but I think Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead stands head to head with Romero’s original.