Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of 52 Weeks of Horror or its affiliates/sponsors. In addition, I think he snuck in some salty language and some unfair judgements of beloved horror films. You've been warned.
Remakes have been such an integral part of 21st century cinema that they’ve gone from being a sort of comical trope to a legitimate business model for a lot of major studios and filmmakers. Take a film, obscure or mainstream, and redo it. Change the principle cast around a bit, make some jokes about current events to give it a feeling of modern relevance, and most of all take anything artistic, controversial, or groundbreaking about the original and get it right the hell out of there in favor of product placement and needless asides and you’ve got a modern remake. But don’t actually call it a “remake.” Are you nuts! It’s a “reimagining” or a “tribute” or even a “long awaited sequel.”
At one point late last year I found over 150 remakes had been announced as either actively in production, in pre production, or preparing for release over the next two years. Some of them look promising like Rabid and Swamp Thing. Others, like Child’s Play and Train to Busan feel much less necessary and seem to be little more than joyless cash grabs aimed at nostalgia stricken moviegoers’ wallets. “Cinematic Gentrification” I believe is the term that came up during one of my latest conversations about this continuing wave of remakes happening now. For the purpose of this article I’m including delayed sequels (more than ten years delayed), franchise reboots, and television series adaptations to this list because, when you really sit down and look at it, they’re all just reruns.
Why Do Remakes Suck?
I called it “cinematic gentrification” and I’ll stand by that phrase until a better one comes along. You have a producer or some film executive who comes along and sees a familiar property and recognizes that there is still a pretty active fan following attached to it. What comes next is a time honored tradition in 21st century filmmaking. You give it a new, edgier look. You add in any hot button social topic as peripheral storyline for dimensionless characters. You take a creature or killer with a well established backstory and “reimagine” something that seems more “believable” for the sort of savvy audience you intend to attract. You fill in the gaps in what is becoming an increasingly banal and toothless story with meta humor and phoned in Easter eggs as an intentionally offhanded nod to the now plagiarized work. Oh, and don’t forget to take out anything that could be considered controversial or otherwise artistic that was done in the original.
You now have nearly every remake done in the last twenty-five years.
I don’t need Godzilla to be some prehistoric savior lizard who thrives on nuclear energy in order to enjoy a picture about giant monsters beating each others asses on the streets of Tokyo. I don’t need you to remake a non-English speaking masterpiece with muted visual effects and a neutered story because people don’t like to read subtitles. I damn sure don’t need 7 Transformers movies for any reason. Ever. But you can’t blame producers for chasing dollar signs rather than taking risks on new and experimental stuff.
You can, however, blame the audiences that continue to perpetuate this by rewarding those producers and studios with millions of dollars each year for another Ocean’s 11 movie, but this time the thieves are women. Because gender swapping characters in a film means that they care about women...right?
I enjoyed this remake but I'm trying to make a point. Sorry, Slimer.
Made For TV Horror Remakes
This is a new trend that I blame in part on the success of The Walking Dead as well as Ash vs Evil Dead. Scratch that, I blame it entirely on Ash vs Evil Dead. We now have television versions of Westworld, The Exorcist, and coming soon to a screen near you Child’s Play. But I’m going to use old Chucky to make another point in a minute so I’ll go with the rumored plans to remake John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness into television instead.
I loved Ash vs Evil Dead. Well, everything except for the bullshit Phantasm: Ravager rip off final episode. And Prince of Darkness is arguably one of my favorite Carpenter films. The story itself takes horror, science fiction, and theology among other things and blends them together into something terrifying, otherworldly, and more than a little bit fantastic. But if television has taught me nothing it’s that what should be a pretty straight forward chance to expand on the story and characters first introduced in the late 80’s will become little more than another attempt to emulate the commercial success and appeal of The Walking Dead.
It’ll last three seasons, tell a fraction of the story told in the original film, and will do less for the fans than a decent miniseries based on the concept could have achieved.
(Pointless) Dueling Remakes
You know what we’ve had like clockwork since 1989? Child’s Play movies. There hasn’t been a span of more than about 9 years go by without a new installation of the life and crimes of Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray. With Cult of Chucky just a few years ago we saw the continuation of an otherwise unbroken evolution of the characters and stories of the murderous doll. Recently, we learned that not only will Child’s Play be adapted for television as a series in the vein of those shows listed above, but it will also see a complete and total reboot of the franchise in theaters. The series will be helmed by the original creators and voice talent of the films. The film will have absolutely nothing to do with any of it except for the name.
Yup, that black magic possessed doll is now going to be an animatronic toy gone berserk courtesy of corporate terrorists “hacking” the system. I’ve never seen a child’s toy that literally couldn’t be stopped by yanking out the batteries or tossing it in a trash can and, to me, the scary thing about the original Child’s Play was that mystical element that made the damned thing equal parts tenacious and intelligent. In fact, without the magical imbuement of certain strengths and powers into the Good Guy doll, you could just kick the damned thing into traffic and the movie is done.
But, hey, you know an audience can’t suspend reality to believe in a magically possessed toy unless it’s a Pixar flick. If you want to make Chucky relevant, he’s got to be the fucking Terminator now.
There are plenty of remakes and sequels that I’ve enjoyed over the years and several that I’m looking forward to in the years to come. In the last few years, though, I’ve seen way too many bad films gain critical and fan acclaim simply for exploiting someone’s nostalgia while truly genius and entertaining movies are left by the wayside. I could go on for hours on this topic, debating and dissecting the pros and cons of remakes. Taking something old and breathing new life into it is a highly cherished storytelling tradition as old as time. But the way it’s being done now, especially on film, is exploitative and shows a distinct lack of imagination. I’m hoping that the list of remakes below is going to thoroughly surprise me in 2019 and 2020 but only time will tell.
I want to finish this up by telling you, honestly, I don't care if it's a remake or not. I'd rather see something new over a rerun but I get the reasons why it's done. What I'm exhausted by is the way in which remakes are being made and sold to the audience. I have a lot of high hopes for Rabid, for Candyman, and for several other impending remakes being done by people who give a damn about film. But these are the exceptions, unfortunately, and not the rule.
A Partial List of Impending Remakes
The Twilight Zone
Night of the Comet
Child's Play (television)
Child’s Play (film)
Big Trouble in Little China
An American Werewolf in London
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Lost Boys
Lord of the Rings
The Last Starfighter
Friday the 13th
The Devil's Advocate
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Interview with a Vampire
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Train to Busan
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Little Shop of Horrors
Men in Black
Prince of Darkness
What Men Want
A Series of Unpopular Opinions is a feature of Danno of the Dead Blog and is used here with permission.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.