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By the time you read this Halloween season has passed us by and now we’re facing the agonising few weeks before Christmas décor is acceptable. I feel pretty confident that over the last few weeks as the All Hallows’ Hype kicked in, we’ve all indulged in sitting down with family or friends and watching a good old-fashioned scare-fest.
There really is nothing like it. I for one, alongside my scare-proof flatmates, had a good go at watching the classics over the previous weeks. Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), I could list the classics forever but these, in particular, are my go-to choices. They are also all remakes.
The purpose of this editorial is, therefore, to look at the horror genre’s successful remakes, gleam what works from them, and also shame Psycho (1998) and the work of Platinum Dunes in general really.
With the examples I gave earlier, it is easy for the average film viewer to be unaware of their status as remakes in and of themselves. David Cronenberg’s grotesque body horror classic Jeff Goldblum flick has supplanted the original 1958 take on The Fly, similarly, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) has done the same respectively. However, I’d implore any fan of these films to try a double feature with their progenitors. Both films resemble each other but the remakes take startling alterations based on the then-current mindset of their times. In short, all of these films are time capsules and complement each other well.
Cronenberg took an endearing ‘science can never take the place of God’ 1950s B-movie feature about Vincent Price swapping heads with a fly, and by retooling the scientist as a lovable outsider and the insectoid elements into a degenerative condition he makes each form startlingly different. In the mid-80s the spread of AIDS was an uncomfortable cultural touchpoint, so one can imagine an audience member seeing the parallels of a mutating Seth Brundle to the news reports of the time. The Fly had turned from a cautionary fable into a harrowing sci-fi story of caring for a loved one who was literally decomposing.
The same reasoning can be seen in Philip Kaufman’s take on the eternally resonant Body Snatchers. The original was set in a small town where everybody knew each other- the horror derived from seeing the familiar be stripped of its distinctiveness. The 1978 take is scary because in the big city everything is unfamiliar and indistinct- the invasion may already have happened; you just haven’t noticed yet. The fear of losing humanity is supplanted twenty years later with the fear that we, as a society, have already lost it long ago.
But what of the bad remakes I alluded to earlier? I think 1998’s Psycho is noteworthy. Taking a film that terrified baby boomers in the 1960s and redoing it shot for shot is pointless and regurgitates more than it reinterprets. There should always be a director and production team seeking to stand beside the greats, not in their shadows.
Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes tried their hands at horror remakes in the late 2000s with their takes on A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, managing only to succeed in annoying the ten people that still care about those franchises. Which demonstrates the other important (and blindingly obvious) factor in worthwhile remakes: the filmmakers need to care.
Until the next time cinephiles, Joe Hopewell.