Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Halloween Horrors: Rating the Horror Remakes

Reruns, kids, reruns of my annual horror movie guides, which have grown voluminous over the years. I even had a Blast from the Past featuring many of the movie trailers for these remakes (and their originals). You see can that here (hopefully, most are still live). And if you're interested in watching any of the full movies on Halloween night, read on. . .


I've finally over the last year or so, gotten to viewing a slew of the new remakes and reboots of classic horror films.  There have been quite a few, and some are better (or worse) than others. Here's a handy guide for you, to help you out with your holiday video viewing.  (*Star ratings are for within-the-genre only)

Greenlee Gazette Modern Horror Remakes Guide

The Thing (2011) - This one is almost brand new, having only been around for a couple of weeks. Apparently it isn't tearing up the box office records, but then neither did the 1982 installment. If you liked the original, I can't see why you wouldn't like this one. There is no big Kurt Russell-type star. But it's basically the 1982 version, spruced up, and with improved effects. It has genuine suspense, and in some ways is more satisfying than the original one was. And if you hate the cold? You'll have a little more to shiver about. The 2011 Thing is more gooey, and more gross, so of course I recommend this one. Be sure to watch through the end credits. Something happens there that could potentially make this one inappropriate for this list. But whatever. ***

Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007) - If there was ever a horror series that needed a change, it was Halloween. Though the original is an all-time classic, and there are a few enjoyable sequels sprinkled in there, the last three sequels run the gamut from bad to worse.  But Zombie's reboot of the franchise isn't promising. The movie itself is fine, and if it had no legend to live up to might be rated higher.  It is tied to the previous series--interestingly enough--by having the star of parts 4 and 5 as one of the actors.  But you won't be scared by this one, and anything promising for a new series is trashed by the immediate Halloween II remake, which is bizarre and confusing, trying too hard to shoehorn in supernatural elements.  You could certainly do worse, but you can do so much better by renting or buying the original.  **  (Sequel: No *)

Friday the 13th (2009) - This reboot had no real legend to live up to.  The Friday the 13th series is an interesting mixture of nostalgia and "so bad, it's good" in the pantheon of horror, and literally couldn't be wrecked.  Also, Jason Voorhees' character and back-story were already muddled, and continuity between editions was so loose, re-starting the story is no big deal.  You might call it more of a ret-con than a reboot. Anyway, this is by far the highest quality, best produced edition of the series.  You've never seen such clarity and crispness in a Friday film, which were usually muddy and dark.  Acting is better than the original series, and the effects are fun.  This is really a remake of Part 2 of the original series, which was one of the better ones, and it's really not bad.  They fleshed out Voorhees' background, adding in a couple of odd elements, neither improving or detracting much from what we know. It has a few surprises, and a couple of jolts. But scary? Not so much.  More fun than later Friday sequels (except for maybe Freddy vs. Jason). Amazingly, this film still doesn't explain why Jason's mother thought he was dead, how he survived, or why he was there to witness his mother's death!  Any future sequel would play like an extension of the first series, rendering the reboot kind of moot.  ***
Image from Wikipedia

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - This one had me the most worried, going in.  The original Nightmare is an undisputed classic. Sure it was low-budget, had some problematic acting, and is hopelessly mired in the 80s. But it was so original, mixing the dream world with reality, relatable nightmares and a terrifying villain in Freddy Krueger. Later sequels kind of neutered Freddy though, so a reboot, Wes Craven's New Nightmare was made several years ago.  New Nightmare was not a success, even though it was critically praised, so this remake came to be, recasting and rebooting the entire franchise.  It's a mixed success. There's a new guy playing Freddy, and while he did a fine job, Robert Englund is a tough act to follow.

This isn't like the other horror franchises, with masked killers.  Englund was Freddy. That's the toughest aspect to get around.  I was surprised that they didn't focus on Nancy's house much at all, which was such an iconic aspect of most of the original series.  Also, Freddy is made more creepy and disgusting than scary.  He was always a "child killer" but the implications of that were obscured before. Here, he's very definitely a pedophile and killer, which makes you more queasy than terrified.  All in all, a decent remake, but the original is still better. **

The Hills Have Eyes - You couldn't really damage the original in this Wes Craven flick.  Hills falls into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Wrong Turn sub-genre of films, with ordinary people finding themselves in desolate places ruled by murderous, cannibalistic mutants/hillbillies/inbreds.  It's nasty, it's bloody, and you will want to cover your eyes in parts.  If you like it messy and nasty, this belongs on your rental list. The sequel falls right in line, playing like an extension of the first. Not Shakespeare, but what horror is?  *** (Sequel **1/2)

April Fool's Day (2008) - The original is a personal favorite, though not very well known. By the same people as the Friday the 13th series, April Fool's Day was a novel twist, with better acting, humor and an interesting premise of a "murder mystery weekend" going horribly wrong (or did it?).  The "remake" is really in name only. There's some decent gore, and even the acting isn't too bad. But it's a terrible movie. No stars.

Image from Wikipedia
The Last House on the Left (2009) - Another remake of a Wes Craven film, and this one is better than the original.  The old one was gritty and dirty, and disturbing, feeling almost like 70s porn.  This one is more standard-issue modern horror, but more disturbing than your typical slice & dice.  The acting is terrific, with Tony Goldwyn (Ghost) and Garrett Dillahunt almost unrecognizable as the bad guy, Krug (apparently based on the same bully of Craven as Freddy Krueger).  The film--though it does have a few typical "oh, they wouldn't do that" horror movie moments--is quite engaging and suspenseful, and is only marred by an ending that seems kind of out of left field.  It's satisfying, gory and nasty, but not entirely believable. Overall though, the best of this list. ****

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) - Unlike the other remakes in this list, I've never seen the original Tobe Hooper film.  I've caught a handful of the sequels though, and this one is better than any of those.  Some decisions by main characters are completely unbelievable, but that's a critique of most horror films, so it goes with the territory. This one plays like a better-produced installment of the never-ending original franchise.  **

There are others, of course.  George Romero's Dead series of zombie films has the unique distinction of having different folks produce remakes of each of the original three movies, and even sequels to them.  There's Prom Night, Psycho, Children of the Corn. . .but a good rule of thumb is this: get the original.  It's almost always better.

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