This origin of this latest Top Ten began some months ago - when I received a concerned text from the man known round these parts as Zomblee. I understood its simplicity and directness. Most of all I understood the pain behind the message. It simply said. “We need to talk…. It’s about The Wicker Man remake”.
Fast forward to an East Dulwich boozer, one bottle of red wine down and you can picture the scene. As horror fans we’ve all been there. “For fucks sake why?”, “What were they thinking” etc. I felt his pain. A cathartic, expletive-fuelled rant followed, but as the dust settled we realised the perfect Top Ten opportunity had just presented itself. So we set about the task of trying to name not the ten worst horror remakes (a potentially inexhaustible list, possibly into three figures) but the cream of what some folks like to now call reimaginings.
Admittedly it wasn’t an easy task. I think we left the pub with a pathetic four dead certs, but once we put the call out to the rest of the EMB gang we managed (just) to cobble together the final ten. I won’t lie, there were tears. Someone (may have been me, fuelled by ferociously strong European ale) actually suggested House of Wax. Eventually, curbing our instincts to wind each other up and start fights, we settled on the list below. Note that these are the best remakes, not remakes that are better than the originals. Try doing that ten. In any genre. Tougher than concrete. Or working out how La Bute's moribund effort actually got green lit…
I hope you have as much fun reading and arguing over these as we did. Look out for a marvellous, spirited defence of Snyder’s controversial Dawn from the Z-man, and Mr. Soulmining’s joyously nostalgic appreciation of Chuck Russell’s corking Blob retread, which had me scurrying for my battered old VHS copy. As for number one, well I imagine you guessed it already… and no it doesn’t star Paris Hilton.
10 .Willard (2003) If, like me, you managed to track down the original 1971 version of Willard after having seen the 2003 remake, you will no doubt have been left feeling a tad underwhelmed, because if ever a remake outshined the original in almost every way, then, rat lovers, this is it. Featuring an uncomfortably genuine central performance from Crispin Glover, this reworking creates a sense of atmosphere to shame most offerings which call themselves 'horror', while also featuring incredibly well-designed CGI sequences featuring our furry little scuttlers. I love it when someone gets CGI right.
More a tail (sorry) of dark beauty than a conventional horror film, Willard possesses an almost gothic quality which is seldom seen outside the realm of Tim Burton's work, which is surprising, given that it was directed by the man who wrote last year's utterly deplorable Black Christmas remake (which you will probably hear more about in our upcoming Top 10 Worst Horror Remakes). Cast-wise, it's a thing of beauty, too. Glover's performance is so compelling and masterful, it's quite impossible to imagine anyone else morphing into the titular role with such aplomb. And let's not forget R Lee Ermey as Willard's heartless boss - anyone who tried to recreate a role originally portrayed by Earnest Borgnine is either very brave or very stupid. But I wouldn't tell Ermey that. Would you? - Zomblee
9 .Body Snatchers (1993) Whereas Philip Kauffman's 70's remake of Invasion was deeply steeped in that post-Watergate 70's sense of paranoia, Abel Ferarra's worthy stab was as typically glossy 1990's as he could afford. Losing most of the original moniker in favour of a more concise title, Ferrara's neat little exercise moves the geographical context to an unlikely military base where the legendary R. Lee Ermey (hello again Mr Ermey) is in charge of widespread pod dispersal, and at the very heart of this experience is a family's unearthly nightmare.
Ermey is only one example of the great cast that helps to make this installment work. The gorgeous Gabreille Anwar is on fine form, always looking rather delicious as the subdued heroine of the story, and is even considerate enough to do a nude scene. Meg Tilly excels as Carol, and you may also remember a very jittery pre-Oscar winning Forest Whittaker as the pill-popping Major Collins, who eventually decorates the wall with his own brains.
Ferrara (and his writers who include horror legends Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon) stayed faithful to the piercing point-and-scream formula that Kaufmann started in his '78 remake, and none make a more terrifying meal out of it than Tilly does here - that shit still sends shivers down my spine. In fact, Ferrara's aliens are much more akin generally to the super-creepy 70's incarnations, complete with the obligatory, dead-eyed, emotionless "We came here form a dying world..." monologue - this time courtesy of everyone's favourite drill instructor Ermey. The special effects, from what I can remember, are pretty knockout stuff and Ferrara opts for old school techniques rather than CGI - a perfectly appropriate technical ingredient considering the cinematic legacy of the Body Snatchers entries.
This is not a typical Ferrara film (just what is a typical Ferrara film?) but it's certainly a lot more commercially appealing and - dare I say it - enjoyable than most, though one gets the sense that Abel doesn't get a kick out of seeing an audience actually enjoy themselves in a traditional horror sense. Try enjoying Driller Killer and you'll see what I mean. Given the choice, I'd take this stylish gloss over Driller Killer's degenerate squalor any day. - Zomblee
8 .Dawn of the Dead (2004) This is the one that urges you to reconsider your views when it comes to more modern remakes. Personally speaking, I avoided the recent spate of remakes like the plague until I caught up with Snyder's apocalyptic vision of walking dead. Gone is Romero's social commentary - no need to make the same point twice, right? Dawn 2004 gave a massive kick up the dead arse to the zombie genre, similar to what Boyle & Co. achieved with 28 Days Later, but this is loads more fun. And scarier. And funnier. And gorier. These are zombies - not virus-infected humans.
In fact, Dawn 2004 has pretty much got everything you could possibly wish for, except perhaps for a Goblin soundtrack, but that's ok, because one of the greatest all time drummers - Slayer's Dave Lombardo - is credited as percussion specialist here. Kudos of course, even if the first song you hear on the soundtrack is by Welsh averagists The Stereophonics, which in theory sounds awful, but in practice works an absolute treat.
Gone are Romero's shufflers. Here are super fast, screaming mad athletic flesh-munchers, so you can forget about simply running past them. Here it is necessary to construct a mobile death machine in order to escape the hungry dead, complete with a gap in the side which facilitates easier dismemberment via the medium of the chainsaw. Nice. And who can forget the jaw-dropping brilliance of the explosion that flattens the deadheads into a sea of inanimate meat. Where Romero shocked 1978 audiences with exploding heads, such a sight is commonplace here, and Snyder instead pushes the envelope with zombie babies, ridiculously funny shot-the-zombie-who-looks-like-a-celebrity games, and generally eye-pleasing sights of widespread deadstruction.
For those of you who never wanted to admit to yourself (or anyone else) that Romero's original Dawn occasionally bores, then this adrenaline-charged variation should definitely keep you awake, alert and captivated from the first frame, through the ingenious Johnny Cash-accompanied opening credits, until the final docu-footage that cheekily prohibits your exit until the bitter end. We're not saying Dawn 2004 is better than the original - that would be sacrilege. But it sure is as far as you could possibly get from disappointing. - Zomblee
7 .Happiness of the Katakuris (2003) Opening with a part-live action, part-animated scene in which a flying demon rips out a diner’s uvula in a restaurant, gets eaten by a crow, who itself gets eaten by a stuffed toy… and eventually concludes with another crow crapping on Grandpa’s head, it’s immediately clear that The Happiness Of The Katakuris is no ordinary remake. But then what else would you expect from the demented mind of Japan’s Takashi Miike?
Based on a little known Korean film, The Quiet Family, from director Ji-woon Kim (who later went on to make the excellent A Tale Of Two Sisters) it’s a darkly comic about a family who open a guesthouse up in the remote countryside, whose bonds are tested when their guests start dying and they decide to bury the bodies in the backyard to avoid the bad publicity. What Miike does is take the core story elements and then throw in some zombies, claymation and a series of song and dance numbers. It’s Return Of The Living Dead by way of The Sound Of Music and no less bizarre than that combination suggests.
It’s more comedy than horror but rarely have genres boundaries been spanned so well, and I defy you to keep a straight face when conman Richard boasts to the family that he’s a secret agent for our dear Queen! Often with Miike you’ll get extreme cinema at the expense of a decent story, but here his excesses are grounded by likeable characters and a great ensemble cast, led by the tiny daughter (and her lovable mutt Pochie) who acts as the narrator. The result is not only Miike’s most accessible film to date but also one of the most original films to come out of Asia in the last decade. All together now, the hills are alive with the sound of zombies! - Soulmining
6 .Cape Fear (1991) Duh Duh Duhhh DuHHHHH. While the ‘62 original isn’t really a horror film, Marty’s crack at it most certainly is, particularly when DeNiro’s wronged avenger Max Cady starts to take on almost Freddy / Jason like un-killable tendencies in the OTT climactic boat scene. Like the beefed-up Bernard Hermann score, everything in the (new! improved!) Cape Fear is turned up, Spinal Tap style, to 11.
Savvy cine-literate Scorsese probably knew he had no recourse to cast someone with the sheer physicality and graceful menace of Robert Mitchum (certainly not in the modern era where every actor is under 5ft 5 and equates rebellion with smoking Marlboro lights) so he ramps up the insidious sexual menace of DeNiro, allowing him to exploit the dark undercurrents only hinted at in J. Lee Thompson’s also excellent original.
While the first film, like the original Cat People, straddles the line between horrific melodrama and film noir, this is basically a bogeyman film – tipping the hat to slasher conventions while cannily updating scenes directly from the original. If Thompson, restrained by the censor, offers up an iron fist in a velvet glove, content to sucker punch you at vital moments, Marty takes the glove off and punches the audience repeatedly in the face for two hours. It’s a lot of fun actually.
Cape Fear is not by any means classic Scorsese, but it is Grand Guignol in the best style and makes you wish the great man had turned in a straight out balls to the wall horror pic of his own. And a permanently sweating Nick Nolte is on superb form, looking constantly on the verge of a heart attack, never more so than when Cady turns the goo-goo eyes and Henry James quotes on his jailbait daughter (Juliette Lewis). “Come out come out wherever you are..!” - David Hall
5 .Cat People (1982) Once upon a time (long before his sink into near-obscurity and the moribund debacle of Dominion) writer / director and one-man Scorsese collaboration machine Paul Schrader made some really barmy, interesting, visceral movies, and this febrile, sensuous reworking of the already kinky 1942 Jacques Tourneur flick is definitely one of his better films.
While Tourneur’s version – which is as much a film noir as a horror picture – is famous for what is unseen and suggested (utilising chiaroscuro lighting and a creepy soundtrack for much of its power), Schrader makes the most of having more creative freedom. This being ‘82 not ‘42 he introduces a creepy incest angle and ladles on the gore and copious female nudity (hooray), all set to a pulsating, electronic Girorgio Moroder / David Bowie score.
It probably helps that the source material – DeWitt Bodeen's story of a breed of humans descended from women who had gotten jiggy with some major felines – is pretty pervy in the first place, but this is actually one of those remakes that is different enough from its source to enjoy on its own or back to back with the first film for maximum enjoyment.
So luxuriate in the vampish, noir-soaked world of Simone Simon’s tragic Irena Dubrovna, who lives in fear that she will kill her American lover, before dipping into the heady New Orleans heat that builds around the sister / brother coupling of Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. And for added incentive, peak-form Kinski and her foxy redhead co-star Annette O'toole are starkers throughout. Easy tiger! - David Hall
4 .The Blob (1988) It was late ’88, my first year as a student, when my new friends & I arranged a trip to the local fleapit to check out a remake of the 1958 Steve McQueen-starring classic. What we witnessed that night helped shape my cinema-going habits for years to come. Chuck Russell’s version of The Blob is the archetypal B-movie, set in a small town populated by familiar stock characters; the jock, the cheerleader, the rebel, the police chief, the Reverend and the crusty old tramp – “An old man with a funky hand!”
Where similar pictures often fall down is with the writing, but here the screenplay from Frank Darabont (in his pre-Shawshank days) succeeds in making each person someone that you invest time and care in, aside perhaps from annoying little Eddie who deservedly meets a watery demise. It’s smart and witty too, like all the best creature features, Flagg’s deadpan, “Great, I killed the strawberry jam,” as he battles his way out of the diner becoming one of my most-quoted lines at the time.
The remake doesn’t shirk on the gore either, offering a succession of memorable death scenes, topped by the chef’s demise as he gets pulled head first into the kitchen sink. As well as giving early roles for Kevin Dillon (HBO’s Entourage) and Shawnee Smith (the Saw films) also look out for Paul McCrane getting snapped in half through a bookshelf, hot on the heels of his melting man role in RoboCop – great preparation for his later years in ER when he got mashed by a falling helicopter in one of the series’ most dramatic departures.
Admittedly a couple of the green-screen shots are poor by today’s standards, but on the whole The Blob is a fantastic slice of fun topped off with a great denouement. We enjoyed the screening so much that we returned a week later with more friends, took over the front three rows of the cinema, and laughed and cheered our way through the film all over again. An unforgettable experience! - Soulmining
3 .Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978) One of the most potent, ferociously intellectual remakes in any genre. Such is the power of Jack Finney’s original novella (The Body Snatchers) it has survived and endured throughout five ensuing decades – spawning many knock offs, two superb remakes, and the TV series Invasion which is… er… a bit rubbish.
Abel Ferrara's lean, schlocktastic take on the ultimate paranoia tale relocates the action, superbly, to a military base, but is marginally the lesser of the two. Philip Kaufmann’s ‘78 retooling shifts the setting to 70s San Francisco, with Donald Sutherland as the troubled hero who discovers that the people around him are being replaced by ‘pod’ replicas. Kaufman blends hippy dippy pre-X Files conspiracy theorising with post Watergate paranoia – while taking satirical sideswipes at Californian self-help therapy in the shape of untrustworthy guru Dr Kibner (Leonard Nimoy).
Kauffman actually makes good on original director Don Siegel’s intentions of having a remorselessly downbeat ending, with a nice twist in the final moments. It’s not his fault that it fails to enjoy the iconographic resonance of Kevin McCarthy’s ranting in the monumental last scene of Siegel’s original, though a cheeky McCarthy cameo is an added delight. - David Hall
2 .The Fly (1986) While there is nothing – and I mean nothing – in Cronenberg’s remake to top the utterly bizarre, nightmarish final scene in Kurt Neumann’s splendid ‘58 original (“Help meeee!”), almost everything else about the Canadian auteur’s version is immeasurably superior.
Goldblum's career-best performance as the eccentric Seth Brundle ensured that he joined the growing list of people unjustly robbed of an Oscar (shamefully he never even got a nomination) and the delicate interplay between the doomed scientist and his journalist lover Veronica (Geena Davis - never better) ensures that this – like the best of Cronenberg's work – has an emotional but unsentimental core beyond most horror films grasp.
But what about the viscera? Well, the powerhouse opening act plays like a jazzed up Origin of Spiderman (with a wrestling sequence that remains burned in the memory banks), and Goldblum’s metamorphosis ensures there is as much intentional gross-out comedy as there are chills. Like much of Cronenberg’s work this is largely about human impotence in the face of physical disintegration. On a less cerebral tip it has a great ‘penis in a jar’ gag and the best inside-out baboon teleportation sequence ever filmed.
For a director often accused of being cold and unemotional its frequently funny, sad and strangely beautiful. The moment where Goldblum utters the Kafkaesque line "I am an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it, but now the dream is over and the insect is awake", I defy you to not to be moved. Be afraid, be very afraid, then bawl your eyes out. And puke. - David Hall
1 .The Thing (1982) What else was gonna be number one? House of Wax? Frankly, only the wilfully perverse would deny this the top spot; Carpenter’s elemental, apocalyptic horror masterpiece stands alone – it’s simply a colossus amongst remakes.
25(!) years after its original release, The Thing – much like the all-devouring creature at its core – has only grown in stature and influence with each passing year. Unusually, Carpenter's film is actually more faithful to the novella that spawned both versions, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, and although the justly famous Bottin gross-out effects still startle, it’s the vicelike way that Carpenter builds upon an already hostile situation that continues to leave a lasting impression.
Has there ever been a film that better exploits the scenario of an isolated crew, who already have tensions within, struggling to trust each other once their ability to know who among them is human starts to fall apart? The first person to say The Descent will be locked up in grim isolation like Wilford Brimley’s unfortunate character.
And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s Kurt. Hell, you can keep yer Plisskens and yer Jack Burtons, for this writer ‘Mac’ Macready is the toughest, most inscrutable and – yeah - coolest hero in the Russell oeuvre – a feat made even more extraordinary as most of his face is buried under a beard and haircut that makes him resemble one of The Eagles circa ‘Hotel California’.
As pretty much everyone knows by now, the film was largely panned by the buffoon critical establishment at the time (horror films having always come in for hostile treatment, perhaps never more so than in the early 80s). This, plus the largely E.T. inflicted box-office damage that followed, ensured that the great man went largely into a fairly steep decline that, aside from the odd flawed gem, he never recovered from.
Nay matter, The Thing remains and will forever endure as not only the best ever horror remake, but the only one to perhaps actually top the original. As great as Hawk’s and Nyman’s 1951 version is, if anyone argues the case for its superiority simply retort with this film’s now immortal line… “ya gotta be fuckin' kidding…” - David Hall
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