I recently had the opportunity to go and see The Troll Hunter, André Øvredal's madcap nature mockumentary about a man who hunts trolls for the Norwegian government. It's a great concept and a great film, so Christopher Columbus (Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, Bicentennial Man) decided that the only logical step was to … make it again! Except with American accents and his name in the credits.
Remakes have always been a bit of a sticking point for me, and a wonderful maypole of debate around which people on the internet can dance for days, correcting the grammar of other posters with razor-sharp disdain and calling people "n00bs" for liking Gore Verbinski's version of The Ring. While I can see both sides of the debate, I have a painful and embarrassing nerve reflex that causes me to facepalm violently whenever I find out that a great film (usually foreign or low-budget) is going to be remade (usually by big studios with equally huge amounts of money and indifference). Soon we'll see remakes of Chan Wook-Parks's Oldboy, Dario Argento's Suspiria and Alex Proyas' The Crow, and I think this calls for not just one Top Five list, but two. Here they are: the best and worst of movie remakes.
5. Psycho (1998)
Looked at on it's own merit, Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho is actually a decent film, but that's purely because it's almost a shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic. When Van Sant was asked why he had even bothered, he simply replied with the wild, impassioned reason of, "So no one else would have to." Yes, even the director openly admitted that the film was pointless. To make matters worse, the role of Norman Bates (once played with chilling finesse by Anthony Perkins) was given to Vince Vaughn. Vaughn can be a great comedy actor, not to mention the fact that he's extremely tall and that has to count for something, but Norman Bates he is not and the random inclusion of a scene where he has a cheeky wank while peeping in on Marion Crane fails to add much to his dark mystique. A boring, lacklustre copy-paste of one of the greatest horror films ever made, Psycho even failed as a cash-in project as it barely broke even and was forgotten faster than a fart in a wind tunnel.
4. Planet of the Apes (2001)
With any luck the forthcoming prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes will be enough to wash the taste of Tim Burton's "reimagining" of monkey dystopia out of our mouths. Warning bells started going off when it was revealed that the shoes of Charlton Heston would be filled by Mark Whalberg AKA Marky Mark of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The final product lacked even the trademark weirdness of Burton's usual fare, and was instead an uninspired and conservative summer blockbuster. Another film that probably would have got better reviews if people hadn't already seen how good it could have been, the best that can be said for this remake is that the ape make-up was quite good.
4. Black Christmas (2006)
This remake was so stupid that it was actually physically painful to watch (possibly because I kept pounding the screen with my fist screaming "STOP … BEING … SO … STUPID!!" at the top of my lungs). It was based on the 1974 Canadian film of the same name, which was the original stalker-killer horror movie and a strong influence for John Carpenter's Halloween. The original is as brilliant as it is terrifying, playing off the warm and homey environment of the sorority house against the presence of the psychotic killer in the attic. If you ever wondered where the line, "The calls are coming from inside the house" was first used then here's the culprit, though it's unclear whether the movie inspired the urban legend or vice versa. While the killer in Bob Clark's film was never fully identified or even seen, existing mainly as a POV camera angle and a horribly creepy voice making sexually explicit phone calls to the girls, in the remake we get so much backstory about "Billy" that it starts to feel like 100 episodes of Days of Our Lives crammed into a two hour film, except with incest and cannibalism.
2. The Haunting (1999)
A large chunk of my undergaduate dissertation was focused on Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, and so I was obligated to watch both film versions of it as part of my research. Robert Wise's 1963 film captured the very essence of the book and successfully recreated the ambiguity of whether or not it was truly a ghost story or merely a psychological thriller in which the ghosts are manifestations of the main character's psychic abilities (not to mention the fact that I was so scared after watching it that I kept the lights on all night and watched episodes of Moomin until the sun rose). The 1999 film glanced at the blurb, decided, "Hey, it's about a haunted house, let's throw in loads of goofy special effects using that new-fangled CGI stuff … And let's get Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson to star in it!" The result was horrific indeed; a mangled, expensive and ridiculous lights show culminating in Owen Wilson getting his head knocked off by an iron pendulum in the shape of a lion's head. That's not a spoiler, you can't spoil something that's already rotten to the core.
1. Halloween II (2008)
I paid to watch this movie. I paid for it with actual money that I will never see again. To make matters worse, I was a poor student at the time and because I believed in "value" for money I refused to leave the cinema until it was over. I'll admit that I love the original Halloween movies, even the weird third one that had nothing to do with the previous two, but that love can only have coloured my perception so far and a lot of my reaction to Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween II can only be attributed to the fact that it's a bad, bad movie. It headbutts its way through the running time with the vocabulary of a 13 year old who has just found out what the word "fuck" means and is determined to use it as much as possible, flinging gore at the screen like a caged monkey flinging its own faeces, perhaps in the hope that the screen will become too dirty for the audience to realise that Michael Myers is being followed around by his mother on a white horse who is telling him to kill people. An overblown, hysterical mess that didn't even have the common courtesy to be scary.
5. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
It takes strong, plentiful balls to remake a Kurosawa film, which might be the reason why such films often turn out to be a cut above the usual remake (see also: The Magnificent Seven). Sergio Leone's reworking of Yojimbo launched Clint Eastwood into a long career as King of the Western and also launched a fashion for young men about town to wear ponchos and smoke short cigars (alright, that last part isn't true, but I wish that it were). Leone made the film for $200,000 but unfortunately neglected to buy the remake rights beforehand, which eventually cost him $100,000 and 15% of the worldwide gross in a lawsuit brought against him by Yojimbo's producers.
4. Casino Royale (2006)
The impact of this film probably had a lot to do with the chorus of naysayers that raved before its release, not about the fact that it was a remake but about the fact that the new James Bond was *gasp* blonde. A tough and stylish thriller that lifted the James Bond franchise out of the murk of silliness and predictability that it had sunk into and broke the formula in a way that people either loved or hated. Beginning with a breathtaking parkour sequence that took the hero from the top of a crane to the seat of a bulldozer (sort of cheating in a parkour race), the film was equally gripping when sat down at a poker table (especially for me, since I don't know the rules of poker so when they turned their cards over I didn't know if the result was good or bad until the characters reacted to it).
3. The Departed (2006)
Based on Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Internal Affairs I, II and III, Scorsese's undercover crime thriller was stuffed to bursting with the best of Hollywood talent, including Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and, er, Marky Mark of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The film takes the central concept of deception and builds the plot up around it into a web of secrecy and double-bluffs, all building up to a spectacular pay-off that left audiences stunned. Definitely not the kind of film where you can get up in the middle for a 5 minute toilet break, and every minute of the weighty 2 and a half hour running time is just as gripping as the last.
2. The Thing (1982)
Another film that will see a remake (well, a prequel bearing the same name) released this year, John Carpenter's The Thing was itself a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and is frequently rated as one of the greatest horror films of all time. The film is something of a sausagefest, featuring an all-male cast and some pretty spectacular beards, but if anything it should be congratulated for not bowing to formula and shoehorning a pointless love interest/damsel in distress into the story. With special effects sequences that even the best of CGI can't quite match and a tense script that capitalises on the fact that any one of the characters could be an alien in disguise, The Thing is a prime example of a remake done well. The only real shame is that many fans of Carpenter's version have never seen the original, which features a great script and gave us the classic warning, "Keep watching the skies!"
1. The Wicker Man (2006)
Stand aside, Edward Woodward, and make room for Nicolas Cage and Neil LaBute, who together created one of the most entertaining remakes ever to grace our screens. Definitely the most quotable film on both lists, the 2006 version of The Wicker Man provided us with gems like "Killing me won't bring back your goddamn honey!" and "Oh no, not the bees, not the bees!" and proved beyond all doubt that an intense and emotional horror film can easily be reworked as a slapstick comedy.
Aside from being excellent anti-feminist propaganda, replacing the pagan cult of the original with a band of man-hating lesbians who brainwash their children into thinking that man is nothing more than a phallic symbol and that bees are the almighty lords of all creation, the film is also a deep exploration of a number of controversial political and philosophical issues. A lot of these issues are left open to the interpretation of the viewer, meaning that even today scholars and academics find themselves unable to find a definitive answer to the question, "How did it get burned?"
The climax of the film comes when Nicolas Cage, dressed in a bear costume, runs through the woods punching women in the face. A cinematic triumph.