Remakes are still a hot button issue among horror fans. Even now that we’re seeing fewer of them, people are still angry. I get it, too. The amount of horror remakes released in the mid-2000s was staggering. It felt like nothing could be successful unless it was a reimagining of a pre-existing property. But the problem with remakes was oversaturation, not the films themselves.
When every weekend saw the release of a remake of at least one classic horror, fans obviously got annoyed and aggravated, because there was just so much. That doesn’t mean the movies couldn’t be good. They often weren’t, of course. With studios so eager to push out features based on recognizable titles, they weren’t too concerned with quality control.
It’s much easier to look back at these films now that their time has come and gone. During the height of the remake craze, it was so easy to just get mad at the fact that they even existed. Now most of them are over ten years old. All of these movies might have been made for the same reasons, but that didn’t stop filmmakers from coming up with unique and inventive takes on these beloved properties.
The entries on this list have mostly been met with mixed to negative reviews. Some of them were popular when they came out and quickly tapered off. They weren’t what the fans wanted them to be. In some cases, they just didn’t want them to happen at all and reacted passionately.
But now I think enough time has passed to really evaluate them on their own merits. With that in mind, here are a few remakes that don’t deserve the amount of hate that they get.
King Kong (1976)
Initially, I was going to include Peter Jackson’s King Kong on the list, but the general consensus seems to be that it’s pretty good but way too long. It’s hard to argue with that, even though I do like it. Instead, I’m going with the all-but-forgotten 1976 remake. It’s a fascinating combination of a big budget epic and a schlocky B-Movie. Its flaws are obvious, but it was a childhood favorite and it’s still a lot of entertaining, campy fun.
While Jessica Lange’s performance doesn’t begin to show the talent she’d demonstrate later in her career, Jeff Bridges is a surprisingly believable action lead. The socially conscious, environmental plot works as a modern update. It provides arguably the most believable reason for getting the crew to the island in the first place.
Yes, the movie does wind up tragically dating itself with the inclusion of the World Trade Towers. But that doesn’t negate the strong set pieces and pure, earnest entertainment value of the whole production.
Village of the Damned
John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned is far from the director’s best movie, but it’s definitely not his worst, either. At the end of the day, middle-of-the-road Carpenter is still Carpenter. There are some memorable sequences. Christopher Reeve actually does a really good job with his character.
There’s a solid sense of pacing to the whole first act and some of the children are genuinely creepy. Kirstie Alley’s death in particular is a memorably gruesome scene. It also boasts one of Carpenter’s most underrated scores. The main “March of the Children” theme is one of his best.
Alexandre Aja proved that he could make a great movie with High Tension. He even proved he could make a great remake with Hills Have Eyes. He had nothing to prove with Piranha, so that’s what he did. It’s pure exploitation schlock just for the hell of it. To see a filmmaker that good tackle something like this is endlessly entertaining to me. Especially because he completely went as extreme as he could with it.
It might not hold up as well in 2D at home as it did seeing it in the theater in 3D, but that doesn’t stop it from being undeniable, sleazy fun. The surprising cast including Elizabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd shouldn’t work at all. Everyone is better than this, even the director. That’s what makes it so great.
Body Snatchers (1993)
Abel Ferrera’s Body Snatchers is not nearly as well known or as celebrated as the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great film on its own, though. With a script by Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli and a story by Larry Cohen, it would have been hard to screw this up.
The decision to confine the action to a military compound allows for a take on a familiar story that has a flavor and style all its own. This movie stands on its own, the characters feel original and it’s an approach to the situation that doesn’t retread what was already done in the first two. At the same time, it embraces its roots and features several callbacks to both of the previous features. Most remakes fail to achieve this balance. Body Snatchers definitely doesn’t get enough credit for how well it tows this line.
On top of that, Meg Tilly’s performance alone—her brutally unsettling monologue in particular—is reason enough to give this one a watch if you’ve still never seen it.
Let Me In
There’s no need to debate that this was not a remake that needed to happen. It was a popular foreign property that was remade for an American audience, part of a long and kind of infuriating tradition. Let the Right One In had barely even hit the States before the American version was announced. But there’s a lot going for this. It might not need to exist, but that doesn’t stop it from being really well executed.
Cloverfield was a successful production, but it didn’t showcase Matt Reeves’ talents as a director, at least not in an overt way. That changed here. He directed the hell out of this movie. It’s so subtle, so subdued, hinging entirely on the central performances. Yes, it leaves out key elements of the story that it should have included. But it’s still a very strong piece of filmmaking on its own.
Friday the 13th
The hatred thrown toward Friday the 13th is kind of odd. For the most part, its criticized for being exactly what fans wanted it to be, because it wasn’t made the way they wanted. It’s a back-to-basics slasher about a bunch of young people at Camp Crystal Lake getting picked off by Jason one-by-one. After detours in Manhattan, Hell, outer space and Elm Street, that was unbelievably refreshing.
But people who were young in the ‘80s don’t identify with modern teenagers. That seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t when this was being made. That disconnect and lack of clarity to its target audience was a major reason for its huge drop in box office after its opening weekend. Admittedly, not all of the characters are likable and the pacing is a mess, but the intensity and energy of it are terrific.
It made Jason scary again, which was probably the most surprising thing it could have done after the direction the series had taken.
Tom Holland’s Fright Night is a masterpiece of the vampire genre. It’s impossible to adapt it directly. But Marti Noxon’s script smartly updated the story with enough new touches to allow it to stand on its own two feet. It’s a smart, funny script. Where it really succeeds, though, is in the casting.
Colin Farrell is probably the only person who could have believably stepped into the shoes of Jerry Dandridge. But it simply wouldn’t have worked without Anton Yelchin as Charley. He’s the anchor. Without him, the whole thing could easily have fallen apart.
It takes the original’s underlying subtext of teenage masculinity and identity and turns that into the overriding theme. The remake is inherently about an insecure kid coming into manhood, the idea of what it even means to be a man in the twenty-first century, as wisely written from a woman’s perspective. While it might still have its problems, it’s an exciting and witty remake that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
I cannot begin to express my reverence for John Carpenter’s Halloween. It is precisely because of that reverence that I am grateful for a remake like this one, even if I don’t always agree with the direction it takes. I’m not in love with a good chunk of the dialogue. Rob Zombie really struggles to write characters outside his wheelhouse and it’s never more apparent than in this film. But the cast? The idea behind it? The overall concept? All of those things are great.
A remake of Halloween should have a totally different approach while still being recognizable. For better or worse, that’s what Zombie did. The last thing a remake should do is copy the original, especially when said original is so innovative from a filmmaking perspective. It would have killed me if Halloween received the same remake treatment as Psycho.
It’s like a comic book. There are so many versions of the origins of popular characters in different contexts and environments. Zombie’s Halloween is no different. It’s completely its own thing, and that’s better than trying to redo—or especially outdo—Carpenter. Plus, the mask looks great and that’s the number one thing most Halloween movies screw up.