Vault Master Rants: REMAKES!

remakes suck

REMAKES! The very word sends shivers of anger down the spines of millions! It causes thousands to groan or sigh in anguish. I myself have reactions like this, but why? Why does this one word inspire so much malice? Why does it have so much terrible power?!

Well mainly because most modern remakes have been mediocre or just plain awful. But why does Hollywood insist on creating remakes of older films that we hold dear to our hearts, and why are so many of them so sub-par? Well, perhaps my meandering thoughts and theories might shed some light on the subject.

REMAKE by definition means to “make anew or in a different form.” So the idea is to take something old and breathe new life into it. This can be done by updating the story to be more palpable for modern audiences, or by taking the core idea and doing something completely different with it.

This is dangerous territory to be in if you’re penning a remake (or a redo, or a reimagining, or a reboot, or whatever you want to call it) because a delicate balance must be maintained. You must cater to the fans of the original film. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as actor cameos, or making callbacks and references to moments from the original work.

But while doing this, you’ve got to modernize it and create something that today’s audiences (with all their newfangled technology and shorter attention spans) will want to see. It’s important for contemporary filmmakers to put their personal stamp on it.

But why remakes? Why can’t Hollywood come up with anything original? (A question I hear almost daily.) Brace yourselves, because here comes the answer: The fact of the matter is that it has all been done folks. We have literally created every iteration of every story known to man. The mines of creativity have been depleted.

At this point in human history, every tale has been told and retold. I heard actor Robert Englund state this during a Q&A session several years ago at Monster-Mania Con. And long before that, a gent named Kirby Ferguson brought this fact to my attention with his excellent EVERYTHING IS A REMIX series of videos.

Occasionally, somebody brings something new to the table (e.g. THE MATRIX trilogy introduced us to bullet time) but it is quickly gobbled up by the studios and exploited at every turn. And then finally, the audiences (and critics) lose interest, forcing the powers that be in Hollywood to rethink their strategies.

And this is nothing new because it’s been happening for decades. Take Ridley Scott’s ALIEN for instance. Penned by Dan O’ Bannon (rest in peace sir) and directed by Ridley Scott, ALIEN presented us with a new type of monster (courtesy of H.R. Geiger and Stan Winston), and an invasive horror theme that shocked audiences.

It was followed up with three sequels (that progressively became worse after ALIENS), two crossover films, a confusing prequel (that is in the process of getting sequelized), and a seemingly infinite number of rip-offs. The series is a cash cow, and once it came out, everyone wanted in on the action.

Aside from bridging the original to the PROMETHEUS films, or doing another sequel (or God help us, a third ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movie), there is only one way to milk the franchise: Remake it.

I’m not suggesting that ALIEN should be remade (it shouldn’t!), but I am trying to illustrate that eventually, you hit a wall with a film franchise. Sequels are tricky, especially if actors from previous installments are either too old, not interested, or deceased, and crossovers are harder to do than remakes, because you have two or more groups of rabid fans that you are trying to appease.

Pictured: The final step before a remake grudgingly goes into production.

Pictured: The final step before a remake grudgingly goes into production.

And remember, making films is not an artistic endeavor for major studios: It’s a business. And the goal of a business is to make money. It doesn’t matter if the final product is good or bad. What matters to the key players in Hollywood is “will I get a good return on this project?”

With all that in mind, I can’t really blame studios for churning out remakes, especially since they’ve been doing them as early as 1904. (According to my research, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, released in 1903 was the first film to ever be remade!) You read that correctly folks: Remakes have existed for well over a century!

And speaking of remakes, have you ever seen the HOUSE OF WAX remake with Paris Hilton? It really made you pine for the original right? Well guess what? The “original” HOUSE OF WAX starring Vincent Price was (gasp!) a remake of the 1933 classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM! And how many times have the tales of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Phantom of the Opera, and Cinderella (the most remade story/film of all time) been put on celluloid over the decades?

Now you’re probably thinking to yourself “Wait a minute… it almost seems like you’re defending remakes!” Well I am and I’m not. The point I’m trying to make is that remakes are nothing new. Hollywood is going to keep churning them out, whether we like it or not.

So please, don’t bother complaining that there’s nothing original anymore, because ORIGINALITY IS DEAD AND EVERYTHING IS A REMIX!

All you can really do is hope that all of the upcoming remakes are at least well-made, have an engaging storyline, and hopefully a good cast. (And practical effects when possible please. I hate the overuse of CGI.) But as we all know, far too often that isn’t the case.

Which brings me to how the big studios have been doing with their remakes in recent years, which is to say, not very well. I can only think of a handful of remakes that actually get the formula correct and turned out to be just as good as, if not even a bit better than, the original film. They take the core idea and change it up just enough to set themselves apart from the original, and the results have sometimes been impressive.

In the 80s you had the triple threat of THE BLOB, THE FLY, and THE THING (which is technically not a remake but a more accurate adaptation of “Who Goes There?”). All three of these films follow the basic template of their precursors, but made interesting changes to the plot and characters, and added in copious amounts of mind-blowing practical f/x!

"Stay! I'll put coffee on!"

“Stay! I’ll put coffee on!”

The tale of a silly glob of protoplasm from space that engulfs a few denizens of a small town in the THE BLOB, became a flesh-melting gore-fest about science gone terribly wrong in the remake. The charming (yet silly) THE FLY had a scientist and a fly switch heads after an accident involving teleportation. In the redo, the same thing occurs, but with far more ickier consequences.

Aside from Jeff Goldblum’s mutation (which is glorious!) you get a cool character arc about a scientist that is trying to do something to help mankind. Tragedy befalls him, and soon Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) experiences physical changes that at first seems beneficial, but ultimately turn him into a monster. (In every sense of the word.)

And John Carpenter’s THE THING? I could go on an on all day about that one. In the Howard Hawkes’ classic, an alien being thaws out of the Antarctic ice, and stalks the crew of a U.S. military base. Attempts to shoot it, burn it, and communicate with it fail, so they electrocute the creature, and end his short reign of terror.

In the 80s redo, the creature thaws out and goes to work trying to assimilate everyone on the base. Tensions run high, paranoia strikes deep, and messy deaths and transformations highlight the already increasingly awesome proceedings!

In the 90s we had Tom Savini’s brilliant remake of George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which kept many of the same elements. But the filmmakers made an extremely intelligent move by having Barbara (who was completely catatonic throughout the original film) become a strong female character.

More recently, there’s been an increase in lousy and mediocre remakes, but a few have stood out from the crowd. Some of my favorites include Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, and THE CRAZIES. Also, I have to admit that the new EVIL DEAD, was pretty darned good as well, if only because it was so unapologetic with its gore.

Now, I know I’m focusing a lot on horror remakes, but that’s because the genre has become a very lucrative business. No really, it’s true! The number of horror conventions (along with fantasy, sci-fi, and mixed genre cons), 35mm film screenings, and horror film festivals has increased by a staggering amount. It truly is a good time to be a horror fan, and the studios know this.

That is why more remakes are on the way including proposed redos of: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, FIRESTARTER, LOGAN’S RUN, VIDEODROME, GREMLINS, THE TOXIC AVENGER, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, THE NEVERENDING STORY, THE CROW, TIME BANDITS, and SHORT CIRCUIT, just to name a few.

Johnny Five is alive! AND ANNOYED!

Johnny Five is alive! AND ANNOYED!

Damn it Hollywood, the idea is to remake films that can be IMPROVED UPON! Many of the ones I just listed are classics that still stand up extremely well today! And that’s the main rule that all the big studios should abide by: “Don’t remake it unless you can somehow improve upon the original film, or at least improve some major elements from it.”

The successful remakes are the ones that feel familiar, yet entirely new. They deliver a fresh spin on something we’ve already seen (and loved) before. But at some point in the (not so) creative process, something gets left out. Someone forgets that “Hey, I know we’re trying to put a different spin on things, but shouldn’t we try and make this a good movie first and foremost?”

Ah hell, f*ck remakes! Yeah, I know I previously told all of you to stop complaining, but I can’t help it. I tried to be logical, and tried to look at all this as objectively as possible, but I just can’t come to terms with the continued onslaught of remakes.

I guess it’s just plain old human nature to complain about something we have no control over and simply must accept. (Like death and taxes.) Some of you are probably thinking “Well hey, we can do our part and not go to the theaters to see any of these upcoming remakes. Then Hollywood will get the idea and stop making them!” In a perfect world, you’d be one-hundred percent correct.

Sadly we live in the real world, where thousands still flock to see these unnecessary recreations of the films you and I wax nostalgic over. Especially foreign audiences, who now spend so much at the box office, that even the biggest North American flop can recoup its losses.) Those of us that are “wise,” may stay home in silent protest, but the masses ultimately choose the outcome.

Foreign audiences = More Michael Bay-helmed Transformers movies.

The outcome typically being more TRANSFORMERS sequels.

To conclude my rant, remakes have been, and always will be around, even moreso since studios are looking for easy cash-grabs. Some will be good, some will be bad, but most will be average at best. And despite our complaints about the unoriginality of Hollywood, and our best efforts to avoid the oncoming deluge of remakes, we will continue to be inexplicably drawn to theaters again and again to carry out this vicious cycle.

But there is a silver lining my friends, and that is this: We will always have the originals. (Well… unless you’re talking about the bastardized STAR WARS trilogy which has been criminally altered forever.) To illustrate this one final point, let’s use 2014’s ROBOCOP redo as an example.

The question I will now pose to you is this: Does the ROBOCOP remake suck? The Answer: Who cares?! Worse things have been done to the character in the past. (Particularly that awful live-action series that weakens and totally emasculate Robo. How the hell did it last a full season?!)

Plus, the existence of the remake guarantees two things:
1.) It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, because the original film that started it all will remain the way it always has been. (i.e. PERFECT).

2.) The remake will create interest in the original film. Younger generations that may have never heard of ROBOCOP, or may have written it off as a “stupid movie,” will discover it, and most likely fall in love with it.

And those two guarantees apply to every single remake. (And sequels and prequels as well.) So take the coming remake apocalypse in stride fellow cinephiles, and remember to embrace the originals and share them with others. If we do that, then we shall survive in these harsh cinematic times.