Horror remakes are fascinating to me. Not only are they this regular occurrence I could almost set my watch to, offering, year after year, windows through which culture can regurgitate itself to fill the cineplexes, they also, more often than not, allow for a rare diptych of interpretation, inviting a comparative experience not usually found in the wide world of film appreciation – given one goes with the knowledge of the original film and openness, rather than unyielding cynicism.
I know how this sounds, but if you’re even remotely serious about film, the experience of remakes do become something more akin to, per example, Warhol’s repeated cans of soup, or Rothko’s abstract repetition of colours; a variation on a theme, in terms that, given the cinematic medium not only involve visuals, narratives, characters and style, but also social and political context. Which works retroactively as well: recently seeing the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark television movie (1973) following Del Toro’s production of the same name – in which he notably replaces the main female protagonist by a child – forced me to re-evaluate Troy Nixey’s remake in light of this decision and the shifting portrayal of woman in genre films. Was Kim Darby’s character in the 1973 version infantilized to the point where making her a child – literally – in the remake seemed necessary? Or is it just a by-product of Del Toro’s fascination with fairy tale tropes? Is medicating your kid nowadays more acceptable than medicating your wife? Either way, these are all questions raised by the remake, made possible by its existence – questions which turn something that could’ve easily been dismissed and ignored into a more engaging filmgoing experience.
Which enlightens as to why horror seems perfect for such a proliferation of remakes: highly codified to begin with, the genre is built on a tradition of adaptations, sequels and repetition, born from literature and, in its worst incarnations, rehashing more or less the same plot in more or less the same setting with more or less the same characters within any given cycle or subgenre ever since. In such a context, one can’t help but to start looking for the discrepancies, cherish the variations and reflect on the cyclical nature of the genre – as a self-defence mechanism, perhaps; the exercise becoming a mean of sustaining interest.
This is not an apology of the remake. Because the fact remains that most of them are not very good. That said, every now and then, some will warrant more attention than others – Gus Van Sant’s puzzling Psycho remake (1998), Rob Zombie’s controversial revision of the Halloween mythology (2007) or Matt Reeves’ too decent Let Me In (2010), come to mind – but this breed is quite rare and far apart and still requiring a closer reading that most film audiences wouldn’t care for.
Because to say the main purpose of horror remakes lies only in comparative interpretation is absolutely wrong. Relentless cash-grabs designed to empty to pockets of oblivious teenagers in the same way the now much-appreciated slasher franchises did in the 1980’s, the horror remake remains – like any remake, adaptation, or sequel being pumped out – a profoundly plebeian and convenient form of entertainment. But let me ask this: if the similarly vacuous onslaught of slasher films of the 80’s, now commonly studied, deconstructed, respected and appreciated despite its similar formulaic lack of originality acted as the formative films of many contemporary horror buffs, who knows what effect these contemporary remakes are having on today’s more curious youth?
A quick glance at the cringe-inducing 14-year-old-girl blogosphere – which I do visit from times to times, in part for research but mostly for the masochistic pleasure I get from reading nuggets of terrifying ignorance – will indicate that there’s not much being read in, per example, the recently released Fright Night remake – past the visual appeal of Colin Farrell’s and David Tennant’s boyish good looks, of course. And that is fine. But perhaps among that ocean of blog entries – and this might just be wishful thinking there’s someone, somewhere out there, for whom these film will open a door in the same way the collage films of Quentin Tarantino did for me early on. Statistically speaking, that is bound to happen, especially if one considers the sheer abundance of remaking and rehashing filling our screen today. I cherish films that are gateways to larger cinematic universes and hopefully, some of these films stand out and inspire a comparison.
Thus remains a rare and precious category of remakes: those which, in the hands of creative masterminds, turn out to be absolute timeless masterpieces. For that, one has to relocate to a different decade: the fabled 80’s. Indeed: two films immediately come to mind: Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – which I’m sure I’ll have the pleasure to write about soon enough – and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which, following a preamble I’m almost tempted to apologize for, will be the main focus of the rest of this discussion, as its third film (per)mutation finds its way to our screens October 14th, at the hands of Dutch newcomer Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and boasting a wide array of names – two of which I’m quite fond of: LOST’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Scott Pilgrim’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
I’d be hard-pressed to find a genre enthusiast – or hardened cinephile, for that matter– that doesn’t love John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). While Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark or even Fright Night are arguably more “obscure” source material, The Thing, similarly to every slasher icon Platinum Dunes have desecrated over the past few years, is bound to spark a few discussions. Past the “hopefully they don’t screw this up” wishes, one asks “What else can be added to an already perfect film”?
Executives were smart from the get-go to label this a “prequel” rather than a remake thus setting the film within Carpenter’s initial architecture. The Thing (2011) will follow the Norwegian team (and the conveniently English-speaking heroes within that team, led by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the obvious stand-in for Kurt Russell’s MacReady) that set the events of the 1982 classic in motion. From the trailer, Heinjningen Jr.’s version seems to follow all the narrative beats of the original – discovery, short period of mayhem, major period of distrust ensuing in final bout of mayhem and climactic battle with creature – as well as using some of the same visual elements than its predecessor – the dogs, the upside-down crawly head, etc. Loosing Rob Bottin’s marvellous practical effects work in favor of CG will undeniably infuriate more than one, but hopefully the CG is put to good use in creating the film’s creatures – which I have to admit I’m not too hopeful for – as well as doing something entirely new and fitting of this revision: expanding on the outer-space imagery and alien mythology only hinted at in Carpenter’s opening. If the screenwriters (BSG’s Ronald D. Moore and Final Destination 5’s Eric Heisserer) are smart enough to build around the alien mythology rather than limiting themselves to the world established by Carpenter’s masterful huis-clos universe, and somehow manage to create dramatic impetus despite the known fates of the characters – Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing might just be worth our while.
And who knows? Some kid might come out of it energized and curious, stumble upon the 1982 version and discover a whole new universe of creeping tension and practical special effects genius.
Enough of these discombobulated thoughts though; sit back and enjoy this first episode of second season of THE NIGHT CREW, in which the boys welcome Jonathan Walker to discuss this movie I’ve been rambling about for too long, as well as everyone’s favourite giant, Ron Perlman.
Ariel Esteban Cayer
Well, we’re back… with a whole new look, a whole stream-lined format, and a bunch of new contributors… all designed to slap your face and call you “Shirley”. At the outset, we want to thank all of you loyal listeners for continuing to tune in and for spreading the word on the show. You guys rock! We also want to welcome all of the new listeners and hope they find something that’ll interest them. And if you hear something you like, please join The Crew Army and tell a friend (or ten).
Speaking of the new format, we want to thank John-Antony Gallagher for working so hard at putting together this new home for all of our ramblings. He’s worked his ass off for a long time now and man does it show! The place looks great. First one to spill a beer on the new carpeting gets their tits put into a wringer.
Ok, so… Season 2 Episode 1.
What do we have for you?
First off, as always, we have the Mighty Canuck Andrew Mack bringing us all the news that fit to cruise in his Twitch News of the Week. Next up, Sean and Thom go over a few of the films they’ve watched (and these by no means even scratch the surface of the amount of cinema these guys watch) over the break. After that, we have Jonathan Lloyd Walker fresh from filming the much anticipated prequel to THE THING. You may know Jonathan from such films as RED, SHOOTER, LAND OF THE DEAD, and a boatload of other films and television and he gives the straight dope on this controversial film. Thom then begins the new season with his introductory salvo for “Tales of Samurai Honor,” this discussion of the Post-War Japanese Chanbara Film. Not to be outdone, Sean kicks the tires and lights the fires with “Lit Cigs and Smoking Guns” in which he discusses the French Existential Crime Thriller. After his successful series “Wild Westerns Movie Primer,” Phillip Nutman returns with “Even Madmen… Love Musicals” and discusses the genre in general and ALL THAT JAZZ in particular. Next, we’re joined by The Big Red One, the one, the only, Ron Perlman who talks about not only his new film BUNRAKU, but he also drops some bombs regarding his possible involvement in Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming, PACIFIC RIM. Not satisfied? Well, we have writer and genre vet Lorelei Shannon and her new column “Books That Burn” where she reviews some important books you all should be reading. Then, fresh from the UK, Gareth Jones puts bullets into our gun with “Killed Fucking Dead: The Fine Art of Malevolent Creature Eradication,” a detailing on just how to kill cinema’s dangerous beasties. Rounding out this initial episode, Hollywood authority and historian, David Del Valle tells a tale or two about his meeting with the infamous Ed Wood in “Stories I Haven’t Told Twice.” And to wind things up, we have writer and musician, Mars Homeworld, who gives us “Music From the Dead House.”
Not bad for a bunch of wanted felons, eh?
So, sit back and grab your favorite intoxicant, and enjoy Episode 1 of The Night Crew.
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