Sloppy Seconds: The Best (and Worst) Horror Remakes

Horror movie remakes are a dime a dozen these days, with retreads of such genre classics as Poltergeist, Hellraiser and Suspiria currently in production.

The latest to hit theaters is Maniac, an update of William Lustig’s grisly 1980 slasher film, about a mentally disturbed mannequin store owner (played by Elijah Wood), who develops a dangerous obsession with a young artist (Nora Arnezeder). With Maniac hitting theaters/VOD this weekend, MM thought it a perfect time to take a look back at some of the best and worst horror remakes ever made.

The Worst Horror Movie Remakes

  • Night of the Living Dead (1990) | Directed by Tom Savini

This remake of George A. Romero’s hugely influential genre classic isn’t awful so much as it is entirely pointless—especially with Romero staying on as screenwriter/executive producer. While the story remains basically the same—a group of survivors hole up inside an abandoned farmhouse during a zombie attack—the original’s unnerving, documentary-style realism is replaced with a generic horror flick atmosphere. This time, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) isn’t a fragile woman scared for her life, but an accomplished ass-kicker of the living dead. While the zombie makeup effects are noticeably improved (thanks to the legendary Savini being at the helm), the remake fails in nearly every other aspect—especially in regards to the ending, which royally screws up the shocking, powerful finale of the original.

  • Psycho (1998) | Directed by Gus Van Sant

Van Sant’s utterly misguided, shot-for-shot update of the Hitchcock classic is perhaps the most pointless remake of all time. Using Joseph Stefano’s original script, the new and unimproved Psycho makes the crucial mistake of miscasting the two pivotal roles—Anne Heche as Marion Crane and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins, the original Norman, had a natural boy-next-door quality, which made the film’s twist ending that much more surprising and rewarding. By contrast, in the remake, the looming, neurotic Vaughn seems off his rocker as soon as he speaks, which makes the film significantly less creepy. The story also loses much of its power by being shot in color, as opposed to the black-and-white original. Ironically, that shower scene isn’t nearly as scary when it’s in blood red rather than stark grey. While the Psycho remake might have made for an interesting film school project, as a big-budget Hollywood reimagining by one of independent cinema’s most respected minds, it still begs the question, “Why bother?”

  • The Haunting (1999) | Directed by Jan de Bont

With this horrid remake, Robert Wise’s chilling 1963 haunted house movie (based on Shirley Jackson’s acclaimed novel, The Haunting of Hill House) is transformed into a big-budget Hollywood disaster. The movie centers around the conflict between a team of paranormal investigators (Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones among them) and the foreboding mansion (complete with a sinister past) in which they are determined to spend several nights. The original Haunting is a masterpiece of implied horror, as very little in the film is actually seen. Instead, the unnerving sound effects and disorienting camera work merely suggest the scares—and to terrifying effect. By contrast, the misbegotten remake replaces the understated scares of the original with laughably over-the-top CGI effects and a general disregard for anything approaching subtlety.

  • The Wicker Man (2006) | Directed by Neil LaBute

Remakes don’t get much worse than this god-awful re-imagining of the 1973 Christopher Lee cult classic. Yet, due in part to Nicolas Cage’s ability to keep a straight face while saying the most absurd lines, the movie provides a kind of perverse fascination. Cage stars as a policeman who discovers a secretive, neo-pagan community while investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a mysterious island. Nearly every change made from the original film is wrongheaded, and Cage is woefully miscast as the protagonist. With his stiff, inexplicable line delivery (sometimes shouting lines for no discernible reason), Cage comes across as the most unlikely police officer imaginable. Add to that the unintentionally hilarious dialogue and preposterous situations, and The Wicker Man is easily a bad movie classic.

The Best Horror Movie Remakes

  • The Thing (1982) | Directed by John Carpenter

Based on the 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s masterful remake takes the story in a more intense, horror-oriented direction. The film centers around a group of scientists at an Antarctic research station that becomes infected by a deadly, shape-shifting alien that can assume the appearance of the people it murders. With its creepy, isolated atmosphere, paranoid overtones (when any of the men could be the alien, who is there to trust?) and gruesome, still-shocking make-up effects by Rob Bottin, The Thing is an undisputed genre masterpiece. The movie, however, was not a huge success when it was first released, receiving negative reviews and so-so box office. It was also a victim of bad luck and bad timing, opening just a few weeks after a far friendlier alien movie, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Now, the film is viewed as one of Carpenter’s finest achievements.

  • The Fly (1986) | Directed by David Cronenberg

Horror auteur Cronenberg transforms the premise behind the goofy 1958 Vincent Price B-movie into a surprisingly tragic, intimate tale. Jeff Goldblum (in one of his best roles) stars as an eccentric, ambitious scientist who begins to transform into a man-fly hybrid after a teleportation experiment goes horribly wrong. What makes the movie work emotionally is the relationship between the steadily deteriorating scientist and an investigative journalist (Geena Davis), with whom he falls in love. With his remake of The Fly, Cronenberg creates one of the most empathetic monster movies of all time; despite the unforgettable, Oscar-winning creature make-up effects by Chris Walas, it’s the heartbreakingly human love story at the movie’s core that makes The Fly so powerful.

  • Dawn of the Dead (2004) | Directed by Zack Snyder

While Snyder’s action-packed re-imagining of the Romero classic doesn’t hold a candle to the original, it still manages to be an enormously entertaining zombie flick. Instead of creating a carbon copy of the first Dawn, screenwriter James Gunn (Slither) takes the basic premise—a group of human survivors find refuge in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse—and puts his own spin on it. While the movie lacks the witty satire of Romero’s work, it more than makes up for it with relentless, zombie-crunching action.

  • Let Me In (2010) | Directed by Matt Reeves

While Dawn of the Dead takes many liberties with its source material, Let Me In is the opposite—a nearly scene-for-scene remake of the excellent 2008 Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In. Yet, despite relying so heavily on the original, Let Me In is a powerful film in its own right. The movie transports the setting from a snowy, rural Swedish suburb to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy (sensitively played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriends his new neighbor (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass), an odd, pale girl around his age, who happens to be a vampire. With a moving supporting performance from Richard Jenkins as the girl’s guardian, Let Me In proves to be a worthy, Americanized companion piece to the Swedish original. Much like The Fly, what makes the movie unforgettable isn’t necessarily the expertly staged scare scenes, but the unique, strangely touching love story that lies at heart of the film.

There are, of course, many other horror remakes—both good and bad. Have a favorite/least favorite that’s not on the list? Let us know in the comments!

For more information on how to subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.

1 Comment

  1. David Hollingsworth

    June 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    I love this list, but you left off the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, from the worst horror remakes list. It didn’t have the hysteria factor of the original, also, it just didn’t terrify me like the original film.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *