Reboots, re-imaginings or just plain old remakes; more than any other genre, horror has been recycling ideas for years now. Sometimes they grow into something to be proud of, other times they turn out to be an utter freakshow, disowned at the first opportunity. As the decade we’ve yet to name breathes its last, it’s time to reflect on the age when horror didn’t just make peace with the reboot, it found a way to make them good. Sometimes. Depending on your *whisper* opinion.
What precisely constitutes a reboot is a tangle of myriad concepts, so I’m foregoing remakes of foreign horror movies, partly because they’re generally an affront to my eyes and ears, but they’re also a massive waste of time. That’s just my opinion, granted, but then I’m driving this bus full of impostors so suck it up Let Me In. No, in fact, get the hell off my bus and don’t come back till you can ask for a ticket in Swedish! A reboot, well at least that’s a more well-intentioned endeavour than just repackaging a relatively fresh concept for people assumed to be beyond subtitles.
So where to begin? 2010 brought us two movies that could be considered reboots and remakes all at the same time, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman. Neither particularly blew anyone’s frock up, but there were distinct differences between the two that nicely set up the camps this article will pin its flags to. The first flag has a giant dollar sign on it. It’s a flag of cynical brand recognition that has little concern for new ideas, character development or original scares.
This flag belongs to the Michael Bay produced Nightmare on Elm Street. This retooling of Freddy had no new spin or angle, it was a film with little imagination and even less point. Jackie Earle Haley replaced Robert Englund as the Springfield Slasher, doing his best in a thankless pair of giant boots nobody could really fill; and where Wes Craven’s kids made us feel every rapid eye movement, this slurry of slumber dreading teens were barely realised cut outs, devoid of personality, left to fend off an all too familiar killer stripped of the quirks that made him such an icon. Plastering him with photo real facial burns while imbuing unsubtle suggestions toward child abuse added nothing to an already well-formed maniac. This just wasn’t a Freddy we could enjoy, and the movie was less a nightmare, more the dregs of a drunken dream you wouldn’t care to recall if you could.
By contrast, or perhaps comparison, The Wolfman is equally derided by critics and horror fans alike. It went through several directors, rewrites and its share of studio meddling, but at its heart is a love for the source material and, to me at least, the spirit of the original is present in a way that’s utterly lacking in the Elm Street remake. Some of the transformation CGI has swiftly dated and its desire to be both a Freudian drama and a monster gore fest are somewhat jarring, but it’s a film with plenty of atmosphere. The Rick Baker make up, a scene (and superstitious villager) chewing Anthony Hopkins and a suitably evocative Danny Elfman score are enough to earn this werewolf a place on the Blu-ray shelf. Did I mention it has Rick Baker make up!?!
We also had The Crazies, Piranha 3D and Fright Night that year, which were reasonably entertaining but swiftly forgotten despite any redeeming aspects, and without tarnishing their legacies. And then as the teat of originality scabbed over, the deed that every bastard child of the video shop had learned to dread finally came to pass… they remade Evil Dead. Nothing could have been more offensive than taking the Sacred Mother of VHS nasties and butchering it into… a fantastic horror movie? Wait, what now?!?!
With Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell producing, director Fede Alvarez shredded all expectations, along with the faces of his entire cast. This new Evil Dead became the standard bearer for all reboots and set a few precedents in doing so. For one, the 2013 version isn’t technically a remake. Remember at the start, when protagonist Mia is sat on a car, drawing? Well kids, that’s Ash’s Oldsmobile from 1983, placing this movie, if only vaguely, in the same cabin as the original. So, call it a ‘soft reboot’ if you must, but in loosely tethering itself to the original films it’s trickier for the hardcore naysayers to hurl flaming bags of poop at it. It also helps that Evil Dead is scary in a way that makes your entire equilibrium feel like it’s being dangled over a bacon slicer. This film made simple, smart moves by giving us characters we mostly cared for, and enough zigs where we were anticipating zags to keep us on our toes, assuming we haven’t chewed them off. There are times when it does our fetid black hearts some good to be proven wrong.
As TV overtook the cinema as the heartland of good ideas, the horror reboot found its place on the small screen. We got The Exorcist, Scream and The Haunting of Hill House, all of which to some extent or another rode the coat tails of the finest example of horror television I can think of; Hannibal. Comprising three seasons, the show started as an origin story of sorts for man frying Doctor Lecter and empathy savant Will Graham. Not shy about its own intelligence, Hannibal presented death as performance art, with each murder serving as an artistic installation and statement on both men’s disdainful disconnections from typical human nature. Eventually adapting parts of Hannibal and then all of Red Dragon, the show struck a beautiful balance between fascination and distress, making the understanding of a monster and falling in love things that shared a knife edge. Due to our knowledge of what could’ve been, it remains an unfinished tale with a near perfect ending.
Discussing Hannibal leads nicely into another branch of reboot science, and that’s adaptations. Some are so seared on our hearts and imaginations that nothing can touch them; Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein being the most obvious. Second maybe would’ve been Tim Curry’s Pennywise, and we all know what happened next…
Cleverly capitalising on eighties pre-teen nostalgia and splitting it into two parts, It felt fresh, familiar and had the stones to be both mainstream and bonkers enough to scare everyone who watched it. Bill Skarsgård outdid an icon and suddenly everyone loved Stephen King movies again, proving that appetites for good stories don’t die, they just hibernate for twenty-seven years then re-emerge to gorge on your fear. And to those who say It wasn’t scary; my friends, you just weren’t watching properly.
Of all the reboots, the slasher has wielded the dullest machete. The millennial trend toward remakes was largely built around them, so it was fitting that the original masked mad man would return to put a bit of a spark back in our pumpkins. Blumhouse has become as much a curator of horror styles as a production studio, so it felt right that they should be the folks to bring Michael Myers back to the big screen. Having already been rebooted at the hands of Rob Zombie a decade earlier, there would be no re-telling this time. We were going back to the real Haddonfield.
The idea of what is sometimes called a ‘legacy sequel’ once filled me with the kind of bilious rage the internet was made for. Dismissing several sequels to make a direct follow up to a cherished original can only be the death rattle of innovation, I thought. But then most of those sequels were poorly conceived cash ins, and who better to continue these stories than the people who grew up adoring them. And like Evil Dead before it, the franchise creators were on board, with John Carpenter’s synth back in the game to rejig that most iconic of soundtracks. More than most, this was the movie that helped me make peace with the reboot and put my faith in the fact that people who’ve made a career out of film making knew better than I did. The 2018 Halloween had great kills, great music and great performances. It was a film made with love, top to bottom. Despite any anxieties that this might start a reboot trend of its own, could we really ask for anymore? Even the bloody Leprechaun got in on the action with his own direct sequel, Leprechaun Returns. Sadly, it came without Warwick Davis, but even that was fun too. And at that point, my myopic preconceptions were carved open like a human Jack O’ Lantern, replaced with a torch light of acceptance and, just maybe, excitement.
Since then we’ve had Suspiria, Pet Sematary, Child’s Play and we’ll round out the year with another Black Christmas. Not just the purview of executive despots, reboots have infiltrated independent cinema with the infectiously enthusiastic Soska sisters recently releasing their version of David Cronenberg’s Rabid. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the passion of its director’s bleeds through every frame. If all reboots were blessed with such conviction, then audiences would never be less than intrigued.
The reboot has come to encompass so many shades of interpretation that I think we’re finally at a point where we can just accept them as being an intrinsic part of the horror genre, like final girls and masked men hiding behind washing lines. Had Shudder’s Creepshow series been released ten years ago we may have been considerably less joyful about it. And as that show gets rightfully renewed for a second season, the rest of 2020 starts teasing us with its wares. We’re getting a reboot to the remake of The Grudge directed by Nicolas Pesce, a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Candyman produced by Jordan Peele, a new Invisible Man from Leigh Whanell, and the first of two sequels to the 2018 Halloween; itself a sequel to a film that wrote off half a dozen sequels. You best believe there’ll be others. Some we’ll revere, some we’ll despise, many we’ll forget, like I’ve no doubt done here (I’m still not convinced there was actually a Poltergeist reboot in 2015 starring Sam Rockwell), so if I’ve failed to heap praise or scorn on something, I can only say, oops. But when you look at the creatives attached to these projects, there’s good reason to look keep looking forward.
A good friend of mine, himself a huge horror fan, often derides me for liking everything. Most of the time that’s true, but that’s because I just want to find the good in people’s efforts to entertain me. In a world where opinions are shunted in favour of absolutes, it’s not so awful to have fun with the things that are just okay and enjoy them disposably. You won’t be dragged out of bed and done away with if you herald the new Pet Semetary as the finest Stephen King adaptation of all time. None of these hot takes on sanctified properties diminish our love for the originals, nor do they sully their good names. Look no further than the woeful slew of Texas Chainsaw Massacre spin offs and the originals place in the top five of every top five horror list ever written for proof of that.
It should be noted that my friend has an enjoyment scale usually dialled somewhere between disinterest and indifference, and he friggin’ loved the new Child’s Play.
I did not. And that’s the point. Whatever you think of reboots and remakes, it’s old news chum. When film was still a fledgling medium, Universal took all their ideas from books made the century before and crafted a cinematic genre. Hammer splattered a bright red stamp all over horror by rebooting everything Universal had done twenty odd years prior. And there’s always some know it all dweeb lining up to tell you that two of the greatest horror movies of all time in John Carpenter’s The Thing & David Cronenberg’s The Fly, yes, they are both remakes too.
So here’s to the unmade returns of Jason, Pinhead and Nosferatu, hell, even the Wishmaster if he’s up for it. I know I will be.
Just don’t expect me to watch Let Me In.