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Are Remakes Killing Horror?

Another day, another news story about some beloved (or not so beloved) horror flick getting a modern makeover. It is a sad state of affairs that so much in the way of original horror gets ignored by major distributors, while ill-conceived remakes get full theatrical releases and a ton of press.

As someone that loves many of the original versions of these flicks, I can’t help but feel more than a little bitter about the whole state of affairs. Yes, there are the occasional remakes that do grab the attention for a while (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the first Hills Have Eyes remake come to mind), but these seem to be lost in a tidal wave of dross (the Amityville remake, the Grudge, Last House On The Left).

Brand familiarity is the key here. Thanks to these films being loved by horror geeks and a bunch of critics for years, along with being notorious due to some titles having censorship issues during their original run, remaking those flicks is a lucrative prospect. There’s no concern over whether a new character or a new concept will sit well with an audience- just play it safe with well-known characters, have them hit a few of the same beats of the originals, and BOOM, profit. Well, that’s how it seems to a cynical old-school horror fan such as myself.

A film doesn’t have to be original to have an impact, sure, but just showing audiences the same thing over and over again does not make for compelling viewing. One example that comes to mind would be Laid To Rest. I loved that film, and it did exactly what it set out to do, offering a cool new villain (ChromeSkull) and a new take on the tired old slasher genre. That worked really well, and it felt fresh and exciting because the audience didn’t already know who did what and why. Then there;s the issue of remakes rewriting the history of the franchises they are spoofing, erm, sorry, re-imagining.

Take the Friday the 13th remake for example. That flick took elements of the first three original Friday the 13th movies and rolled them into one, making many old fans’ heads explode in the process. Now, that effort was actually pretty good, but it was a bastardization of a franchise that had been iconic for decades.

Granted, F13 needed a reboot after losing its way somewhat (although Jason Goes To Hell and Jason X had some nifty ideas in them). Now here we have the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street, one of the most respected and powerful horror films of the last few decades, and what do we get? We get superb casting for Freddy Krueger in Jackie Earle Hayley, but we also get a poor imitation of the original Nightmare movie which misses a bunch of the original film’s famous scenes and much of the tension.

The problem is, as my girlfriend is so right in pointing out to me, is that fans will still go and see these things or buy them on DVD. Now, whether or not the films are any good or enjoyed by those viewers, money has been generated. This has inevitably opened up endless remakes, made quickly and without much love for the source material in order to capitalize on that brand familiarity before too many people get wise to the concept of diminishing returns and make a statement by not going to see crap they have problems with in the first place.

I’ve always felt that if a studio wants to get some more dough out of their back catalogue, clean up a print of the originals, add some new effects and a new score, maybe reinstate some cut scenes and so on, and offer special editions of the originals with a limited theatrical run and a DVD release soon after that. Then there would be less remakes cluttering screens and more of an appreciation for the work of the people that originally brought these films to the screen in the first place.

This would hopefully also open up the scene to new ideas, new talent and some progression for the scene. As it is, I can’t help but feel that remakes are killing horror by diluting its essence. After all, there’s nothing scary in knowing exactly what lurks in those dark corners, is there?

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