Thursday, June 28, 2012

Let's talk about remakes

I've briefly mentioned my opinions on horror movie remakes a few times on this site and other forums, but I've never really felt the need to go into detail because it always seemed to me like it would be more of a complainy rant than a well thought out opinion.  However, I feel compelled now to make a case for my opinions simply because it doesn't seem like anyone else is and I'm getting a bit tired of the bashing remakes take.  Put simply:  Remakes deserve consideration.  That's it.

Remakes tend to be made for one of two reasons: Translation or subject matter update.  A lot of updates are pretty crappy, they're made with the goal of using the notoriety of the original film as a built-in fan base for the new movie.  Often, these are lackluster flicks with some superficial nods to the source material: Nightmare on Elm St, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.  But these are bad because they're straight up bad movies, not because they had the audacity to remake a classic.  They are generic, poorly plotted, boring slashers.

It's not that big studios are incapable of making a decent horror movie, or even horror movie update. Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, The Thing, and Fright Night are all decent remakes of older movies.  They're not amazing or earth shattering but they don't have to be, but a remake can be amazing.  The Thing in 1980 is widely regarded as one of the best horror movies of all time.  It's on lists constantly and people keep praising its atmosphere and special effects.  Also, it's a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World based on the novella Who Goes There?.  What if horror fans at the time had dismissed as just another remake?

Another reason for remaking a movie is to translate the original story into another language.  This is the one that seems to inspire the most vitriol.  The opinion seems to be that if you are unwilling to watch the movie as originally presented you are somehow unworthy of seeing that story.  But for the most part any audience will want to watch a movie in their own language, the original foreign audience as well as our English-speaking audience.  There are always subtitles, which is how I watch most of the foreign movies I check out, but I feel like they break the immersion.  In horror where the movie's atmosphere counts for so much, floaty words on the screen make me incredibly aware that I'm sitting on my couch and pull me out of the movie.  If being remade in English can help someone really get into a great horror story and get creeped out or disturbed, it seems like a perfectly valid reason to make a movie.  It shouldn't matter that a movie is a result of someone translating something to their native language, if it's still a good movie.

And some of these are good movies.  The Grudge and The Ring were huge hits and make lists of people's favorite horror movies all the time.  I've even spoken to a few people who prefer The Ring over Ringu because the production qualities are higher and native English is more comfortable.  But still the first thing you hear when someone mentions the upcoming English remakes of Suspiria or Martyrs are Americans ruining great movies.  The Suspiria remake is set to star Isabelle Fuhrman, who was absolutely phenomenal in The Orphan, in the lead roll.  The slated director, David Gordon Green, has a bit of a reputation for quirky indie comedies but he hasn't failed at horror of any sort yet and his direction seems competent so I'm willing to give him a chance.  I'm more interested in speculating about whether or not he's going to ape the visual style or go for something more subtle than just harping on it sight unseen.

That's really my whole point.  It's depressingly negative to just prejudge remakes because of something so petty as their language or that they're remakes.  Movies should be allowed to suck on their own merits and the "The original was so much better" or "This was way better in the native French/Polish/Sanskrit" arguments sound an awful lot like the hipster complaint that their favorite band is too mainstream now.  I just really like this "Horror" thing and it seems self-defeating to spend time talking about a movie's audience instead of the merits of the movie itself.