I recently had a conversation with a friend about the current state of horror. Are the best days of the genre in the past, she asked? I would argue no. Great horror films are still being made. Auteur directors such as Ti West, Adam Wingard, and James Wan are consistently crafting phenomenal and terrifying movies. Also, the regrettable trend of pointless remake after remake seems to be slowing down.
That being said, not all horror remakes are created equal. There are some that are not only great but actually surpass their source material. Below are 7 films from the past twenty years that I believe bucked the trend of horror remakes as disposable and wholly forgettable cash grabs.
The original Halloween is sacrosanct to horror fanatics. Released in 1978, it was a seminal moment for the genre. As one of the first “slasher” films, its style has been emulated a multitude of times, but has it ever truly been surpassed?
In this case, the answer is a resounding no. John Carpenter is a master and I am not going to pretend Rob Zombie’s movie is anywhere near as good as the 1978 classic. However, I will argue that it is a solid film and brought enough of its own unique ideas to the table to justify its placement as the first entry on this list.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween contains the same basic story as the original, but its major break with the source material, beyond the inherently bleak and oppressive tone of a Rob Zombie film, is that it attempts to explore the psyche of the killer, Michael Myers. To many this is a huge demerit to the film, and this is understandable. For me, it brought a layer of subtext to the proceedings that I found fascinating, and if you couple this with Zombie’s unique and dark style, you get some genuine scares and a solid horror film.
When this movie came out, it became a cultural phenomenon and ushered in the trend of Japanese horror remakes overtaking cinemas. Perhaps this is why it is not higher on this list. I never really connected with the overarching themes and tropes of J-Horror. I appreciate it and don’t knock fans of the subgenre. However, a good movie is still a good movie regardless and that is why the Ring makes this list.
On top of my other misgivings, I am always apprehensive to watch a horror film if it is PG-13. My fears that this movie would pull any punches went right out the window with the opening sequence.
The basic plot is that if you watch a certain tape (funny to think about how dated as a plot point that already is) you will die in 7 days. The movie takes this creepy premise and runs with it to great effect introducing this chilling tale to those averse to reading subtitles.
I think this is one of two cases on this list where the remake not only surpasses the original but absolutely blows it out of the water.
The original The Crazies, is definitely my least favorite George Romero film. I am a huge fan of his work (which another entry on this list will attest). Usually with a Romero film, you get top notch scares coupled with incisive social commentary. The original film is much too focused on the latter half of that equation. It is just so goddamn boring. The remake is the complete opposite. Though there remains a semblance of context and social commentary throughout, this movie’s major goal is to scare you, and it succeeds admirably.
Timothy Olyphant plays the likeable Sheriff of a small Iowa town whose denizens have been poisoned by a virus that transforms them into mindless killing machines. This is an honest to goodness terrifying movie with a modern and appealing sheen that frankly makes the original look like dogshit.
This is the only “found footage” film on this list. I find myself drawn to the subgenre. When done correctly, it can heighten the realism and immersion that sustains truly compelling horror.
This movie uses this aesthetic to great effect. It throws you headlong into a scenario in which a news crew is quarantined in a building where a deadly outbreak is turning the residents of the apartment into aggressive and mindless killers. The technique employed effectively plunges the viewer right into the darkness with the people on screen.
Quarantine is a veritable roller coaster ride, all around an excellent and engaging film. I guess the reason it is ranked relatively low on the list is because it hews a little too close to the superior original, the Spanish film Rec.
This movie is fucked up. There is one scene in particular toward the beginning that is so effectively horrifying that it more than secures a spot on this list.
The story is simple. A family is lost in the New Mexico desert. They are then terrorized by a clan of horrifying mutants that were transformed by nuclear bomb testing during the cold war.
The Hills Have Eyes remake outdoes its predecessor at every turn. The truly despicable and grotesque antagonists make the proceedings so much more spine chilling. Also, a strength that this film has above many other modern horror movies is that the protagonists are well developed. You actually care about what happens to them, and I found myself standing up and rooting for the characters as the movie neared its wholly satisfying conclusion.
Maniac is a remake of an obscure cult film of the 80’s and is superior to it in every conceivable way.
This movie follows a loner who scalps and murders women due to mommy issues. He then uses their hair to adorn the mannequins he keeps in his creepy shop. Superficially, this may seem like a rote exercise in banality, nothing more than a cynical Psycho ripoff. However, this could not be further from the truth.
This movie ranks so high, because of its incredible, central gimmick. The movie is filmed in the first person from the perspective of the killer (an excellent turn by Elijah Wood of all people). By way of this viewpoint, the viewer becomes complicit in the crimes playing out on screen. Maniac makes us confront our own bloodlust and brings more food for thought than your typical horror movie.
I think this movie is the epitome of what makes a remake successful. It takes the basic premise and tropes of the original and brings them in exciting new directions. Though Zack Snyder’s style is often maligned and is arguably a parody of itself in his most recent outings, its application to the horror genre brought a welcome edge of your seat intensity to Romero’s tale of survivors of a zombie apocalypse holing up in a mall. The script and direction just brought so many unique ideas and sheer scares.
To my knowledge, this was the second film to employ fast zombies, the first being the astounding 28 days later, and they are used to great effect here. Long gone are the slow and shambling ghouls of the past. These monsters are no fucking joke. This change adds an all encompassing terror and urgency that permeates every aspect of this film. This movie is also just so much goddamn fun! It is easily my favorite horror remake of the last twenty years.