Well, it’s that time of year again: the air is crisp and the leaves are turning and a shiver of dread goes up the spines of horror movie geeks everywhere with the arrival of yet another unasked for remake of a cherished horror classic. This Halloween season brings us a newfangled version of The Thing, inspired by John Carpenter’s 1982 gross-out monster classic, itself a remake of the 1951 B-movie gem The Thing From Another World. Well, let’s be optimistic. After all, besides Carpenter’s Thing, there’s David Cronenberg’s brilliant reimagining of The Fly (1986) and Philip Kaufman’s masterful remake/sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). On the other hand, there are also all the remakes on this list. The horror… the horror….  

1. The Wicker Man (2006)

In refashioning Anthony Schaeffer’s singular musical horror classic to suit his own sensibilities, Neil Labute came up with a more conventional, more angry, and much, much sillier Wicker Man. Gone are the music and the quirky, subtle sense of menace, as well as the sexual and religious overtones that gave the original its wry humor and made the story actually, you know, make sense. Now instead of a darkly humorous parable about religious fanaticism in which an uptight, super-Christian “fool” is led on a wild goose chase as part of a bizarre pagan ritual, we have a guy lured by the ex-fiancée who left him at the altar to an island ruled by nefarious women so LaBute can make his little point about WHAT FUCKING BITCHES WOMEN ARE! I’ve heard claims that this movie is widely misunderstood, and that it’s not the delirious, misogynistic fever dream it appears to be, but if that’s the case LaBute must have a flair for ironic humor rivaled only by Oliver Stone. Those issues aside, there are unintentional laffs-a-plenty to make up for the slack pacing and Nicolas Cage is at his craziest, twitchiest best, running around in a bear suit, kicking Leelee Sobieski in the face, and uttering the best original line in the movie: “Ahh! My LEGS!”

2. Psycho (1998)

After scoring mainstream success with Good Will Hunting (1997), indie fave Gus Van Sant was given carte blanche by Universal Pictures to film a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 proto-slasher masterpiece. Rather than invite comparison to the Master of Suspense, Van Sant demanded it by announcing that his Psycho would be an obsessively faithful scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot replica, practically indistinguishable from the original. An interesting idea in a “Well, I guess nobody’s done that before,” kind of way, Van Sant’s self-indulgent film school exercise could have at least been something original, in its own weird way. But then the director inexplicably violates his own ground rules by inserting bits of nonsense like Norman Bates (played by Vince Vaughan, exuding creepy menace but with none of Anthony Perkins’ charm) whacking off while he peeps at Marion Crane undressing for her fateful shower. Besides rendering the movie’s whole reason for being moot, such creative liberties display a fundamental misunderstanding of the Norman Bates character, and the viewer’s bored curiosity turns to open hostility.


3. The Stepford Wives
(2004)

The original Stepford Wives (1975) is now something of a time capsule, a darkly satirical look at the burgeoning women’s rights movement and the insecurity it engendered in the menfolk who didn’t know what to make of these newly empowered, independent females. So a remake—or “updating”—wasn’t a bad idea. Times have changed, and though there’s still plenty of resistance and resentment to be mined, now it’s in a whole new context. So why’d we have to end up with this aggressively stupid movie that turns the sweet but strong willed Joanna Eberhardt from the first film into a career-obsessed, ball-busting harpy? Who wrote this thing, Rush Limbaugh? Worst of all is the sloppiness of it all. Are the Stepford Wives anatomically enhanced replicants as in the original, or do they simply have strategically placed microchips implanted into their brains to turn them into robotically perfect housewives? Apparently both, as there are numerous, broadly comical (not to be confused with “funny”) incidents that are only physically possible if the wives of Stepford are robots, and yet it is then revealed late in the picture that they’re not robots at all, only the victims of a conveniently reversible method of mind control, setting the stage for a corny, cop-out conclusion that would be infuriating even if it made a modicum of sense.


4. The Island of Dr. Moreau
(1996)

This was a tough call. On the one hand yes, this movie is clearly out of its mind. How do you put a director like John Frankenheimer and an actor like Marlon Brando together and come up with this thing? Jungle delirium, perhaps–it would help explain Brando’s legendarily eccentric performance in which yes, he does wear an ice bucket on his head for no discernable reason. On the other hand insanity is not boring, and the movie isn’t either; it’s certainly more entertaining than the lethargic Burt Lancaster version from 1977 which, judged on entertainment value alone, is more deserving of a spot on this list. But even if a movie’s so bad it’s good, it’s still bad, right? Yet good also? Screw it, I’m including it if for no other reason than an excuse to post this picture of Brando with his Mini-Me. 

5. Halloween II (2009)

Say what you will about Rob Zombie, but the man has a genuine love for horror movies and a distinct vision all his own. Whether you appreciate that vision or not depends on your appreciation for grotesque, foul-mouthed trailer trash, punishingly loud death metal and unrelieved sadism. When the elements fall into place you get a twisted cult classic like The Devil’s Rejects (2005). When they don’t, you get…well, you get this. Ugly, sadistic and bat shit crazy—and not in a good, Marlon Brando-wearing-an-ice bucket-on-his-head-kind-of-way—Zombie’s remake-sequel (or sequel-remake) is more endurance test than entertainment experience. You want to run over with me one more time what the fuck that unicorn was about? Still, it’d be interesting to see Zombie’s take on Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

6. The Haunting (1999)

So what do you do if you’re Jan De Bont, a skilled and talented director of fast-paced, explosion-packed action movies, and you’re assigned to helm a remake of Robert Wise’s 1963 classic of atmospheric, understated terror even though the word “understated” isn’t in your filmmaking vocabulary? Well, you throw big, loud special effects at the screen, and lots of ‘em. After all, what could be more terrifying than, for instance, a big, ornate four-poster bed coming to life and attacking its occupant? Consult the illustration above, and you’ll probably be able to think of a great many things right off the top of your head.

7. My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

The original My Bloody Valentine was an unexpectedly smart and stylish teen slasher flick that had the misfortune of being released in early 1981, shortly after the senseless murder of John Lennon. Amid heightened national sensitivity about violence the film was brutally slashed to ribbons by the MPAA and all but the merest hint of bloody mayhem ended up on the cutting room floor. The 2009 remake does an admirable job of putting the bloody back in Bloody Valentine with some impressively gruesome carnage patterned after the edited footage from the original, but the movie as a whole is a needlessly convoluted, tacky-looking mess. Shot in cheap-looking HD video and featuring twenty-something actors playing unconvincing thirty-something characters with glue-on mustaches, the film lacks any sense of atmosphere or style that might have made the most of its limited budget and instead just comes off as amateurish. And the 3D pretty much blows. 


8. The Shining
(1997)

Being a hoity-toity cinéaste and all, I don’t usually stoop to discussing (ugh) TV movies, but this is a special case. After years of bitching about how Stanley Kubrick dropped the ball with his unconscionably loose 1980 film adaptation, Stephen King finally had the chance to oversee a scrupulously faithful transcription of his bestselling haunted hotel novel (except of course for the racey and violent stuff that can’t be shown on network TV). Here’s what we learned: A croquet mallet is not scarier than an ax; animated topiary beasties are better left to the imagination; and Steven freakin’ Weber is a pretty piss poor substitute for Jack Nicholson, as is Mick Garris for Stanley Kubrick. If memory serves, it was around this time that King started admitting that Kubrick’s version maybe wasn’t all that bad after all.

9. The Amityville Horror (2005)

If ever a remake had a low bar to clear, it was the 2005 Michael Bay-produced Amityville Horror. The original Horror, released in 1979, made a ton of dough by cashing in on Jay Ansen’s then current, supposedly non-fiction bestseller, and the dubious “Based On A True Story” claim was the only interesting thing the movie had going for it. A silly, resolutely unscary dramatization of John and Kathy Lutz’ phony-baloney ghost story, the ‘79 Horror presented an ideal opportunity for improving on an original, even if no one was buying the “True Story” stuff anymore. But the remake, while not necessarily any worse than the original, isn’t any better, its slick production values and improved special effects negated by its amped-up, hyper-ventilating Michael Bay treatment and a climax that goes on waaaaaaaaaaaay too long. And somehow it still made $100 million. Curse your infernal magic, Michael Bay.


10. The Fog (2005)/Prom Night (2008)/The Stepfather (2009)/Et Al

Take your pick. Bland, bloodless and instantly forgettable, they all belong to that lowest subgenre of horror, the PG-13-rated remake of an R-rated original. Like alcohol-free beer, bad horror remakes that don’t even offer the compensation of some cool splatter FX have absolutely no reason to exist, beyond cashing in on a brand name and shamelessly grubbing for every penny they can get by releasing one (sanitized) version to theaters to rope in the under-17 crowd, and another (“unrated”) version to video to try and attract the people who wouldn’t pay money at the theater to see PG-13 horror. Save yourself the trouble and watch the original again.