Horror remakes that are actually good…

In the spirit of Halloween, Donna and I have been watching some horror classics of the 80s this week. Specifically, remakes that are (gasp) actually better than the originals.

As a rule, I am furiously opposed to remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels. Every once in a while, though, exceptions emerge from the tide of mediocrity and abomination…

The first is a longtime favorite of mine — John Carpenter’s The Thing. Not only is it better than the Howard Hawkes original, it is far closer to John Campbell’s excellent short story “Who Goes There” and takes it all for a darker spin. Fantastic special effects; no artificially sleek CGI here. When the titular Thing changes form, it does so by messily breaking into its kaleidoscope of shapes. A head rips off its neck, sprouts legs, and scuttles away for safety. The sound effects are top-rate, and the visual imagery is unforgettable.

The movie also manages to create a palpable sense of isolation and paranoia; a superb cast led by Kurt Russell and Keith David solidify this horror tale. Definitely one of Carpenter’s very best films.

The second film we watched is also typical of 80’s horror; grisly, dripping special effects in splatter-based full-color. But it is nonetheless an excellent movie: David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and like Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the precious few remakes superior to the original. Before he settled on playing nerdy caricatures, Jeff Goldblum gave cinema a chilling and credible performance of a brilliant man being ravaged by mutation and madness. His underrated performance drives the film even more than the grotesque effects, though the latter is the oozing, blistering, fleshy centerpiece. It’s all straight-up Cronenberg, whose obsession about physical permutations is his signature style (eXistenz, Videodrome) and even finds its way into the dialogue (look for the scene where Geena Davis and Goldblum discuss flesh and how it even makes old women crazy.)

“I’ll hurt you if you stay.”

Last on the list is a 1970s offering. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the genre’s perfect take on Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. Not to mention, it stars a McCarthy too: Kevin. The remake is, while not necessarily better than the original, almost comes across as a sequel. (Look for Kevin McCarthy’s clever cameo.) Augmented by a better backstory and excellent visual effects, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a frightening and kinetic horror film with a slam-bam ending. The camerawork is a bit eccentric, recalling the dutch angles and experimental editing of the previous decade, but the result is a classic nightmare. Too bad the latest attempt, The Invasion, failed to match the standard here.

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