This week the new Ghostbusters cast was announced and for the first time, we were excited about this reboot. The reimagining of a classic is hard to do well, which is obvious when you count the unforgivably botched horror reboots there are: Shutter, The Eye, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Rob Zombie’s Halloween – don’t even make us say Oldboy. It’s a long, depressing list. But that only makes those rare gems – the well-made reboots – shine the brighter.
Here is a list of horror reboots we love – maybe even as much as we loved the original!
Funny Games (1997, 2007)
Michael Haneke is a genius, an amazing creator of tension. Everything he’s done deserves repeated viewing. With Funny Games, he makes it easy because he made it twice.
A family pulls into their vacation lake home to be quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things deteriorate.
Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.
As teen thugs put the family through a series of horrifying games, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too. We’ve tuned in to see the family tormented. Sure, we root for them, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too. In one particularly famous scene, Haneke decides to play games with us as well.
His English language remake is a shot for shot repeat of the German language original. In both films, the performances are meticulous. This is true of the entire cast, but it’s the villains who sell this. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.
Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004)
Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.
The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.
In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.
The Ring (1998)/Ringu (2002)
Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.
This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.
The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less bizarre the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!
From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character is brilliantly created. (It’s actually a full grown man who climbs herky-jerky out of the TV.)
Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.
Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”
At this point we realize he means us, the audience.
We watched the tape! We’re screwed!
Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)
In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.
Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Linda Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.
Hollywood’s 2010 version is the less confusingly entitled Let Me In, and fans of the original that feared the worst (ourselves included) can rest easy. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.
Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.
While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own.
Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.
The Crazies (1973/2010)
Just five years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Building a cumulative sense of entrapment and dread, the both versions of this film rely on a storyline whisper-close to a zombie tale, but deviate in a powerful way. The slight alteration plumbs for a different kind of terror.
The military has accidentally tainted a small town’s drinking supply with a chemical. Those who drink the water go hopelessly mad. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection and loss of control before introducing the greater threat – our own government.
Romero was more interested in social commentary than in horror, therefore his film is not as scary as it could be. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in his film.
Breck Eisner’s remake offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Eisner’s languid pace builds dread and flirts with an effectively disturbing sense of compassion. His sense of timing provides a fine balance between fear of the unknown and horror of the inevitable. He also has a far more talented cast, and he mines individual madness for more terror – although he pulls one punch Romero was happy to land.
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