Tag Archives: horror movie remakes

The Water’s Not Fine

Lake of Death

by George Wolf

If your experience with Norwegian horror has you expecting Lake of Death to bring on the blondes and the folklore – you’re halfway there. The coifs check out, but writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm trades some homeland roots for flashes of decidedly American inspiration.

It’s a bit curious, since Robsahm (Amnesia) is updating the 1942 novel (and 1958 film) De dødes tjern– which is credited with kickstarting Norway’s interest in the horror genre. Clearly, a cabin in the woods can be creepy in any language.

A distracted Lillian (Iben Akerlie) brings a group of friends and one dog to a remote lakeside cabin for one more getaway before the place is sold. Her gang is ready for a good time, but Lillian is still haunted by the memory of her twin brother Bjorn, who disappeared one year earlier after taking a walk in these very same woods!

One of Lillian’s friends hosts a paranormal podcast, which is Robsahm’s device for filling everyone in on the local legend of the lake. You can get lost in its serene beauty, they say, lose touch with reality, and maybe even get the urge to kill.

Mysterious happenings, paranoia and suspicion ensue, but Robsahm sets the brew on a very slow boil, taking a full hour before we get one well developed visual fright. Lillian’s sleepwalking, hallucinations, and frequent nightmares lay down an overly familiar framework that’s peppered with music stabs and repeated name-dropping of horror classics from Evil Dead to Misery.

As an attempt to bridge generational horror, it’s all very commendable but little more than workmanlike. Robsahm has better success with her commitment to the lake’s spellbinding beauty, and with her repeated trust in cinematographer Axel Mustad.

Shooting in wonderfully earthy 35mm, Mustad creates a gorgeous tableau of woods and water, evoking the dreamy atmosphere required to cash the check written by the lake’s urban legend.

There may be little that surprises you in Lake of Death, but a sterling partnership between director and cameraman makes sure you have a fine souvenir from the visit.

Cinema Killed the Video Star

Assassin’s Creed

by Hope Madden

What does it take to make a worthwhile movie based on a video game? Because it isn’t just talent – Assassin’s Creed proves that.

Like Warcraft, Creed pits a genuinely gifted director against all that terrible cinematic history – from 1992’s Super Mario Brothers through the Resident Evil series to this year’s Angry Birds Movie – and comes up lacking.

Australian director Justin Kurzel quietly proved his mettle with an astonishing true crime horror film in 2011 called Snowtown. Last year, he teamed up with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard – authentic talents if ever there were – for an imaginative and bloody take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

And now the three re-team, along with time-tested craftsmen Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling, to adapt the popular time traveling video game.

Fassbender is Cal, a death row convict secretly saved by the Abstergo science lab. There, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) will use him to channel his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) – member of a shadowy team battling the Knights Templar for the freedom of humanity.

So, we bounce back and forth in time between a modern day SciFi story and a dusty Inquisition-era adventure. Cal struggles against his newfound captivity and the after-effects of the experiments; Aguilar parkours his way through ancient Spain, trying to keep the Templar from the apple that started all our troubles back in Eden.

If the problem here is not talent, what, then?

As usual, it begins with the writing. Kurzel works with his Macbeth collaborator Michael Lesslie, as well as ne’er do wells Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Allegiant, Exodus: Gods and Kings). They put together a story that’s as convoluted and bloated as it is superficial.

The cast gets little opportunity to do anything other than deliver dour lines with stone faces, each one developing less of a sense of character than what you would have actually found in the video game itself.

Kurzel’s no help, his mirthless presentation undermining thrills at every turn. When he isn’t bombarding the action with murky visual effects, he’s pulling the audience from the midst of a climactic battle and back into the lab to watch Cotillar and/or Irons look on with clinical interest.


Maybe it’s impossible to capture the visceral thrill of gaming within the comparatively passive experience of cinema. Maybe the rich backstories of modern video games are only rich if you’re used to video game narratives. Hopefully the movies will get it right at some point, or at least they’ll stop wasting such incredible talent on such forgettable nonsense.


Fright Club: See the Original, Not the Remake

Horror movie remakes are legion – most of them needless, many of them abominations, one or two really work out well. The Ring – that’s a great one. Let Me In – OK, we will! But today, rather than crucify the sub-par remakes, what we really want to do is to remind you of the bloody good original you may have missed, or maybe saw years back and need to check out again. Here is our list of horror movies where you should skip the remake and seek out the original.

5. Diabolique (1955 v 1996

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s twisty psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful. Jeremiah Chechik’s 1996 remake capitalizes on the popularity of a post-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone and the moviegoing public’s spotty memory. If a film relies on a twist ending to work, why remake that film? You have to ask whether the film still works if the ending is apparent all the while. In all honesty, with the atmosphere of brittle dread Clouzot created, the answer could well be yes – although that bathtub scene is far scarier when you don’t know it’s coming. But Chechik – whose National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation hardly suggested he had instinct for tense, potentially supernatural horror – was not up to the task. Flat. Uninspired. Spook-less. Boo.

4. The Wicker Man (1973 v 2006)

Oh my God. What the hell?! The once-promising Neil LaBute and the once-talented Nic Cage turn that saucily blasphemous ’73 gem on Summerisle into an embarrassing battle of the sexes. In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie versus straight hysteria, and he did it with insight, humor, and super creepy animal masks. LaBute, characteristically, turns that primary conflict into male versus female, sucking all the irreverent humor from the story as he does. And he pulls his punch with the ending – so what on earth is the purpose of this?!!!

3. The Haunting (1963 v 1999)

Well, here’s another one that just pisses us off. In ’63, Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music – yeah, that one) took Shirley Jackson’s beloved haunted house novel to the big screen. True to the source material, The Haunting relied so entirely upon your own imagination that it garnered a G rating and still scared hell out of you. In 1999, Jan de Bont abandoned nuance entirely, embraced vulgar displays of literalism and wasted a cast that was actually perfect for each role. In somebody else’s adaptation, Catherine Zeta-Jones would have made the perfect Theo and Owen Wilson a delightful Luke, but the achingly missed opportunity is Lily Taylor. There is no better option to play Jackson’s repressed heroine Nell – Taylor couldn’t be a more perfect choice – and a blind de Bont understood his talent even less well than he understood Jackson’s novel.

2. Oldboy (2003 v 2013)

No surprise here. We honestly feel a bit bruised for poor Spike Lee, who endured so much Hollywood interference with his reboot of Chan-wook Park’s near-perfect Korean original that a decent product was out of the question. And yet, this abomination was released on an unsuspecting – or worse, optimistic – movie going world. And it sucked! Just sucked outright!! Gone were all the glorious bits of subversive genius, every punch pulled, every shock diluted. Park’s dizzying action sequences – ditched. And this seriously badass cast – Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel Jackson – wasted, while Sharlto Copley embarrasses himself. Awful!

1. Martyrs (2008 v 2015)

Pascal Laugier’s diabolical masterpiece Martyrs is a merciless film. It’s also one of the most impeccably written, directed and acted films in horror history. Co-directors and brothers Kevin and Michael Goetz underperform with their 2015 remake – pulled punches, heavy handed explanations, and a general lack of spine mark their work. The questions here resemble the same conundrum of remaking Oldboy – if you lack the guts to do the film justice, why do it at all? Why choose such a bold effort if your whole goal is to water it down?


Day 12: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined George Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Night of the Living Dead sequel with 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) who seems like a real person. 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.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball, and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

And who hates Nicole? I do. I hate Nicole.

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