Any time a film is remade, you have to ask why. Not to be
cynical, but because it’s a legitimate query. Is there a compelling reason to
watch this new one?
Nicolas Pesce hopes there’s reason to watch his retooling of
The Grudge began in 2000 with Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese horror Ju-on, which spawned three Japanese sequels and now four English language reworkings, two of which Shimizu directed himself. His 2004 version starring Sarah Michelle Geller became a tentpole of our J-horror obsession of the early 2000s.
Pesce, working with co-writer Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train—that was your first problem), pulls story ideas from across the full spate of Ju-on properties and braids them into a time-hopping horror.
Is there room for hope? There is, because Pesce landed on horror fanatics’ radars in 2016 with his incandescent feature debut, The Eyes of My Mother. He followed this inspired piece of American gothic in 2018 with a stranger, less satisfying but utterly compelling bit of weirdness, Piercing.
And then there’s this cast: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho,
Lin Shaye, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison, Damian Bichir—all solid
talents. You just wouldn’t necessarily know it from this movie.
Pesce’s basically created an anthology package—four stories
held together by a family of especially unpleasant ghosts. But that one
sentence contains two of the film’s biggest problems.
Let’s start with the ghosts. Shimizu’s haunters—Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki—were sweet-faced, fragile and innocent seeming. The perversion of that delicacy is one of the many reasons Shimizu’s films left such a memorable mark. Pesce’s substitute family loses that deceptive, macabre innocence.
The way the film jumps from story to story and back again
undermines any tension being built, and each story is so brief and so dependent
on short-hand character development (cigarettes, rosaries, ultrasounds) that
you don’t care what happens to anyone.
Jacki Weaver, who seems to be in a comedy, is wildly miscast. Go-to horror regular Shaye has the only memorable scenes in the film. Riseborough, who is a chameleonic talent capable of better things, delivers a listless performance that can’t possibly shoulder so much of the film’s weight.
Jump scares are telegraphed, CGI and practical effects are unimpressive, editing is uninspired and, worst of all, the sound design lacks any of that goosebump-inducing inspiration Shimizu used to such great effect.
“JJ” Shaft walks gingerly into traffic, taking care to watch for cars. He doesn’t constantly drop expletives and he’s keen on Brazilian dance fighting.
So, he’s a little different from Dad, then?
It’s the first clue that writers Kenya Barris and Alex Barrow and director Tim Story might have a sound plan to bring Shaft into the 21st century. They need one, because successfully transplanting those solidly 1970s sensibilities to present day is a bit of a trick.
The Brady Bunch Movie got around it by having the 90s Bradys still living gloriously 70s while everyone else called them weird. Genius move.
2005’s Bad News Bears remake just tried to tone down the unacceptable elements. Swing and a miss.
Taking much more of a straight up comedic approach than John Singleton’s 2000 sequel, this Shaft‘s culture clashes between John (Samuel L. Jackson) and JJ (Jessie T. Usher) offer some amusingly organic attempts to freshen the air of misogyny and homophobia.
It’s not a bad strategy, but the dam can only be held back so long. Guys, quit being such pansies. Women like real men who only want sex, guns, and any chance to kill people!
And then there’s the matter of the unintentional comedy.
JJ is a data analyst at the FBI who’s also apparently a hacking genius: “This is the most advanced encryption I’ve ever seen…I’m in!” He drags Pops into a completely ridiculous drug case where the clues come easy and the henchman stand straight up in every line of fire while explaining their motivations for giving chase (“It’s that Shaft kid! He saw everything!”)
Is Jackson a wonderful badass who’s perfect for this? Duh.
Does Regina Hall (as JJ’s mother) brighten every scene she’s in? She always does.
Do the samples of Isaac Hayes’s original music remind it’s probably the greatest theme in movie history? You damn right!
And Richard Roundtree again, casually dismissing that “Uncle Shaft” business from last time? Love it so hard.
There are fun elements here, but the lazy execution never fully commits to the promising setup. Shaft’s early self-awareness ends up devolving into self-parody and sadly, I cannot dig that.
It has been 15 years since Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman first brought Mike Mignola’s cat loving, iron fisted, soft hearted son of Satan to the big screen. You’ve got to feel for any filmmaker tasked with following in del Toro’s steps, especially when the film in question is a monster movie brimming with innocence and wonder. That is really his wheelhouse.
But Neil Marshall is no slouch. His first film out the gate back in 2002, Dog Soldiers, offered a wickedly funny war movie with werewolves. This gem he followed in 2005 with what may be contemporary horror’s scariest monster movie, The Descent.
Since then? Nothing to write home about. But that means he’s due for a comeback, eh? And Hellboy’s ready for a reboot. Right?
No to both.
The first difference you’ll note, maybe 15 words into the film with the first of many f-bombs, is that Neil Marshall’s Hellboy is rated R.
It’s also a horror movie, make no mistake. Hellboy is lousy with limb severing, blood gushing, intestine spilling action.
Also, it’s just lousy.
Hellboy (Stranger Things’s David Harbour, who does an admirable job) struggles against a prophesy and a lifetime in the shadows to decide his destiny for himself. Milla Jovovich is a witch. There is a boar monster, a scrappy teen medium, a were-cheetah and some seriously sketchy CGI.
Yikes, this movie looks bad.
There are those who will complain about Marshall’s gleeful gorefest, but not me. Demons ripping the flesh from the faces of innocents? Others may be hiding their eyes from the carnage, but what they’re mercifully missing is digital animation on par with Disney’s The Haunted Mansion (the 2003 film or the amusement park ride, take your pick).
Aside from two creepy images—one of Jovovich’s Blood Queen in flowing red robes beneath a shadowy, skeletal tree; the second a quick sideways glance into Baba Yaga’s pantry—Marshall’s vision is weak.
His storytelling is not much stronger. Working from a script by Andrew Cosby, the film opens with exposition, repeats that exact exposition midway through Act 2, and halts at least three additional times for one character to stand still and articulate a big block of story for us.
Often that character is dead and attached to the mouth of a young girl via a long, gurgly, worm-like body, which probably the most laughable element of the film.
A few weeks ago, for homework, I revisited the 3 previous versions of A Star Is Born. A friend later asked me which one was best.
I have a different answer now.
Director/co-writer/co-star Bradley Cooper brings a new depth of storytelling to the warhorse, with a greater commitment to character and the blazing star power of Lady Gaga.
Cooper is Jackson Maine, a booze-swilling, pill-popping rock star who wanders into a random bar post-gig and catches Ally (Gaga) belting out “La Vie en Rose.” Jack’s entranced, and begins coaxing Ally to sing her own songs instead of covers. Everyone’s got a talent, he tells her, the real gift is having something to say.
Each previous film version represented its era well, but with the rock music setting and several recognizable homages, it’s clear Cooper has a fondness for the Streisand/Kristofferson take from ’76. His new vision carries a raw authenticity that eclipses them all.
The battered star’s instant infatuation with the young talent has never felt more understandable, the undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Gaga fueling the feeling that in Ally, Jack sees a better version of himself.
Cooper, with a lower-range speaking voice and the musical talent from nearly 2 years of tutelage, is every bit the weathered rocker, on a misplaced search for redemption. Watch him when Jack is not the focus of a scene to see a character become complete.
But then, another outstanding acting performance from Bradley Cooper is not a surprise. His remarkably instinctual directing debut here, though, must now place him among the premier talents in film.
Nearly every scene, from stadium rock concert to intimate conversation, is framed for maximum impact. His camera can be stylish but not showy, with seamless scene transitions fueling a forward momentum that will not let the film drag.
The melodramatic story has been stripped of pretense and buoyed by more layers of humanity, and not just between the two leads. Jack’s brother (Sam Elliot), his boyhood friend (Dave Chappelle) and Ally’s father (Andrew Dice Clay) emerge as important characters despite limited screen time.
And then there’s Gaga.
The voice is, well, it’s a force of nature, and the songs (some co-written with Cooper) are memorable. But if a star already shining can be born, welcome Gaga the movie star. She is electric, taking Ally from wide-eyed stage fright to SNL headliner with both tenderness and ferocity, giving this character the strength and nuance she has never had before.
This film has talent everywhere, but it also has stirring things to say about love and sacrifice, about art and commerce, ambition and fame.
I’ll say this: A Star is Born is among the very best of the year.
The 70s blaxploitation classic Super Fly was no masterpiece, but it was a provocative time capsule of flash, style and soulful soundtrack. Any attempt to recapture the spirit seems doomed to failure.
But Director X, with a decades-long career in flashy music videos showcasing the same kind of decadent lifestyle first glamorized by films like Super Fly, has the cred to take a good swing.
Plus, he throws in some Curtis Mayfield just when you missed him the most.
It’s clear X and screenwriter Alex Tse (Watchmen) are fans of Gordon Parks Jr.’s first and most important film. Tse is mostly, surprisingly faithful to the original. Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a successful drug dealer who wants out while he still looks good, but The Man and an assortment of less-controlled colleagues complicate an already difficult process.
Less provocative than the original by a wide margin, X’s vision still takes some hard-earned enjoyment in scenes of comeuppance that are, unfortunately, as timely today as they were when Ron O’Neal outwitted corrupt New York detectives 46 years ago.
The update is marginally more respectful of women and boasts an impressive supporting cast including the always welcome Jason Mitchell, the always intimidating Michael Kenneth Williams, and a great turn by Esai Morales.
Oddly enough, that splashy support, which enlivens the film immeasurably, also helps to showcase its weakness—Jackson. There’s no conflicted soul inside that leather duster and skinny jeans, no tormented mind beneath that pompadour. Sure, O’Neal’s karate and cape now seem embarrassingly of-the-moment, but his performance evoked a restlessness and internal conflict that Jackson cannot manage.
A clever new image built on the skeleton of the groundbreaking ’72 film, SuperFly does not manage to provoke, intrigue or satisfy in the same way as the original. It does have style, though, and something relevant to say.
Remember the first time you saw the trailer for the new Tom Cruise flick The Mummy, and you thought, “My God, that looks awful”?
Dude, you were so right.
Part Tomb Raider, part Suicide Squad – with huge bits stolen whole cloth from the immeasurably superior An American Werewolf in London – The Mummy lacks even a solid thirty seconds of fresh thought. It is as dusty and lifeless as its namesake.
But, because it’s some sort of artistic imperative that every movie we see for the next decade is planned out in huge corporate clusters – I mean cinematic universes – the Universal monsters are being revived. Aging leading men will be tapped for butts-in-seats duties as Dark Universe tries to create a series of nostalgic family(ish) fare neutered beyond recognition with CGI.
First up, Cruise.
A prologue riddled with plot holes leads to one wildly offensive piece of cultural flippancy, as Cruise Indiana Joneses his way into Iraqi insurgent territory in search of unnamed treasure.
He finds an Egyptian sarcophagus. In Iraq. It’s just one geographic discrepancy mentioned but never clearly explained. Part and parcel of a script-by-committee that hopes you’ll overlook its incessant nonsense.
Cruise, as Nick Morton, is Cruise – all superficial charm and charisma. He’s joined by one-note Annabelle Wallis as the archeologist in a white shirt that’s bound to get really wet at some point, and Sofia Boutella as a mummy with strategically placed wrappings.
And Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.
Will he turn into Hyde? Will it be among the film’s weakest, saddest, most pathetic scenes? No spoilers here.
Director Alex Kurtzman bandages together secondhand ideas, weak writing and an absence of onscreen chemistry with CGI aplenty. Sandstorms! Birds! More sand! And mummy/zombies that look like they should be gettin’ down with Michael Jackson.
Kurtzman’s impressive lack of instinct for pacing, tone and atmosphere match perfectly with the script’s hodgepodge of stolen ideas. And now we can wait for Hollywood execs to bring other moldering horror corpses back to life. Sigh.
Back in 2002, I wondered whether there was such a need for an Evil Dead reboot that Cabin Fever was necessary. Director/co-writer/co-star Eli Roth’s first feature just updated the “cabin in the woods” classic by removing demons and inserting a water-bound virus. Otherwise –right down to the rotting girlfriend in the toolshed – it’s the same movie. Only worse.
So, you can imagine the path my thoughts took to find that Cabin Fever has been rebooted, just 14 years after the “original” release. Has so much changed that a retooling of what was essentially a retooling makes sense?
In case you missed the first one, five college kids – a handsome couple, the two who haven’t hooked up yet, and the fifth wheel – head into the woods for spring break. Yes, it not only sounds so clichéd that you actually think of spoofs before you think of serious horror movies, but it is, in fact, an exact duplicate of the 2002 version.
Just minutes into the five pretty co-eds’ journey, it’s not even the Eli Roth film you remember. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s 2012 meta-flick Cabin in the Woods will more likely spring to mind because Cabin Fever opens so heavy handedly it’s almost a spoof.
A bigger gun, a couple of selfies, and you basically cover every major difference between the 2016 and 2002 renditions of the film. What the movie lacks in originality – which is everything – it begins to compensate for with adequate performances and good looking scenery. Plus, no major Eli Roth sightings, which is always a positive.
Except for Samuel Davis (bland and weak) and Randy Schulman (flatly caricatured), the acting is quite solid. Cabin Fever is an adequate remake of a perfectly serviceable horror film, but there’s something to be said about beating a dead horse here. Or, in this case, beating Pancake the dog.
Just like a shiny new toy waiting to be unwrapped, Point Break is available for your viewing pleasure this Christmas Day.
Kathryn Bigelow’s 1992 MTV Award winning surfing/bank robbing/pathway to enlightenment classic wears some new trunks courtesy of director Ericson Core (Invincible).
Johnny Utah (yes, that’s still his name) was a YouTube phenom thanks to some extreme mountain biking and whatnot, but tragedy and guilt motivated him to change his life. One man-bun later, he’s a fledgling FBI agent with a nose for extreme sportsman heists.
Dude, I totally think those bank robbers are trying to perform the Ozaki 8.
That’s right, they’re not common criminals. They are extreme eco-warriors and poly-athletes.
Well now they’re just making words up.
Luke Bracey seems at times to channel Keanu Reeves, his predecessor in the rich and meaty role of Utah. Indeed, he boasts the sun kissed locks of a young Patrick Swayze as well as the utterly wooden acting presence of Reeves – quite a combination.
In the role of Jedi Master Bodhi is Edgar Ramirez, an actor who, in fact, has talent. You won’t see evidence of it here, though, as he struggles through dialog, such as, “All you see is lines. All we see is truth.”
Replacing the spunky Lori Petty in the role of Utah’s love interest is Teresa Palmer as Samsara. Look how adorably enlightened she is! She climbed a rock pile – yay!
But you don’t come to Point Break (either version) for the acting. If you can make it past the insufferable masculine posturing, the film looks great. Yes, the first two set pieces rip off the Mission Impossible franchise, with a little Fight Club robbery thrown in later, but who has time for originality?
The scenery is stunning, the stunts genuinely impressive, and Core is wise enough to limit dialog and plot to a minimum, allowing plenty of time for filling the screen with sky, valley, waterfall, and mountain top – you know, everything a real man conquers. For enlightenment.
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.
Listen to our Frihgt Club PODCAST at Golden Spiral Media!
Fright Night takes that Eighties, Goonies-style adventure (kids on an adult-free quest of life and death) and uses that conceit to create something tense and scary, and a bit giddy as well. The feature debut as both writer and director for Tom Holland, the film has some sly fun with the vampire legend.
Roddy McDowall got much deserved love at the time for his turn as a washed-up actor from horror’s nostalgic past, and Chris Sarandon put his rich baritone to campy, sinister use. Still, everyone’s favorite character was Evil Ed, the manic, pitiful loser turned bloodsucking minion.
Credit Stephen Geoffreys for an electric and, at least in one scene, heartbreaking performance. Geoffreys went on to star in several other Eighties horror films before taking an unpredictable turn into hardcore gay porn in the Nineties, or so suggests the titles from his resume: Gay Men in Uniform, Butt Blazer, Guys Who Crave Big Cocks, and the like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
These were big fangs to fill, but in 2011, working from Holland’s story, director Craig Gillespie updated the tale with Twilight references, website research, and extreme magicians. Shocking to all, the reboot worked marvelously.
Colin Farrell plays the horny vampire next door, with Anton Yelchin ably updating the Charlie Brewster character. In a stroke of casting genius, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin, bitches!) takes on the beloved Evil Ed role.
Campy when it needs to be, infused with modern sensibilities and humor, but still lovingly attached to the original, the remake offers a ton of fun. Both films are self-aware, both bring a seething but slyly funny edge to the vampire. Farrell menaces effectively with a blue collar flair and predatory sexuality. His chemistry with Yelchin – particularly in an early scene where he wants to borrow some beer from the Brewster place, and the two dance around whether or not he can enter the house without Charlie’s invitation – is superb.
The remake takes risks with its updates, each of which pays off wonderfully. Plus, it ends with an awesome Bruno cover of Jay Z’s 99 Problems.