Horror Rebooted

Three remakes that I’ve watched recently.

The Fog (2005)

The ostensibly idyllic community of Antonio Island is beset by an unnatural fog, and lurking in the fog are malevolent spectres who kill the town’s inhabitants at will. It all goes back to the early days of the town, when the founders murdered a group of lepers who had come to the island seeking refuge, and now with the unveiling of a statue to the founders the restless dead want justice. A descendant of one of the founding fathers, Nick Castle (Tom Welling, looking like he wants to dash into a phone box and transform into Superman) leads the fight to survive. All of which is pretty much a reprise of John Carpenter’s 1980 original, so from a plot viewpoint there are no surprises to anyone familiar with that work. Where they do diverge from the original is in the use of special effects, the creeping terror of Carpenter’s film replaced by turning the town’s high street into a war zone, with explosions and car crashes, all culminating in a light show in the local cemetery. With most of the cast doing little more than the bare minimum in bringing to life characters who aren’t that interesting in the first place (honourable exception, Selma Blair’s disc jockey and single mum) and such familiar tropes as children in peril and the prophetic madman brought into play, this struck me as a completely unnecessary remake, though if I’m honest I probably would have enjoyed it more if Carpenter hadn’t got there first. And, in parenthesis, I’m wondering if at some point in the future we’ll see a film reprising the same themes with political refugees instead of lepers as the catalyst for what occurs.

The Omen (2006)

Thirty years on, and a remake of a bona fide classic of horror cinema, and though I haven’t seen the original in a while, this struck me as a step by step reprisal of the 1976 film. Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles take on the roles made famous by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, as the US power couple who acquire their son Damien in somewhat dodgy circumstances. There follow various bloody set pieces with a minatory atmosphere developing nicely, until Robert Thorn can’t deny what all the evidence is pointing to, that his son is the Anti-Christ. And at this point we, along with Thorn, are confronted by a terrible moral dilemma, the necessity to kill a child to save the world. Yes, it has all the elements of a classic, and if the 1976 film didn’t exist it would almost certainly be hailed as such. Yet, I am not going to dismiss it as an unnecessary remake, because I think the 2006 version does bring something new to the table. I liked the way in which world events are conflated with biblical prophecy to create an air of inevitability, but most of all I appreciated the visual palette used by the director, with the scenes set in a snow girt Italy as Thorn and his journalist associate try to track down the truth especially effective, creating a landscape that is alien and inhospitable to mankind, perhaps a foreshadowing of what the world will become when Damien’s comes into his power. It was a riveting slice of horror cinema, with the cast playing their roles to perfection, and I am glad that it got made. Certainly not an improvement on the original, but a worthwhile film with merits of its own.

Sorority Row (2009)

I’ve often thought that it would be more rewarding if, instead of reprising classics of the genre for some fast money, the powers that be remade films that didn’t quite hit the spot first time around and got it right on the rebound. This remake, loosely based on 1983 slasher The House on Sorority Row, seems to prove me wrong. It takes the one element of originality that the first film had going for it, throws it overboard and for a replacement drags in a plot device that’s been old hat since I Know What You Did Last Summer started a trend. A prank goes wrong and somebody loses their life. Instead of going to the police, the sorority sisters cover their tracks, and they think they’ve got away with it until a year later when minatory phone calls and cryptic messages segue into a trail of dead bodies. You can guess the rest. There’s a cast of pretty young things, more interested in boys and booze than academic achievements. There’s collateral damage adding to the body count, and some engagingly gross/inventive methods of demise. There’s the good girl who wanted to do the right thing, but was stopped by her friends. There’s a police force conspicuous by its absence. And there’s the killer who, after all the obligatory red herrings, turns out to be the person least likely and with the most specious of motives for acting as they do, but the one the viewer suspects for those very reasons. In fairness, some of the characters do have a little more depth to them than can be found in many slasher outings, the dreaded shreddie syndrome, but other than that it’s all very much by the numbers, in spite of which I enjoyed it in a pass the time sort of way.

So, what horror remakes have improved on the original? Carpenter’s The Thing springs instantly to mind, but other than that…

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2 Responses to Horror Rebooted

  1. Rolnikov says:

    The remake of The Omen sounds really good. I’ll have to seek that out. I think I read the fourth and fifth novels and enjoyed them too. I liked the remake of My Bloody Valentine more than the original, but I disliked the remake of Halloween, for making Myers more of a mistreated Frankenstein monster, rather than the implacable, inexplicable evil of the original couple of films. I thought the Jessica Biel Texas Chainsaw Massacre was okay, but I haven’t seen the originals.

    • petertennant says:

      Yeah, the Biel remake of “TCM” was okay, though it lacked most of the tension of the original and, inevitably, its iconoclastic quality. Bottom line – the remake was just a decent slasher film, better than many and fun to watch but not classic material.

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