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The Most Influential Horror Remakes

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The word “remake” has become a dirty term in most cinematic circles as it so often indicates a fundamental lack of creativity or, at the very least, a studio’s craven need to make money repeatedly from the same audience. The thinking is that, if you liked it once, you’ll probably like it again. However, there are few things less terrifying than being fully aware exactly where and when a person plans to jump out and scream “Boo!”, so it’s not that surprising that most horror movie remakes fail to connect creatively with audiences. But the operative word in that previous sentence is “most.” There actually are some undeniably great take-twos or even threes in the horror genre, almost always the product of filmmakers – such as David Cronenberg, Matt Reeves, or Zach Snyder – who were willing to reinterpret a work and make it their own, instead of just blandly recycling the original concept. Horror fans everywhere have pondered the best remakes of every horror subgenre ad nauseam, but what about the remakes that didn’t just appease the appetites of a very critical fan base but had significant commercial impact as well (or maybe instead)? What horror remakes most influenced the generations of horror remixes to follow? If you’re looking for horror remakes that undeniably left a sizable footprint on the film industry as a whole, here are our picks, in chronological order…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Philip Kaufman’s remake of the 1956 sci-fi/horror classic was one of the most impactful event films of the late ‘70s (in any genre) and helped legitimize the idea of auteurs tackling what was once considered B-movie subject matter. Kaufman’s reimagining of the pod people for an increasingly distrustful generation raised on Watergate and Vietnam made such waves that Variety claimed that it singlehandedly validated the concept of remakes in the first place. And it wasn’t a remake of a “traditionally respected drama,” but rather a drive-in flick that advertised “They come from another world!” Kaufman proved with Body Snatchers that it wasn’t necessarily the source that mattered, as much as the approach taken by the people remaking it. With a smart script (that earned a Writers Guild nomination), a multi-talented cast, and incredible direction, Body Snatchers shattered expectations critically and commercially, landing in the top 25 for the year at the box office and earning rave reviews. Kaufman’s work here proved that directors of horror remakes needn’t be filmmakers-for-hire, which arguably led to a wave of similarly artistic reinterpretations of B-movies in the ‘80s from Carpenter, Cronenberg, and more.

Influenced: The Thing (1982), Cat People (1982), The Fly (1986)

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

I didn’t say “good,” just influential. The remake and slasher trends of the ‘80s had given way to the relatively tame decade of the ‘90s, overrun with sequelitis and only saved in the end by a strong independent horror movement. Two studios would really rebuild the concept of the horror movie remake in the ‘00s, Platinum Dunes and Dark Castle. Since the latter came first, they get the blue ribbon in the influential contest. Dark Castle’s first remake, House on Haunted Hill certainly didn’t have the critical heft of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it did feature a strong cast pedigree (including an Oscar winner in Geoffrey Rush), relatively small budget, and it opened at #1 at the box office before a HUGE run on DVD. Get at least one respectable star, maybe a couple of pretty people from TV, keep the budget under $50 million, and the success will come (if not the quality). At least it did for a decade for Dark Castle and Platinum Dunes.

Influenced: Thir13en Ghosts (2001), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), House of Wax (2005), The Hitcher (2007), Friday the 13th (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

The Ring (2002)

In many ways, it’s the gold standard of modern remakes and it led the way for a wave of Asian horror remakes that wouldn’t come close to matching it in terms of reputation, quality, or influence. While Asian horror was making waves through import DVD outlets, Verbinski and the team behind The Ring proved that it was a movement that could translate to multiplex American audiences. One of the main reasons that The Ring works as well as it does is the driven performance at its center by Naomi Watts, a factor missing from not just the rest of the Asian remake trend that it influenced, but also in most remakes in general. The lesson that most filmmakers took from The Ring was that there was this relatively untapped vein of foreign horror films just waiting for them to remake. What they should’ve learned was that, as with all remakes, it’s the talent of the band that performs the cover tune, and not always the tune itself, that matters. Note: The Ring also deserves major influential credit for ushering in a new wave of PG-13 horror, for better or worse. 

Influenced: The Grudge (2004), The Eye (2008), Shutter (2008), The Uninvited (2009)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Adapting cinematic gold standards had proven to be remake poison in the past (Van Sant’s Psycho, for example) and so it was with heavy trepidation that most horror fans approached Zach Snyder’s take on what is indisputably one of the best genre flicks ever made. Who is this kid daring to tackle King Romero? And so the surprise was even greater when Snyder’s film turned out to be a taut, action-packed thriller that really works on its own. (And isn’t that the key to ALL successful remakes? They should build on the source material, but also stand fully on their own merit.) The zombie genre became one of the most prominent of the ‘00s for a number of reasons, including the sociopolitical fears of the real world (interesting how times of international hardship always seem to reboot interest in zombies). But the genre also resurged because a cadre of undeniably talented filmmakers - Snyder, Danny Boyle (28 Days Later…), and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), among others - jumped into the undead pool with both feet and reminded us of the pleasures of the living dead. It’s hard to remember now that zombies are such a prominent part of the independent/low-budget horror movement that you can’t attend a film festival without seeing something about the undead, but, at the start of the twenty-first century, zombies weren’t regarded as cool anymore. But thanks to directors like Snyder and remakes like Dawn of the Dead, the impact of the zombie resurgence is still being felt today.

Influenced: Most major zombie films since from Land of the Dead (2005) to World War Z (2013)

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