Film Club #7: Remakes

Michael Prescott
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It’s time to visit a (not so) popular topic as part of our seventh Film Club, as we explore the remake in all its glory. Though often tainted with shame, our aim here is to champion film and therefore we celebrate those that have conquered that rare beast, proving themselves as worthy, necessary and fresh remakes.

Perhaps the genre most associated with this seemingly studio-convenience setup is horror, with almost every major 70s/80s film within the genre remade in the last five years alone (Halloween, The Thing, The Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs, Fright Night, Texas Chainsaw and a whole lot more!).

So will our writers find something special in the midst of all things scary and gore-filled, or are other genres the key to successfully adapting a previous film? Read on…

Carl Eden

Good remakes work as a balancing act – they need to update the original’s story enough to justify their own existence, but also need to capture the spirit of the original too. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear – the 1991 remake of  J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 movie – works on this level.

It takes the original tale and makes everything muddier – instead of former convict Robert Mitchum wanting revenge on prosecutor Gregory Peck and his family, we have a menacing Robert de Niro against his former defendant Nick Nolte, a lawyer who buried evidence to keep a monster behind bars. Morality is blurred, with Notle and his family (an excellent Jessica Lange and Juliet Lewis) often crossing the line into darker territory, and there’s a sense throughout of the civilised world – family, security, authority – completely breaking down.

Scorcese raises the levels of violence and makes the original’s sexual implications much broader, but gives the movie a disorientating dream-like atmosphere with reversed images and negative screen exposure and makes everything very tense.

Cape Fear must have seemed like a strange choice for the acclaimed director, but it’s clear that Scorcese loves the original material (brilliantly retaining Bernard Herrmann’s pounding score), and wanted to use the remake to craft his own love-letter to the thriller genre. Plus, it gave us the amazing Simpsons parody episode ‘Cape Feare.’

Jack Sadler

Every film in George A. Romero’s Dead series is great. Even the ones that came later on (Land and Diary) are included. (But not Survival because… well, it just doesn’t count.) Despite having some seriously strong work to stand up against, they manage to hold their own.

Romero’s original trilogy (Night of the Living DeadDawn of the DeadDay of the Dead) possesses some of the most shocking, gruesome, scary and bitingly satirical scenes to feature in ‘zombie’ films. They have gone down in history as iconic, cultish classics.

Therefore, when it was announced that Zack Snyder (300WatchmenMan of Steel) would be releasing a remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004, scepticism was rife. Horror remakes tend to get a bad press in that more often than not, they are clearly inferior. Here, not only was it going to be by a first-time director, but they were remaking a giant in the horror pantheon.

However, he managed to pull it off. The film is tense, nihilistic, vicious and the updates feel appropriate: whereas the original’s zombies are slow, the remake’s are quick and agile, thus representing an increasingly consumerist and technological society.

It’s a worthy homage, an excellent remake and an interesting film in its own right. It also features one of the best uses of Johnny Cash known to humanity.

James Gallagher

The best remakes are the ones that offer something fresh and exciting without sacrificing the soul of the original story. There’s no point treading old ground if all you’re going to do is make a carbon copy of a classic film, a la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, or ignore everything that the original symbolized, a la Samuel Bayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.

David Cronenberg’s retelling of George Langelaan’s cult horror classic The Fly is the perfect example of a remake which gets the balance between new and old just right. Cronenberg’s film turns the original story completely on its head without sacrificing any of the imagery or the meaning.

With a fantastic performance from Jeff Goldblum as the human-fly hybrid, The Fly explores the conflict between scientific advancement and human evolution, and the power of love in the face of cruel adversity, in a visceral and terrifying way.

Cronenberg’s knack for the visual and his obsession with “horror of the flesh” results in a wonderful film that combines style with substance and “creature-feature”-esque horror with a distinctly human tragedy.

I generally have no time for remakes but, in the case of The Fly, I’m definitely willing to make an exception.

Michael Prescott

There are plenty of folk out there who, for one reason or another, have it in for The Departed. There appear to be two significant reasons: (1) it was the film for which Scorsese received his long-overdue Academy Award as director, and (2) there’s an argument that it’s an inferior version of the Hong Kong original, Infernal Affairs.

Infernal Affairs arrived four years prior to The Departed, and also managed to spawn two sequels (both in 2003) before the arrival of Scorsese’s take on this particular tale of the police and the mob. What more could be left to say? Well, what’s immediately noticeable about The Departed is, unlike most foreign-language-to-English-language remakes (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), it’s considerably lengthier, extending the narrative by almost an hour.

Whilst most films could do with some trimming, Scorsese manages to add necessary meat onto raw bones, and polishes the whole thing up at the same time. He takes the basic structure and standout scenes and makes a truly great gangster film out of it, as seemingly only he knows how. Admittedly I did watch The Departed first (an interesting discussion point for another day), but it’s still comfortably the better film of the two… and that’s no insult to Infernal Affairs.

Raks Patel

I chose Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the Creature, because this remake is true to the original novel.

It gives Victor a credible backstory which explains why he is so passionate about creating life, the love story between Victor and Elizabeth is believable, and, most importantly, the Creature has a fully functioning brain – he is capable of intelligent thought and is able to speak and read.

He is a human being, not a Monster. James Whale’s film, starring Boris Karloff, was a travesty because it turned the Creature into a Monster, and robbed the narrative of its empathy and humanity.

My favourite US remake of a European film is Matt Reeves’s Let Me In, a remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.

The story focuses on Owen, a young boy, lonely, isolated and bullied at school, and his growing friendship with Abby, his new neighbour. But Abby has a dark secret: she is a Vampire.

Let Me In is an excellent remake because it enhances the power and the impact of the original film by focusing very heavily on its two young leads, both of whom give outstanding performances.

About Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott

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