Originals Vs. Remakes: Slasher Edition

This article was originally published on 12ftdwende.com 2 April 2010.

So I had a vague awareness of the Nightmare on Elm Street series as a small child. I would walk with great trepidation through the horror isle of the video store knowing that here were things not for young’ns like myself. I knew that there were a lot of these movies and the dude on the cover of all of them looked like one mean motherfucker. When I was about seven or eight I caught some of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child on television. TELEVISION, as in EDITED, but it was still enough. Freddy Krueger has since been my ultimate cinematic boogeyman. You all have one. Maybe you even recognize that whoever/whatever it is isn’t even all that scary. Just some B-movie actor making wiseass jokes under gruesome make-up, but they got you good because they got you early and the sound of knives being scraped on metal always puts that stupid nursery rhyme in your head… “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” Of course as adolescence set in, I began to devour horror movies and from all of the overlong franchises that sprung up out of slasher-mania, Freddy still remains my favorite mass murdering maniac.

So I was interested to learn that A Nightmare on Elm Street is being, of course, remade. Now I have nothing against remakes themselves. I often like them though rarely as much as the originals (John Carpenter’s 1982 redo of The Thing being a giant exception). I bemoan the lack of originality in Hollywood as much as the next embittered film reviewer but if someone makes an entertaining movie, I don’t really care if it was their idea first. With that in mind however I am always nervous when one of the films I have grown to cherish is revived by the Hollywood Powers-That-Be. I hear some promising things about the Nightmare remake, the most prominent of which is the casting of Jackie Earle Haley who, as seen in Watchmen and Shutter Island, is a pretty creepy dude WITHOUT the make-up and claws. The director Samuel Brayer has never made a feature film before. His primary experience is directing a ton of music videos, perhaps most notably Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Blind Melon’s “No Rain” (and dozens more since the early 90s, those were just the only videos on the list I ever remember seeing).

Anyway it seems as good a time as any to go take a look at other attempts to revisit the classics of the slasher genre…

Psycho

Original (1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock): While practically G-rated next to the films that would follow in the slasher genre, Psycho was the seed from which that gory gory tree grew. There was also an effort to the story that was missing from many later genre entries and suspense in a manner that the “splat pack” of later years could only dream of achieving. The film starts by building up the entire movie around a character and then (spoiler alert) killing her off a half hour in. Then when a man is disposing of the evidence, Hitchcock works the situation so the audience is actually ROOTING for him NOT to get caught. That “Master of Suspense” title wasn’t just for show…

Remake (1998, directed by Gus Van Sant): Gus Van Sant is an odd guy (just watch My Own Private Idaho, his best and possibly weirdest film). He’s very into experimental cinema but after the success of Good Will Hunting he was much sought-after by the studios who wanted to be in the Van Sant business, which gave him the juice to try a new experiment: one of the weirdest damn remakes ever made. Not weird because it takes any great liberties but weird because it doesn’t. AT ALL. The film is a word for word shot-by-shot remake. The actors are different, the film is in color, and there are slight alterations to reflect different cultural standards but the movie is practical a Xerox copy. The goal was to see if you could do everything exactly the same and still have your own film-making “DNA” come through on screen…

Which is better?: Gus Van Sant’s experiment just proved his “DNA” is no match for Hitchcock’s. Standing on the shoulders of giants is one thing but copying? The changes that WERE added seemed gratuitous. Norman Bates masturbates when he spies on Marion. I think the original pretty heavily implied that without the jerking motion and sound effects. And why the hell was Vince Vaughn cast in the title role? Verdict: Hitchcock.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Original (1974, directed by Tobe Hooper): While technically more of a backwoods horror film than a slasher movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a special place in the pantheon of the genre for introducing the iconic killer Leatherface. The film has the look of a snuff film and the introductory narration sets it up as a true story. It can drag at times, but the sense that the main characters are truly out of their depth surrounded by unspeakable horrors makes the movie deeply unsettling.

Remake (2003, directed by Marcus Nispel): Narrator John Larroquette and cinematographer Daniel Pearl from the original film return in their original capacities in this more-polished remake from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company (which seems to almost exclusively work in horror remakes). The main addition to the remake though is everyone’s favorite cantankerous old bastard R. Lee Ermey as a very bad sheriff. This movie also steals the original’s “based on a true story” gimmick but actually uses the words “based on a true story” taking it from gimmick to almost-lie (the story is loosely inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, who never used a chainsaw and did not live in Texas).

Which is better?: Well, it’s kind of a toss-up. Nispel’s film is better-made (especially the shot that pulls out from a bullet wound through the head) but polish isn’t what this type of movie necessarily needs. The seeming verisimilitude of Hooper’s film still puts it on top. Verdict: original.

Black Christmas

Original (1974, directed by Bob Clark): While this is not the celebrated classic that some other films on this list are, it is often cited as the first major film to use the basic “dead teenager” framework that was popularized by movies like Halloween. That and it’s directed by Bob Clark, who later went on to do A Christmas Story. That does wonders for my sick sense of humor. There is a genuive creepy factor, though like many movies of its time, it can be a bit slow. The ambiguous ending helps a lot too (even as wildly implausible as it may be to anyone even rudimentarily familiar with police procedure).

Remake (2006, directed by Glen Morgan): This movie has balls. I mean the slasher genre is already pretty well-known for excessive amounts of gore and gratuitous nudity but this movie throws in incest and cannibalism to crank the “ick” factor up to 11. Seriously: this is one sick fucking movie. Amusing tidbit: Michelle Trachtenberg, the star of Disney’s Ice Princess, is killed with ice skates.

Which is better?: I got to go with the sick fucking remake. Like I said the original can be a bit boring at times. That would be forgivable except that it never really makes proper use of the gross juxtaposition of happy Christmas iconography against extreme graphic violence. The remake does that in quite an unsubtle fashion on many occasions, most notable when someone is impaled on a Christmas tree. Verdict: remake. Ho ho ho…

Halloween

Original (1978, directed by John Carpenter): Often pointed to as the original slasher movie (erroneously, as I pointed out above) this is the movie that really kick-started the surge in the genre. The greatest strength of the film is the iconic Shatner-masked killer Michael Myers. No motive is ever given to his crimes (thought the sequels came up with some bullshit curse or something), rather he is just someone who snapped or more likely just plain evil. This is the first original film on this list to feature a major staple of the genre: gratuitous nudity (and like any good Ramones fan, I dream constantly about P.J. Soles…).

Remake (2007, directed by Rob Zombie): At about the one-hour mark, Rob Zombie’s film starts going through the plot of the original (and by doing so proves that the entire first movie could be condensed to 30 minutes). Gone is the mystery of Michael Myers and provided is a epic tale of redneck dysfunction. Nudity still in full force, which is a major plus. Though the movie seems to be set in modern times, there’s a very distinct seventies vibe to it.

Which is better?: Rob Zombie made a decent movie but he committed a cardinal sin: he demystified Michael Myers. The less we know about his back-story the better. Actually it’s better if he’s just some normal guy who snaps for no good reason instead of trailer trash family issues. Verdict: original.

Friday the 13th

Original (1980, directed by Sean S. Cunningham): Kevin Bacon gets killed. I have no issues with Kevin Bacon but for some reason I really enjoy that scene… While all the originals on this list except Black Christmas have multiple sequels, Friday the 13th is the king of the slasher franchises with (including the remake) TWELVE installments (and a thirteenth planned). In addition to Kevin Bacon the series also had early appearances by Corey Feldman, Kelly Hu, and king of geek-awesomeness Crispin Glover. It’s got a secluded setting, hormonal teenagers, and someone picking them off one-by-one: everything one of these movies needs.

Remake (2009, directed by Marcus Nispel): Nispel helms another remake for Platinum Dunes with this one and he set out to make the ultimate Friday the 13th movie, combining elements of the first four films in the series. Instead of unknowns destined for fame like Bacon, he cast TV actors like Jared Padalecki, Amanda Righetti, and Ryan Hansen and familiar character actors like Danielle Panabaker, Travis Van Winkle, and Aaron Yoo. Not household names to be sure but it kind of takes the fun out of the “guess who goes on to be famous” game all the same.

Which is better?: As much as I love the original Friday the 13th series (especially the fourth one), if we’re strictly comparing the original and the remake I have to go remake. The kills play like a highlight reel from the original series. Also the original was pretty light on the gratuitous nudity and gore. If the language were cleaned up, it might even pass for PG-13 today.

So slasher remakes have a decent enough history but more often than not they fail to match their originals (although my sample group cut it pretty close). I hold out hope that the new Platinum Dunes version of A Nightmare on Elm Street will haunt my dreams… (EDIT: Not dream-haunting but pretty decent. Original still wins.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: