Case 1 Remakes


The issues surrounding remakes has been discussed throughout the blogosphere for years and in traditional media even before that, and as such, they seemed to be an ideal subject to adjudicate.

Each justice has presented their own set of arguments regarding the above question, and we as a court have come to a decision regarding the subject at hand.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court has decided that there should be no Moratorium on remakes in Hollywood, despite their flaws.

Concurring: Nikki, Jim, Jess, Jeremy, Heidi, James
Dissenting: Becca, Aaron, Matt

Presenting the Majority position will be Justice Nikki and presenting the dissenting opinion on this subject will be Justice Becca.

The Majority Position:

To propose there should be a moratorium on movie remakes would suggest that the problem with movie remakes is not leaving enough time between the original and the remake. But timing is not the issue — a movie remake can be successful, depending on the remake director’s respect of the original film, understanding of the concepts and themes behind it, willingness to put his or her own spin on it, and a possible involvement with the people who made the original. I’ve considered four categories of film and chosen a good remake and a bad one (in my opinion) to show that timing really has nothing to do with how good or bad a remake is going to be.

I should preface this by saying that generally I hate remakes, and therefore I’ve never seen many of these movies, but I’m going by critical reaction as opposed to mine. I believe most movie remakes are unnecessary, though there have been a few excellent exceptions. (And the same goes for television; while most American versions of British shows are terrible, The Office remains one shining example of one that worked. And Battlestar Galactica, a remake of a 1978 short-lived series, is one of the best things on television.) But for the most part, choosing film remakes that I hated was easy; choosing good ones was a lot more difficult.

SCI-FI:
The idea behind most sci-fi film remakes is usually that the special effects are now better than they were before, so it will necessarily make the movie better. (See George Lucas’s original Star Wars and his updated versions in the 90s to see how that idea can be total crap.)

Didn’t work:
Planet of the Apes (1968), with its bad costumes, campy premise, and overacting, is nonetheless a sci-fi classic. Its impact on popular culture is immeasurable, and that twist ending is one of the greatest climaxes in cinema. (It’s no surprise that Rod Serling played such a big role in it.) So why do a second version of it? For his 2001 version, Tim Burton knew that fans would know the twist, so it’s not like he could shock us with it. He knew how revered it was, spawning sequels, action figures, and a cult following rivaling that of Star Trek, so he couldn’t be looking to shed light on a previously overlooked movie. Burton simply had the ego to think he could do it again, and do it better. And he was wrong. The twist at the end was completely different, yet very much the same, and I still remember the moans of “oh COME ON” that came from the audience when that ending happened.

Worked:
War of the Worlds (1953 & 2005), on the other hand, took a movie that was similarly revered, but rather archaic, and made it new. The special effects were spectacular, the psychological horror and suspense were thrilling, and the story was engaging. Of course, it had a typical Spielberg ending, but hey, the guy can NOT do endings (see A.I. for the perfect example of an atrocious ending that killed a brilliant movie). While I have not actually seen the original, most of the reviews at the time said Spielberg’s version trumped it by a long shot.

FOREIGN
Foreign remakes are common, and are a special category because they’re usually different interpretations of the same film, and can often be quite successful. Plus, for most of the mainstream audiences going to films, they don’t want to make that effort to read subtitles, so a Hollywood actor will translate it for them.

Why?!:
City of Angels (1998), starring Nicholas Cage, was a remake of Wim Wenders’ genius Wings of Desire (1987), a gorgeous film with the idea of everyone having angels (albeit morose and depressing ones) on our shoulders. Cage, as usual, overacted his way through it, it watered down the premise, and of course, it lacked that long scene in the bar at the end of the Wenders film where the angel has a very long monologue about life and death and everything in between.

That’s why:
The Ring (2002) was one of the most successful horror films of all time. Based on the similarly successful Japanese film Ringu (1998), The Ring was terrifying for its suspense and psychological mindfraks. Little easter eggs were stuck throughout the film, such as a single frame of film of a ring that flashed during an otherwise boring scene, and the imagery was enough to give nightmares to even the most diehard horror fan. This is another film where I haven’t seen the original, but many friends of mine did and said it wasn’t nearly as frightening as the U.S. remake.

COMEDY
Comedy remakes are usually done to showcase the talents of a single actor. Someone who has made their name in comedy — often physical comedy — thinks they can take on some of the great films, and they’re usually doomed to a lot of finger-pointing and derision.

This is a comedy?:
The Pink Panther (2006) was just baffling. A remake of the Peter Sellers gem A Shot in the Dark (1964), which is one of the funniest films of all time (disagree with me on that… I dare you), it was one of those trailers that when you first saw it in the theatre, your jaw dropped in shock and horror. Steve Martin… what has happened to you?! You used to be awesome, and you haven’t lost it — Bowfinger is one of my favourite films EVER — but then you have the balls to go and think you can top Sellers’ performance? Are you kidding me?! I’m THRILLED to say I didn’t see this one.

Funny!:
The Nutty Professor (1996 & 1962) was originally a Jerry Lewis film (barf) and while it was immensely popular, Eddie Murphy’s remake was funnier. I know this is one several people might disagree with me on, but I thought it was funny, and Murphy made it his own by coming up with the idea of playing most of the roles. Of course, he should have stopped there, but the guy has no filter in his brain, so now we’re subjected to disasters like Norbit. But I like to think of him as the OTHER guy in Bowfinger… The movie was not only funny, but it had Jerry Lewis on board collaborating, so the remake showed respect to the original while still making it seem like its own.

CLASSICS:
Classics are remade just because producers believe “kids nowadays” won’t watch a black and white film. They could be right, but it’s the classic remakes that tend to get people’s undershorts in a tight bunch. There are very few exceptions to the awfulness and unnecessary nature of these films, but one is a standout.

Awful:
Psycho (1998 & 1960). I don’t really need to say much here. Gus Van Sant — the ego to end all egos — filmed this movie shot for shot, right down to the second. Scenes were timed and reshot if they went a millisecond over Hitchcock’s original. In other words, it was remade only as an exercise in technical proficiency, and comes off that way. I’ve only seen part of it, and had to shut it off in disgust. Shame on Vince Vaughn for agreeing to this garbage.

Awesome:
Cape Fear (1991 & 1962), on the other hand, is a lesson in brilliant filmmaking. The movie stands on its own, is riveting, and Robert De Niro turns in one of the performances of his career. It’s very much like the original, and many scenes are almost exactly the same, but Scorsese had an immense love of the original, and wanted to pay homage while making it his own. He rarely wavers from what the original movie did. Where Psycho comes off as a lesson in futility, Cape Fear — which used even the same music as the original film — somehow made audiences just want to see the original to compare it. Was Max Cady as creepy and perverted in the original as he was here? Was the tension the same, or has it been modernized? It took a special kind of director to pull that one off, and Scorsese managed it.

What does all of this show? Cape Fear had 29 years between films; Psycho had 38 — Van Sant waited longer, and the wait did him no good.

The Nutty Professor took 34 years to get to a remake; The Pink Panther took 42. Again, Murphy’s version came out sooner, but was better.

City of Angels had only 11 years between the original and the remake, where The Ring had a mere 4.

Only in the first instance does the idea of a moratorium hold weight: it took Spielberg 52 years to improve on the classic, where Burton waited only 33. Perhaps when it comes to sci-fi, waiting slightly longer really does make the movie better, since the goal simply seems to be improving on the technology of the first one. That said, if someone remade The Matrix 50 years from now, there’s no way they could improve on it, new technology or no.

Therefore, in the end, I believe a moratorium would have no impact on improving remakes. Bad remakes usually come down to large egos involved, whereas good remakes are ones where the new movies respect and refer back to the originals. A ban on egos would be a hard one to pull off, because if I were a bettin’ woman, I would have said Murphy’s movie would have been terrible based on what we know about him, but it wasn’t. But the timing between the original and the remake would have no impact.

My ruling is no.

The Dissenting Opinion:

A few weeks ago some of us bloggers got together and decided to create a blog to discuss and present our opinions on a variety of pop culture topics. We’ve decided to call our group The Pop Culture Supreme Court and much like the real world counterpart we will use precedent, experience and opinion to reach group decisions.

The first question we have decided to discuss is the following: Should there be a moratorium on direct remakes in Hollywood?

Before jumping into an immediate opinion…something I find myself doing far too often in the real world…I tried to consider all sides of the question, the pros and cons as it were of film remakes in Hollywood.

There have been a lot of movie remakes in Hollywood going as far back as the silent era right on up to today; they’ve remade silents into talkies, classics into moderns and foreign cinema into big budget American popcorn flicks. In fact if Hollywood can get the rights to remake a film they’ve probably done it. Arts & Entertainment has an interesting piece on remakes, what qualifies as a remake and what does not.

John Huston one of American Cinema’s greatest filmakers once said “Don’t remake good movies, remake bad ones!” but was he right? Let’s explore the possible reasons why a remake should be made:

1. To improve upon the original.
Angela Coleman thinks the only time someone chooses to remake a movie is for lack of personal creativity but that said there have been many instances where a new take on old material has given us a great movie…King Kong, The Mummy, Freaky Friday. But for every good remake there are 4 or 5 bad ones…Planet of the Apes, War of the Worlds, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thomas Crown Affair The Hutch Report has the theory that the “copy usually isn’t as good as the original and most of the time Hollywood remakes popular television shows and old movies because there is less risk of failure when a proven idea is recreated once again.” Perhaps that’s true and the recognition factor clearly had something to do with the movie’s success.

Of course there is something else to take into consideration when you are remaking an older film: society changes. People change as time does the same and ideals, perception, relationship roles and standards all change. Is a story from 40 years ago still relevant, does translate to today? A good example of changing a films story to match societal changes is the 1978 remake of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and then the 1993 remake just called Body Snatchers. All three movies changed their story and characters to make it relevant to the era’s current societal beliefs and problems. In 1956 it was a communist allegory, in 1978 it was an attack on the selfishness of the me generation and the 1993 version focused on conformity and militarism. These are three films that did it right, there are many more that haven’t.

2. To see a new actor/ writer/ director’s take on pre-existing material.
On the surface of things this always seems like it will be a good idea to see a talented individual whom you appreciate take on pre-existing material but Kurt Russell had an interesting quote in Entertainment Weekly on the proposed Escape From New York remake “I didn’t play Snake Plissken. I created him!” and to me that is the final word on the matter. I don’t know of one instance where an actor was able to adequately recreate or rein vision a role enough to blow the original out of the water or even equal it. For example Gene Wilder will always trump Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, Sean Bean is a great actor but how can he compete with the menacing Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher. So on and so forth…

3. To modernize the look of the film, add new effects, make the story more current.
asipreynccce suggests that modern effects cannot create the same magic that the original held and I have to agree with that. Like any movie remake or no it comes down to the story not the effects. If you don’t have a good story then you don’t have a good movie. Would a CGI Kraken make Clash of the Titans any better a movie? Ultimately no.

4. To take a foreign film and explore how the story would unfold in our culture as opposed to theirs.
In theory taking a foreign movie and adapting it to American societal ideas is intriguing but rarely are English remakes of foreign films good movies. The Japanese cultural horror film Ringu became the fatuous and ridiculously boring The Ring. The riotous yet emotionally adult La Cage Au Folles became the over the top, silly and childish The Birdcage which scored a. The hilarious, again French, Les Visiteurs en Amérique with Jean Reno and Christian Clavier became the mediocre Just Visiting oddly enough it also starred Jean Reno and Christian Clavier; but even with the same actors in the leading roles this movie could not soar any higher than run of the mill comedy. Hollywood should just stay away from foreign remakes.

So taking the previous statements into consideration I would say yes there should be a short moratorium on direct Hollywood remakes, The Moratorium Would even take that further saying lat out says Hollywood should take a 20 year break from remakes. “Walk into any bookstore and you could spend a life time going thru all the DIFFERENT stories. Why are they not adapting more books into movies? I’ll tell you why. LAZY. Why should I go thru the hassle when I can just take some funny 70’s movie and just throw some big stars in it and be done with it? ”

Ultimately the few entertaining remakes that we enjoy do not justify the mountain of terrible ones that torture us and I would say that most of my fellow bloggers agree with me.

For more on remakes visit Movie Remakes a website dedicated to movie remakes of all types good and bad.

Remakes are the scourge of Hollywood, a crutch for lazy writers and directors, a simple way for producers to turn a quick buck by betting on a sure thing. There artistic risk is minimal as the previous box office results are there to see – the filmmaking equivalent of tracing.

And just as copies of copies tend to lose their definition, remakes often dilute the original artistic intent. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita was a brilliantly dark film about an unlikely assassin, but the
sin was that it was filmed in French and had to be subtitled for North American audiences (“eww, reading!) When the movie was remade a few years later we got the sunshiney Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return, turning it into a generic thriller.

The same occurred with the Dutch film The Vanishing, a chilling film about a mysterious disappearance and the obsession of one man’s search for a missing loved one. The ending was so pitch black that when director George Sluizer remade the film in English he was forced to alter the ending, destroying the impact of the film.

This travesty isn’t limited to foreign films. Witness the atrocity that was Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Burton is a talented director, but his greatest folly was taking a sci-fi cult fave, dropping millions on it and making it dull and uninteresting. The list goes on – Gus Can Sant’s pointless, shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho; Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away.

Based on the previous examples – and the legion of others – it seems a slam dunk to say there should be a moratorium on remakes. But it’s not that easy. On the whole, I’ve seen more good remakes than bad. George Clooney & Brad Pitt’s Ocean’s 11 was great fun and full of style. Was it better than the Rat Pack’s version? I don’t know, I didn’t see it. Al Pacino’s Scarface is so well known that few people even realize that it is a remake. Again, I haven’t seen the 1932 Howard Hawks original. Same goes for The Magnificent Seven, a remake of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Should I see the source material? Sure. Have I? No.

And that is the crux of the problem. It is easy to say that everyone should see the original films, that they should forgo the new release sections at their local video store and get to know their film history, but it’s not going to happen. For better or worse, film is not a static art form, where once the images have been committed to celluloid they remain untouched and treasured for all time. Much like plays are reinterpreted year after year, films of the past will always be a source for its present.

A bad remake can destroy an original vision, but the best remakes can rescue good stories from obscurity. If remakes are must be made (and it appears that they are) perhaps the best we can hope for is that directors don’t plunder the classics, but help repair flawed work. It’s a long shot, but there is always hope.

The task at hand is to determine whether a moratorium shall exist where Hollywood Remakes would be either disallowed or limited by some length of time between the original and the remake. If time limits were determined, who shall preside over the implementation and enforcement of said limits. Before such decisions can be made, our case and ruling is hereby presented for the Court’s review.

Emotions in Motion
Just like musical covers, film remakes evoke strong emotions in those who fell in love with the original presentation of the artwork. Even video game remakes illicit rousing discussion, as exhibited in Kotaku’s Great Debate of 2007: Remaking the popular video game Speedball 2. So one might presume that a pop culture judge for instance, who experienced their own coming of age during the John Hughes heyday of the 1980s, might have certain emotions attached to those films that would render him or her incapable of coming to an unbiased ruling. However we are here to set those emotions aside and weigh the arguments to a final decision.

The Good the Bad and the Unnecessary
Like all movies, remakes come in varying degrees of quality. Cinematical writer Bob Sassone has compiled a very convincing list of seven remakes that he deems better than their original counterparts. This analysis makes a strong case in support of the remake: you might end up with something better. However, most remakes are mediocre or worse than awful, they’re completely unwatchable. Fortunately, taste in films is individual and varied and thus we are not here to debate the quality of a remake but rather its ability to exist in the first place, bad or good.

Anything You Can Do I can Do in Color
Another argument for direct remakes is the advancements cinematic technology. CGI and Color are impactful and compelling draws for the younger movie-going generations. See illustration labeled Exhibit C (for color and CGI). These young movie fans are surrounded by color and effects and have been since birth. For these fans it is a difficult challenge to be forced to imagine the color and realistic effects into a film. It distracts them from checking email and texting while watching a movie. Therefore they cannot enjoy the experience as much as they would when the color and explosions have been pre-placed in the film. Hollywood Studios and their wallets production teams know this and have taken a strong stance vowing to remake any film that doesn’t meet today’s technological standards.

Exhibit C
happyteen

Great American Profiteering (GAP)
Remakes are good for the economy. Just like shopping! Imagine if you will, the tens of thousands of tween girls cruising MySpace, deprived of any prior knowledge of film and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn. We’re talking about a generation of girls left without an Audrey Hepburn Myspace page layout. It is simply an American tragedy. Left to their own devices they might be forced to use Julia Roberts for their MySpace page layouts, who’s not even dead and was never even filmed in black and white. Unless you were to include that pathetic Frankenstein movie which you really shouldn’t. Totally not cool.

The remake of Sabrina in 1994, starring Juliet Binoche and Greg Kinnear inspired millions of future MILFs to seek out the original film starring Audrey Hepburn. Years later after having spent their own tween years sketching Audrey Hepburn on their Pee Chee folders and wearing pencil thin black leggings, these “cool moms” passed this knowledge onto their daughters. And thus the MySpace Audrey Hepburn page layout revolution. So, like totally cool.

Now take all of those MILFs and tweens and recall the GAP ad featuring Audrey Hepburn dancing to Back in Black [exhibit G].

Exhibit G

One could argue that had there not been a Sabrina remake in color, that campaign would have failed even more miserably. In 2002, Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News reported that Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart were negotiating the purchase rights to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and planning to take on the lead roles themselves in what would surely have been hotly debated remake. Nothing has come of that rumor but imagine the impact would have had on sales at the Gap. OMG.

Final Judgment Day
Having taken into consideration the previous analysis and the economic impact of Hollywood Remakes, we have come to our decision in support of the Hollywood Remake. Remember, you don’t have to watch the remake, and it may draw new fans to the original. That being said, regardless of our final ruling here today, we would like to communicate this message to the studios in Hollywood: please keep your grimy money-hungry paws away from the John Hughes films, and Pretty Woman and When Harry Met Sally.

Should there be a moratorium on direct remakes in Hollywood?

When talking about the lack of original ideas left in Hollywood, most people tend to cite the flood of remakes that seem to hit cinemas on a fairly regular basis. From The Getaway to The Longest Yard, it seems as though Hollywood just can’t seem to make the remake work — but is that really true?

People are too quick to cite examples of bad remakes and tend to gloss over all of the good over the years. As well, people tend to neglect how much of our television media has successfully remade British programming over the years. From Three’s Company to The Office, a great majority of successful US sitcoms are direct remakes of BBC productions. Two of my most anticipated new shows over the next few years will be the US remakes of The Thick of It and Life on Mars — two of the best shows on TV anywhere in the world, being remade for American TV by Mitchell Hurwitz and David E. Kelly respectively.

Considering the appeal of the different US and UK markets, one could argue many of these shows are adaptations rather than remakes. They may be right, but does it matter? Is there really that big a difference between a remake and an adaptation? Aren’t they both just different approaches by different artists on the same material? Does it really matter if the medium differs? And can you really place a moratorium on one without placing it on the other? If we do go so far as to place remakes and adaptations in the same boat, we would have never had recent classics like Sin City or A History of Violence, not to mention big budget films like Harry Potter or the Batman franchise. Placing a moratorium on one creates a slippery slope in which remaking any form of media into a film could be placed in jeopardy.

In the end, it really comes down to one simple fact — Hollywood makes good movies and bad movies, and judging by the evidence at hand it would seem that the ratio of good to bad is no different with remakes than it is with any other niche. The only thing a moratorium would accomplish is limiting the exposure a younger generation has to classics of the past (or world cinema) that they otherwise may never have explored. Some remakes may be better than the originals (The Thing, Scarface, Dawn of the Dead) and some will be worse (The Departed, The Omen, Psycho) — but they’re all films that can be judged on their own merits — and gaining exposure to a different take on a familiar story can be just as fascinating as a film with a completely original story.

Should Hollywood place a moratorium on film remakes? In other words, should filmmakers be forced to wait a certain number of years after a movie’s release before they’re allowed to remake it?

I firmly believe that such a moratorium would do little to address the actual problem we face today: putting a stop to awful, ill-conceived Hollywood remakes. I believe that the number of years that transpire between the release of a movie and its eventual remake has little or nothing to do with how well the remake turns out. Instead, the success of any film remake is the product of the skill and vision of the creative forces involved and the quality of the source material itself.

That’s not to say that remaking an earlier film is usually a good idea. MSN Movies’ list of the worst remakes of all time drives home that point rather clearly. Remaking a television show into a semi-watchable movie is even more difficult, as demonstrated in
AOL Television’s list of the eleven worst movies based on TV shows.

Do terrible film remakes like 1998’s Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick (Rotten Tomatoes score: 25%), 2002’s Swept Away starring Madonna (Rotten Tomatoes score: 5%), or 1998’s Psycho starring Vince Vaughn (Rotten Tomatoes score: 37%) suggest that Hollywood should implement a mandatory waiting period between a film and its remake? No, they do not. Time is a red herring; poor filmmaking is the true culprit.

Consider Sam Raimi’s cult classic, The Evil Dead (1981). For all intents and purposes, Raimi remade this film as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn six years later and improved on the original in almost every way imaginable. Yes, many fans still maintain that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel rather than a remake. If you ask me, though, when a director makes two movies in a row that feature the same main character going to an abandoned cabin in the woods where he battles various demonic forces with a chainsaw after someone inadvertently unleashes them by reading from the Necronomicon, that sounds an awful lot like remake. The point is, however, that Raimi waited only six years before remaking The Evil Dead, yet the remake turned out significantly better than the original. Consider also The Magnificent Seven, released a mere six years after Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

On the other hand, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was released a full 72 years after 1933’s King Kong. With a little over seven decades of turnaround between the original film and its remake, even as skilled a filmmaker as Peter Jackson was unable to create a movie that didn’t suck monkey ass. Waiting an extra ten years or even an extra fifty years isn’t the answer. Making a decent film — remake or not — is the answer.

For every regrettable remake like 2004’s Alfie or The Stepford Wives, there’s a worthwhile effort like 1991’s Cape Fear or 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven. Time, however, is not the driving force.

Therefore, Hollywood should not place a moratorium on film remakes as it would not address the actual problem of craptastic retreads of old favorites. Instead, Hollywood should consider instituting a system of harsh punishments for filmmakers who release bad remakes. I’m thinking maybe repeated forced viewings of Tim Burton’s “reimagined” Planet of the Apes and Ron Howard’s live-action version of The Grinch. Then again, that probably violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Hollywood seems to like making two types of movies, the Sequels and the Remakes. Remakes are generally seen in a negative light, and many people see them as Hollywood running out of ideas. Some feel that remakes do a disservice to what made the original movie so entertaining. However, I don’t believe writers should be held back from making a remake of an older movie. There have been a few remade movies that have ended up equal or better than the original.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I found the remake a little more entertaining than the original.

The Longest Yard: Not as good and toned down from its R-rated counterpart, but still an okay movie.

The Departed: A remake of a Hong Kong film. Different than the Hong Kong one.

Ocean’s 11: Much better than the rat pack version.

Yet, I fully understand why people aren’t too warm about remakes. For every good remake, there are five bad ones in the wing. The Amityville Horror, Poseidon, The Stepford Wives, are prime examples. The new Planet of the Apes is devoid of any of the political subplots that old movie had, which also made it special.

While I think there should be less remakes in general, I don’t think we need to tie the creative people’s hands on making them.

So, I am going to vote no on the moratorium. But, I’ll must make these statements.

1.

2. Make the movie as interesting as possible without changing storyline completely.

3. Don’t make it a complete shot for shot remake; throw a neat twist to it.

Here’s small list of movies some people felt were better than the original. http://www.movie-remakes.com/film_cat_list.asp?id_c=3

Here are a few remakes coming out.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

Barbarella

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Fame

Hairspray

The question of remakes has been long-discussed elsewhere. The evidence against them is apparent in any number of films made as more or less direct copies of older films, an onslaught that seems to grow every year. But I’ve chosen to focus on just one case against: the 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the 2003 remake of said film.

The original version is a true classic of horror in the best grindhouse tradition. For the first half of the film, nothing much happens, except for characters just talking and yelling and fighting. Some kids on their way to a concert get lost in rural Texas, and stop to use a phone. One unlucky soul wanders into someone’s house… and suddenly, a tall man with a mask made of human flesh and a butcher’s smock walks out from behind a metal sliding door, knocks him in the head with a wooden mallet and, like a butcher with a dead pig, pulls him into a blood-stained room. The door slams shut behind them.

And even with the bits of weirdness we’ve seen so far, we’re left to wonder.

What the hell just happened?

That kind of unease is not only what drives the movie; it’s the entire point of the movie. Not the violence—what there is of it; you think you see a lot more than you actually do—but the intense schism between what we know as the mundane of the every day and the sudden randomness of cruelty and terror. In a sense, the film has no real plot, not in a sense that the plot tells a story. It’s fairly simple grindhouse stuff: some kids talk for 45 minutes, then something weird happens, and the last 45 minutes are intense as, for lack of a better word, a monster chases the victims until one of them gets away. There’s no real story there; it’s just action.

But the movie is about something, and it’s much deeper than monster chases pretty girl. It’s about violence. It’s about horror. It is a reaction to the mood of America in 1974, trying desperately to get out of Vietnam and reacting to the tense mood of the country. The death of the sense of brotherhood and togetherness of the sixties was occurring, and it was being replaced with something more selfish and, at the same time, more fearful. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in 1974, said that even in the American heartland, we are not always safe. We can’t walk into someone’s house and treat them in a cavalier manner, because we never know what’s hiding behind the door. And that is the terrifying truth at the heart of the film’s horror.

 

Jumping ahead three decades, the remake of the film is released. The plot is essentially the same, but the effect is completely different. Knowing that the audience is at least passingly familiar with the original movie, the filmmakers try to up the ante by having strange things happen earlier. But they don’t seem to know anything about the grindhouse structure, and telegraph their scares with moody music and overwrought production design. The film simply tries too hard to shock.

The remake also falls straight into one of the problems I have with current American cinema: they explain too much and feel too little. So the film tries to come up with an origin for the monsters, but can’t sell it because of the lack of genuine character in the film. The people in this story are really here to be moved around by the conventions of the action film genre. Which is fine, if you can make it work; the original film was much the same, but conveyed a feeling and made a social point simply by the fact that the film was so genuine. The remake is slick and cynically made to be merely a popcorn movie. It is a commercial enterprise, and all that entails. Nothing more; nothing special; nothing memorable. And there are no surprises.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it trades horror for cruelty. There is a meanness of spirit to it. The film is no longer about anything; America, people, or otherwise. It barely resembles the original, so why even bother calling it a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Disassociation wouldn’t make it a better movie, but it would at least give the illusion that the filmmakers set out to make something that wasn’t merely a copy for the sake of money.

And overwhelmingly, this is the reason why I have to decide that direct remakes should be disallowed in American filmmaking. They trade on a familiar property to make some quick cash, and the few films that actually add something or tell a genuine story are lost in the shuffle or tainted by association with inferior remakes. And with remakes of nearly every truly good horror and science fiction film of the 1970s and early 1980s planned, the future of filmgoing is looking bleak indeed. No wonder more and more of us are staying at home and watching our DVDs of the originals.

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