It’s a sad fact of life that horror remakes have become a sub-genre unto themselves. They’ve always been around but they kicked into high gear back in 2003 with the Michael Bay produced Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, at least two have come out every year and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. A Poltergeist remake is on the way, The Town that Dreaded Sundown hits next year, and they’re even threatening a goddamn Gremlins remake. Problem is, as much as we rant and rave about how awful they are and how Hollywood is completely out of ideas, as long as we go to the theater, they’ll keep making them. And you know what? They’re not all bad. A lot of remakes are decent to good and a very few are even better or at least equal to the original. So, if you haven’t seen all of them and are thinking of giving some a shot this October, I’ve taken the liberty of ranking the modern remakes from worst to best. I had to crunch a lot of numbers to get the order right and set a few guidelines for myself to keep this list from being 10’000 pages long. So here are the rules: (1). I’m taking Texas Chainsaw as the kickoff point. No movies made prior to that one will be included. (2.) No sequels or prequels to the remakes will be included because what the hell are they really remakes of anyway? (3.) Every movie on this list had to have played in an actual movie theater. No straight to video stuff here. Got all that? Good. Now on with the rankings!
30. Leprechaun: Origins
If you think this list is just an excuse for me to piss all over Leprechaun: Origins again, you are correct. This movie does not have one redeemable quality and does not even contain a goddamn Leprechaun. It is everything that is terrible about remakes and movies in general. It’s devoid of ideas, clearly made to make a quick buck, poorly acted, poorly directed, poorly written, stupid, incompetent, ugly, boring, soulless, baffling, slow as shit, uninspired, uninteresting, cynical, insipid, DUMB, BAD, AWFUL, HORRIBLE, THE WORST THING EVER, I HATE IT SO MUCH I WANT TO FIND A WAY TO DESTROY EVERY SINGLE COPY IN THE WORLD SO NO ONE WILL EVER HAVE THE TERRIBLE MISFORTUNE OF SITTING THROUGH THIS PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A FILM AGAIN, KILL IT!!! KILL IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!! OK, sorry, I’m calm now. Won’t happen again. Well, at least until I get to I Spit on Your Grave .
29. The Fog
The original is not the greatest movie in the world either but it’s Citizen Kane compared to this travesty. Nothing works here. NOTHING. There are no scares, there’s no suspense, there’s no humor, there’s no life. The two leads, Tom Welling and Maggie Grace, are so bland and boring they may as well have been played by mannequins. And the dodgy CGI effects are laughably bad. I’ve seen more convincing CGI on the CW, which makes sense cuz that’s clearly the audience this was made for. I constantly complain about PG-13 horror movies because of how inane it is to dumb down something that was originally made for adults so 12 year olds can watch it and there is no greater example of that stupidity than The Fog. How John Carpenter allowed his name to be attached to this shit, I’ll never know. A complete failure.
28. Prom Night
Probably shouldn’t even qualify for this list seeing as it’s barely a horror flick at all. It’s more like a terrible teen drama where a mad (and painfully run of the mill) slasher shows up in the last fifteen minutes. It’s got a lot of the same problems as The Fog: boring CW type lead actors, no scares, no suspense, and an overly simplified story. Movie doesn’t even bother to make the killer’s identity a mystery, which only causes an utterly boring, lifeless story to become even more boring and lifeless. Thank god Idris Elba managed to bounce back from this.
27. When a Stranger Calls
The only reason this is listed higher than The Fog and Prom Night is because it’s shorter and therefore slightly less painful to sit through. Still, it’s dull as dullsville. Camilla Belle is a terrible actress, the whole movie feels like a fifteen minute short stretched out to feature length (which can be said of the original too), and the supposed ‘twists and turns’ are so obvious a blind person could spot them a mile away. This is assembly line filmmaking at its worst. Even Ted Levine, as the voice of the killer, seems like he recorded his part on a lunch break.
26. Black Christmas
This is easily the most mind-numbingly stupid flick on this list. We’re all used to characters making dumbass decisions in horror flicks but the ones in this take idiocy to a whole other level. You just can’t root for anybody when they’re this moronic. The R rating is also a problem because all it means is that the filmmakers decided to up the gore rather than the suspense. The result is an unpleasant movie that thinks violence and depravity more than make up for a complete lack of tension and scares. And finally, this movie features one of the strangest, most inexplicable deaths in the history of the slasher genre by having once character get killed by a falling icicle. Mind you, it’s not a falling icicle dropped by the killer, oh no; it’s instead caused by the character accidentally bumping into a door. So, it’s just a coincidence. Character would have died whether there was a killer or not. As I said: mind-numbingly stupid.
25. I Spit on Your Grave
FUCK THIS MOVIE. Horror flicks are frequently accused of being misogynistic and I often think that criticism is incorrect. But then a movie like I Spit on Your Grave comes along and makes the genre and all of it’s fans look terrible. The fact that the filmmakers think that they can excuse one hour of nothing but a woman being brutally tortured, complete with lingering shots of her bruised body and close ups of her terrified face, by having her later exact revenge on her tormentors is disturbing beyond belief. It’s as if they’re saying, “hey guys it’s okay that we abused her so horribly and realistically because she later gets to become superhuman and kill people using impossible methods.” NO. NO IT IS NOT FUCKING OKAY. This flick is not about ‘getting even’, it’s about torturing a woman. That’s it. And it’s sick and depraved. Anyone who enjoys this garbage should seek the attention of a psychiatrist. Seriously.
24. The Wicker Man
Let me make something very clear: As a comedy, The Wicker Man is an absolute masterpiece. I get more laughs out of it than most actual comedies and “not the bees” is one of the funniest lines in the history of American cinema. However, we’re talking about horror here and in that category, Wicker Man is an abysmal failure. Part of me wishes I could rate it much higher on this list because of how entertaining it is but that just wouldn’t be right. If I ever make a list of great bad movies though, this will easily crack the top five.
23. The Omen
The best word to describe this movie is ‘Bleh’. It’s nothing but vapor that goes right through you and was clearly only made as a way to cash in on that 6/6/06 release date. Nobody involved seems interested in what’s going on at all. Live Schreiber is clearly thinking about the car he’s gonna buy with his paycheck, David Thewlis seems annoyed to find himself in yet another boring supporting role in an American movie, Julia Stiles relies on her cry face to do the acting, and Mia Farrow just acts sort of crazy. The whole thing is completely by the numbers, following the original film’s story practically beat for beat and achieving none of its power. Bleh.
22. The Hitcher
Another by the numbers remake that nobody seems invested in (notice that’s a bit of a trend here?). All of the original’s raw power and nightmare quality is diluted in order to make a rather boring chase movie. Sean Bean is no Rutger Hauer and Sophia Bush is no C. Thomas Howell. Let that last statement sink in for a minute. When you’re lead actor isn’t half as compelling as C. THOMAS FUCKING HOWELL, that’s a serious problem.
21. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Oh lord, what a bore. Look, having any actor step into the shoes of Robert Englund was a near impossible task and Jackie Earle Hailey fared better than a lot of people expected, but this is still a completely unnecessary movie. It uses unconvincing CGI instead of practical effects, features another dull-as-shit cast of characters, tosses in dumbass plot points that should increase suspense but only induce eye rolls (that waking-dreaming nonsense) and promises a twist to Freddie’s back story only to reveal at the last minute that…drumroll please…surprise, there is no twist! Oh and one more thing; the filmmakers and some of the film’s (few) defenders love to point out that the burns on Freddie’s face are much more realistic here than in the original film series. Uh-uh. Cuz that’s what an all powerful dream demon with knives for fingers was always missing: realism.
Ok, we’re getting into the middle section of this list. Halloween is not nearly as terrible as many people say. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bad, just not absolutely horrendous. Malcolm McDowell is a bright spot and making Loomis into a pompous asshole was a fairly inspired idea. Other than that though, this is mostly a waste. The backstory of Michael Myers does nothing but turn a character who was formally a demonic boogeyman into a run of the mill serial killer. Blah, blah, blah, he came from an abusive family, who cares? Rob Zombie has his characters use the f-word so much you wonder if they can even say a sentence without it and the last 45 minutes is a straight up redo of the original movie, just with more violence and less terror. Still, it’s a movie that at least has some ideas, stupid ones for the most part, but that’s still more than can be said for the previous movies on this list.
19. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I’m sure many of you are roaring at me that this should be much higher on the list and while I respect your opinion, it comes down to personal preference doesn’t it? I just don’t find the flick very involving or suspenseful. It lacks the insane forward momentum of the original, all the characters annoy me, I find a lot of the camerawork pretentious, and it’s gruesome rather than frightening. Still, I acknowledge that this is the gold standard of horror remakes for many people. Feel free to swap this with #5 if you’re of that opinion.
18. Sorority Row
Pros: It’s an R rated teen horror movie, the opening scene is appropriately grisly and creepy, there are some good kills, it’s a lot better than the original (not saying much I know, but credit where credit is due) and the acting is better than expected. Cons: Everything else.
17. Mother’s Day
Let me start off by saying that I sort of hate this movie. It is way too long, none of the characters are remotely interesting, there’s very little in the way of suspense, and the ending is unnecessarily cruel. So why is it hovering in the middle instead of all the way at the bottom? Two words: Rebecca De Mornay. She is just fabulous, taking what could have been a one-note villain and making her into a complex monster. I could watch her read the phone book and not be bored for a second.
16. Silent Night
Yeah, it’s not great and the ending is spectacularly idiotic but it’s also kind of fun right? I like the Santa costume. Most of the kills are cool. Jamie King is an appealing lead (she’s not bad in Mother’s Day either) and Malcolm McDowell is hilarious as the incompetent sheriff. Oh, and the red and green color scheme is pretty cool too. All in all, not especially good but not boring either. A perfectly suitable rainy day movie.
15. The Thing
There are two big problems here: (1) Despite what everybody insists, this is not a prequel but a remake. Calling it a prequel was just a way for the filmmakers to pretend they were doing something different. (2) CGI effects are never going to be as frightening or intense as practical effects. It’s just never gonna happen guys, get used to it. Other than that though, this is…okay? I guess?
14. The Stepfather
The best of the PG-13 horror remakes and, yes I am aware that is very faint praise. Still, The Stepfather is surprisingly not bad. Dylan Walsh doesn’t try to ape Terry O’Quinn; he creates a new character who is not as creepy but still effective. Sela Ward elevates the material and does not seem to be looking at the film as just a paycheck gig while Penn Badgely and Amber Heard make for an engaging and fairly intelligent pair of leads. The last act is genuinely suspenseful and fun and the movie wisely dumps the side plot from the original with the guy looking for his missing sister. However, this is, at the end of the day, a very PG-13 affair with some enormous plot holes. It’s hard enough to believe in the original that there are no existing pictures of the stepfather but in this day and age? It’s completely impossible. Oh, and that last scene is just rubbish.
Another one that’s not bad at all but not particularly good either. A successful remake needs to do one of two things: either use the original as a jump off point for a different take on the story or tell the same story but add more depth to the characters and themes. Carrie does neither. Similar to The Stepfather, it also strains credulity when updating the story to the modern era. You mean to tell me that in 2012, this 17 year old girl was never required to take a sex ed class? Pull the other one. At least the heart of the story still shines through. Sort of anyway. If the original movie was a great Broadway production, then this is the High School production. They know the words but not the music.
12. The Amityville Horror
Believe me, I’m as surprised at you are that this movie ranks so high. Just goes to show you that horror remakes are generally not very good. The reasons it’s so high are that the performances (yes, even Ryan Reynolds) are uniformly good, it’s a smart move to keep the story in the 70’s, the scares are mostly low key but still creepy, and it is miles better than the original film if only because stuff actually happens in this one. Also, at 90 minutes, it’s the perfect length. It gets in, tell you the story quickly and efficiently with no filler, and then lets you go about your day.
11. House of Wax
Yes, Paris Hilton is in it. But she dies horribly! So that’s gotta be a point in its favor! Come on, this is a fun movie! Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s nothing to get super excited about but it’s got good performances (other than Hilton, obviously), creepy and inventive kills, and nice sense of pace. Not great, but solid.
10. The Crazies
At last, we come to the top ten! It’s all good from here on out folks (though you may disagree with me on #5 but we’ll get to that). Apart from way too many ‘he’s behind you’ moments, The Crazies is extremely effective. It keeps the themes of the original involving the incompetence of government and how easily society can break down without hitting you over the head with them. There are a lot of great creepy scenes that are genuinely unnerving (the shooting on the baseball field juxtaposed with that glorious first day of spring is particularly effective and does a nice job of hinting at the darkness to come). The last act is a tad unbelievable but is still suspenseful and well done. And the performances are excellent. Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell are almost always solid performers and this is no exception. But it’s Joe Anderson, as the kindly, noble deputy who slowly loses his grip on sanity and struggles to fight against the madness even though he knows it’s a losing battle, who brings the most pathos to the film.
09. The Hills Have Eyes
Director Alexandre Aja manages to get two remakes into the top ten and they could not be more different. This first one, a dark, gritty, action oriented take on Wes Craven’s bizarre classic is not as good as that film but is still a hell of a ride. Once the action starts, it never stops. It may kick most of Craven’s themes to the curb but that’s fine. Not every horror movie has to have a message. Some are just allowed to be harrowing, gripping portrayals of good people struggling to survive in the worst set of circumstances. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of message after all isn’t it?
08. Fright Night
The original Fright Night is one of my favorite movies so I was poised to loathe this one and surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it. It works because of how self aware it is. Nobody takes this story seriously and everyone is just there to have a good time. Turning the Peter Vincent character from a movie star to a Vegas magician works well and David Tenant has a blast with the part. Colin Farell chews up the scenery with malicious glee, if you’ll forgive the pun, and yet never seems to be winking at the audience. The movie also has some fun with vampire conventions, such as when Farell blows up a house in order to get past the ‘vampires can’t come in unless they’re invited’ rule. There’s also some product placement that is particularly inspired.
07. My Bloody Valentine
A better title would have been 99 Ways to Kill a Person with a Pick Axe. So that tells you that this is not, by the standard definition, a good movie. So what? It’s trash that knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do. That’s more than you can say for a lot of movies. The flick sets it tone early on when the killer murders and mutilates an entire hospital ward in about…oh…three minutes. From there on out, you know what you’re in for: crazy kills, dopey characters, and a lot of laughs. Give me this silly nonsense over a so-called ‘brutal, intense, take no prisoners’ horror remake (yes, I Spit on Your Grave, I’m talking about you) any day of the week.
06. Dawn of the Dead
Even if the rest of the movie were garbage, it would still be quite high on this list because the first twenty minutes might be the best depiction of society collapsing due to zombies ever put on film. It’s intense, nail-biting, edge of your seat and all those other words and phrases that critic-whores like to use. And after that, the movie keeps up the intense pace for a thoroughly entertaining and frequently very funny (love that ‘spot the celebrity zombie’ game they play) take on the zombie genre. The characters are solid, the action plentiful, and the ending appropriately bleak.
All right now listen up people, the fast zombie vs. slow zombie debate is stupid and needs to go away. They both work fine. And before you go off about how zombies shouldn’t be able to move fast cuz their limbs would snap or whatever, allow me to remind you of something you may have forgotten: zombies shouldn’t exist either. Stop applying logic where logic does not apply.
05. Friday the 13th
Now, here me out here before you start yelling and screaming. As I said earlier, if you feel inclined to do so, you may swap this with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All right? So, stop foaming at the mouth and allow me to explain myself. The Friday the 13th series has never been particularly good. Like My Bloody Valentine, they’re trashy fun, filled with tons of nutty kills and lots of laughs. That’s all they are. So, there’s no need to get so up in arms about this one, which is a Friday the 13th movie through and through. It’s got whacky kills, an asshole who you can’t wait to get killed, an appealing pair of leads, way more suspense than expected, a lot of humor, and a big hulking dude in a hockey mask. It sticks to the formula, celebrates the formula, and has a grand old time doing it. What’s the problem with that?
If My Bloody Valentine is very, very good trash, Piranha is great trash. The one thing that holds My Bloody Valentine back is that it sometimes tries to be a real movie with characters we’re supposed to care about and plot twists that are supposed to mean something. Piranha never bothers with such nonsense. It knows that you just came to see loads and loads and loads of people ripped to shreds by ravenous fish. You get your money’s worth and then some. Director Alexandre Aja made The Hills Have Eyes’ exact opposite. It doesn’t ask you to do anything but sit back and laugh as all this ridiculous mayhem occurs. For gods’ sake, Christopher Lloyd plays the piranha expert! If that doesn’t alert you to the fact that this whole movie is just a big goof then I don’t know what to tell you. The fact that there is some genuine suspense at the end is an added bonus.
The original Maniac is a terrible movie, sleazy and repugnant. So it’s a real surprise that this uses the original as a jumping off point to tell a story that is haunting, suspenseful, creepy, and oddly poetic. Using the POV of the killer to tell the story is an interesting and bold choice that pays off well as we truly do begin to feel like we are stuck inside his tortured head. Elijah Wood is terrifying and sympathetic, no easy feat to pull off, and the movie kept me guessing right up until the last shot, which is equal parts nightmarish and tragic. It’s an art house film disguised as a slasher film and it’s well worth your attention.
02. Evil Dead
As mentioned earlier, the best remakes either use the original to do their own thing or deepen the characters and themes. Evil Dead goes for the former and it works tremendously. Instead of Ash, we get Jane Levy (in a very good performance) as a drug addict trying to kick the habit by staying holed up in a cabin in the woods with her friends and brother. It’s a nice stepping off point to shoot us right into the heart of the story, which of course, is about demons possessing people and causing them to mutilate themselves. What the flick lacks in originality it makes up for with a malicious zeal and manic energy that never lets up from the second those demonic passages get read aloud. The film builds and builds before leading up to a sensational climax complete with red rain, a giant asexual demon, a few missing limbs, and one very well used chainsaw. And the special effects? All practical. No CGI here whatsoever. See what a difference that makes?
01. The Last House on the Left
At long last, we come to number one and it’s a movie that not only equals the original but actually improves upon it. Rather than a group of demented criminals who are simply evil, Krug (Garrett Dilahunt, in a brilliant, terrifying performance) and his crew are portrayed here as real human beings, complete with flaws, wants, needs and desires. This makes them all the more terrifying because they are that much more believable, so when they commit atrocious crimes, we can’t simply dismiss them as monsters from a movie. We are forced to acknowledge that people like this do indeed exist. Just as the parents of Sara Paxton (terrific), played wonderfully by Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter, are forced to look true evil right in the eye and decided what to about it, so too are we. What elevates the film even more is that nothing seems planned here: everything is a clumsy mess, from the abduction of the girls to the parent’s revenge. And does their revenge go perfectly as it mostly did in the original? Hardly. It’s a messy business and it never seems like they completely have the upper hand. There are real stakes here as you root for these people but mourn for the parts of their souls they are losing, not by taking revenge, but by giving into savagery. The movie presents all this without slamming you over the head with anything. Unlike I Spit on Your Grave, this is about much more than women being terrorized and it spares us from seeing the worst things that happens to them. It also doesn’t pretend to be about ‘getting even’. And it provides no easy answers to the questions it raises: are the actions of the parents justified? If so, why? And, most importantly, what do you think you would do in these circumstances? You might not like what you learn about yourself and that is the job of all the great horror films: to stare into the human soul and expose the darkness underneath.