Every time another horror remake, prequel or spin-off is announced, a little part of me dies. And not in the good arrow-through-the-eye, tentacle-down-the-throat way of the genre, either.
I’ve lost count of the movies that I held dear in my scare-obsessed teen years — from classics "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," "The Omen" and "Halloween," to schlocky pleasures "The Amityville Horror," "The Fog" and "The Hitcher" — that have been revamped with poor results. Most such repeats – 2004’s "Dawn Of The Dead" is the notable exception — feel like little more than a series of "shock" moments coldly machine-tooled to cheaply boost the studio’s bottom line.
I often wonder who — apart from VPs of production and the bean counters they serve — these flicks are aimed at? Those who remember the originals tend to feel vaguely offended by the new versions. And surely Gen Y doesn’t have much "brand awareness" of the original "Prom Night" or "When A Stranger Calls"? So why not tell simple slasher stories from a Gen Y perspective? (How about "Killer App," in which an iPhone download turns users eeeevil? "Blackberry Christmas" could open the same bloody vein. And "Gore-sip Ghoul" just writes itself. Paging Blake Unlively!)
Naff, yes, but preferable to what’s being retrieved from the recycle bin next. "Friday The 13th," "The Last House On The Left," "The Crazies," "A Nightmare On Elm Street," "Scanners" and "The Stepfather" have all been resurrected and are hacking their way toward cinemas. Wandering into the multiplex is getting more and more like taking the Doc’s DeLorean for a spin back to the Beta Barn’s horror aisle, circa 1985.
And now, like some crazed mutant child whose maniac momma’s finally been decapitated by the sole surviving girl at camp, I’ve been pushed too far. That’s because Universal is messing with "The Thing."
John Carpenter’s horror flopped on release, with summer of 1982 audiences preferring a cuddly little alien who ate Reese’s Pieces to a fanged-spidery-tentacled, well, thing that absorbed sled dogs.
But since then, this Antarctic-set chiller has gradually been re-evaluated as a modern masterpiece, thanks to its minimalist paranoia juxtaposed with Rob Bottin’s boffo make-up effects.
"Okay," I hear you say, "but wasn’t ‘The Thing’ itself a remake of 1951’s ‘The Thing From Another World?’" Answer: kind of. It traded on the name, true, but the differences were that Carpenter a) reverted to John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" and b) utilized the latest, cutting-edge technology to realize his ghastly vision of a shapeshifter that could perfectly replicate anything, perhaps even the icy beard of Kurt Russell’s MaCready. It was a rare case where that dread word "reimagining" was actually warranted.
Universal’s newly announced film isn’t a reimagining but a prequel about what happened to the doomed Norwegian base MacReady and Co. investigate in The Thing’s early scenes. Here’s the rub: we know what happened. So why not let sleeping mutant sled dogs lie? Weightless CGI isn’t going to improve on Bottin’s physical effects and, from the outset, the idea that the hero will be MacReady’s brother smacks of desperation.
Genre fans are taking small comfort from the fact that the script is from Ron Moore, who revamped the "Battlestar Galactica" franchise. But whereas Carpenter had crafted "Halloween" and "Escape From New York" before doing his "Thing." New director Mattijs Van Heijningen’s track record is TV commercials, including one for Pepsi Max that aped Predator’s alien.
Maybe, just maybe, this can bring the energy and inventiveness of the Dawn remake — also from Strike Entertainment — and stand alongside the original. But I suspect imitating a plot about soulless imitation will engender reviews like those awarded to 2007’s The Invasion.
If horror remakes absolutely, positively must be made then — instead of sullying classics or looking to already-derivative pap for supposed "brand awareness" — why not revisit poorly executed but vividly titled films that actually had decent ideas?
Few are gonna complain about a new and improved "The Incredible Melting Man," "Laserblast," "The Deadly Spawn," "Parasite 3-D" or "The Stuff," and I can see the kids lining up in the same numbers as they would for a bastardized "Basket Case" or an "updated" "Happy Birthday To Me."
And with "Black Dynamite" a hit at Sundance, I’m saying the "next big thing" in horror-comedy should be a remake of "Soul Vengeance."