An old joke plays upon the sameness of the names of the Empire State and its most prominent city: “New York, New York: the city so nice they named it twice.”
The Hollywood equivalent to the double entendre is the movie remake. In the horror genre, quite a few previous films have been resurrected, or remade, as they say in the trade:
- Amityville Horror, The (1979 and 2005)
- Black Christmas (1974 and 2006)
- Blob, The (1958 and coming soon to a theater near you)
- Day of the Dead (1985 and coming soon to a theater near you)
- Fly, The (1958 and 1986)
- Fog, The (1980 and 2005)
- Godzilla (1954 and 1998)
- Halloween (1978 and 2007)
- Hills Have Eyes, The (1977 and 2006)
- Hitcher, The (1986 and 2007)
- House of Wax, The (1953 and 2006)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007)
- Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1977 and 1996)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968, 1990, 2006)
- Omen, The (1976 and 2006)
- Psycho (1960 and 1998)
- Ring 2, The (2005)
- Stepford Wives, The (1975 and 2004)
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1974 and 2003)
- Thing, The (1951 and 1982)
- When a Stranger Calls (1979 and 2006)
- Wicker Man, The (1973 and 2006).
Ann Heche, Psycho (1998)
But, wait! There’s more! According to Variety, RKO’s Roseblood Movie Co. plans to remake (or, in some cases, has already remade) Lady Scarface (1941 and 2006), While the City Sleeps (1928, 1956, and coming soon to a theater near you), The Monkey’s Paw (1948, 2003, and 2008), The Seventh Victim (1943 and coming soon to a theater near you), Bedlam (1946 and coming soon to a theater near you), Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Five Came Back (1939 and coming soon to a theater near you), and I Walked with a Zombie (1943 and scheduled for release [or is it re-release?] in 2009).
But wait! That’s not all! Other movies scheduled for makeovers include The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), and Near Dark (1987 and 2008).
Confronted with such a list, one may wonder, Why?
The answer is simple, but multi-faceted. Making a remake allows producers, directors, writers, actors, and others to make a movie without reinventing the wheel, so it’s relatively economical. In plot, setting, characters, theme, and other narrative elements, moviemakers are treading familiar ground when they’re remaking a movie that’s already appeared, in slightly different form, upon the silver screen.
There’s a built-in appeal for such movies, too. Obviously, in remaking a movie, filmmakers aren’t going to rip off a box office dud; they’re going to go for the gold, so they’re going to revive a popular has-been.
Moviegoers also like to compare the performances of the actors in the older versions of the film with the those of the players in the remake to see how the respective teams of actors interpreted their parts and played their roles, evaluating, in many cases, who did what better than another.
There’s the nostalgia factor to consider, too. People like revisiting the past and recalling significant moments, especially in their youth or during a time that (in retrospect, at least) seems more innocent and fun than present hard or lackluster times.
Then, too, if moviemakers remake old movies instead of making new movies (maybe we should call them movieremakers?), Hollywood doesn’t need as many writers, so writers’ strikes don’t matter as much, if at all.
Rob Zombie, who produced the Halloween remake, talked about the appeal and challenges of making a remake. When all else fails (or when all else has been said and done), one exploits the characters: “You've got a movie that has seven sequels, so you figure they've exploited this thing every which way you can,” he says. “You start fresh, and you focus on the one thing that's always most compelling to me: the characters.” More specifically, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, he “delves into the psychology of the franchise's iconic monster, prepubescent murderer-turned-bogeyman Michael Myers.” However, a word of caution applies in psychoanalyzing the monster, producer Bad Fuller, who has used the same tactic in remaking other horror movies, warns: “You don't want to humanize your monster too much, or the audience will feel sorry for him.” God forbid!
Fuller shares the considerations that led him to produce the remakes of Hitcher, The Amityville Horror, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: “"We thought ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was great for a remake," he says. “There was a whole generation not familiar with it. So there was brand recognition, but the expectations from the youth audience couldn't be that strong.” He’s done so well at the box office with such remakes that he’s planning to release remakes of Friday the 13th, Near Dark, and The Birds as well. (Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock is spinning in his grave at the prospect of someone redoing one of his classics.)
The San Francisco Examiner article also identifies some of the ways in which originals and remakes differ. The latter typically have better special effects; the causes behind the supernatural or paranormal situation or monster are sometimes changed, the remakes tend to build up the characters’ or the monster’s back story, and themes are given new twists. Occasionally, the remake is better than the original, as in the case of When a Stranger Calls: “The first movie was essentially a 15-minute babysitter-harassing sequence followed by more than an hour of digressions that had little to do with a stranger calling. The remake was 97 fast-paced minutes of that 15-minute sequence.”
The biggest reasons, though, for remaking successful movies? They’re proven box office successes and they’re easy to exploit.