13 Great Horror Movie Remakes
Remakes get a bad rap. And when it comes to audience demands, few are harder to please than horror fans when it’s their favorite horror icons getting the reboot treatment. Hell, even The Thing was greeted with scorn at first. But the truth is there are actually quite a few horror movie remakes worth checking out, from films like The Thing and The Fly that have become more classics in their own right to the best of the more recent remake trends, there are plenty of horror movies that either found something new and interesting to do with their concepts or honored the spirit of the original film in a fun new way.
And what’s so bad about a remake? After all, the original will always be there in its pure, untouched form and a new incarnation promises the potential for exciting new reads on the material. As something of a theater nerd, I always make my case by looking to Shakespeare, who adapted many of his most famous works from pre-existing myths and stories. On the stage, stories are told time and again by new directors and new performers, each new iteration offering the potential to bring new insights to sometimes ancient material. Sure, that’s not always the case, especially in film, where IP is regularly repurposed on the sole basis of brand recognition, but suffice it to say, I’m a big defender of remakes done right.
Of course, there’s some room for debate on the inherent value or harm of remakes in the industry — the old “can’t they thing of anything original?” argument — but if there’s one thing that 2018 has shown us, it’s that even in a year where original horror is flourishing (see Hereditary, The Endless, A Quiet Place, etc,) there’s still room for a good remake. On that note, with Suspiria now in limited theaters and rolling out nationwide this weekend, I’m looking back at some of the best horror movie remakes of all time. Check out my picks below, and be sure to sound off in the comments with your favorites.
Lots of horror remakes tend to conjure up ire in the fanbase, whether out of devotion to the original or distaste for remakes in general, but The Crazies has always just kind of lowkey accepted as good. Based on George Romero‘s 1973 film of the same name, The Crazies follows the residents of a small town where a deadly biological weapon is accidentally unleashes among the innocent citizens. But they don’t stay innocent for long. The so-called Trixie virus turns your well-meaning neighbors into cold-blooded psychopathic killers, hellbent on getting their blood. Director Breck Eisner crafts a propulsive horror ride, careening from one set-piece to the next with a small gang of painfully likable survivors (Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, and Danielle Panabaker), who inevitably get picked off one-by-one. The Crazies never quite recovers from the third act loss of a key character and may ultimately be one or two set-pieces too long, but it ends with a hell of zinger that makes up for the overlong finale.
Friday the 13th
Fede Alvarez‘s 2013 Evil Dead remake seems to be one of those love it or hate it films that brings out passionate defenders and detractors on either side. In this house, we appreciate the virtues of the unrelenting remake, even if it never measures up to the goliath shadow cast by Sam Raimi‘s essential horror trilogy. If you take away Raimi, Bruce Campell, and the thread of absurd humor that underlined their no-budget horror classics, what’s left? A surprising amount of strong foundation, especially in the hands of Alvarez, who imagines the fight against the Deadite scourge as a viscerally violent and bleak battle for your soul (including some truly disturbing uses for an electric knife) and rains blood and body parts on his ace cast. One of the bloodiest studio films in recent memory, Evil Dead offers a completely different kind of horror than the original that inspired it, and while that understandably alienates some fans, it’s a fine example of what can be accomplished when a filmmaker takes the seeds of a story and reinvents them with a new vision.
Dawn of the Dead
The 2004 remake of George Romero‘s essential zombie movie Dawn of the Dead unites the best qualities of future blockbuster power players Zack Snyder and James Gunn early in their feature careers. Led by the exceptional Sarah Polley with a cast of standout ensemble players including Ty Burrell, Ving Rhames and a mustachioed Michael Kelly, Dawn of the Dead is a thrilling, fast-paced reinterpretation of Romero’s anti-consumerist classic that tones down the commentary in favor of straightforward (and fast-moving) zombie action and surprisingly strong character beats. Of course, not everything’s a home run — Dawn of the Dead has some spectacular missteps, including pretty much anything to do with Mekhi Phifer‘s character, but the combination of Snyder’s visuals and Gunn’s reliably witty script make the film a highlight of the early-aughts zombie craze.
William Lustig‘s 1981 slasher Maniacwas one of the most grimy and grisly slasher movies ever made, conjuring a wave of outrage and protest in response to the graphic, deeply unnerving depictions of violence against women. In the years since, the film has become a slasher classic so naturally, there was a lot to live up to when Franck Khalfoun put his own spin on the material with the 2012 remake. Even more dangerous, the film has one hell of gimmick — it’s shown entirely from the perspective of the killer (Elijah Wood in his creepiest role to date), which sounds annoying but somehow totally works. The remake wisely relocates the action from New York City to Downtown Los Angeles, which up until very recent years still felt as dangerous and sleazy as the vintage NYC of Lustig’s original film. It also gives the remake a distinct neon cast and unique flavor to the original, while still honoring all the scalp-collecting , blood-soaked horrors of the loneliness of Frank Zito. Maniac can’t top the deranged disgust of the ’81 original, but it comes mighty close.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Werner Herzog’s breathtaking remake of F.W. Murnau‘s 1922 essential Nosferatuis both an homage to what he considers the most important German film of all time, and a definitive entry into his own career that cements his status as one of modern cinema’s most poetic artists. When making Nosferatu, Murnau famously couldn’t access the rights to Dracula, so he adapted the material to his needs, changing names and locations, in a bold move that resulted in a cinematic masterpiece that was almost entirely struck from existence as a result of retaliatory lawsuits from Bram Stoker‘s widow. By the time Herzog got his hands on the material for Nosferatu The Vampyre, Dracula had fallen into the public domain, so the filmmaker was able to merge the two great source materials into one of the finest horror dramas of all time, centered on the aching loneliness and monstrous hideousness of the iconic creature. In Herzog’s hands, the daring remake of one of horror’s greatest films becomes a doting homage (sometimes down to the very shot) while also establishing its own place in the canon of the genre.
Another hotly contested remake, Fright Night is one of those titles that has passionate defenders in its camp, and especially passionate detractors. Most likely it’s the nostalgia; Tom Holland‘s 1985 vampire adventure was a beloved teen and childhood favorite for many (and for good reason), but the sequel is a fun supernatural thrill ride in its own right, anchored by a pair of pitch perfect performances from Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell. As the determined boy next door, Yelchin is an ideal teen hero, confident without being smug and consummately likable, and as the villainous vampire Jerry, Farrell is somehow stone cold sinister while also being as charming and attractive as he’s ever been. Yes, Jerry is a very bad vamp indeed, but Farrell is criminally sexy in the role and his performance helps makes the film magnetic in the absence of the original’s camp humor. It may not be quite as funny, but director Craig Gillespe brings a snappy sense of fun and his knack for working with actors to his update on the beloved vampire title (not to mention an ensemble cast that includes Toni Collette, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, and Dave Franco), and despite some unfortunately dated CGI, Fright Night holds up as one heck of a fun and thrilling romp.
The Hills Have Eyes
One of the most evil, relentlessly brutal movies of the 21st Century, Alexandre Aja‘s The Hills Have Eyes takes the raw depravity of Wes Craven‘s 1977 mutant hillbilly chiller and drenches it in the explosive bloodshed of the New French Extremity. Few theatrical horror release are willing (or able) to go as far as this one does, and while the extremity may be too much for the casual moviegoer, it makes for one of the most unyielding, shattering horror survival tales ever put on screen. Boasting fantastic performances all around, but especially from Aaron Stanford and Emilie De Raven, The Hills Have Eyes is a test of endurance that puts a lovable family of characters through the ultimate sun-soaked hell and drags you right along with them.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Considered by most to be one of the best remakes of all time, horror or otherwise, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a taut atmospheric sci-fi horror that updates Don Siegel’s McCarthy-era scares to 1978 California with outstanding results. Sharply directed by Phil Kaufman, the remake is a dose of intense post-Vietnam anxiety, mount a growing sense of paranoia with disarming closeup and low angle shots as the film’s mysteries unravel. Beautifully shot with a stnadout ensemble that includes Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Brooke Adams and Juff Goldblum, Invasion of the Body Snatchers a tight thriller with moments of piercing existential horror and dread, wrapped up with one of the most iconic and unforgettable endings in horror cinema.
Unlike the wave of uninspired cash-grab J-Horror remakes that followed it, Gore Verbinski‘s The Ring is a truly terrifying ghost story that embraces the visual motifs and stylistic trends introduced in the popular Asian horror movies of the late 90s and early 20s to create some of the most upsetting imagery and supernatural scares of the early aughts. Verbinski’s knack for visual invention is a natural fit for the J-horror inspiration, and with Naomi Watts delivering one hell of a dramatic performance as his leading lady the film is as engrossing as a desperate investigative narrative as it is a bone-chilling supernatural spook. Thanks to the infectious concept first introduced in Koji Suzuki‘s book and the unforgettable unnerving imagery (I’m still messed up over the reveal of Katie’s death grimace), The Ring was a well-deserved horror phenomenon that unfortunately spawned a legion of subpar imitators.
The most recent entry on the list and immediately one of the most impressive, Luca Guadagnino‘s Suspiria is a provocative instant classic that’s sure to rouse up some intense debates among horror fans. Inspired by Dario Argento‘s celebrated supernatural horror movie, Guadagnino’s film is less of a remake and more of a true re-imagining rooted in themes of revolution and identity. Set in 1977 Berlin, the same year that the original film hit theaters, Suspiria takes place during a time of immense civic unrest as the younger generations sought to overthrow the leaders they saw as corrupt — so it is within this coven of witches, tucked away from the politics of the world around them while immersed in a carnal power struggle of their own. It’s a thematically rich film that takes bold swings at every opportunity and gets weirder by the second immersing the audience in a relentlessly artsy film that folds dance, performance, film-making into a piece of cinematic witchcraft.
David Cronenberg’s essential body horror The Fly is one of the few remakes that manages to elevate the material in the original by taking the story to new dramatic and horrific heights. Inspired by Kurt Nuemann‘s 1958 camp sci-fi classic of the same name, Cronenberg re-imagines the tale as an operatic tragedy, rooted in the romance of unfulfilled love. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis are spectacular as a young couple in love, torn apart by ambition, human error, and fate when a fly sneaks in to Seth Brundle’s (Goldblum) teleportation experiment, creating a grotesque human-insect hybrid. A Kafkaesque nightmare of the highest caliber, heartbreaking and stomach-churning thanks to Goldblum’s committed physical performance and the stunning practical makeup transformation by artists Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis, The Fly isn’t just one of the best horror remakes of all time, it’s one of the best horror films, full stop.
John Carpenter’s re-imagining of the seminal 1951 sci-fi film The Thing That Came From Another World has become a well-deserved classic in its own right. It’s hard to imagine now, but Carpenter’s 1982 remake The Thing was brushed off by critics and audiences alike when it first hit theaters. Fortunately, the years have shown the creature horror classic justice and the beautiful, brutal remake is heralded as one of the horror greats. Led by a commanding performance from Kurt Russell in one of his many outstanding collaborations with Carpenter, and boasting legendary behind-the-camera creatives including a score from Ennio Morricone and cinematography from Dean Cundey, The Thing is an exercise in precision paranoia and pulse-pounding genre craftsmanship, not to mention the mind-bending practical effects from Rob Bottin and his team of FX wizards. Carpenter is a master of building tension and he’s on the top of his game in The Thing, creating a an experience of chilling anxiety punctuated by moments of searing terror.