I came home last week and turned on the T.V. and the first thing that popped up was the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho (1960). Seeing that the film was only five minutes in, I decided to indulge in the masterpiece all over again for the 100th time. The film is just near perfect, but it got me thinking about the unfortunate Gus Van Sant remake in 1998, which I have watched about three times and have hated each viewing. But why is it that a film that was a shot-by-shot imitation could somehow be so inferior? What is it about remakes that turns us off?
If you have read my previous entries, you would know I am a big horror fan and seeing all of my favourite movies get remade again just feels like heartbreak at times. But it didn’t used to always be this way. When you look back at certain remakes that surpassed even the original at times you wonder how they did it. When I think about successful horror remakes, the first two that stick out in my mind are John Carpenter’s The Thing (1980), and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). Although the originals are classics in their own right, they appear more like B-movies in comparison.
But let us look again at Psycho and see what is so bad about the remake. Speaking for myself, I think a remake can only work well if you try and do something different than the original. Seeing as Van Sant’s version was exactly the same (near enough), it just seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity, and a completely unnecessary project in general. Even when you look at the likes of the remakes of Halloween (2007) and The Evil Dead (2013), they went off in their own paths, with director Rob Zombie giving Michael Myers a back story as to why he ended up the way he did. And Evil Dead toning down on the comedic elements that made the original films so memorable. Whether you like these newer versions or not, you have to at least admire the fact they were trying something different.
But even moving outside of horror, when you look at the 2013 remake of the amazing Park Chan-wook film Oldboy (2003), like Psycho it just seemed to me to be completely unnecessary. But I’ve often found that the transitioning of Asian cinema to western English speaking audiences to be a bit of a mixed bag. And that’s not just from Asia. Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) was remade for English speaking audiences in 2007, but did not have the same impact as the original. The same with George Sluizer’s Spoorloos (1988), which was remade in 1993 in America as The Vanishing. Although a lot can be said as to why that remake was ruined, considering the sacrifices the director had to make with the production companies, including that awful forced ending, was it really worth it to attempt to get a broader audience?
So what is it about the vast majority of them that just don’t cut it? Well for most of these films, they have a special place in people’s hearts. The unforgettable shower scene with the classic Bernard Herrmann score. The underlying threat to the peaceful suburbs of Haddonfield as Michael Myers stalks his prey. Remaking something that was just near perfect to begin with seems like such a cop out as these days it is all to do with making a quick buck rather than making another masterpiece.
I do hope in future this so called “remake boom” begins to die down. It must be hard coming up with anything in Hollywood nowadays, considering the fact that several productions are under way to make a second remake of several horror franchises. But let’s just hope that these films aren’t as bad as we will imagine them to be. Besides, when you think of earlier Hollywood classics that were remade, such as The Maltese Falcon (1931), it can make me somewhat hopeful that not everything is doomed.