One Horror Fan’s Attempt to Reconcile the constant remaking of her Beloved Genre
I don’t feel it necessary to explain too much what this is about. I think the title of this piece is enough to hit the chords of many a horror fan heart strings and burn a little. Like the Xenomorph bursting through John Hurt’s chest, the moment a horror film remake is announced, many of us decry the arrogance of producers who feel they have the crack formula for not only remaking a film, but making it better. More topical, more of the time, reimagining key elements of the story to vindicate their delusion that they, as educated producers of their era, have the technology to “Million Dollar Man” a classic. Of course they cannot. In our minds at least, there is undeniable blasphemy in a remake.
But this has been the way of horror for decades. The 1980s were rife with remakes of 1950s fare. The 2000’s ran the gamut of 1970s genre revisits. Why is the immediate visceral hatred at the announcement of a remake so daunting and painful now? Or is 30 years the magic number of decades that allows us to set our overflowing cups aside and breathe a little? It hasn’t felt that way.
And yet, as I sit here watching Pet Sematary 2, after rereading the novel and rewatching the 1989 film, I cannot deny the feeling that these Wendigos are cannibalizing our originals which hold so much love and nostalgia in our guts. And yet, I know this is something I have to work through. I hope you’ll come with me.
Stage 1. Shock and Denial
When it was announced that Luca Guadagnino would be helming a 2018 adaptation of Suspiria, I was beside myself. The Argento classic, a wholly original film that sank its teeth into the giallo tropes of Mario Bava, hung rainbow curtains on a psychotic fairy tale world. It was ungracious to allude that the Call Me By Your Name director could successfully pull off the feat. Even after reading the Fangoria article in which Luca’s open love for the original put understanding into focus, I wholly denied this Suspiria could be anything more than cheap imitation. His atrocious allegations that he wanted to “remake the feeling” were spellbinding. Why not just make your own feeling? Or use that feeling to make something original?
In the magazine, not two pages from Guadagnino’s interview, Don Coscarelli returns to the making of Phantasm, and his many influences which led to an original film. I often wonder if the editors at Fangoria were playing a joke on us readers by juxtaposing an article about an ambitious remake next to one about a wholly original film that was influenced by so much without remaking it.
I still haven’t seen the new Suspira. I doubt I will ever get the “feeling” to watch it, opting for Argento’s original every time. I find the not-quite right ADR endearing. My denial on that one hasn’t passed yet.
Stage 2. Anger
Take it to the streets, and by streets, I mean social media. Every outlet that has ever allowed me a voice. Scream at the rooftops that this movie, whatever it is, will never be as good as the original. Here, on the digital streets, I will find like-minded people stamping their feet with me. We will all have the same view. We will step inside Brundle’s transporter and come out on the other side a sloshy shunted meld of voices clamoring for “No More Remakes!”
Oh wait. Wasn’t Cronenburg’s The Fly a remake? It’s okay. Yuzna’s Society was not. We’re on the right side of this. I think…
Stage 3. Bargaining
This is typically the moment when I find my steam starting to wane. It’s time to revisit the original, whether that be Suspiria or Pet Sematary or Evil Dead, and think about Cronenburg’s The Thing. Or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or House on Haunted Hill. These movies I love, I grew up with them. I remember fondly and intelligently learning of their origins and watching the originals with loving patience as I admitted to myself the remakes were better, but I appreciate the 1930s, 40s, 50s way of things. I find a level of peace in the quiet contemplation, in the mornings with coffee, and start weighing my options:
(A) I do not deny myself the possible joy and enlightenment that comes with ingesting any new content from the genre I love, and I do not stint my ability to have truthful and well-meaning opinions of all imaginings by seeing the remakes and being open to the opportunities presented from new technology, FX, conceptual turns, etc, or
(B) Pretend the world of remakes does not exist wholly. Watch originals and decry the abomination of remake culture. Start finding the flaws in all things non-original and make all remakes secondary to the pieces of art that preceded them. Anything less would be utterly hypocritical…
As fans, there’s no choosing option B.
Stage 4. Depression
The TV show the Outer Limits was made twice. The episodes were different, and they presented themselves differently due to the anxieties of society at the time. While science fiction/horror hybrids, they unnerved watchers to the possibilities of technology – much in the same way Black Mirror does today. Watching episodes of these shows (let’s throw Twilight Zone in there, too) leaves one with a deep, meaningful ennui.
This is much the same way I feel when the point in time comes, prior to the debut of any remake, when I realize the inevitability of its release and the choice to see it or not. It is never a good feeling. Not seeing it means I am denying myself the podium on which to stand and seeing it means I could be wasting hours of my life and money I have earned…if it’s terrible. If it’s good, not seeing it means I denying myself the opportunity to experience a great new horror film, and seeing it means the time and energy wasted on previous steps (most importantly, that outrage sloughed out on social media) was for not. All roads point the same existential ennui at the end of each Twilight Zone.
Oh god, that’s being remade too. Or is it reimagined?
Stage 5. Testing and Acceptance
I have come to the conclusion that I will be seeing Pet Sematary, most likely in theatres. After the release of the second trailer, the dread I felt was worse than anything the movie could frighten me with. I was so enraged, I took to my bookshelves and spent a weekend plowing through the novel (which is an emotionally painful journey to take in one weekend, and one that ended with me feeling very alone and very, very mortal). The experience left me knowing that the change from Gage to Ellie is a wrong decision (which I will not discuss here, but may in the future). More importantly though, it took me back to the 1989 film.
Rewatching the movie after reading the novel is like Louis Creed replaying how he could have caught Gage’s jacket. You know there is more that could be done, that could have been done, to touch upon emotional cornerstones that make the novel so seminal. The movie stands alone and isn’t lacking for its dismissal of the spirituality of the place, but its recognizable the pacing is off just a smidge. You know there is a sensibility there that could be captured on film because you saw it in the trailers. The trailers for the new movie…
And so, I accept it.
This may be the struggle of a re-adaptation vs. a remake, too. But that’s another road. To paraphrase a friend of mine, it’s a bad road.
The five stages of grief model, known as the Kubler-Ross model, was original designed to predetermine the progression of emotional states in terminally ill patients after receiving the diagnosis. I can’t help but wonder: do we, as horror films, see the announcement, or “diagnose-ment,” of a new horror remake as the death of an original? I suppose it would…but only if we stop watching them.
Follow me down the Micmac trail on this one.
The release of Pet Sematary has helped me come to terms with remakes in general. The themes of death, resurrection, rebirth, cannibalism, all fit neatly into the dark cavern of my soul that’s filled by the horror genre and swells when a great horror film is seen for the first time. If a remake means the death of an original, we have the ability to resurrect it by returning to the former. If the remake is an abomination, the original will always exist. It’s our job to bring it back to life – because, to quote that same friend from before, “what you buy is what you own. And what you own always comes home to you.”