We recently posted about the few good sci-fi remakes out there. Now we’re turning our attention to horror — the most remade genre, and the one with the most disappointing results. These eight remakes (all from the last 20 years) don’t best their originals, but at least most will make you shriek in terror rather than disgust.
1. The Ring (2002)
Hollywood’s frantic obsession with remaking every Asian horror movie in the early 2000s began with this genuinely chilling redo, with Naomi Watts — who’d just had her breakout role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. — lending dramatic heft to the creepy supernatural mystery. By now, you know the drill; watch the cursed videotape and you’ll die in seven days. Watts’ journalist character, who’s working under a ticking clock once she and her young son both watch the tape, heads to an isolated island off the coast of Seattle (a gorgeously gloomy setting which director Gore Verbinski uses to great effect) to discover more about the tape’s malevolent origins.
The Japanese original — directed by Hideo Nakata, who went on to direct both the Japanese sequel and the American sequel, the latter of which brought back Watts — is still scarier overall, but that scene where ghostly li’l Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) oozes out of the TV and into the real world with murder on her mind has sparked more than a few nightmares over the years.
2. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Wes Craven produced Alexandre Aja’s redo of his 1977 road-trip-gone-horribly-wrong B-movie classic; it came out just a few years after the French director turned heads with the cinematic mindfuck High Tension. So there’s a certain amount of extra style present in what’s more or less a slicker retelling of an inherently disturbing story
Two families—wholesome Midwestern types with an Airstream, and desert-dwelling cannibalistic mutants (who are given a more explicit, nuclear-testing origin story in this version) — have a violent clash in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. The underlying message, of course, is that even city folk can turn savage when pushed to the limit, which was hardly original even in 1977, though Aja’s Hills manages to take Craven’s vision and push those limits even further—a necessary tactic to shock even jaded horror fans, who were then being bombarded by “torture porn” after the success of films like Saw and Hostel.
3. Evil Dead (2013)
Evil Dead without Ash Williams? What fresh hell is this? Many fans of the iconic series were prepared to absolutely loathe the remake from first-time feature director Fede Alvarez — he later made Don’t Breathe and another reboot, The Girl in the Spider’s Web — but were pleasantly surprised by a film that reshaped the story a bit while still delivering plenty of delightfully repulsive gore.
The cabin in the woods, the Necronomicon, an ill-advisedly uttered incantation, and Sam Raimi’s trademark camera zoom to signify approaching evil are all part of the story—but instead of Bruce Campbell’s goofy Ash, the main character is Mia (Jane Levy), a not-so-recovered drug addict who becomes possessed and spearheads all manner of bloody, demonic mayhem before emerging as the chainsaw wielding, one-handed hero in the end. With the original Evil Dead trio of Campbell (who does have a cheeky end-credits cameo), Raimi, and Robert Tapert producing, this remake is kind of a best-case scenario, using an established pedigree to elevate a film that would be entertaining even as a standalone.
4. Willard (2003)
“Starring Crispin Glover” are three words that will pretty much make me watch any movie (or TV show — he’s great on American Gods). But the cult actor’s excellently varied resumé picked up a winner with this reworking of 1971's Willard.
Director and co-writer Glen Morgan and co-writer James Wong—if those names sound familiar, it’s because the duo were heavily involved in both The X-Files and the Final Destination movies—went back to that film’s source material (Stephen Gilbert’s novel Ratman’s Notebooks) to shore up their script, which once again is about a lonely misfit (Glover, who else?) who befriends the rat colony that’s taken up residence in his family’s rickety old mansion. (You can’t really blame him, since the only other person living there is his Mrs. Bates-ish mother.)
Before long, he’s using his rat army to take revenge, with the great R. Lee Ermey playing a jerky boss who crosses Willard and soon regrets it. Glover’s increasingly unhinged performance, though, makes the movie — any other actor would make you wonder why anyone would remake this.
5. We Are What We Are (2013)
Jim Mickle (Stake Land, Cold in July) directed and co-wrote (with frequent collaborator Nick Damici) this remake of Mexican filmmaker Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 original. What “we are” is the big secret (kept more from other characters in the film, rather than the audience) at the center of the story, which is about an isolated family that’s been carrying out a specific, highly taboo, and very grim ritual to honour their pioneer ancestors for generations.
With strong performances by Ambyr Childers (You) and Julia Garner (Ozark) as sisters who’re tempted to abandon tradition in favour of, you know, living normal lives — and a heartfelt supporting turn by Kelly McGillis as a concerned neighbour who really should’ve minded her own business—We Are What We Are balances its atmospheric thrills with plenty of stomach-churning special effects.
6. Lights Out (2016)
David F. Sandberg’s original 2013 short, also called Lights Out, is maybe the most stressful (in a good way) three-minute film ever made. It’s not hard to see why Hollywood took notice, snapping up the director — who went on to make the eerie Annabelle: Creation and has Shazam up next—to transform it into a feature.
The film keeps the short’s main menace but builds out a horrifying backstory for its shadow-dwelling villain with the help of scripter Eric Heisserer (who also fleshed out Arrival, which was based on a short story instead of a short film).
Maria Bello stars as an unstable woman who knows more about the threat than she’s letting on; Teresa Palmer plays her adult daughter who has to take charge (and hell or high water, keep those lights on) to protect her young half-brother. Director Sandberg’s wife, Lotta Losten, starred in the short and has a cameo here that mirrors her earlier performance — a fun wink for anyone who shrieked their way through the short and came back for more. Fear of the dark is an all-too-common theme in horror films, but Lights Out manages to elevate sensory deprivation to new levels of alarm.
7. Suspiria (2018)
As a diehard devotee of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece, I almost didn’t want to watch Luca Guadagnino’s remake, even after I read reviews that made it pretty clear that the new Suspiria lifted the “sinister dance school” thing and then forged its own weird path.
And while not everything works in Guadagnino’s version—the “divided Berlin” setting and adjacent politics came across as a bit heavy-handed; it’s way too long; and Thom Yorke is no Goblin—some witchy magic does emerge. An early scene in which a rebellious student contorts her body in a herky-jerky nightmare beyond her control is suitably shocking, and the climactic scene, in which Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion reveals her true motives for joining the company and much jaw-dropping violence ensues. My heart will always belong to Argento, but Suspiria 2.0 really could have been so much worse.
8. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The debut film of future DC darling Zack Snyder dared — dared! — to reconsider George A. Romero’s zombies-at-the-mall masterwork, and somehow emerged with an enjoyable update. The film’s ensemble cast—including Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, and future Modern Family star Ty Burrell — is thoughtfully assembled to approximate what a random group of people, all desperate to survive (but who aren’t necessarily going to play nice or fair), take shelter in a shopping mall as hungry zombies mill around outside. Some vivid set pieces, like the birth of a baby that’s already turned, and the playful (until it’s not) bit about the mall group communicating with another gaggle of holdouts in a nearby building, are also used to good effect, as is the music — especially Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around,” which plays over the opening montage and sets the exact right tone of rollicking doom.