It seems like the horror remake is a trend that, to put it bluntly, simply won’t die. From Jason to Michael Myers, Freddy to Chucky, almost every horror movie under the sun has been remade with no end in sight to the onslaught. There was even talk of a remake of the remake of Friday the 13th (although apparently it would have been awesome).
With all of these rehashes of older, (mostly) respected horror movies, it can be difficult to determine which to watch, and which to run from like a flaming Freddy Krueger. Well, worry no more, because we here at PopHorror have assembled nine of the best remakes for you to sink your fangs into. Let’s get started!
- Cape Fear (1991)
One of the more overlooked films on our list (or not, because its lead actor and supporting actress both received Oscar nominations), the reboot of Cape Fear finds a previously convicted serial rapist Max Cady (here played with delicious, scene-chewing glory by Robert Deniro) out for revenge against Sam Bowden, the defense lawyer he thinks did him wrong (Nick Nolte). The stakes are raised higher and higher, until a confrontation on a fateful lake is imminent.
Banking on Robert Deniro’s inherent creep abilities, director Martin Scorsese gives us a set of characters who, unlike the original’s black-and-white morality, are flawed and multi-dimensional. Sure, it’s pretty interesting to see Gregory Peck act as a normal human being, but seeing Nick Nolte’s character sometimes stoop to some pretty questionable lows (he outright threatens Cady at one point, before the boat even comes into play) makes one wonder if Cady isn’t somehow justified for wanting revenge against his nemesis… even if murder is a little of an extreme retribution. It may not necessarily top the original, but this remake proves that with the right director and actors, you can get pretty damn close.
- Let Me In (2010)
Look, I know everyone has this on every horror best-of list ever made, but if anything it speaks to the film’s universal message – which is probably why it got a remake in the first place, and almost entirely shot-for-shot. The story is about a young boy named Owen who accidentally befriends a young vampire named Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz, fresh off of murdering people in an entirely different fashion), and how their relationship develops through their shared feelings of unwantedness in the world.
Like previously stated, the remake and the original are almost entirely the same script-wise (save for one major difference that I won’t spoil here), so the story is still kept intact and many of the major themes are the same. The mixture of childhood innocence and bloody revenge definitely lends itself to a strong and compelling narrative, and all the acting in both films are fantastic. It’s a nice thing to see a remake who doesn’t shy away from the bloodier side of things, and thus this coming-of-age story can still speak to many viewers over a variety of backgrounds.
- Piranha 3D (2010)
A tale as old as time: swimmers come to a fun resort to hang out with their friends, flash as many people as possible while yelling “SPRING BREAK!!” and engage in the general frivolity of beach life, unaware that a deadly school of flesh-eating piranhas have made their way into the water. As straightforward a setup as you can ask for Eli Roth, whose previous entries into horror movie history (Cabin Fever, Hostel) are similarly entrenched in a deep love of the bloody and the outrageous.
A lot of times you see remakes which try and take a B-Movie and make it more gritty and realistic; not at all here with Piranha 3D. While many modern remakes result in a removal of the comedic and campy elements of said movies, Piranha 3D takes no such measures. In fact, part of the fun of watching this gore-fest is how much it absolutely revels in being a B-Movie; unapologetic and completely over the top. Plus, a cameo by Christopher Lloyd never hurt anyone!
- The Fly (1986)
A body-horror classic with Jeff Goldblum starring as the scientist who accidentally merges his DNA with that of a fly, I personally like to think of this remake as what would’ve happened if Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park went off the deep end following his traumatic science field trip.
This version of The Fly improves on the original in almost every way, replacing the hokey “oops now I have a fly head!” imagery into a more gradual, more horrifying transformation. We watch every element of poor Seth Brundle’s personality change; from his new obsession with sweets to having to vomit on his food to dissolve it before he eats it. Philosophical sociology metaphor be damned, we get to witness Jeff Goldblum slowly turn into a man-fly hybrid! Whichever preference of plot you have is up to you, but there’s no denying the power of the horrifying visuals in the 1986 remake.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
It’s a horror remake so iconic, you didn’t even know there was an original, did you? You thought it was based on a book or something, didn’t you? Well okay, maybe it was. I was being too hard on you. I’m sorry. Let me start over.
One of the biggest sci-fi horror movies of the late 70’s, Philip Kaufman’s remake of the 1956 classic stars Brooke Adams and the great Donald Sutherland, as they band together to try and stop aliens from taking over the bodies of the entire human race. The major difference between the remake in the original is the pod people themselves: when they see another human, they shriek horribly, alerting other pod people of their presence. While this may seem like an unimportant change in the pod people’s behavior, it serves to act as its own suspense engine, raising the tension during a few very crucial moments. I won’t spoil any more, but if you haven’t seen this movie, go check it out!
- Evil Dead (2013)
Alright, I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this one, but put down your arm-chainsaws and hear me out. You have plenty of reason to dislike this remake; hell, I even spelled out a great argument for you up in Entry #7. “Where’s all the jokes? Where’s Ash and his witty one-liners? Where’s the cheese and the winking self-awareness?”
If this remake pissed you off for whatever reason, just think of it as though Sam Raimi had asked himself, “What would Evil Dead look like… if I tried to make it actually scary? And without the college-level budget?” Director Fede Alvarez, whom Sam Raimi personally selected to direct the film, stated that he considered it more of a reboot than a direct remake, and certain clues hint to this: the car, still parked next to the house; the basement, still full of dead animal corpses; the trees, still out to not take consent from anybody. This movie is not, I repeat, is not attempting to be a direct remake. It’s not trying to be funny. It’s not trying to be charming and self-aware. It’s trying to be terrifying and leave images that will sear themselves into your corneas long after you leave the theater. It’s understandable if you’re disappointed to not get what you’re expecting, but for my money, this remake succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Although, I’ll admit, I did miss Ash.
- The Grudge (2004)
I’m not gonna lie; the first time I saw this movie, it did something to me. I couldn’t sleep for a week. I couldn’t turn out the lights. This movie scared the shit out of me so completely that even thinking about it, seeing clips of it online would send me into blind panic. I couldn’t explain it.
Since then, having done a little bit of research on it, I understand what it did so effectively to me all those years ago. It’s actually a big difference between the original and the 2004 American remake that should usually be a detriment to any movie; it removed all semblance of plot. Sure, there’s a basic function of how the curse works: if you go into the house, the curse will follow you until it kills you. That much is pretty straightforward, and from there we get our blonde-haired heroine (Sarah Michelle Gellar) off to solve the mystery (and probably end up with a list of psychological issues along the way).
Past that, there’s really not a lot that ties together any sort of rules about the curse, or what ties the motivations of the characters, or really why no one has nuked the house from orbit yet. But here, the remake capitalizes on the convoluted nature of the plot: the horror doesn’t need an explanation. In the original, you have a moral center around loneliness and sorrow; here, you have those emotions serving only to create the ghosts, not to drive their motivations. And that, to me, is the scariest part.
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
George A Romero’s Living Dead trilogy is perhaps one of the most respected and revered horror franchises of all time. The original movies are all classics, serving as the original horror metaphor for a society slowly falling apart at the seams. However (and I’m sure I’ll get eaten for this, too), some of his movies feel a little dated. Maybe it’s the time in which I grew up, when effects were already pretty decent, but the zombie makeup and casual shuffle of the old Romero films has a definite air of camp to it that, while charming and highly indicative of a deeper sociological depth, isn’t entirely realistic.
Enter the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, a young Zack Synder’s directorial debut, which comes at you with sprinting zombies, hell-bent on brains, and you have suddenly entered an entirely different dimension. No longer can you out-run zombies; no longer can you passively wait behind a store’s security grille; these zombies will full-on chase you down, tackle you, and devour you. Add in some downright memorable performances by a talented ensemble cast (cause how many of those do you see outside of The Walking Dead?), and you have one of the most memorable, emotional, and brutal zombie films ever made. The soundtrack is great, too!
- The Ring (2002)
By now, you probably know all about this movie and what it’s done for the horror genre. The original, Ringu, is possibly one of the most heralded Japanese horror movies of all time, currently sitting at a lofty 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Its influence has been widespread, ushering in a new wave of gore-less, more supernatural horror in the early 2000’s, possibly featuring a wide array of creepy long-haired girls. But what of the remake, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Naomi Watts?
In this author’s opinion, the remake is just as strong, if not stronger, than the original Japanese counterpart. The differences are subtle, but numerous; the setting of the Pacific Northwest for the American version creates a perpetually raining, foreboding atmosphere; the removal of the psychic elements from the family line create a more realistic feel for the movie (even though Samara still exhibits her powers); and the insidious way that the film (in-universe and out) starts messing with our poor heroine adds a heightened tension to an already psychological movie. Just when she thinks she has a handle on the case, some other horrifying element gets thrown at her. Dream sequences? Check. Horses? Check. Flies? You bet your ass.
However, the most important difference in the two movies is how they treat their characters, and their relationships to each other. In the American counterpart, both Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her son Aiden (David Dorfman) have whole, fleshed-out personalities. These are characters that interact in believable ways, characters that, for the most part, make rational decisions; they’re believable, not simply roles meant to further along the plot. That’s what makes the American remake so great and also so terrifying: because these are characters that you actively care about. And in horror, that’s a real accomplishment.
Did you agree with our list? Were there any remakes that you thought should’ve been on this list? Any that you thought sucked? Let us know in the comments!