Like many of you, I groaned when I learned that Universal was planning a remake of David Cronenberg’s body horror media nightmare Videodrome. Can’t we just have a classic horror movie that’s just that: a classic? Does everything have to get remade/rebooted/retooled/remixed so that someone will become aware of the original?
After a couple of minutes on my fainting couch, I settled down and remembered that a couple of my favorite horror movies (Verbinski’s The Ring, Carpenter’s The Thing) were themselves remakes, and filmmakers taking another trip down the same road isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes isn’t great cinema, but it is a muscular, even more brutal take on the original. So why not lay back and give a new Videodrome?
While nothing about director Adam Berg’s commercial experience necessarily leads me to believe he’s a match for Cronenberg’s movie (and frequent Transformers screenwriter Ehren Kruger isn’t helping the case) it could conceivably turn into something exciting–if everyone involved asks themselves the set of questions I’ve prepared after the jump.
What’s the writer and/or director’s deal?
Adam Berg made a commercial that is slick, glossy, and mostly just shows that he knows how to tell a story with static action. Kruger was in part responsible for The Ring remake (which, again, I love) and The Ring Two, Imposter, Scream 3 and several other very terrible, movies (the guy’s scripts don’t know from subtlety). Between the two of these guys, what kind of vision do you, hypothetical studio executive for reading MTV Geek, think these guys have for Cronenberg’s film.
Hence my case for Zombie, who’s made one remake that I can’t stand* with Halloween but has shown that he has his own lunatic filmmaking vision: whatever you get, it’s certainly not going to be dull or a shot-for-shot remake. I wouldn’t really want Zombie in the director’s chair for this one (I’m much more excited by his next original film, Salem), but I would be very curious about the choice. Ditto someone like Human Centipede director Tom Six or, if he weren’t busy and expensive, David Fincher. Or give someone new a chance like Stakeland’s Jim Mickle.
What I’m saying is, each of these directors has a voice that would be a great addition to your proposed remake, and really the hope is that you’re looking for someone who actually has something to say about the material.
Prom Night (1980, Paul Lynch)
Is anyone actually fond of the original?
No one that I’ve ever met has ever been excited by the original Prom Night and if you ask most horror fans what some of their top slashers from the 80’s were, they’re probably not going to have it anywhere on their lists. So who thought we needed another version of one of more generic horror movies from that decade?
The odd, the original–sure, piggyback onto those for name recognition, but leave some of these terrible ones to languish.
Did you actually watch the original? Does it translate?
There’s nothing particularly scary about an ominous phone call. In fact, the idea is kind of dumb. Which is why Takashi Miike made the kind of spooky but mostly (intentionally) silly One Missed Call back in 2003 which was also kind of a send up of all the current J-horror tropes. Which made it weird that someone thought it would be a good idea to do a straight remake in 2008 (pretty far past the sell-by date of J-horror remakes, to boot).
If anyone at any stage had taken the time out to watch the original (and you should check it out, it’s pretty decent), they might have thought “Oh, a movie about a ghost haunting cell phone signals is kind of dumb on its face,” and thankfully moved on to something else.
The problem with Videodrome (and a possible asset to a smart writer-director team) is that Cronenberg’s film was prescient and also kind of insane. While we don’t have the kind of media saturation of hardcore sex and violence on the airwaves that the film predicted (the Internet is another story), we do have a more insidious kind of assaultive media that leaves us numb to horror. Which is to say that Kruger and Berg are going to have to go in some other direction with the material if they want to make any kind of impact on audiences. A new Videodrome will have to say something new and broadly applicable to the way media works now, and it would take an interesting, complicated mind to say the horrible, horrible things about the way media affects and infects us as Cronenberg did back in ’82.
Consider The Ring (2002) or the underrated Dark Water (2005) remakes which were at their core movies about relationships between parents and children (and both coincidentally remakes of Hideo Nakata films) wrapped in tales of horror. Both movies were broadly pretty close to the originals but they worked as direct translations because the stories each was telling was universal. As a counterpoint, the not very good Night of the Living Dead remake transformed Barbara into an action heroine and gave us its “who are the real monsters” ending while clipping out most of the essential racial/social commentary.
Oh, you’re planning to do your own thing? Cool.
Speaking of Romero (re)done right, his Dawn of the Dead wasn’t just an epic zombie movie but also a scathing satire about consumerism. In 2004, Zack Snyder also made a zombie movie with people trapped in a mall. I love Romero’s film, but I really, really like Snyder’s since he and screenwriter James Gunn essentially made an action movie out of the material. Fast zombies, creative kills, and fairly interesting characters allowed Snyder’s film to stand on its own.
I also thought Takashi Shimizu’s inclusion of American actors in the 2004 remake of his own film, The Grudge added a greater sense of disorientation to the movie which was in part about being lonely and disconnected in the city. Or let’s consider Cronenberg again, whose The Fly remake took the somewhat dry sci-fi horror of the original and gave his a dose of sexual panic (and a really gruesome monster)? I’m even fond of The House on Haunted Hill remake which was a loud, gore-soaked send-up/straight horror film while sticking to the basics of the original (although the less said about Ghost Ship and Thirteen Ghosts, the better).
See, when you take the basic idea of the original and spin it out into something new, you don’t have to worry about competing with the older movie. And it’s kind of exciting to see variations like this.
What if (and this is a terrible idea, ignore me) Berg/Kruger’s Videodrome were a dark(er) comedy about the media? Or if it were a mystery with horror flourishes (a less terrible idea)? Taking the original material as a jumping off point for something new and different can only help.
Please, no origin stories or six-hour miniseries
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to include an image of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning or the ABC miniseries The Shining here but both are equally less than grand entries in the annals of horror and both speak to one of the worst possible instincts some filmmakers seem to have when approaching a classic: “why don’t we explain all of the stuff that was left ambiguous or mysterious in the original.”
The Exorcist is the perfect horror movie, a clash of fears about the loss of faith, faithlessness, personal hells, and any number of thematically rich ideas, all expertly crafted into a two hour-ish movie. So why then are we getting a miniseries from director Sean Durkin which plans to shows us the events leading up to Reagan’s possession? How is that in any way interesting and in what way to does it create rich, new thematic ground?
Similarly, who cares about how Michael Meyers got his mask? Or Leatherface’s problems with the local kids?
I’m seriously unclear on the instinct here: what kind of horror is more effective the more you understand about it? Stripped of its mystery, most horror is just science, something you can counteract or explain away. What these filmmakers don’t get is that by spending so much time explaining evil, they’re really neutering it–by drawing the horror out beyond its feature running time, all they’re doing is wearing the premise thin.
*His Devil’s Rejects is excellent and House of 1000 Corpses is an interesting experiment by a director finding his footing–Halloween 2 is a fever dream of terrible.