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Steve Jablonsky Friday the 13th
I’m on my way back home after introducing a friend to Fede Alvarez’ 2013 re-imagining of Sam Raimi’s iconic splatter nasty The Evil Dead. It’s the third run-out for Keeper after two in short succession and there are no signs of any chinks in its armor. Of course, it was aided infinitely by the fact that Raimi himself and buddy Bruce Campbell were involved but the fact that it manages to tread the line closely without ever requiring to rehash the formula speaks volumes for its quality. There are numerous nods to Raimi’s masterwork and Alvarez brings back the infamous tree-rape ordeal from the first film but this is an entirely different creature to its forerunner and all the better for it.
2013 has been a stellar year for remakes, Franck Khalfoun’s labor of love Maniac was arguably a better film than the original and showed the world just how good an actor Elijah Wood actually is. He made an astute decision to put his spin on Joe Spinell’s character and while his pretty boy looks suggested it may be a less than painless transition, he gave a startlingly good turn, a far cry from Frodo.
As we speak Brian De Palma’s Carrie is prepping for release and, whilst hopes have been set moderately, it will be interesting to see how Chloe Grace Moretz juggles the role of Creepy Carrie. Around thirty years traditionally supplies the breathing space to allow for the inevitable retread and, with the eighties being a veritable gold mine for Horror, there have been a slew of new takes for the new generation of teens.
Of course, there have been wildly varying levels of success ranging from the good (Zack Snyder’s Dawn of The Dead remake) to the shamefully abysmal (Steve Miner’s Day of The Dead desecration). For me, the lion’s share have been merely adequate. Texas Chainsaw Massacre lost its raw terror and replaced it with layers of unwarranted gloss and Friday The 13th losing its eminence by updating without deeming it necessary to introduce any characters we don’t wish to see bludgeoned and carved.
Rising above the dross, Alexandre Aja has supplied us with two faithful yet distinctly different remakes in The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha, not to mention involvement with the 2013 release of Maniac. He has a cunning way of paying homage whilst giving us work which steps out of the shadow of its forebear and stands on its own merits. In my opinion his Hills Have Eyes variation topples the original although the more fervent Cravenites will no doubt be up in arms by such a suggestion.
Wes Craven has passed the reigns to young Directors a couple of times with The Last House on the Left and seminal dream slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street both going under the knife for cosmetic overhauls. I’ve not seen either film but, from what I gather, they were met with varying responses from critics and movie-goers alike. I don’t disguise the fact that I was never terribly enamored Last House, I even refused to own it until recently because I have no inkling to ever watch it again. I say fair play for attempting that particular remake and I’m sure it has its devout followers.
Elm Street, on the other hand, was universally vilified and had an uphill battle all the way in remodeling one so emblematic. This brings me also to Fright Night, Craig Gillespie’s modern take on Tom Holland’s 2005 vampire flick. Like Krueger’s return to the silver screen, it all ended in tears here also but that is where these two films actually beg to be visited on their own terms. I have yet to view either but good sources assure me that they’re far more accomplished films than ever given kudos for so I shall enter both with renewed hope.
My Bloody Valentine holds a particularly exclusive spot in my heart, most notably through not attempting to recreate the wheel. Basically it puts to rest any foolish notions that the original was powder-puff Slasher for the droves. Thankfully several minutes of footage was reinserted for its recent DVD reintroduction. What a difference a day makes, I was always a fan of the original and found the protagonists far more interesting than the usual suspects but, splicing in some staggeringly visceral grue took it to a whole new level.
Patrick Lussier pitched perfectly and surfed onto the crest of the 3D wave to produce very lucrative box office receipts all over. Both films turned sizable profits although it is still primarily seen as Friday the 13th’s poor cousin. The splatter on exhibit in Lussier’s unapologetic bloodbath was bodacious and it was the first adult feature to use polarized Real D technology, taking every advantage available to hike the enjoyment levels high from the offset and never look back. As expected, it came under fire a little for its gratuitous full frontal female nudity which stretched a full five minutes…and in three dimensions remember.
Whilst dodging nipples, the viewer was treated to some truly marvellous demises including a gargling end for our very own 80s hero Tom Atkins. Incessant tits, ass, minge and bloodletting was Lussier intention and he delivered admirably on all counts. There still circulates a rumor that the Weinsteins still have a boner for The Burning. Trepidation on this front would be wholly replaced with intense excitement as Tony Maylam’s film sits a country mile above the competition for 80s slasher king from where I’m standing.
What concerns me is that the The Burning original trawled in somewhat lackluster returns and disappeared into the crowd of more conventional stalk & slash. It’s not as though those gluttonous Weinstein Brothers are short of a few bucks, so it’s not like they stand to lose much anyway. Likewise Dario Argento’s Suspiria has had a new lick on the cards seemingly for eternity now and the rumor mill has ceased churning out speculation after it appeared Natalie Portman would be taking the lead role before flat-lining once more. I will say that it’s likely for the best as there are certain films best left alone. Suspiria is right at the apex of that list.
There have been woefully unnecessary modernizations of such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Richard Donner’s The Omen and neither particularly warrant existence. Psycho is particularly wasteful, opting for a virtual shot-for-shot retelling and failing spectacularly, despite boasting a fine ensemble cast. It didn’t translate well to modern-day settings and was best left unfettered. The Omen was a marginal improvement but still doesn’t feel necessary, some things are evidently best left as they were.
Attempting to revive a work from Master of Horror John Carpenter is a fairly audacious move by anyone’s reckoning and most attempts have fallen flat. The Fog failed miserably, sapping every last drip of dread from the original and replacing it with tedium, whereas The Thing went instead for a prequel which, whilst a novel idea and fairly well implemented for the most part, relied too heavily on CGI and had far too vast a cast to whittle time, spelling diminutive screen time for too many bearded Norwegians to keep track of.
Rob Zombie fared better and I won’t spend too long waxing Halloween as I’ve been there many times before. One thing I find fascinating though, in the first film the fleshed-out back story gave more insight into Michael and got it pretty much on the money (exception of course being that poor Danny Trejo met his demise…out of character for Myers). When it came to the easy part, the bread and butter scares and unbearable tension, Zombie missed a trick despite showing twice beforehand how adept a filmmaker he is. His own sequel bungled further by cranking Malcolm McDowell’s Loomis up to twelve and practically taking a steaming dump in Donald Pleasence’s urn in the process.
The Blob was the perfect drive-by B-movie and updated a tired formula better than the norm, alternatively Abel Ferrara did a reasonably astute job of updating Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1993. The Sultan of Splatter Tom Savini donned the director’s chair to give a fresh lick of color to buddy Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and it felt more than a little flat. Still adore ya Tom. David Cronenberg gave us the definitive version of The Fly ingeniously casting Jeff Goldblum as the twitchy Seth Brundle.
As the Slasher craze enjoyed a mini-insurgence in the late noughties all manner of tasteless candy dribbled onto the marketplace. April Fools Day, Black Christmas, Prom Night, When a Stranger Calls, all squandered any edge their forebears displayed and phoned in teen Slasher efforts more than contented to operate by the numbers. Sorority Row fared best of this fairly ambiguous list but only scraped through on charm. House of Wax went one better, providing a great Saturday night slashfest which never received the love it deserved, despite turning a tidy profit.
Meanwhile Adam Gierash remade Kevin Tenney’s solid but unspectacular 1988 effort Night of the Demons and the result was par for the course. Fractionally less solid and similarly unspectacular, it nevertheless provided 93 minutes of mild diversion and featured a cameo by none other than eighties Scream Queen Linnea Quigley which is never a bad thing. Andrew Douglas’ The Amityville Horror had largely the same effect, making no grave errors but not pushing the envelope in the slightest.
Foreign language films, in particular J-Horror, have been hijacked with almost unanimous lack of understanding of what made them decent in the first place. In the East they are hardened to the macabre whereas American audiences end up sitting through uninspired neutered dross which isn’t prepared to go as grotesque. There have been exceptions to the rule and The Ring offered an interesting companion piece to the legendary Ringu, but even then the ending was practically castrated of its raw fear.
Quarantine is a source of great bemusement to Keeper. I’m not about to knock John Erick Dowdle’s Americanization of sleeper hit [REC] as it does nothing heinous and even retains the dread of the last five minutes. For me, the most significant blunder was in the casting of Jay Hernandez, who audiences are already familiar with from Eli Roth’s Hostel. It lost its ambiguity and relevance, rendering it fatuous.
To close it has to be Breck Eisner’s 2010 remake of Romero’s low-budget 1973 film The Crazies, a remake which does nigh-on everything correct and is not afraid to show its mean spirit. It also heralds one of the best lines of dialogue from any Post-Millennial Horror delivered with perfection by Timothy Olyphant very much on his A-game…”Don’t ask me why I can’t leave without my wife and I won’t ask you why you can”. Come back from that!
Remakes are an easy-win at the box office and thirty years just long enough to warrant a retelling for a fresh audience. I’m fine with this, The Evil Dead and Maniac have reignited my fire and shown that it doesn’t necessarily have to yield cataclysmic results. I look forward anxiously to the next crop of eighties classics given the overhaul. Which would please me most? That’s tough but in less than two years Lamberto Bava’s Demons will be up for its Pearl Anniversary…maybe they can tempt Bobby Rhodes out of semi-retirement. One more time Bob, for old time’s sake?
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerly,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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