It's a known fact that more often than not, classic horrors are dredged from the thick, dense swamp of our nightmares, freshened up with a new coat of paint in an attempt to make a quick cash grab by studios. I'm sure when you read that, you thought of at least a few in the back of your mind – but horror remakes aren't always terrible. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we gain a horror remake or reimagining that is on par or, once in a blue moon, surpasses the original in terms of artistic quality.
The Thing – John Carpenter (1982)
Carpenter's vision of The Thing from Another World is a masterclass in the technical achievement of practical effects to horrify. It originally debuted to underwhelming reception, with some labelling it “instant junk” – but of course, formed a cult following which eventually pivoted the passion of The Thing from disgust to adoration. Every element of this film could and perhaps should be acclaimed. The practical effects, which were once shrugged off, now stand as a testament to the timelessness of sticking to classical forms of scares, rather than digitizing them.
The frightening conceptualization of The Thing itself is a beacon of what to aspire to with today's monsters and creatures, its latest clear reference in It: Chapter 2. Ennio Morricone's isolating score of synths and suspense playing over the arctic wilderness, imbuing it with a sense of endless dread as we gradually imprison ourselves within the final sign of humanity. The tense and trigger-finger characterization of each of the base's inhabitants has only become more relevant, in the age of global conspiracies and pandemics. It's also undeniable that Kurt Russell absolutely devours the scenery, and his hairstyle creates a universal envy.
Evil Dead – Fede Alvarez (2013)
What's interesting about this ‘remake' is it's simultaneously a soft reboot and continuation of The Evil Dead series. Alvarez's approach is admirable because he doesn't encroach on Raimi's original vision, but instead builds upon it and pays respect to what makes The Evil Dead what it is. It's a much more serious and gruesome endeavor for these cabin-stayers, with the fortunate exclusion of particular shock-value laden events such as that tree scene (thanks, Alvarez.) With a flair for the frighteningly visual, we are greeted with ever-increasing displays of gore, with a final scene that is quite a spectacle for the eyes.
It allowed The Evil Dead to re-enter into the public consciousness and to ensnare a new generation with the fascination for the Necronomicon, as well as a re-examination and a revival of the original adoration that Ash and the Evil Dead series received in its heyday. While it may not be universally loved, it is nevertheless an impressive attempt to add to the canon of a respected and adored franchise, rather than a disrespectful cash grab as is the way of many horror remakes.
The Crazies – Breck Eisner (2010)
A remake of a Romero classic could be labelled as sacrilege or it can be acclaimed, as shown with Steve Miner's Day of the Dead or Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. Eisner's The Crazies occupies a slightly surreal middle ground between the two, incorporating elements of the original whilst redefining within a modern context, allowing for greater play in this hellscape. We have government espionage and military intervention against the backdrop of a zombie-like virus that still feels fresh even as we approached zombie oversaturation point. The maniacal and unhinged nature of The Crazies is chilling, having been completely overridden by an almost-heightened intelligence alongside a hunger for unadulterated slaughter.
Many of the characters are more cliché than characters per say, however the focus is less on the characterization and far more on the world-building, specifically cynical in its view – typically, when signs of life appear in apocalyptic situations, it's a sign of hope or salvation; in The Crazies, it more often than not means your demise is imminent. Perhaps it's the world-ending threads that run through the entire narrative that provoke the greatest satisfaction; the concept of a government-created virus gone rogue, simply out of a pure accident, to which the response is absolute annihilation amidst images of containment for those within the town, and confinement for those who have been fortunate enough to escape.
It – Andy Muschietti (2017)
Stuck in development period for the better part of a decade, swapping out directors and writers, with at one point Cary Fukunaga attached to write and direct, we eventually received what could be considered one of the greatest Horror remakes of all-time. Having achieved the highest-grossing horror of all time, this is a brilliant coming-of-age adventure encased in a horrifying context. Above all else, the characterization is what drives this film, both in the relationships between the Losers Club and their own twisted connections to Pennywise. If the Losers' Club is the scaffolding, then Pennywise is the foundation of It.
Bill Skarsgård completely and utterly steals this film – he devours the scenery, and you are completely enamored by every moment he is on screen. His performance is aware of the simultaneous function of fear and the comical necessary to play Pennywise, with Skarsgård twisting the two into performances of macabre practical jokes and menacing quips that make you aware Pennywise isn't merely doing this for survival, he's doing this because he enjoys the control and the power he holds over his victims, even more than he does consuming them. The mixture of practical, CGI and actual bodily contortions creates a haunting depiction that stays in your mind for weeks, tormenting you with visions of contorting mimes emerging from refrigerators or murderous clowns devouring severed arms, hidden away in riverbanks.
Suspiria – Luca Guadagnino (2018)
It seems that It walked so Suspiria could run. While quite a departure from Argento's original, Guadagnino seems to understand the key themes that run through the Technicolor coven classic, injecting them with fresh blood, and a LOT of it. He creates a remake that stands beautifully on its own, whilst acknowledging the foundations that Argento laid; the much-appreciated depth given to the coven of witches, as well as the characterization of Susie is c'est magnifique. There's a deliberate slowness to the filmmaking that creates a simultaneous sense of unease and comfort – we are witness to horrific events and gruesome murders and yet we never feel unwelcome within the Academy's walls.
Guadagnino instils a great complexity into Suspiria's lore, entwining the themes of abuse and motherhood, complicating the viewpoints of who we follow. The exploration of sisterhood, the matriarchal figures behind the Academy and a greater enrichment of the characterization of the witches within the film don't go unnoticed, elevating it to a level of seriousness the original did not obtain, mostly due to its giallo nature. It would be amiss to not highlight Tilda Swinton's powerhouse triptych performances film – the mystery of who she plays is only one of the many pieces of this sensational piece of art, that come together to make a violently striking and phenomenal horror that celebrates the original whilst firmly standing on its own.