The Undead Franchise
Why Do Horror Remakes Refuse to Die?
When was the last time two original American horror films were released?
In recent years, we’ve been given 3+ recycled horror films. I can almost do you one better with this years releases of REC and Quarantine – the latter is a shot for shot remake of the former, but they’re both being released in the same year. Does anyone care about this genre anymore? It seems like it exists for the sole purpose of selling tickets to haunted houses, and allowing costumes shops to make some coin. But can the genre really not achieve any more than this?
Remember the days when you got excited to go to the theaters and see a scary movie? If you weren’t a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s then actually, you probably don’t. Growing up back then, kids had the pleasure of seeing such titles as Scott’s Alien, Spielberg’s Jaws, Carpenter’s The Thing. Not to mention witnessing the creation of some of the scariest creatures ever to stalk and murder on screen: the Michael Myers who took a William Shatner mask and managed to stalk Jamie Lee Curtis throughout the 80s and early 90s, or the Freddy Kruger who made you scared to close your eyes and dream, or perhaps the Jason Voorhees who made a summer camp near you the killing grounds for young virgins and reckless children. Remember those days? If you are too young, your only link to them is likely to be through the second-hand experience of parents and older brothers.
I know all of these so called classics can be experienced through the magic of DVD. But watching at home just can’t compare to the big screen experience. And the lustre of the whole experience is cheapened by the endless, generic remakes. The great icons of recent horror cinema have been turned into self-parodies, whored out to the nearest studio for a quick buck, as Nightmare on Elm Street 14, and Jason Goes to Walmart hit screens. Alien experienced a resurrection, while Jaws became an amusement ride (though thrill-seekers must keep their hands inside the vehicle at all times). Our childhood terrors are cheapened by a sordid, commercial afterlife: not even The Thing can stay dead in the cold of the Arctic, as the studios plunder history one more time, with yet another unnecessary and charmless remake of a movie whose special effects were groundbreaking for its day and age.
It’s no surprise that the big scary movie of 2008 is either going to be a remake of a film that originally hit the screens a whole six months ago or yet another torture porn flick starring the overplayed and apparently immortal Jigsaw. Though Saw, which hit screens in 2004, was a breath of fresh air in the horror genre, studios have already made three, increasingly poor sequels, which have steadily devalued what they had achieved in the original. Provided they have a working title that sells, it has ceased to matter what they film, as long as they can brand it under the banner of the franchise.
Horror is selling out, and the experience of being terrified by a piece of truly hair-raising cinema is dying. I wonder how many high school kids even realize that Rob Zombie’s Halloween isn’t an original film, or have seen The Thing or Alien? Ask them for the title of the scariest horror film they have seen, and odds are they will name Saw or an inferior American remake of an Asian horror. Marketing plays a big role here. The Descent, the best horror film to come out this decade, made $50 million worldwide, but Saw III, the heavily-trailed and marketed third film of a franchise horror film was released and made $160 million. No wonder that studios are deciding to pass on original fare, and hedge their bets by flogging their horror franchises to the point of exhaustion. Unfortunately, while Hollywood tweaks the same blood and torture formula, audiences miss out on some well-directed, low budget horrors that can hold their own with the classics.
Modern horror films have been murdered and brought back to life so many times that they’ve either become self-parodic, or been turned into spoofs like the endless Scary Movie cycle. But the tired postmodernism cannot disguise the hunger that we feel for something new and unrecycled from the studios. We want to be scared once again, to worry about what may or may not be waiting for us in the closet or under the bed. We crave that shiver as we drive down Elm Street. We need to remember the codes of the Slasher flick (don’t stay in the car, don’t have wild sex, and definitely don’t hook up with the loner guy). Hollywood must give the night back to whom it belongs: the scary creatures that once made us fear the dark.