In his article, 'Horror Will Eat Itself', Kim Newman reflects on a recent trend in horror: the remake. He points out that horror has been "remade, sequelised and recycled" from the very beginning. The Universal monsters, Dracula and Frankenstein in particular, as well as Night of the Living Dead, are proof of that. The problem, however, is that remaking a movie "because its title has lingering name-recognition value...isn't the same as tackling a primal gothic myth". Dracula, for instance, has been remade numerous times, but each film owes its genius to the original, whereas, to follow Newman, Let The Right One In, offers another take on the classic vampire. A remake, he writes, "[confirms] a movie's place in some pantheon while suggesting we really don't need to look at it any more."
Type "Dracula" into IMDB and see what happens.
Although I certainly don't respect the greed that dives the remake business, I can understand it. But what I don't understand is how these films manage to miss the mark. And I'm not talking about updated themes for modern audiences, wherein communism is replaced with home-grown terrorism. I mean remakes that fail to capture the essence of the original. Permit me to borrow once again from Newman who notes the remake of Dawn of the Dead was modernized through the use of fast-moving zombies, and Romero's original commentary on consumerism is downplayed "to the point of invisibility". Indeed, there is much to be feared from a speedy zombie, but societal collapse from within is more terrifying in the long run. Alas, Zack Snyder didn't seem to think so.
The heart of the problem, I think, is culture. Friday the 13th, remade by Platinum Dunes in 2009 was one the most highly anticipated movies of the year. Preying upon the cult status of the F13 franchise, F13 '09 was meant to be part remake, part sequel, appealing to old and new fans alike. An unabashed rip-off of Halloween, F13 was made to capitalize on audience blood lust. The two are very different films, and though Cunningham owes much to Carpenter, the movies diverge on almost every point. The thing about F13 is that is was a mystery--the killer's identity was shocking, unexpected, possibly idiotic, but still a surprise. Jason only made his first appearance in the sequel, and it wasn't until part III that he donned the hockey mask. Four years after the original premiered, Jason Voorhees was canonized. Ironically the film that gave us the iconic Jason--masked and macheted--was titled Friday the 13: The Final Chapter.
Platinum Dunes' ambitious requel had 10 movies and 29 years of history to draw upon--much too much to cram into one film. Accumulated over the years, the culture and fandom of F13 is far greater than the sum of its parts, and any remake of the original would necessarily have to transcend the source material and still remain faithful to the story; it's an near-impossible task, and the resulting film was a disjointed, unimaginative flop that failed to resonate with either the old guard or the new. Part of my argument here is the franchise was simply too big to remake all over again: the story told over parts I and II changes drastically as the killer switches from mother to son, and then changes again in part VI from human to undead thing. F13 '09 sought to cover all this ground, and in so doing, managed to shift the story's focus from victim to killer.
Muscling in on My Bloody Valentine's territory, the film could have premiered in March, which also had a Friday the 13th.
What the first slashers (perhaps subconsciously) figured out, and what many subsequent remakes have failed to grasp is these movies are about the victims. Not a single entry in either the Halloween, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (with the possible exception of Freddy Vs Jason, which is a duck of a different colour) feature their killer as the lead. Indeed, over the years Michael, Jason, and Freddy developed star power, but the narratives always focused on the experiences of the victims. As noted by Noel Carroll, the audience takes its cues from the positive human characters in the film; if the protagonist is afraid, so too are the people watching. But, if the audience has no one to identify with, they won't invest emotionally in the proceedings and the film will cease to be frightening. Recasting the monster as the lead does just that--it precludes the audience being afraid.
Cannibalizing genre staples, as Platinum Dunes seems intent on doing, is indeed putting an end to horror, or at least the slasher. Movies about teens getting killed have given way to films about guys killing teens, and though it may well be disgusting, it's just not that scary. So, as originals give way to remakes and audiences are increasingly alienated from the horror onscreen, are we indeed witnessing a genre in transition?
1984 The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46(1), pp. 51-59.
2009 Horror Will Eat Itself. Sight and Sound 19(5), pp. 37-38.