Reboots, remakes, reimaginings, retellings, prequels, sequels and spin offs: The horror genre – and movies in general – are no stranger to any of these. Standalones quickly turn into franchises with numerous entries that hardly make much sense. But do we need remakes? And do they hold any value or merit?
This October sees the next instalment of the Saw franchise with the release of Jigsaw, a continuation of the series and the first in seven years. But after dying in Saw III, the original Jigsaw, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), will still no doubt have some influence over the next plot, still playing his games from beyond the grave. How much this new film will relate to the originals remains to be seen. Will it continue the story, or attempt to set up something new?
Historically, horror remakes do not tend to offer up much in terms of anything new. The remake of Psycho, directed by Gus Van Sant, was lauded by critics for being an almost shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s original. But straying too far from the source material runs the risk of alienating fans, so why do studios greenlight such remakes or reboots at all? For studio executives, giving money for an already established property can seem like a much safer bet than helping to produce something new and unknown that may not even end up breaking even. While horror films are, by and large, cheap to make and almost always end up finding an audience for them, sometimes, it is the easiest choice to retread old ground.
With a few notable exceptions, almost every major horror film of the last 50 years has been given the remake treatment. Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street have all reappeared on the big screen, with the new Halloween and Elm Street attempting to give backstory to their antagonists, but added nothing more of worth to the franchise. In 2013, horror audiences where treated to the remake of Sam Rami’s The Evil Dead, and while it kept the core story of five friends on a cabin retreat who unwittingly release ancient demonic forces in the woods, it attempted to add new elements with a gender switch up of the main character, from Ash to Maya, and bringing in a Final Girl-esque element.
Remakes can be successful, and worthy of our time; John Carpenter’s classic body horror The Thing is a prime example of this. A remake of The Thing from Another World, which is itself an adaptation of the short story Who Goes There?, it is considered a staple of the genre. It works. But why? As with The Evil Dead, the core story remains the same. A group of scientists are trapped in an Arctic research station with an alien. The remake firstly removed the hokey plant alien and ramped up the Otherness of the creature to separate it as far from humanity as possible by never revealing its true form. It increased the tension, not afraid to show the isolation of the group, scenes are heavy with paranoia as the men desperately try to determine whom out of them has been compromised. Of course, The Thing is well known for its physical effects, showcasing the full horror of the alien’s assault on humanity by showing bodies deformed and twisted into something that is no longer recognisable as us.
Fans will often roll their eyes at the news that their favourite franchise is “getting a new direction”, but what we must remember is that each one must be judged on its own merit. It seems pointless to simply keep telling the same story over and over again, but if the source material can be updated to reflect current fears and anxieties, they can become a worthwhile instalment in any series.