“Remake.” The dreaded “R”-word. Its mere utterance sends shivers down the spine. It’s often assumed that if something is going to be remade, it’s done so in a cynical manner and that the rights holder is looking to exploit an already-established IP to make a quick buck. There are certainly instances where that is likely true, but then there are the others that use the concept as an opportunity to update the time and/or place for the purpose of telling a good, timely story under the umbrella of the title in question. And as time has proven over and over again, the genre that has seen the most success when it comes to remakes is horror.
Through decades of horror filmmaking, technology has changed, innovation in special effects work has changed, society has changed, politics has changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the shared experience of being scared out of your wits. The genre has to evolve with the aforementioned changes, and therefore, what was scary in 1978 may not be as terrifying in 2019, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some new fear lurking around the corner. With that, and in honor of the recent release of Pet Sematary – both a remake of the 1989 film and a re-adaptation of Stephen King’s novel – let’s take a look back through the decade at the best horror remakes of this decade.
1. Piranha 3D (2010)
Remake of: Piranha (1978)
Why It’s Good?: The Roger Corman-produced, Joe Dante-directed original – in typical Corman fashion – is a proudly low-budget Jaws knockoff that has an undeniably campy charm, largely due to its DIY spirit. Alexandre Aja’s remake – clearly capitalizing on the 3D craze that Avatar started – is more tongue-in-cheek and intentional in its humor. At no point does the film ask you to take it seriously; it just wants you to bask in all of its gloriously gory mayhem. However, the stacked cast – including Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, and a smarmy, scene-stealing Jerry O’Connell who’s clearly playing a surrogate for Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis – does ask you to take it just seriously enough while also having a total ball. Aja’s fluid camerawork keeps things clicking along, it’s light on exposition, has an infectious, giddy tone, and it features one of the most memorable scenes of dis-”member”-ment ever put to film.
2. It (2017)
Remake of: It (1990 TV Miniseries)
Why It’s Good?: Those of a certain generation have fond memories of the TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s doorstop of a novel, mostly due to Tim Curry’s iconic performance as Pennywise. Despite Curry’s terrific work, that series is largely unwatchable (lest we forget the overextended sequence of the adult Loser’s Club eating Chinese food). Andy Muschietti’s first entry in this new It remake is vastly superior, largely due to an excellent young cast, a creepy new Pennywise in Bill Skarsgard, and an adaptation that gets to King’s core themes about friendship, shared trauma, familial distrust, and the sins of the past while stripping away the book’s ickier moments and overly-complicated mythology. Despite a roller coaster of jolts, this new iteration is at its best when it’s in Stand By Me mode letting the friendships and smack-talking banter of the Losers Club play out. The adult story that takes place 30 years later is the weakest aspect of the already rough miniseries, so here’s hoping that this fall’s It: Chapter Two rectifies that.
3. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)
Remake of: Puppet Master (1989)
Why It’s Good?: While a staple at your local video store throughout the 90s, the Puppet Master series – the crown jewel of Charles Band’s Full Moon Productions – has never been a prime example of quality. Which is why The Littlest Reich came as such a pleasant (and unpleasant) surprise. Nasty, dark-funny, and bloody as all hell, this reboot is less of a slasher with small puppets and more of a modern-day exploitation film that also embodies both the siege film and socially-critical commentary qualities of Night of the Living Dead. No one ever expected a Puppet Master film to serve as a terrifying parable about contemporary white supremacism, but it’s 2019, up is down, cats & dogs are living together, and I don’t know what to make of the world anymore. But what I do know is that The Littlest Reich is far smarter and far more entertaining than it has any right to be, and beats all the other Puppet Master films by a country mile.
4. The Crazies (2010)
Remake of: The Crazies (1973)
Why It’s Good?: The late, great George Romero’s original film is best viewed through the lens of being the trial run for Dawn of the Dead in depicting the depths that humanity will sink to with their backs against the wall. No one could portray large-scale mania like Romero, but The Crazies is a bit repetitive and sluggishly-paced. Breck Eisner’s version – easily the director’s best film – gets an improvement in the acting category (led by Timothy Olyphant), but also shrinks down the scope, giving the characters more room to breathe. The titular “Crazies” are also more terrifying, slipping more into functional nihilism than a straight-up zombie. It’s clear on the rewatch that its aspirations aren’t as high as Romero’s, and the bookend framing of eagle-eye satellite cameras is already dated, but as a streamlined survival story with memorable sequences and solid performances, it’s tense, effective, and will create an irrational fear of abandoned gas stations.
5. Pet Sematary (2019)
Remake of: Pet Sematary (1989)
Why It’s Good?: Pet Sematary is arguably one of King’s best novels, which has now paved the way to two gravely different adaptations, both good in their own right, and both nail various aspects of the story down with very little overlap. Mary Lambert’s original film nails the hurt and sorrow, despite frequent dips into melodrama. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s update is closer to the sinister tone of the novel, gets an improvement in performances by Amy Seimetz, Jason Clarke, and especially newcomer Jete Laurence (still prefer Fred Gwynne’s performance to John Lithgow’s), and has an impeccable technical quality to the effects and the long, lingering tracking shots and minimalist lighting. The craft is so strong that it occasionally feels like it’s draining the emotion from the inside, but it more than makes up for it with a wicked and surprising pitch-black sense of humor, and a deviation from both the book and the original film that hints at darker implications.
6. Fright Night (2011)
Remake of: Fright Night (1985)
Why It’s Good?: On a purely base level, the remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror-comedy predicted the current Film Twitter thirst in regard to Colin Farrell. Literally, every plot mechanic is put into motion because everyone in the film wants to jump vampire Colin Farrell’s bones (can you blame them?). That sexual curiosity carries over from the original film with aplomb, and the performances, by and large, are stronger. Farrell is both hilarious and menacing, and there’s other solid work done by Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and the late Anton Yelchin. However, despite Farrell’s can’t-look-away appeal, the film’s MVP is David Tennant as a Criss Angel-esque illusionist and self-proclaimed “vampire killer.” While the update may not be quite as subversive as the original (thankfully due to more progressive times), it doesn’t diminish how much fun this update is.
7. Evil Dead (2013)
Remake of: The Evil Dead (1981)
Why It’s Good?: The Evil Dead is a landmark in renegade horror cinema, and even with 40x the budget, it would be impossible to ask anyone to replicate Sam Raimi’s idiosyncratic vision. But, despite the absence of Raimi’s personal touches and an uphill battle of legacy to climb, Fede Alvarez does a damn great job making this version of Evil Dead not only his own, but completely fear-inducing. With a grim color palette, a constantly-moving camera (not unlike Raimi), and blood by the gallons, Alvarez’s film is a marathon of unpleasantness, but it’s also impeccably crafted and made with complete confidence. Raimi always envisioned an Evil Dead remake being a launching-off point for an up-and-coming filmmaker, and after catching attention with his short, Panic Attack, Alvarez was the filmmaker for the job, and three years later, proved that was no fluke with the even-better Don’t Breathe. The setup for the new version is the same, but the execution is different in a good way, and in this story, that’s all that counts.
8. We Are What We Are (2013)
Remake of: We Are What We Are (2010)
Why It’s Good?: Jim Mickle’s low-key cannibal horror/drama is a remake really only in name and general conceit. Jorge Michel Grau’s film is more about class structure in Mexico, and in a smart decision to not appropriate those specifics, Mickle’s film is a religious allegory, pointed at the “love thy neighbor” hypocrisy in some circles of religion and how they would rather shut doors instead of open them. Bill Sage is utterly terrifying as the understated, menacing patriarch of this family, and equally as good is the late Michael Parks as the town doctor who suspects something is going on with the Parker family. There’s also strong early work from Julia Garner and Wyatt Russell. We Are What We Are is a spectacular, character-driven slow-burn, full of moodiness, atmosphere, and brief shocking moments that all coalesce into a satisfying climax. Few saw the film in the initial release, and now would be a good time to remedy that.
9. Let Me In (2010)
Remake of: Let the Right One In (2008)
Why It’s Good?: In a time where we’re spoiled that a challenging, adult horror film like Hereditary can come out and become A24’s highest-grossing release, it’s baffling in hindsight that Matt Reeves’ remake of Tomas Alfredson’s universally-acclaimed Let the Right One In performed so poorly at the box office. Close in pacing, tone, and visual language to the original with an addition of more tense, visceral moments, Let Me In may seem perfunctory for fans of Alfredson’s film, but like Pet Sematary, I choose to view it that good source material has yielded two great films. Let Me In – along with Ti West’s House of the Devil – ushered in this new era of arthouse horror. It displayed Reeves’ filmmaking chops and a master of utilizing every inch of the frame, and served as continued proof that Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee would grow up to be strong talents. And, it cannot be understated how strong Michael Giacchino’s score is, a highwire balance of terror and beauty underscoring a blossoming friendship amidst hurt. It’s a beautiful film that matches – or at least comes close to matching – its originator.
10. Suspiria (2018)
Remake of: Suspiria (1977)
Why It’s Good?: It would be easy to chalk the placement on this list of Luca Guadagnino’s retelling of Dario Argento’s masterwork to recency bias, but after three viewings (and counting), I feel confident in saying not only is Suspiria the best horror remake of the 2010s, it’s one of the best horror films of the decade, period. The driving force of the original is the “Are there or aren’t there witches?” mystery that engulfs Suzy Bannion, all underneath the neon nightmare production design and Goblin’s bombastic score. Guadagnino lets you know right up front that there are witches, using war-torn Berlin circa 1977 as the backdrop for this sprawling epic about oppression, the distortion of truth, dangers of false idols, transitions of power, and fighting for equality. It’s a dense film, but one that not only rewards multiple viewings, but also delivers on base-level incredible filmmaking. The midway contorting dance moment is disturbing, the climactic dance sequence is hypnotic, and the finale is unforgettable. The performances are all-around great, specifically Tilda Swinton (pulling triple duty) and Dakota Johnson who, along with the film, will reward multiple viewings with her nuanced, layered performance. Suspiria also plays as a loving tribute to Argento’s original and Italian horror cinema in general, utilizing techniques like slow snap zooms to emulate the feel of older giallo films while being something uniquely its own. It’s rare to have two good films from the same source, but it’s even rarer to have two masterpieces.