Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Hello, class. In our recent How To’s we’ve discussed following a movie, whether that was with one movie or more, or even a movie that follows a movie but actually tells a story that occurred before the original movie.

Sometimes however the sequel well runs dry. It is either tapped out or was dry to begin with. But there’s still money to be made from familiarity. Originality is scary, uncharted territory but making something that has the same name as something else? That’s basic bread and butter stuff.

So, today, we’re talking remakes. Now before you all recoil in disgust remember that a remake can be a good thing.

For example, Scarface. The original Scarface was made in 1932 by Howard Hawks and is basically a movie about Al Capone with the names altered. When the movie was remade in 1983 the setting and time period was drastically changed, and  Scarface 1932’s scenes of implied violence were replaced with intensely violent chainsaw tortures, nudity, and heavy, heavy drug use. Both films are similar and very different at the same time. They each follow the same basic plot beats but Scarface 1983 is not hemmed in by the Hays Code so it can show crime as something less about people being shot in silhouette and more about Robert Loggia getting shot in the stomach. It is effective because each movie can stand by itself and has something to say (1932: Don’t let gangsters take over/1983: The ’80s were crazy) and your enjoyment of each is not reliant on having seen both.

Horror  films are the ripest fruit for a remake. They are usually pretty simple stories and fear is the universal constant. And yet they are usually rubbish. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre have all been remade with varying degrees of failure, and will probably all be remade again. Modern versions of these classics fail for a variety of reasons: the bad guys have become such cultural touchstones that they aren’t frightening anymore, they try too hard to give the monsters a tragic back story, they aren’t gory enough for modern audiences, they are too slickly made–losing the lo-fi charm of the originals, they are made by hacks, and the very concept of a slasher movie has been dissected, parodied, and improved upon, making them relics. When it comes to horror movies, fresh is best. The reason Saw, It Follows, Blair Witch Project, and the original versions of the above slasher movies were so popular with audiences was because they were something new and scary.

The difference between these horror remakes and a movie like Scarface is that even though there are a lot of similarities between Scarface ’32  and Scarface ‘83, they are also vastly different. Like two  different countries with only a planet in common. The trick to a remake is not to make you long to be watching the original, but to be like a good cover song. Same notes, different instruments, two great songs.

Next week we will be talking about reboots, the remake’s occasionally charming sibling.