Remake. Reboot. Re-imagining. Not unlike George Carlin’s “seven dirty words,” these terms are taboo amongst cinephiles, and they are especially triggers for horror fans. But not all remakes are alike.
Sure, the balance is skewed, but for every ten crap fests like The Fog remake, a gem like The Thing comes around. So here they are, folks: The top ten best horror remakes!
NOTE: I excluded two great near remake films: The Evil Dead (2013), as many consider it a sequel, not a remake; and IT (2017), since it technically is a new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and not a remake of the 1990 miniseries.
10My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)
I missed this one in theaters and, by all accounts, the 3D effects were pretty solid (this was before the 3D renaissance really took off). Jensen Ackles, for all you Supernatural fans out there, stars as the mysterious Tom Hanniger in this remake of the 1981 Canadian slasher. Although this modern update remains pretty faithful to the story of the original, there are some minor changes here and there, but the beats of the story are essentially the same, including several of the kills.
Speaking of the kills, there are some pretty gruesome deaths here (the shovel decapitation and the jaw removal stand out), accomplished primarily via impressive practical effects. Big kudos are also due for the casting of horror legend/icon Tom Atkins as former sheriff James Burke. It’s nothing revolutionary, but compared to most tired horror remakes, My Bloody Valentine is a fun, gory, and bloody good time!
9Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Makeup and effects guru Tom Savini made his directorial debut (and, until recently, his only feature directing gig) with this remake of George A. Romero’s iconic 1968 groundbreaking zombie flick. For anyone, remaking such a major classic would be a tall task, but especially so for a first-timer. Savini does a nice job, though, putting his own touches on this new go-around (it also helps having Romero pen an updated screenplay for Savini to work from).
Drawing on his background, Savini goes full throttle on the gore and zombie effects, with great results. The character Barbara is given an upgrade as well, going from the traditional damsel in distress in Romero’s film to more of a strong, Sarah Connor-type here. Horror vets Tony Todd and Bill Moseley give the movie some added credibility with their performances. And lastly, there is the switch from black and white to color, which for some may hurt the film’s scariness factor, but for others (especially modern audiences) is a welcome change.
8The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Hyper violent hillbillies horribly mutated by a government nuclear testing site terrorize a Middle America family traveling in an RV that breaks down in the New Mexico desert. Do I have your attention now? Alexandre Aja, director of modern-day horror classic High Tension, deftly helms this remake of Wes Craven’s 1977 original.
The film plays off everyone’s worst fears of being vulnerable in an isolated and unfamiliar situation with your family in tow. Aja masterfully creates a sense of unease and utter chaos with a frenetic pace and an unnerving musical score. The plot and characters are essentially the same as the ‘77 version (some dialogue is even repeated here), but the brutality and mutant makeup are ramped way up, to great success. As hard as it is to believe that Aja could improve on horror master Craven’s work, he actually manages to pull it off!
7Friday the 13th (2009)
To say I’m a huge Friday the 13th franchise fan would be a massive understatement. I saw my first Friday the 13th movie, Part 3, in theaters in 1982, when I was 4 (it was a different time). I was immediately hooked and I’ve been a fan and collector ever since. So it’s safe to say that I was more than a little skeptical about a modern-day remake of my beloved Friday films. And, although, this movie has its share of haters, I’m not one of them. I really dug it!
Sure, there’s no Kane Hodder and the kills, for the most part, were standard fare. But I liked the tweaked concept (Jason as a survivalist protecting his turf) and stylized look. Marcus Nispel took elements from the first four Friday films and melded them into a solid, entertaining re-imagining of the story. The near 25-minute pre-title sequence, in particular, is really well done (it’s basically a self-contained Friday the 13th movie within the movie). The cast is so-so and the acting is nothing to write home about, but Derek Mears’ take on Jason is surprisingly strong. If you dismissed this on the first go-around, I say give it another chance.
6The Fly (1986)
In the 1950s, many horror movies were produced with the theme of alien invaders or giant mutated monsters (often animals or people transformed by radiation or science gone wrong). 1958’s The Fly falls squarely into the latter class. However, unlike most of its contemporaries, The Fly was a minor masterpiece of suspense and tension building.
David Cronenberg’s updated take on the film followed most of the beats of the original (scientist inadvertently merges with house fly after using teleportation device), but his trademark gross-out effects differentiate this version from the earlier. Deviating further from the original formula, inventor Seth Brundle (played by thespian/national treasure/deity Jeff Goldblum) slowly transforms into the titular creature, which works to amplify the horror of the situation. Your mileage may vary as to which version you prefer, but there is no doubt that Cronenberg’s easily holds up to (and maybe even surpasses) the quality of the source material.
5Dawn of the Dead (2004)
DC Universe guru Zack Snyder (wait, come back! This ISN’T Batman vs Superman!) made his directorial debut here with a stylized remake of George A. Romero’s classic zombie flick. The movie kicks things off with a terrifying, adrenaline fueled pre-credits opening, followed by a terrific title sequence set to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.” The screenplay by James Gunn (director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise) is unrelenting and quickly paced, rarely allowing the audience time to catch their breath.
Snyder’s film is slicker and a bit more comedic in tone than Romero’s original, but this does not detract from the overall result. Some great performances (particularly Modern Family dad Ty Burrell) and a killer soundtrack (Richard Cheese’s cover of Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness” steals the show) round out this stellar effort that kick started the current (and maybe fading) zombie craze.
4The Blob (1988)
Of the small handful of successful remakes of 1950s creature features, The Blob is the least critically acclaimed and yet my favorite of the three on this list. It’s not the best of the three, but I tend to revisit it the most, possibly because it represents that ’80s horror vibe that many of us grew up on with it’s mix of gore, effects, humor, and oddball characters. In other words, it translated very well to repeat VHS viewings!
The Blob’s effects still hold up fairly well, if not a little cheesy at times. The kill scenes also really deliver with their over the top, almost comical brutality. A young Johnny Drama, er…Kevin Dillon, and Shawnee Smith (The Stand) add greatly to the movie with their performances, as does a fun, tongue-in-cheek script filled with snappy dialogue (courtesy of screenwriter Frank Darabont of Shawshank, The Mist, and The Walking Dead fame).
3The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
One of my all-time favorite horror movies is Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic. The film’s low-budget, grainy quality, and rural setting produced an almost documentary-like tale of terror that captivated my attention instantly. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s brilliant opening prologue (narrated by Night Court’s John Larroquette) also created the illusion that the events actually occurred, which only added to the feeling that we may be watching something a little more “real” than we are comfortable with. Marcus Nispel’s (yeah, that guy again) 2003 edition carries over many of the elements of the first flick (complete with prologue voiced once again by Larroquette), but it also takes more than a few liberties with the material.
Gone are the crazy family members of the first (Grandpa!), replaced with a slightly less deranged family. Gunnar Hansen’s almost-childlike Leatherface from Hooper’s film is now a maniacal brute portrayed by former bodybuilder Andrew Bryniarski. And, of course, there is the welcome addition of lunatic, loose cannon Sheriff Hoyt, portrayed brilliantly by the late R. Lee Ermey. Although it isn’t the slow burn of the original, which built to an insane living nightmare finale, Nispel does a fine job of creating an unbearable tension throughout the movie. It’s certainly not the masterpiece that the original is, but I definitely enjoyed this remake of one of my favorites way more than I expected to.
This is maybe the most overlooked movie on this list, possibly due to the cult status of the original film. But boy, is it awesome! I mean, who doesn’t want to see Frodo brutally stab someone 20 times and then scalp them? A remake of the 1980 slasher flick, Franck Khalfoun’s film stars Elijah Wood as timid, yet violently unhinged serial killer Frank Zito. Frank is tormented by a childhood in which he was forced to watch his prostitute mother have sex with johns (I know, right?). What really stands out here is an almost entirely first person point-of-view from the killer’s perspective that, along with an excellent electronic synth score that recalls ’70s and ’80s grindhouse, creates a deeply foreboding tone and relentlessly uneasy tension.
In a sharp departure from his usual roles, Wood’s performance as Zito is quite remarkable, particularly because the POV the film employs greatly limits his on-screen time (we only hear his voice and see his actions for most of the movie). There are several long stalking sequences that add to the overall dread and some truly horrifying kills, such as a very graphic scalping and a strangulation scene that uses Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” to great effect.
1The Thing (1982)
“Yeah, fuck you too!” That line pretty much sums it up. John Carpenter is undoubtedly one of the true masters of horror and suspense, so it should come as no surprise that his remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World is pretty universally considered a masterpiece. The Thing takes place at a research outpost in Antarctica and centers around a parasitic alien that assumes the form of it’s hosts/victims. Playing off themes of paranoia and distrust, the film creates a tense atmosphere where no character (not even the damn dog) can be trusted.
The practical effects of the movie are among the best ever captured on film and they really bring the horrors of the monster to life. Kurt Russell, a Carpenter favorite, is outstanding as R.J. MacReady (of course he is! He’s KURT EFFING RUSSELL!) and Keith David, another John Carpenter player, shines as well. Fast paced and unwavering in it’s carnage, The Thing keeps you guessing all the way to the end!
Love ’80s horror? Keep reading!