Complaining about remakes is a lazy, fish-in-the-barrel sport. Any scribe can and has done it, especially, one suspects, when ideas are otherwise running low. But remakes are on my mind thanks to a recent encounter with a particularly bad one, so screw it, I’m ruminating.
Received wisdom posits that remakes are inherently a bad thing, on a par with sequels (but even more morally suspect, depending on the quality of the original film), and a sign of creative stagnation in the film industry. This is true as f…r as it goes, but there are a couple of factors we should bear in mind. Remakes of a kind have been around almost as long as there have been movies. There were, for example, multiple versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the beginning of the 20th Century. And remakes do not have to be artistically bankrupt exercises. The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fly are perfect examples of films where their directors have taken good (or classic) films and gone in an entirely new, fresh direction, creating works that are, in point of fact, new originals in their own right.
One is always suspicious of projects, though, which revisit films that were done properly the first time around. (Will Rob Zombie really be able to find something new to say with Halloween?) That suspicion is proven correct when one encounters pointless, shot-for-shot rehashes of Psycho and The Omen. Remaking a movie that wasn’t that great in the first place is, on the face of it, a potentially promising idea: this time, the thinking might go, we’ll do it right. And in the case of The Thomas Crown Affair, that’s exactly what happened: a ponderous, miscast effort becomes a light-on-its-feet delight. The Amityville Horror, on the other hand, manages to take a mediocre film and replace it with a terrible one.
And now, just out on DVD, comes Black Christmas. Last summer I railed against the remake of The Wicker Man. That travesty now has a rival which, like it, betrays a fundamental incomprehension about what made the original work so well in the first place. That basic mistake leads to a chain reaction of risibility. This killer in the original Black Christmas remains deeply creepy to this day thanks to the most sinister sound design this side of The Exorcist and a total lack of explanation. When, for example, we hear the killer snarl “Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby?” over the phone, the most disturbing surmises are raised the audience’s mind, but exactly what the killer is talking about (and indeed, who he is or what he looks like) is never revealed. Result: one chilling final fade to black.
The remake, by contrast, feels the need to explain not only who the killer is, but who the baby might be, and the MO. Result: boringly repetitive killings (made even less frightening by their cheesily overdone gore) and a plot that, by trying to explain everything, becomes convoluted, silly and dismissible, losing all of the beautiful simplicity of the original. Toss in a set of characters that one is completely unable to tell apart, let alone sympathize with, and a work of complete futility is achieved. High five, boys. Great success.
Why do I have the horrible feeling there’s a lot more where that came from?