All right, I know this horse is so dead it’s glue, and I’m one of the killers, but after calling for a remake last week, I have to at least go on record with my extreme dread over some others coming down the pike.
My principle in this series has been to look at films that were botched the first time around, but nevertheless contained a germ of something that might actually blossom into a wonderful piece of work, given the right team. Meanwhile, there are some projects that sound wacky enough that they just might work, but don’t (hello, Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man). And then there are those that are doomed from the start.
With the possible exception of the announced Suspiria retread, no project sounds more misbegotten than the proposed remakes of Val Lewton’s classics from the 1940s. Specifically, I am failing sick to my stomach at the thought of I Walked With a Zombie, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam and The Seventh Victim being given the treatment by, of all people, Twisted Pictures. Now, all of this information is pretty preliminary, and who is developing what is subject to change and error, and these films may never come to be. That would be nice.
I mean, let’s consider the mismatch. Twisted Pictures is best known for the Saw franchise. They are intimately associated with the torture porn subgenre. True, the Saw boys did take a stab at something a bit more subtle with Dead Silence, but that didn’t exactly qualify as quiet horror.
And what are the characteristics we associated with Lewton? An almost esoteric level of culture: I Walked With a Zombie reworks Jane Eyre, Isle of the Dead is inspired by the Arnold Bocklin painting of the same name, while Bedlam takes its production design from Hogarth. The films are deliberately paced, and while very little on-screen violence is ever scene, an beautifully poetic sense of horror and dread suffuses the films. They are not only the best horror movies of the 40s, they are among the best horror films ever.
Now, when was the last time you used the words “beautiful,” “poetic” and “Twisted Pictures” in the same sentence? That’s what I thought. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a terrible beauty associated with the gore film. The best of Argento demonstrates that there is. There is enormous power in the likes of Inside (about which more another time). And the Saw movies, to their credit, achieve a certain compelling aesthetic of their own, when they aren’t getting bogged down by ridiculous plot convolutions. But come on, guys, leave Lewton alone. You want projects that will grant a certain literary cachet to your enterprise? Dig up some scripts for plays that were staged at the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There’s the torture and gore that you specialize in, plus these things are old enough now to look classy.