Moriarty vs. the Zombie

Diane,

Today on Ain’t It Cool News, staff writer/giant geek Moriarty takes on Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake.  It’s a vicious and depressing review, and I enjoyed reading it.  If you want to, here it is.  If you just want my favorite passage from it, though:

“And I have to ask… because it’s killing me now… but at what point do executives in this industry regrow their fucking balls and actually start doing their motherfucking jobs again? If you are a development executive, your job is not just to regurgitate the easiest answer over and over and over, pilfering the shelves of whatever studio you’ve got a deal with and remaking everything while you mark time until you go do what you ‘really’ want to do. Your job is to develop material, to develop voices, to find stories worth telling and people who can do them justice. The only reason you fucking monkeys have films to remake is because someone before you… people who actually had the stones to make original material… did their jobs right and allowed these original stories to get made. We are in danger of creating an entire generation of movies that are simply retellings of someone else’s work. Is that really what we want to leave behind as the sum total of this decade of film?”

Obviously this is not quite an original thought, but those last two sentences cut right to the bone.  Next generation’s remakes will have to be remakes of remakes, considering how many of our current movies are photocopies and “reimaginings.”  It’s depressing to think about it that way.  I’ve certainly seen some startling and captivating originals in the horror genre over the last few years: “May,” which was inventive and borrowed in equal measures, and had its own voice and a compelling character – as well as a few deeply etched flaws that are hard to ignore.  “The Descent,” a movie that was not quite structurally perfect, and was a bit too glib with at least one key character, but was absolutely terrifying.  “Slither,” a throwback to latex monster/transformation movies of the 80s, sorta-classics like “From Beyond,” “Re-animator,” and the entire early Cronenberg oeuvre; but starring funny and charismatic Nathan Fillion, and featuring brand new bits like the huge ball of a woman impregnated with alien slugs and screaming for meat.  “Shaun of the Dead,” which seemed like a very tired idea on the surface (“It’s a parody… of zombie movies!”) but had a highly distinctive style and sense of humor, and introduced a man (Simon Pegg) who by all rights should be a major star soon here, like he already more or less is in the UK.  “Planet Terror,” the first wild half of “Grindhouse.”  “Fido,” a modestly amusing cross between Romero zombie flicks and the retro sensibility of “Pleasantville.”  “1408,” which was not startlingly original or scary but was certainly interesting, and featured good performances from Cusack and Jackson – at least until Jackson’s last line, which was painfully written and delivered.  “Cache,” if that counts as a horror movie – I suppose it was more of a thriller-slash-David Lynchian mindbender, really. 

Also, it was French, and not widely seen in the US.  “Shaun of the Dead” was British.  “The Descent” was British.  “Fido” is Canadian and currently playing in one or zero theaters near you.  “Slither” was under-promoted and a flop.  “Grindhouse” was an indie flop.  “May” was a minor, very qualified indie success.  Do you sense a trend here?  Of the listed movies only “1408” was a true mainstream, American release and a financial success.

What horror movies have been spat out of the Hollywood machine recently?  What have been the major earners?  Let’s review:

– “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (a remake) and its sequel/prequel
– “The Amityville Horror” (a remake)
– “The Hills Have Eyes” (a remake) and its sequel
– “Freddy vs. Jason” (a sequel to two franchises at once)
– “Alien vs. Predator” (see above)
– “The Omen” (a remake)
– “Black Christmas” (a remake)
– “The Invasion” (remake #3 of a movie that should only have been remade once)
– “Dark Water” and “The Grudge” and “The Ring” and “The Grudge 2” and “The Ring 2” (three remakes and two sequels to remakes that were, incidentally, not remakes of the originals’ sequels)
– “When A Stranger Calls” (a remake)
– “13 Ghosts” (a remake)
– “The Hitcher” (a remake)
– “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (may as well have been a remake)
– “Dawn of the Dead” (a remake)
– “28 Days Later” (an unofficial remake of the entire Romero “Dead” trilogy, with each third of the movie roughly corresponding to parts 1, 2 and 3 of that series)

In the pipeline we also have these remakes: “Friday The 13th,” “The Changeling,” “Near Dark,” “The Birds,” “Day of the Dead,” and “Evil Dead.”  What’s amazing is that there are still classic horror movies that HAVEN’T been remade in the last decade.  I’m almost afraid to mention any here, lest Michael Bay stumble across this post and get ideas.

To be fair there have been a couple of successful originals: “Saw” and “Hostel,” both quickly franchised (although quickie sequels for cash are a tradition as old as Hollywood itself).  “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” though the former was a semi-shoestring indie and the latter was still just a cult hit.  Even so, all of these stand out because they are the real things isolated in a field of shadowy reflections.  Many of the other recent, original horror movies have been instances of big name actors trying to reinvent themselves in these sort of prestige horror movies, and all of them – “Gothika,” “The Number 23,” maybe “The Butterfly Effect,” etc. – have been crashing failures.  The lesson Hollywood has learned is that stylized, jump cut-laden, desaturated, extra-loud horror remakes will make them money, and therefore anything else is not worth the effort.

It’s a fucking pity. 

In the 80s horror revival (these things are cyclical, and horror is a flower that blooms at least once a decade), there were a few remakes, to be sure.  Off the top of my head – “The Thing,” “The Fly,” “The Blob,” “Little Shop of Horrors” (although both original and remake were barely horror movies).  I’m sure there were others.  It’s worth noting that the first two of those were made by major names in horror (i.e. not Michael Bay or one of his army of hacks) and were artistic (i.e. not just commercial) successes.  And I still have a soft spot for both versions of “Little Shop.”  But putting that aside – the truth is that the 80s horror boom had a different problem entirely: Rampant Sequelitis.  If you think “Hostel 2” and Saws 2-4 were gratuitous, they had nothing on the decade that expectorated eight “Friday the 13th”s and five “Nightmare[s] on Elm Street,” not to mention a handful of let’s-pretend-that-didn’t-happen “Jaws”es that sullied the original’s good name.

Hollywood has always understood that when something unexpectedly makes a pile of cash, you exploit it until it’s a bloodless husk.  This is not new behavior.  But for a long time there was an implicit understanding between us and Hollywood: we’ll put up with your shitty sequels as long as you also take some stabs at new material in between, and show some faith in guys who have good, new ideas.  Every big horror boom in the US prior to this one was shot through with a lot of originality – often inspired by an indie film making a crapload of cash unexpectedly (“Evil Dead,” “Halloween”) and then Hollywood seeing the dollar signs and trying their own versions, or allowing the directors to have free reign.  John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg, in particular, had a few very good years with big studio backing. 

What we have now is an unsettling trend where big new franchises are still sequelled half to death (and we’re still sequelizing the original moneymakers, as well), but the in-between movies that used to be original and varied are now all homogenous copies.  There is a whole slate of movies that I can already picture the trailers for – they’re basically just like the “Texas Chainsaw” trailer, with grainy low-angle shots of Jessica Biel’s ass in a snug pair of jeans, and then there’s a loud sound and a monster and a title card that makes me roll my eyes.  Why is the horror-going public still lapping this shit up?  I realize there are a lot of younger kids who don’t know any better (many who barely notice whether something is a remake or not, probably).  But a large part of that audience is made up of people like me – aging horror geeks who have DVDs of the originals on their shelves.  We should be turning away from these movies, not supporting them.

It’s gotta stop.  Doesn’t it?

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10 Responses to Moriarty vs. the Zombie

  1. […] Moriarty vs. the Zombie We are in danger of creating an entire generation of movies that are simply retellings of someone else?s work. Is that really what we want to leave behind as the sum total of this decade of film?? … […]

  2. Ryan says:

    More and more, Jennifer and I are turning to Mass. Ave. Video and their selection of horror films, both classic and foreign. Hate to sound snobby here, but it’s the only place to go for us right now.

    And I can’t say that I’m terribly impressed with the “torture porn” of “Saw” and “Hostel.” Will something ever equal “Lair of the White Worm?”

  3. JimPanzee says:

    What about that john cusak movie. that was pretty good (and mentioning it does not take away from your post).

  4. Sorry, complete oversight. I’ll make a quick edit. I did enjoy that movie. I’m also going to add a mention of “28 Days Later” which I forgot that I wanted to make a snarky comment about.

  5. Eee says:

    What about all those GREAT sci-fi channel original horror movies, like Mansquito and Slug Attack? Those are pure gold!

  6. I can’t wait for the Michael Bay remake of “Mansquito.”

  7. Shae says:

    I agree.

    And you forgot to mention King Kong Take Three.

  8. gin rickey says:

    “We are in danger of creating an entire generation of movies that are simply retellings of someone else’s work. Is that really what we want to leave behind as the sum total of this decade of film?”

    I really don’t think this ever happens, in any genre, it always appears to happen, but then years down the road you find that there were original thoughts in whatever genre – they just may have not been displayed, marketed, or popular from whatever source we were used to getting them.

    Specifically, to this genre, and, frankly, I don’t watch many horror films – because they scare me, but aren’t there a whole slew of good original horror movies created by asian filmakers?

  9. I think the quoted statement was a slight exaggeration used to make a point. It’s unlikely that even within one genre, Hollywood would ever produce JUST remakes for years on end. But it’s increasingly likely that any “new” horror movie released by a major studio will be a remake of something else.

    About the Asian directors, yes, there has been a recent explosion of creative (and in some cases genre-redefining) Japanese and Korean horror movies. Which is why I’m talking about Hollywood, not the foreign industries. If anything this underscores the point – rather than searching for their own ideas (a la the Italians, who created hundreds of their own westerns, thrillers, and zombie movies in the 60s and 70s), Hollywood is simply remaking the Japanese and Korean hits with pretty American stars. So we get “The Ring” with Naomi Watts (though admittedly I liked both that movie and Ms. Watts); “The Grudge” with Sarah Michelle Gellar; “Dark Water” with Jennifer Connelly; and sequels to the first two of those as well. The only thing that has slowed that river of remakes is that “Dark Water” and the “Ring” sequel didn’t do that well. Supposedly a remake of “The Eye” is also in the works, which I forgot to mention in my post. Of course it may be trapped in production hell by now, or it may have been torpedoed once it was noticed that torture porn and remakes of American horror movies were turning bigger profits.

  10. gin rickey says:

    Have you read this:
    http://www.malcolmgladwell.com/2006/2006_10_16_a_formula.html
    If you haven’t, I think you’d be interested in it, since you’re pretty into movies.

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