Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Movie Remakes That Sh!# on the Originals

re-make (ree-mayk) n. Method used by new generations to shit on previous generations. See: the world of Hollywood marketing.

It should come as no surprise that I am no fan of the remakes. Fact is, you can count the number of successful remakes on one hand:  The Maltese Falcon (a remake of the earlier Satan Met A Lady), John Carpenter’s The Thing (a radical remake of Howard Hawks’ beloved The Thing From Another World, the film the kids watch on TV in Carpenter’s Halloween), Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, and… Well, maybe one hand with two missing fingers?

I once read that it is the right of every generation to plunder, desecrate, and mock the art of previous generations, and so we are gifted with hundreds of horrible remakes. Three of the worst are Jan DeBont’s The Haunting, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.

The Haunting: Less is More Vs. More is Nothing

The Haunting is famous among connoisseurs of the horror film as a masterpiece’s masterpiece (kind of like a “comedian’s comedian,” but with ghosts) because it attempted what few horror films ever dare — it does not show it. The film never explains it. The film never opens the door.

Stephen King writes in his book Danse Macabre about the Catch-22 of “Opening the Door” in horror films. One can scare audiences for quite a long time with “what’s behind the door,” but eventually one has to open the damn door. Whatever is behind that door is never as frightening as what the audience imagined. But we HAVE TO open the door…

Or do we? The Haunting never opens the door, keeps the door resolutely closed.  It is one of the scariest films ever made… it uses the power of suggestion. There is a lengthy sequence where director Robert Wise scares us with a wallpaper pattern! I am not joking.

Jan De Bont seemed to be the perfect director for the remake; he is also a master of subtlety, right?  Speed was subtle -- as subtle as a flying bus. (And Twister? As subtle as a flying cow.)

Every door that Wise lovingly locks, De Bont flings wide open, revealing ludicrous and poorly executed CGI. After all, who is better able to make these artistic decisions, i.e., who is the better director? Is it the director of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life OR the man who edited Citizen Kane and directed The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story?

Speaking of remakes, have you seen the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still? Don’t.

Have you heard Michael Bay intends to remake Citizen Kane? In Bay’s version, Charles Foster Kane is a fighting robot. A sexist, racist fighting robot.

Psycho: Clear The Aisle!

I have been bending people’s ears about the embarrassing Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho since it opened. (I have also been bending people’s fingers in a large vice and bending their wills to my own, but that is a story for another day.) Flush from the success of Good Will Hunting (ripe for another of these columns, hint hint), Universal Pictures gave Van Sant carte blanche to dig up Hitchcock’s grave, disinter his corpse, leisurely rape his corpse over the course of a week to ten days, decapitate his corpse, piss on his head, cover his head with flesh-eating maggots, turn his picked-clean skull into an ashtray, skull fuck the ashtray, and sell the ashtray skull in a yard sale for a NICKEL.

The Psycho remake is so misbegotten, so ludicrously bad, that with every frame it teaches us a lesson: Hollywood should not remake classic movies, it should remake bad movies and make them BETTER.

Disagree with me? Imagine a David Lynch written and directed remake of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Imagine Martin Scorsese remaking any Michael Bay movie.

I know.  I win.

Some random thoughts on the Psycho remake:
  • When I first saw it, it made me throw up.  My body rejected the film like a bad kidney.  I am not making this up.
  • Everything Tony Perkins suggested with his masterful portrayal of Norman Bates in the original film, the remake’s Norman, Vince Vaughn, ruins by making insultingly specific. During the scene where he spies on Marion through a hole in the wall, Vaughn noisily masturbates like a zoo ape. Maybe this is just something Vaughn naturally does (shudder). Also, there is something fundamentally wrong about Vaughn being funnier here than he was in Four Christmases and less creepy here than he was in The Dilemma.
  • The remake sticks so close to the original script that the few changes are jarring: the word “Jello” instead of “aspic;” $400,000 in stolen money instead of $40,000; Marion Crane is thrown headfirst into a chipper-shredder instead of being killed in a shower. Okay, I made up that last one. She is actually killed by Jason Voorhees. Spoiler alert!
Gus Van Sant adds nonsensical cut-aways during the film’s classic highlights. Subliminal shots of clouds and cows are added to the shower murder. Because for fifty years audiences have complained, “Yeah, that shower scene in Psycho is OK, but you just add some clouds and cows, and you would really have something, Mister!” (We softly hear the sound of someone spitting tobacco juice into an empty Coca-Cola can). On a podcast last October, Patrick Bromley and I vowed to call this film Clouds and Cows.

Planet of the Apes:  Tim Burton Secretly Hates the Things of His Youth

The worst of these three has got to be Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Most remakes are unnecessary; this one is completely unnecessary. I recently saw the original Planet of the Apes at the Music Box*; it still plays beautifully. The audience loved it.

We all know Tim Burton’s childhood could not have been easy. I have a theory, which I discussed in my previous essay, The Nightmare Before Christmas and the Crime Against Humanity. I think Burton is secretly trying to destroy all of the things he once treasured in his youth: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Helena Bonham Carter.

Considering what he did to it, he really must have hated Planet of the Apes with a hot, hot hate — a hot, hot, molten hate that will not go away and will not abate!

In a nutshell: Tim Roth can overact even under pounds of restrictive makeup. Helena Bonham Carter attempts “flirty” and “sexy” moves as an ape but the results are really “sickening” and go “against” the “laws of nature.” Paul Giamatti collects a fat paycheck to wear an uncomfortable rubber mask for a few weeks. Rick Baker collects his 172nd consecutive Oscar for best make-up. We are all a little less alive.

I assume that you, gentle reader, have seen the original Planet of the Apes if you are reading this column.

You say that you haven’t seen Planet of the Apes?  Well, go watch it.

Now.  Go watch it NOW. That’s an order. The rest of us will wait…

(Whistling, humming.)

Did you go and watch it?  Good.  Then we can continue…

The original Planet of the Apes has one of the most famous surprise endings in movie history. I would feel really bad about giving it away, but the film’s first DVD release gave it away ON THE BACK OF THE DVD CASE! Here it is...

Astronaut Charlton Heston thinks he is on another planet run by apes. At the end of the film he comes upon the Statue of Liberty, half buried in the rubble of a nuclear explosion. All along, he has been back on Earth. Fade to black.

In the crazy and unnecessary remake, Mark Wahlberg goes back into space, re-lands on Earth, and the Lincoln Memorial is now a statue of an ape. Fade to black as the audience leaves the theater to roam the parking lot, gather big rocks, and break into smaller subgroups to better hunt down Tim Burton and stone him to death.

Seen it before? Do not see it again. See a new movie. Problem solved. You’re welcome!

* The Music Box Theatre, the Happiest Place on Earth.


  1. I'm curious about your opinion on Philip Kaufmann's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I thought was quite successful and works for completely different reasons than the original Don Siegel version (a movie I love, though I wish the movie ended on the closeup of Kevin McCarthy). I'd also argue that Cronenberg's The Fly is also very successful, again for different reasons than the Kurt Neumann original.

    Another sucky remake, not because it's a horrible film (just a poor one) but because the original is so damn good is The Jackal starring Bruce Willis and possibly the worst fake Irish accent to appear in film (aka Richard Gere). A superb film with an equally superb performance by Edward Fox about a cat and mouse game between an assassin and the French is reduced to an absolute mess about a plot to assassinate the First Lady (WHAT?!?). My "favorite" change: Fox's rifle that is designed to be hidden inside a car's exhaust system and a crutch becomes a computer-controlled artillery turret. Barf.

    And to leave on a controversial note, I'll just say that I HATED Scorsese's Cape Fear.

    1. Although the Fox version is superoir, I always liked the Willis version of the "Jackal".
      First and foremost because he gets the chance to kill Jack Black with that oversized bullets - something I wished I could do while suffering through his scenes in Jackson`s King Kong Remake.

  2. Good call on both Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which has been remade THREE TIMES, I think, and that doesn't count the "unofficial" remakes) and The Fly.

    I actually think there are a lot (ok, maybe not a lot, but more than two) of successful remakes, just very few that are superior to the original version. JB doesn't make that distinction here, but I THINK that's what he meant.

    I like Cape Fear -- don't love it -- but I totally get why it would rub someone the wrong way.

  3. Don't you talk for me, Patrick Bromley!

    Yes, I agree with Carl's first point. Trouble is if I had listed all the remakes I like 1) it would have been boring and 2) I would not have been able to use that hilarious "missing fingers" joke. Every film Philip Kauffman ever made is great. Hear! Hear!

    I too think there is a lot to like in Scorsese's Cape Fear. The disturbing scenes between DeNiro and Illeana Douglas and DeNiro and Juliette Lewis, for starters. The reworking of the original score too.

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply, and thank you for reading my column.

  4. You're welcome.

    Oh, you were talking to Carl.

  5. JB: re: Kaufman -- even Rising Sun? (granted, he was hindered by one of Crichton's less-successful books).

    I think the biggest thing that bugs me about Cape Fear is its emphasis on the blood/assault/etc. moments just highlighted how the original did so much more with less.

  6. Oh, boy! I completely forgot Rising Sun was part of the Kaufman filmography. Let's call it the exception that proves the rule?

    Also, I agree with you about Cape Fear. The best moments are the most subtle (i.e. DeNiro's finger in Lewis's mouth, shudder).