Friday, October 27, 2023

Notes on Film: The Last House on the Remake Discourse

 by Anthony King

Back to basics.

If you'll allow, some news at the top...

Life is a'changin' over here at the King house. With both boys playing hockey and yours truly attempting to play hockey we're at one of the five ice rinks in town five nights a week now. Plus with Dear Old Dad back to work, this has led to some sacrifices. The first being that I'm not sitting on my fat ass for hours on end and watching four movies a day. The other casualty of the hockey life is my podcast, Cult Movies Podcast. While I'm not saying it's officially dead, CMP will be lying dormant for the next several months. While I'm a little sad about it, this was an easy decision to make in order to be the biggest cheerleader for my children.

Now, while I'm now longer watching 50 movies every month, I'm still managing to squeeze one in every day. After all, cinema waits for no Hockey Dad. And with no audio outlet to bloviate about all the wonders of film in which I partake, I'm bringing the old format back. For those new to NoF, it's a bit like the “Have you seen anything good lately?” portion of FTM. I'll catch you up on what I've been watching and then I'll cull some sort of topic out of thin air. (Originally, this column was born out of my love for Jonas Mekas' "Movie Journal" column in The Village Voice. Anyways, for god's sake, let's get on with it!
A few weeks ago I declared my “plan” for Scary Movie Month. To no one's surprise, that plan has been left in the dust. Earlier this month we had a scary moment with our cat where he spent a few nights in the emergency room; we had a major home improvement happen much earlier than expected; and read above for everything else going on. With the anxiety brewing inside my body to volcanic proportions, I decided I needed absolute comfort food for the time being. And the time being has lasted all month. Vibes became the name of the game. First up is Roger Corman's The Terror (1963), a simple story that becomes the most ludicrous-sounding thing by the end. With a cast of six that includes the great Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, and Dick Miller, and a director list that includes names like Francis Coppola, Nicholson, Monte Hellman, and Jack Hill (on top of Corman), this is as Corman as a Corman picture gets. Nicholson plays Andre, a French officer in Napoleon's army at the beginning of the 19th century who becomes lost along the coast and rescued by a beautiful woman (Knight). He is brought to the cliffside castle of Baron von Leppe (Karloff), whose wife had died under mysterious circumstances years before. The Baron lives with his butler, Stefan (Miller), and pines daily for his lost love. Andre is convinced the woman who rescued him was the late wife of the Baron. As the mystery unfolds things are revealed that left my wife and I literally saying out loud, “What the fuck?” The illogical aspects of The Terror make the logic in Fulci films seem like documentary. While a few moments dragged, I found The Terror to be super fun and interesting. And with the trio of Nicholson, Karloff, and Miller, you can't really go wrong. The Terror is streaming on Prime, Tubi, Kanopy, and a dozen other places.
John Llewellyn Moxey's The City of the Dead (1960) is a film I watched for two reasons. The first is that I've been having to watch movies a little later at night than normal for me so short runtimes are high selling points to me. The second reason is that it was brought up on Pure Cinema a while back and it was brought up on my show as well. At 78 minutes and a tagline that reads “300 years old! Human blood keeps them alive forever!” I was the prime target for this thing. Christopher Lee plays a professor of the occult at a New England university. After mentioning the sleepy town of Whitewood, MA, and a mysterious motel called the Raven's Inn, his student, Nan (Venetia Stevenson) decides to road trip and do some on-site research. She begins to uncover the truth while exploring the town, but before she knows it, it's too late. Her brother, Richard (Dennis Lotis), becomes concerned about the whereabouts of his sister and heads to Whitewood where, along with the town librarian (Betta St. John), reveal the truth about the town's history and fight the damned. The City of the Dead is a total mood piece filled with the thickest fog ever committed to film. You can stream it on Tubi, Kanopy, Freevee, and elsewhere.
The vibes continued with Sidney Lanfield's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as the trusty sidekick Watson, Richard Greene as the young Baskerville, heir to Baskerville estate. When I was in first grade, I expressed my interest in reading mysteries (of course I didn't read mysteries; I just said I did because my mom was always reading Agatha Christie), so my teacher, Mrs. Price, a tall and slender and elderly woman from England, gifted me her copy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, a weathered hardback book. I remember trying to read it but the language simply didn't make sense to my six-year-old brain. Finally, at 41, I watched the first time Rathbone and Bruce portrayed our detective heroes. Like most of what I've been watching this month, this film is full of classic, spooky vibes. Lush black and white photography, amiable characters, and fog (Oh, the fog!) made this an immediate comfort watch. The story follows young Baskerville as he arrives from Canada to take charge of the estate left to him by his late uncle. Meanwhile, mysterious deaths keep occurring on the moors surrounding the estate, so the local detectives employ the expertise of the greatest sleuth in the world (and Watson). The film is just plain fun. You can find it streaming on Kanopy and Tubi.
Now to the topic at hand. While most of my SMM watches have been older films, I finally popped in one of the latest releases from Arrow. Dennis Iliadis' 2009 remake of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left was a film I had no intentions of seeing since its initial release. While I love Craven's original, I never thought a remake of his seminal revenge exploitationer was warranted. My thoughts on remakes have since shifted, and I decided to give the film a spin. Iliadis has updated Craven's film to be a bit more palatable. It's shiny and new and doesn't have the film grain that seems to be such a selling point when people talk about their favorite exploitation films. Yet The Last House of the Left '09 could easily fit right alongside the films of the New French Extremity. Films like Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day (2001), Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (2002) are just as much art films as they are exploitation film, Last House '09 could easily be programmed alongside films like Pascal Laugier's Martyrs (2008), David Moreau's and Xavier Palud's Them (2006), Alexandre Aja's High Tension (2003), and Alexanre Bustillo's and Julien Maury's Inside (2007). These (including the American film) are all glossy films with intentions to disturb. Last House '09, while a remake of a classic genre film, can stand on its own merits, proving that not all remakes are shit.
This, of course, is a “no duh!” type of statement. We all know the ones that have done it right. John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) remain the gold standard of great remakes. The next tier might include Chuck Russell's The Blob (1988), and Paul Schrader's Cat People (1982) among others. Mind you, I'm speaking only of horror remakes. Not too long ago I was of the populace who counted all remakes (barring those mentioned above) to be worthless trash. All remakes. Oh how naive I was. And angry about something that ultimately doesn't matter. Folks, honestly, who gives a shit if someone decides to remake your favorite movie? I haven't seen Exorcist: Believer (2023) yet, but judging by all the negative reactions I already know I'm going to like it. That's just the way my brain works.

(Allow me to venture down a rabbit hole momentarily. I was in the car the other day and I heard Tracy Chapman's “Fast Car” come on. Except... what the fuck was this shit??? It was some country ass covering Tracy Chapman. Now, normally I'd have the same thinking I do about a movie remake: who gives a shit. Plenty of bands have covered plenty of songs and ruined them and I never thought twice about it. Except for some reason this version of “Fast Car” raised my hackles. Cover anyone you want, any song you want. But you DO NOT touch Tracy Chapman. I'm not even a huge Tracy Chapman fan, but I believe “Fast Car” to be one of the greatest songs ever written. Back to movies.)
As I look at this Letterboxd list in front of me simply titled “Remakes,” I see several that I like, if not love. Andrew Douglas' The Amityville Horror (2005): really good with incredible performances from Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Philip Baker Hall, and Chloe Grace Moretz. Breck Eisner's The Crazies (2010): it's widely accepted this is superior to George A. Romero's original. Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009): like him as a filmmaker or not (I love him), you can' argue that RZ puts his own vision on screen every time, whether it's his original story or not. Aja's The Hills Have Eyes (2006): I prefer this to Craven's and it affects me every time I watch it. Patrick Lussier's My Bloody Valentine (2009): while the original is disgustingly Canadian, this one is disgustingly American, and I like both equally. Gus Van Sant's Psycho (1998): I'm with Patrick on this one. Franck Khalfoun's Maniac (2012): while the original is an exploitation masterpiece, I love with Khalfoun did here, and Wood is so fucking believable as Frank (different, but as believable as Spinell's interpretation).

There are plenty more good, if not great remakes. These are just a few of my favorites. So, while I think the remake discourse is actually just something pretend on Twitter, it's always worth mentioning movies we love.


  1. I love that Anthony is able to write about and celebrate the brutal sleaze I like.

    1. Thanks, Frank! I love that Patrick let’s me write about whatever I want!

  2. I was wondering what had happened with Cult Movies Podcast. It's great and healthy that you take the time to focus on what is more important, but if it ever gets booted up again, I'll definitely be looking forward to listening again.

    Not movie related, but I'm glad you're sticking with the hockey. Hope you're enjoying it. It's a great sport. I nearly "retired" this summer, because in my late 40's it seemed like I was injuring myself more than having fun. But I decided to continue and am having my best season ever. Hope it's working out to be as fun for you!

    1. That’s amazing, Paul. My dad always had a standing Friday night pick up basketball game, so I like to think I’m continuing the tradition. It’s great exercise for my big butt. And I appreciate the love for CMP. Hopefully I can get it up and running sooner than later.

  3. The Exorcist is one of my favourite movies. But that didn’t mean I was angry at the idea of a remake or a sequel. One of the sequels is also one of my favourite movies… And I think the ideas in The Exorcist are ripe for remake or reinterpretation. I was optimistic for Believer. But ooof. It’s a mess. There are ways I think that it is disrespectful to the first movie (they basically call Father Merrin and Father Karras sexist at one point), but on a story level it’s frustrating. There are some good ideas, but also a lot of missed opportunities. I like the idea of a leader of a different religion (I want to say Santeria?) performing the exorcism - but they only half ass that idea and then toss it to the sidelines. I like the opening scene and that it’s about the choice the father had to make - but the way that pays off at the end is kind of comical and borders on pro-life propaganda. Maybe that's reading too much into it, and taking into account the times we're in right now, but regardless the payoff still doesn't wor. And there were just lots of moments that I felt like screaming at the characters to DO SOMETHING. There’s a nurse present during the exorcism who does absolutely nothing when people get injured or when someone’s heart stops beating. PERFORM CPR! IT’S LITERALLY WHY YOU’RE HERE!. I get it, there are lots of toxic fandoms where remaking something is seen as offensive… But I think a lot of horror fans know that remakes can be great - even recent ones like Last House and Hills Have Eyes. And I think mostly we just want good remakes. Exorcist Believer is not a good remake, or sequel… It’s barely a functioning movie. And I don’t have much faith the next 2 will course correct. But I hope they do! I want good possession movies! I can count the good ones on one hand I think.

    Anyway, thanks for reading my unhinged rant in response to literally 2 sentences you wrote in a long and thoughtful article, lol