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This weekend sees the release of José Padhila’s fanboy-baiting remake of Robocop, toning down the gore of the original to an audience-friendly PG-13. Padraic Coffey takes a look at five of the most egregious examples of hardcore films being remade with a tamer audience in mind.
5. Prom Night.
In the recent (and now thankfully waning) glut of horror film remakes, no classic was sacred. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street… all were subject to inferior reinterpretations which upped the gore quotient while sidestepping the innovation of what had come before. Paul Lynch’s Prom Night may have been a minor entry in the stalk-and-slash cycle of the late Seventies/early Eighties, but it did boast Jamie Lee Curtis turning the virginal social recluse image she had mustered in Halloween on its head, as the Prom Queen in waiting. There was also some neat capitalisation on the then disco craze exemplified by the enormously successful Saturday Night Fever. And of course, as befitting its R rating, an axe-wielding killer with a penchant for dance floor decapitations.
The only capitalisation in Nelson McCormick’s 2008 PG-13 Prom Night was with its title, pilfered from Lynch’s film, telling an entirely unrelated story and, most unforgivably, doing so in a bloodless fashion closer in spirit to She’s All That than Scream. Despite the presence of a post-Stringer Bell Idris Elba, this is one to avoid.
4) The Ring.
Alongside The Blair Witch Project, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu is arguably the last great horror film of the 1990s. Grossing over $137 million dollars in its native Japan alone, it committed images to celluloid – such as the spirit of murdered schoolgirl Sadako emerging from a television set – which had World Cinema aficionados sleeping with the lights on. However, mention The Ring – its translated title – to the average filmgoer and chances are Gore Verbinski’s 2002 reinterpretation will spring to mind faster than its forerunner. This is not to suggest that Verbinkski made an absolute turkey with The Ring. Nonetheless, it is symptomatic of a larger problem in Hollywood; the propensity to rehash foreign-language staples with inferior remakes which in turn overshadow – or at least taint by association – their source material (for further examples of this see Spike Lee’s recent Oldboy or Matt Reeve’s Let Me In).
It perpetuates the notion that English speaking audiences are incapable of a task as strenuous as reading subtitles – something disproved by the record-shattering turnouts for Mel Gibson’s Aramaic-language The Passion of the Christ or the Mandarin-language Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. And with a PG-13 rating, there is little here to frighten hardcore horror fans.
3) The Fog.
John Carpenter created some of the best independently-financed genre films of the Seventies and Eighties, and despite a string of flops at the turn of the century (Escape from L.A., Vampires, Ghosts of Mars), his legacy remains intact. This may change, however, if Hollywood continues to remake most of his early oeuvre, earning him a pretty penny in residuals no doubt, but compromising the raw aesthetic of Halloween or Assault on Precinct 13 with big-budget glossiness. The Fog, though not his finest achievement, was nevertheless a genuinely frightening ghost story, featuring several jump-out-of-your-seat moments characteristic of Carpenter.
Rupert Wainwright’s 2005 remake – which Carpenter regrettably produced – had the dishonour of winning Least Scary Horror Film at the ‘Stinker Bad Movie Awards’ in 2006, curated by veteran film critic Emanuel Levey. The original was rated R. The remake is PG-13. Let that be a lesson.
2) Total Recall.
While it remains to be seen whether fans will take José Padhila’s PG-13 remake of Robocop to their hearts – though early internet rumblings prove it unlikely – it’s worth remembering that this is not the first time one of Dutch madman Paul Verhoeven’s films has been subject to a toned-down revamp. Les Wiseman – who had already neutered the once-brilliant Die Hard franchise with 2007’s Die Hard 4.0/Live Free or Die Hard – took Verhoeven’s gore-soaked sci-fi classic Total Recall and repackaged it with Colin Farrell in the lead (a more convincing Everyman than Arnold Schwarzenegger, admittedly). A budget of $125 million meant studios weren’t taking any chances, and a teen-friendly PG-13 certificate resulted in us losing the severed arms and gouged eyeballs of the original. It made its budget back, but was not the smash hit Columbia may have hoped for. Who’s the Wiseman now, eh? (sorry….)
1) The Wicker Man.
An Oscar-winning actor reduced to a walking punchline, starring in a remake of one of the most beloved of all British horror films. What could go wrong? As you might expect, everything. The original Wicker Man – like Blade Runner or Oliver Stone’s Alexander – has been subject to multiple re-releases and versions of varying length, yet few are divided on its status as a chilling classic (film journal Cinefantastique dubbed it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”). Neil LaBute, who is a filmmaker of some talent, ill-advisedly took it upon himself to update Robin Hardy’s original from Britain to the United States, toning down the horror to PG-13 levels. The result was greeted with no small amount of derision. A compilation of unintentionally funny clips entitled ‘Best Scenes From “The Wicker Man”‘, uploaded to YouTube in 2007, currently boasts over four million views. Altogether now… “Not the bees! Aaaaaargh!”.