Every dog has it’s day, or so the saying goes. Unless the dog is a movie, and that movie is a wholly unnecessary remake of a beloved classic. Then that dog should probably be taken out to pasture, a bit like Old Yeller. I jest of course, some remakes should simply not be (re)made at all. The reason they end up being green-lit is often as daft and terrible as the final product; a passion project for a A-list actor/director, sheer folly or, most likely, the chasing of the almighty dollar (adjust currency as appropriate).
Nonetheless, we’ve mined the bottom of the bargain bins (or top, depending upon your point-of-view) to bring you 10 of the worst remakes ever to have disgraced the silver screen. Remember, we’re doing this so you don’t have to…
Audaciously pointless. While it takes some serious self-belief to not only tackle a Hitchcock masterpiece, but film it (almost) shot-for-shot, one wonders what the point was? Constant remakes and re-imaginings have become the norm nowadays, but 20 years ago it seems that the best way to pay homage to this particular classic was to copy it in its entirety! I’m being facetious, of course, but surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, given the source material, Psycho does work. Where it falls down, like Milton Arbogast collapsing down the the stairs of the Bates house-on-the-hill, is in Vince Vaughn’s portrayal of Norman Bates, which never quite succeeds in convincing that he’s the ultimate ‘mommy’s boy’ Director Gus Van Sant called Psycho an experiment. To the rest of us it’s either an abject failure or an interesting curio.
Though by no means the worst film in the list; where there was something approaching pathos in Dudley Moore’s incarnation of the alcoholic playboy, Russell Brand never quite achieves the same heights. A shame given his less than salubrious history, as Brand was almost perfect casting in that respect and could have brought a real gritty honesty to the role. Even Helen Mirren in the Hobson role, previously played by Sir John Gielgud doesn’t fare half as well as her predecessor, though he did get all the best lines. In one particularly wonderful passage, Hobson meets one of Arthur‘s lady friends who barely utters ”Hi.” His response is clipped, brutal and beautifully rendered: “Yes. You obviously have a wonderful economy with words, Gloria. I look forward to your next syllable with great eagerness.”
King Kong (2005)
A slightly contentious inclusion given that Peter Jackson could do no wrong following The Lord of the Rings trilogy (is this where I mention that I didn’t really care for those either?), but King Kong – aside from being a CGI fest – committed the cardinal sin of monster movies: it kept King Kong in the wings for over an hour. At three hours long, we’re Kong free for a third of the movie as we meet and spend a LOT of time with the actors, including a dreamy Naomi Watts and Jack Black, gurning for all he’s worth. The original’s more streamlined 100 minutes meant that Kong had to appear pretty quickly and that works in the film’s favour, as opposed to Jackson’s bloated effort which feels like every minute of its running time. Yes, it’s technically spectacular and well acted but give me Fay Wray and a stop-motion Kong any day.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Less a remake, more a re-imaging of the source novel by Roald Dahl, this nonetheless qualifies as a remake simply by virtue of its natural comparison with the Mel Stuart-directed original. Unfortunately, this does the film no favours at all. Gene Wilder’s spiky, sarcastic, yet ultimately benevolent Willy Wonka (aided and abetted by some of the greatest musical numbers ever committed to celluloid) is a world away from Johnny Depp’s oddly unsettling version, all shimmering teeth and Michael Jackson voice mannerisms. This fell in the middle of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham-Carter period of films during which Depp, for all his talent, took his quirky characterisations into the realm of the downright irritating, and Willy Wonka was no exception. Also, let’s face it: “August Gloop, August Gloop, a great big greedy nincompoop,” is no match for, “Oompa Loompa, doopity doo.”
The Wicker Man (2006)
Why? Just why? Now, it’s a given that Nicholas Cage isn’t averse to taking an acting gig, often any acting gig, and he should be commended for NEVER phoning it in. But this execrable excuse for a film, let alone a remake of one of the great folk horror movies, is one that surely, surely should never have got past the pitching stage. And yet it’s bursting at the seams with stars, including the aforementioned Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Aaron Eckhart and James Franco (the latter two, admittedly, in cameo roles). The Wicker Man, despite its intentions, come across unintentionally comic and that is perhaps the only way to get through the film. And, dare we say, enjoy it?
Where to start? As an avowed fan of the original, and with a morbid interest in remakes of sacred cows, I was curious to say the least when this was originally announced. I wasn’t keen on The Devil’s Rejects and hadn’t seen The Lords of Salem back then (I have now and it’s by far Rob Zombie’s most interesting film) but I didn’t have any preconceived notions other than Zombie would seriously have to go some to get even close to John Carpenter’s masterpiece. As it turned out, he didn’t even get close to Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers! Ok, once again I jest, but this re-imagining failed in every department with the exception of its sheer brutality and basic competency. Zombie created Halloween as a grimly unpleasant Grindhouse flick, but he forgot to introduce any characters for the audience to give two hoots about. Each and every one is unpleasant and unsympathetic, which leads to the worst possible outcome; indifference.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Truth be told, I was never a huge fan of the 1981 original, though I’ve always appreciated its charms. For me it has to be practical effects over CGI every time as I’ve yet to see a film utilise the latter more effectively than in the first Jurassic Park movie. The original, featuring some of the great Ray Harryhausen’s best work, is a masterclass in practical stop-motion effects. Sure, it’s dated and clunky but it still has a charm that the 2011 effort most certainly will not have when under consideration over thirty years from now. It’s difficult not to scratch one’s head and ponder how the filmmakers took a relatively simple story and turned it so….wooly. Then, of course, there was the erroneous decision to release the remake in 3D. That aside, it also lacks the sheer board-creeping thespian power of Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, et al. Not entirely the fault of the filmmakers, obviously, given that Olivier is long dead and Dame Maggie Smith is in her Eighties, but even the relative might of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes can’t save this one.
Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street took a sub-genre running out of ideas and gave birth to a cerebral take on the slasher genre, and a new villainous (and highly marketable) anti-hero to boot. It’s true that Freddy Krueger went from shadowy, vicious ‘man of your dreams’ to a rather more family-friendly MTV baddie over the course of the series, but nobody was prepared for a reboot quite this bad. In his defence, Jackie Earle Haley* makes a fairly convincing Krueger, but that’s where the good news ends. It’s not just that the remake is not a patch on the original, it’s that A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) is not a good film. It’s not scary, the characters are little more than fodder and the whole thing just feels tired. No wonder the kids kept falling asleep.
*Incidentally, Jackie Earl Haley was briefly considered for the role of Glenn, Nancy’s doomed boyfriend in the original. The part eventually went to Johnny Depp.
Charm must be absurdly difficult to replicate. Tom Holland’s 1985 original had it in spades. Everything about the film worked, from the script to the performances to the special effects. Adults of a certain age (myself included) cite Fright Night as a nostalgic wonder that stands up brilliantly to this day, and the poster is one for the ages too. But what about the remake? Well, it works, as a standalone film but as a remake it takes everything good about the original and, fittingly for a vampire film, sucks the life out of it. Colin Farrell as Jerry Dandrige is charmless, though certainly a more volatile presence, the late Anton Yelchin is uniformly good as ever, but something is lost in translation in Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s incarnation of Evil Ed (which should have been perfect casting), and a Las Vegas magician rendering of Peter Vincent (David Tennant) decks the whole thing in a gaudy shimmer that is so out-of-kilter with the original that the idea of re-imagining seems like the result of a drunken bet. That the sequel went straight-to-DVD should tell you all you need to know about the future of the franchise. Perhaps Tom Holland has other plans when the rights return to him next year…
Just. Boring. Even the 1998 Matthew Broderick-starring version attempted to entertain the audience. This po-faced effort tries to be too much of everything; too serious, too important, but ends up being too long with too little Godzilla. I’m not defending the Nineties version, by the way, but I view blockbuster films through the prism of my children’s experience with them: for better or worse, they loved the Roland Emmerich version and were bored to tears by Gareth Edwards’ effort. Does that make it a better film? No, but nor does it make the more recent one more worthy, simply because it’s clearly geared towards adults and ostensibly more cerebral. Probably best to head back to Gojira (1954) and start all over again.
What are your least favourite remakes? Feel free to vent your spleen in the comments box below.