Why are there so many horror-film remakes? Here's why: Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Those titles immediately say something to a movie watcher, regardless if they're a casual fan of the cinematic arts or a seriously hard-core movie buff. These are "name brands," if we're being honest, and just because some of those remakes turn out to be good movies, the truth is that virtually all remakes are conceived with commerce in mind, not art.
But then there are the true horror fans, those who recall some pretty decent scary movies from their childhood, but when they go to revisit a flick like, say, Wes Craven's Shocker (1989), they realize that nostalgic memories are sometimes better left unmolested. In other words, there are lots of old horror movies that have a pretty cool hook, location or premise -- but are clearly lacking in other departments. So I thought it might be fun to look at six horror films from the 1980s that aren't "name brands" like Psycho and Chainsaw, but could actually benefit from from a fresh retelling -- provided the storytellers actually know what they're doing.
Evilspeak (1981) -- This silly but resoundingly vicious Carrie knockoff is about Clint Howard in a military school full of unbelievably evil bullies who kill his puppy so he hails Satan using a 1980 Commodore 64. Honest truth. We'd probably have to upgrade the hardware, change the scene in which a naked woman is eaten by a boar in the shower, and (yes) lose the slain puppy moment altogether. But if the Carrie remake proved there was still a little fuel in the "adolescent vengeance" tank, then this nasty little obscurity could provide a nice gender switch. Obviously we'll need Clint Howard in some sort of cameo role.
Fade to Black (1980) -- This is actually another one of those "misfit teen finally fights back, and then some" stories (a lot like Carrie and Evilspeak, sure) but it's got a novel hook that could actually work with modern film freaks. Fade to Black stars Dennis Christopher as a movie-obsessed misfit who loses touch with reality and doles out some severe punishments while dressing up as characters such as Dracula, Hopalong Cassidy and the Mummy. I fully acknowledge the irony of a movie buff pining for a remake of a horror film about a psychotic movie buff, but I just want to see a slasher dressed up like Neo, Austin Powers and Borat before I die.
The Funhouse (1981) -- Tobe Hooper's original film certainly isn't terrible; it has a creepy location and a decent enough mutated killer freak, but aside from a few jolts and splatters here and there, it's not what a horror buff would call any sort of classic. The plot is typical haunted-house material, only the house is an empty (?) funhouse and the ghost is a shrieking lunatic, but there's something innately creepy about a carnival after dark, and a remake of The Funhouse could fix some of the original movie's slow spots and remind us why we never really trust carnies.
Hell Night (1981) -- Just as Evilspeak and Fade to Black have pretty similar DNA in the plot department, The Funhouse and Tom DeSimone's Hell Night are so similar they'd actually make for a solid double feature. This one's about a bunch of college kids who force some fraternity and sorority pledges into spending the night in a truly creepy-ass mansion. Of course there's an inbred mutant psychopath hiding in the basement, but we get to have some misdirection fun with all of the "fake scares" that the frat brothers have planted throughout the house. Like The Funhouse, Hell Night gets to be sort of a haunted house movie for the first half, which is atmospheric and creepy, and then (since we're dealing with mutant freaks instead of ghosts) we get to enjoy some slasher-style carnage once things go crazy.
Alone in the Dark (1982) -- What we have here is a "home-invasion/slasher flick" combo that precedes all of your Strangers and Purges and You're Nexties. A bunch of insane lunatics escape from an asylum and terrorizes the home (and family) of the doctor they think is evil. What makes this one potentially fun is in the casting. It'd be hard to top a madman ensemble that includes Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasance and Erland van Lidth, but man it'd be pretty fun to try. What is it with maniacal cliques these days? They're all so drab and moody. The Alone in the Dark psychos were fun!
Season of the Witch (1982) -- aka Halloween III: Season of the Witch -- I altered the title just a little to prove a point: if you remove "Halloween III" from the title of this film, people would probably like it a whole lot more. John Carpenter's original plan was to use "Halloween" as the subtitle for various seasonal horror films, but given that the first two movies had Michael Myers as the villain, well, fans in 1982 were none too thrilled with this bizarre diversion. But it's actually quite the badass little horror movie that goes off in a variety of super-strange directions. It's about a Celtic cult that plans to kill all of the country's children by turning their brains into snakes and insects through the use of evilly magical masks.
Trust me, you need to see Halloween III: Season of the Witch to understand how dark, weird and nasty the film is, but those who know the movie well would probably agree that the whole "Silver Shamrock media saturation" hook could be transplanted remarkably well to the Internet era. Use the "killer masks" premise and the ominous material regarding the actual history of Halloween, but you could also start from scratch in other departments. And this time around, don't call it Halloween III. Don't call it Season of the Witch, either. People might think it's a remake of that goofy Nicolas Cage movie, and nobody wants to see that.
Which 1980s horror films do you think could work as a remake? You're not beholden to the "money titles" like Halloween or Friday the 13th. Just a scary flick you like that could still use a little improvement. Give us your answers below or on Twitter.
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