Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

It's no secret that horror remakes (or any remakes at all) rarely deliver the goods. Fan outrage, CGI weariness, and confusing retconning have ruined more than one classic slasher flick, to say nothing of all the lovably cheesy haunted house films of the 50s and 60s. We could blame the studio system for this, but in reality, the reason these remakes get made lies with us. Maybe not the core horror community, but certainly the movie-going public at large.

There are three solid reasons why horror remakes don't live up to the original. The first is that it's near-impossible to make the hardcore fans happy. Even if the new film was good, it would get torn apart because the director who created the story wasn't involved. We all know that the Star Wars prequels were gigantic wastes of celluloid, but prior to the release of The Phantom Menace, anticipation was huge. Do you think the fanboys would have been anywhere close to that excited if Lucas wasn't at the helm? A good remake is a rare and wonderful thing, but there will always be enough nerds around to convince us that it's not as good as the first one. And they're almost always right.

The second reason is CGI weariness. I'm old enough to have seen computer animation grow and evolve from its rough beginnings to the photo-realism we experience today. What was extraordinarily difficult or expensive a few short years ago now takes only a monitor and a mouse. Problem is, even the most ignorant viewer knows when they're looking at CGI. There's no movie magic when everything onscreen is math and pixels. The horror films from the 1970s and 1980s were full to bursting with creativity and practical effects. It wasn't real, but it sure looked and felt real. There was a connection between the audience and the world of the movie. You can't watch Halloween or A Nightmare On Elm Street and say "wow, that looks so fake. Did they even use a real set?" Unless, of course, you're watching the remake. This is another reason why the prequels were so bad. Everything was too perfect, too clean. The acting wasn't convincing; when all they've got around them is bluescreen, how could it be? CGI should be used to enhance the story and support sets and effects that are already in place. Guillermo Del Toro is the one director that comes to mind who knows how to use CGI right. Watch a featurette on the effects in Pan's Labyrinth and you'll see what I mean.

The third and most poignant is also the most basic: We don't like having our memories altered. Attractions at Disney parks have lasting popularity because they almost never change. Imagine going on a ride when you're eight years old, returning to it months or years or decades later, and being able to have the exact same experience you did before. That's some powerful psychological stuff. Which is why it's so maddening when people who don't understand what they've got change it. We can't relive our memories, not precisely as they happened anyway. But movies are frozen in time. Watch a flick you haven't seen since 1992, it'll be the same down to the end credits. Bad remakes cheapen our memories.

Now, we could say that we just won't watch these piss-poor films being churned out. If only it were that easy. Remakes are big money right now in the horror genre, especially watered-down American versions of foreign films. People are going to keep paying to see them because they either don't know better, or don't really care. We need to educate the masses about real horror films, ones that don't rely on lazy scripts and overblown CGI. Movies that can actually scare them. Spread the word, fellow fiends. We've got a long hard battle ahead of us.

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