The Re-imagining, Re-making and Re-jigging of the Horror “Classic” – A Guest Essay from Laurie Bachman.

So, today as I sit here watching yet another iteration of The Grudge (2020) I find myself thinking about when a remake has ever broke the “it’s probably going to be bad” mould. Don’t get me wrong the movie has some appeal, I got more than a little giddy when Lin Shaye (Insidious) popped up and delivered her cracking performance of broken, desperate and disturbing. The opening was filled with the right amount of “don’t go there”, “oh my god don’t look in that” and rounded of with “jeez woman, what were you thinking stopping there!” But this all fizzled into cliche upon cliche of cheap tricks and thrills that felt all too familiar. It is the kind of movie I would have normally fallen in love with, it followed the Japanese rules of story telling, it presented the viewer with a great reward system of watch and scream, but something was missing, something was distinctly lacking to give it that scream factor.

I wondered if it was cast dynamics that were the problem, I don’t know if it was trying to see passed John Cho as Harold and take him seriously in this role, I had the same issue with both Star Trek and The Exorcist (tv series). The same John Cho had presented the audience with a brilliantly disturbed portrayal in the Exorcist, he had managed the impossible to weave a believable shift from every day saint, in his role raising and protecting a group of foster kids, to the steady decline and ultimate possession which had been incredibly satisfying and believable to watch. But no this wasn’t it either. There was just something off, the movie was good, I gave it a full watch. But something just didn’t sit well. Instead of switching off after the credits and forgetting about it, I began to wonder what exactly made the movie Meh.

Then I got to wondering about the “remake factor”! Or as I have come to affectionately term “not another bloody one”. I am a serious nut for horror, sci-fi, fantasy; don’t get me wrong I also love a good classic, romance and martial arts movie too, but horror is by far the genre of choice when it comes to almost every movie choice. I don’t discriminate either, I have watched everything from grind house to hostel, from Nosferatu to Halloween. But my favourites are always the “foreign” horrors, the outside Hollywood crowd. The Japanese, for their spine chilling scares and intricate stories of vengeance, and Guillermo Del Toro for his majesty in weaving together both fantasy and horror into one satisfying plot line and character developing master piece. But horror has now become remade and reimagined central.

The one thing that I cannot embrace about my beloved genre is the trend for remaking the classics. The remake actually started as early as 1953 with House of Wax, which was a ‘reimagining’ of Warner brothers 1933 movie The Mystery of the Wax Museum, staring Fay Ray (the original scream queen) and Lionel Atwill. The 1953 Vincent Price classic is probably the one people will know and love and follows one of the few exceptions to the rule that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It was remade again in 2005 with its sole redeeming feature being a particularly gross and satisfying demise of Paris Hilton’s insidious character (nothing against Paris Hilton, I’m actually a huge fan). It hailed a decent cast of Elisha Cuthbert (Girl Next Door, 24) Jared Padeleki (Supernatural, Gilmore Girls) and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls) the casting was designed to appeal to a certain kind of teenage fan girl base and thus the gore, story telling and death scenes all reflected this. It lacked the sinister and eerie feel of its 1953 “original” and thus failed in its retelling of a dark and gothic tale.

August 2007 was a bleak one for me, the year that horror could have died. Scout Taylor Compton saw fit to don the mantle of Laurie Strode with the “reimagining” of John Carpenters classic Halloween. I almost didn’t make it to the end, it felt like a bad acid trip meets a train wreck to produce a gore fest that no matter how hard you tried you just could not look away from! It was truly horrendous. Jamie Lee Curtis in her shining debut brought innocence, majesty and some serious kick ass girl power to her role as Laurie, something that was seriously lacking in Scot Taylor Comptons performance. Michael lacked the same level of depth, although you received a rare insight into the thoughts and motivations of the killer in the 2007 reimagining, you didn’t quite feel that foreboding when you saw the boiler suit and painted William Shatner mask. It felt off from start to finish and I couldn’t even “push through” the second. This coming from the girl who managed to sit through a second and third viewing of Jason X.

So before the prosecution rests I would like to call one third and final witness to the stand, the remake of the “foreign” horror.

The Japanese are known the world over as the technological giants. The hub of futuristic technological developments that are awe inspiring, I adore them for another reason, their cinema. The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye there are more, but these three have undergone the Hollywood treatment, and as a result have forever been marred by their western counterparts.
The Ring and its subsequent sequels were directed by Hideo Nakata, an absolute powerhouse in Japanese horror, he was responsible for Dark Water (2002) Monsterz (2014) Ringu 2 and many many more. He has a unique eye, and makes strong use of angling the camera to give that sense of the audience being in the scene. Everything appear off, but in a good way. A disjointed, vertigo inducing manner of storytelling that drags the viewer in.

This involvement of the audience means you go from viewing to participation and increases the level of enjoyment derived by the viewer. There has yet to be a Hideo suspense scene that hasn’t thrown me behind a cushion, or left me wondering if that pile of clothes in the corner of my room has just moved. These movies have a way of lingering, like some deranged, masochistic after glow lasting long after the movie has ended. The Hollywood remakes lacked that feel for me. It lost a lot in translation from one audience and retelling to the next. The thrills and suspense just seemed cliche and predictable. The acting lacked realism and the camera work attempted to emulate that of its Japanese counterpart yet it lost out and instead felt disjointed and jarring. There was no participation it was simply watching a tale unravel before you, get a moment of “oh Jeez” and then the moment was gone. No after glow to be felt or found.

I had a similar experience with the Eye (2002) one scene, in the music room with the ghost clinging to the ceiling and then shrieking toward the camera will go down as one of my all time favourite scares. Having watched it in the cinema on the big screen, surround sound the sudden silence, broken by the scream, it was bone chilling in its delivery. Yet Jessica Alba (2008) failed to provide the same level of storytelling and delivery. Bar a shift in setting it was almost scene for scene in its retelling, yet each scene failed to capture that same sense. That same beauty but also desperation, fear as it’s Japanese counterpart.

Finally, The Grudge or Ju-On. The original (2002) was created by Takeshi Shamizu, and that sound, that “oh my god sh**s about to fly” sound. You know what I mean. I went through a phase as that being my ringtone, a sick level of enjoyment could be found on the rare occasion I received a text. The movie focuses on the tale of a curse born out of the murder of a wife and child and death of the husband due to a suspected infidelity. You move into the house you die, you leave the house to go somewhere else the curse moves too. I have a thing about evil things sliding unnaturally across a floor or roof, of coming down the stairs on all fours.

This movie has all of the above, I loved it. It was one of those movies you watch once, enjoy the scarefest and then leave the hall light on for a month afterwards. It is now and always will be my favourite Japanese horror, it was remade in 2004, with Sara Michelle Geller playing the title role, the main difference this time is Takeshi Shamizu returned to direct for a western audience and I must say I was not disappointed! Again it was almost scene for scene in its retelling, it captured the same sense of holy hells you get with the original. The only thing I think let it down was choosing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to play the lead role. She got a little lost, and didn’t quite live up to the scream queens that came before her but other than this the movie didn’t suck. Well until 2006 happened and we were presented with The Grudge 2 which did indeed suck and I refuse to write any more about this particular travesty of horror.

So does a remake work? Only when you use the same everything, this worked for the Grudge when it “westernised” it’s story to reach a wider audience. I think this is what was lacking in the 2020 version, the thrills were there, the scenes were there but it lacked the original spark. As for the final decision I will leave that up to you, me I’ll always take the original Vincent Price.