13 horror remakes that don't suck

The word “remake” strikes terror in the hearts of the most hardened horror fans. No wonder, as Hollywood has been churning out rehash stinkers nonstop. But a remake doesn’t have to be bad, and some of the horror redos listed below even surpass the original films!

Every day this month we're bringing you a different Top 13 list from the world of horror. You can find them all here.

House of Dracula (1958)

Note: Spoiler above if you haven't seen the movie.

Though the 1931 Dracula boasts an iconic performance by the hypnotic Bela Lugosi, the talky film itself has become hopelessly dated. This color remake, by Britain’s trendsetting Hammer Films, still hold up nicely as an exciting and well-mounted film, dripping with Gothic atmosphere, bodacious bosoms, bloody vampire action and a rousing finish. Christopher Lee portrays the screen’s greatest Count, sensuous, menacing and with an undeniable presence that he successfully parlayed into a series of follow-up films. Ditto the superb Peter Cushing as Drac’s nemesis, the indefatigable Van Helsing.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Reinventing the Jack Finney source novel and 1956 Don Siegel film, writer W.D. Richter and director Philip Kaufman wisely took the story of alien incursion from its small town American setting and placed it in a major city, San Francisco, where the already dehumanized population barely notices. An excellent cast (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy) face off against the pod people, and the shock ending will haunt you for days. Look for a cameo by the original’s star, Kevin McCarthy, and avoid the awful Nicole Kidman version, The Invasion, at all costs.

Cat People (1982)

Underrated at the time of its release, this erotic horror film garnered brickbats for abandoning the subtlety and suggestiveness of the classic 1942 Val Lewton edition. Director Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver) instead piles on steamy sex and gory violence in this story of a woman (the sensuous Nastassja Kinski) who turns into a black panther when aroused. Evocative synthesizer score by Giorgio Moroder (Flashdance) and David Bowie’s end titles song help compensate for some story deficiencies.

The Thing (1982)

Also loathed at the time of its post-E.T. release, respect for this John Carpenter-directed remake continues to grow. Unlike the still-fabulous 1951 adaptation, Carpenter’s Thing hewed closer to the John W. Campbell’s root novella Who Goes There? Antarctic scientists (and helicopter pilot Kurt Russell) battle a shape-shifting alien and each other (the paranoid humans don’t know who’s who) in this much imitated film. The eye-popping transformation FX have yet to be equaled, even by 2011’s CGI-heavy prequel of the same name.

The Fly (1986)

Canadian “body horror” auteur David Cronenberg tops the silly sci-fi shenanigans of the popular 1958 version of The Fly. A nerdy scientist’s transporter experiment goes awry when he tests it on himself and a bug gets mixed in with his reconstituted DNA. With Oscar-winning makeup FX, lead Jeff Goldblum undergoes a horrific metamorphosis that had audiences grabbing for supersized cans of Raid. But even underneath pounds of goop, Goldblum never loses touch with his character’s humanity. Produced by funnyman Mel Brooks!

The Ring (2002)

Warning: The cursed tape is above. Watch at your own risk!

This hit, derived from the Japanese sensation Ringu (1998) about a cursed videotape, spawned a wave of American language remakes of Asian horror flicks. Whereas most of the others failed to illicit shudders, The Ring never loses track of its moody, spooky and restrained origins. A solid Naomi Watts stars as an investigative reporter trying to get to the bottom of a deadly urban legend that has ensnared her young son. Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) avoids cheap thrills to concentrate on mining flesh-crawling chills and fearful apprehension. This is one videotape you can’t erase!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Before it opened, no one thought this Michael Bay-produced remake could compete with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 landmark, but, surprisingly, it’s just as unrelenting and frightening as the original. This redux grimly recaptures the feel of the older film (helped immeasurably by encoring cinematographer, Daniel Pearl), while taking the story in different directions. Chainsaw family villains R. Lee Ermey and new Leatherface Andrew Bryniarski cut deep as powerful figures of terror. And that’s Night Court’s John Larroquette doing the narration, just like he did (uncredited) on the ’74 movie.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Hardcore horrorhounds wanted to eat director Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn alive when Universal announced they would not only be redoing the seminal George Romero ’70s film, but they’d abandoned its slow-moving zombies for fast ones. However, Snyder’s dynamic Dawn emerged as a worthy reinvention, with stronger characters and scarier situations (especially the opening with the zombie kid), plus a pounding pace. After this, Snyder traded in walking stiffs for troubled superheroes (Watchmen, Man of Steel).

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Wes Craven, who helmed the initial Hills in 1977, produced this update and hired gutsy French frightmeister Alexander Aja to direct and co-write. A story of a family stranded in the desert and preyed upon by a mutant cannibal clan, Aja’s movie tops Craven’s with its sheer intensity and uncompromising vision. He draws intriguing parallels between the city and desert folk, and the unsettling creature makeups (by Walking Dead’s KNB) will put you off from taking that summer road trip.

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

The same year’s mediocre Friday the 13th reboot got all the press, but My Bloody Valentine not only beats Jason’s new jaunt it also vastly improves upon the 1981 ValentineSupernatural’s Jensen Ackles toplines as a young man reluctantly revisiting his hometown just as a pickaxe-wielding maniac begins a reign of terror. Gruesome 3D splatter FX, clever direction and a good whodunnit plot guarantee a bloody good time from My Bloody Valentine.

The Crazies (2010)

Romero redone again! His under-budgeted 1973 horror thriller (about a government bio-weapon accidentally introduced to a small town’s water supply that drives everyone psycho) gets the refresher course this time. Besides the requisite bloodshed, director Breck Eisner wisely plays up old-fashioned Hitchcockian suspense, as we question who’s crazy and who’s not. Plus we ponder, what’s worse, the fast-spreading epidemic or the remorseless military goons sent in to contain it?

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

We welcome another enhancement on its forebear, an obscure 1973 TV movie. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark sees young Bailee Madison trying to adjust to life at her estranged architect father’s spooky Gothic mansion, where a horde of gremlin-like creatures live in the shadows. Produced and co-written by genre wunderkind Guillermo del Toro, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark weaves in several of the same themes of childhood and the supernatural previously explored in del Toro’s Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone. And the film’s imaginatively-realized little critters give plenty of reasons to be afraid of the dark.

We Are What We Are (2013)

The most current film on our list takes its inspiration from a 2010 Mexican film, about a family of city-dwelling cannibals whose predatory lifestyle becomes unglued when the patriarch dies. Director Jim Mickle’s new take moves the story from the bustling metropolitan setting to rural Upstate New York, and throws in a more femme-centric plot, a fanatical religious undercurrent and allusions to the infamous Donner Party incident into the proceedings. This grim, unsettling companion piece ends with an edge-of-you-seat feeding frenzy that will have you screaming for seconds.

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