Don’t Remake My Heart

On a recent episode of The Highlight Reel, myself and Matt got into it (and by ‘it’ I mean a discussion which only came to blows after we went off the air) on the subject of remakes. It’s a topic that’s been brought back into sharp focus by the considerable, still-churning backlash against the Robocop reboot. Yes, the one where they paint Robocop black for literally no other reason than to make him look cool. No, really, they explicitly say that in the damn trailer. It’s this kind of attitude that means remakes, much like sequels, are an often-unfairly maligned branch of cinema. They suffer from many of the same problems as sequels (needing to be different enough to justify being made without being so different that they alienate the fanbase), only these problems are exacerbated a thousand times by the fact that they are, well, remakes. You have literally seen it all before. So why bother?

 

Well, that’s an interesting question, and one with no easy answer. I know why they do bother, of course, because Hollywood is run entirely by moustache-twirling Scooby Doo villains, but from the perspective of the fan, the mucky-faced plebeian crammed into a cinema screen, the matter can be a delicate one to touch. As a film fan, whenever you watch a film, it is a unique experience to you. Any film is subject to your own personal checklist, and the more boxes it ticks, the more likely it is that you’ll remember it and take it close to your heart (unless of course, it is a truly terrible film, in which case you remember it in the same way you’d remember a bout of malaria). If a film that you like is being remade, then there’s absolutely no way you’re going to respond positively to it at first. How could you? It’s like Hollywood went right into that brain-checklist and fiddled with it, changing and tweaking everything about that film until it’s nothing like you remember. If you liked the actors in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s pretty much no reason you’d want watch the exact same film again with different actors in, right? Get the brain-eraser out and scrub that off the checklist. That’s one black mark against the film before you’ve even watched it.

 

But which remake am I even talking about?

 

What I’m getting at, in my own torturously metaphorical way, is that a remake is onto a loser from the start, purely because it takes something you liked anyway and then changed it. It’s adding tabasco sauce onto your favourite meal. Depending on what it is and how much you spice it up, your remake can be a disaster or a roaring success. Take The Haunting for example. The 1950s original was a brilliant exercise in horror, namely because it showed restraint. The plot begged questions of the characters and the audience because you didn’t know whether there was actually spooky shit going down, or whether it was all in the sleep-deprived minds of the characters. The 1990s remake, however, didn’t have any time for that subtlety crap. Didn’t you know? By the 90s, that shit was totally gay, man. Using the Babby’s First CGI brand of special effects that plagued films in the 90s as filmmakers took to this exciting new technology like a child would take to an annoying novelty ringtone , the rejigged version of The Haunting was like an exceedingly cheap ghost train. Gone was the creeping psychological horror, replaced by Owen Wilson doing awful comic relief and shoddy, shocking-but-not-in-that-good-way pixellated ghoulies that wouldn’t even scare Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It completely missed the point of the original, dumbed it down hopelessly and added things where they did not need to be added. This approach, used by many remakes during this time (and in present day, actually) is one of several solid reasons why remakes are treated with such scepticism by audiences around the world. Hollywood doesn’t care about you, and it certainly doesn’t get you, so if it can replace subtlety and craftsmanship with waving a shiny new toy in your face for 90 minutes, it will.

 

Or is it? See, within the sprawling hellmouth that is the modern Hollywood landscape, there lie a selection of noble artists. Sleeper agents, if you will, embedded, deep cover, within enemy territory, fighting the good fight for the simple moviegoer that they once were themselves. I have a lot of time for filmmakers who are obviously big movie fans themselves – I know all of them are probably big fans to some extent, but I’m talking the weirdly obsessive, student of the game sort of fan here – and that’s why I’m a huge fan of guys like Rob Zombie (I list The Devil’s Rejects among my favourite films of all time without shame) and his work in the Halloween franchise. Now, the two new Halloween movies he made are far from perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot more important than people give them credit for. You can hardly accuse Zombie of not getting his source material when the Halloween franchise itself had descended into campy self-parody over the years. It’s little wonder John Carpenter himself looked on Zombie’s remake so kindly, as he’d seen his creation bled to a more painful death than any of Mike Myers’ victims (and people who watched The Love Guru). Hallowee-make (shut up) modernised and reinvigorated the character of Myers and almost threatened to start a new franchise all of its own, for a time. It was never going to match the original, but what it did do was provide a gateway to a generation of moviegoers who knew nothing of the original classic, and instead might only know the character of Mike Myers from his pop-culture footprint, which had largely been spoiled and demystified by years of crappy, knock-off sequels. Hell, much of this could apply to horror films in general – as the best horror films are very much a product of their time, it makes sense that they might need to be updated from time to time. The need for a new lick of paint only becomes more vital after said horror film has suffered a series of dodgy sequels, which is ultimately the fate of every successful horror film.

 

And even most of the unsuccessful ones too!

 

At the end of all that, my not-very-revelatory conclusion is simply that, like all film (and indeed all art forms) remakes need to be made for the right reasons. If they’re made for genuine reasons by an artist who genuinely wants to add something to the original, then it at least deserves a chance. Take remakes on their own merits, and don’t tar them all with the same brush, and you could be in for quite a treat. Or, at the very least, you get to like a film that everyone else hates and get a smug feeling of superiority from doing so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to defend the new Robocop on Youtube. You filthy mainstream casuals.

Horrible Horrors: The Worst Horror Movie Cliches

“That film gave me nightmares!” Now, a lot of you might think that’s a glowing review of a horror movie. I disagree. You see, to have nightmares, you first have to be asleep, and my God, there are enough horror movies out there to not only put you to sleep, but to make you wish Freddy Krueger would pay you a visit while you’re there. Like any genre, the horror movie has its fair share of clichés, which range from the boring to the downright annoying. However, half of those clichés are so played out that they were being parodied back in the 90s (in Scream), and now we actually have parodies of the parodies (Scary Movie), and even those double-parodies have probably themselves been parodied no end of times (any given ironic anti-humour show on Adult Swim). How deep does this rabbit hole go? Who knows, but your trip down there is sure to be the opposite of an emotional rollercoaster. An emotional Segway, perhaps. Made of zopiclone.

Maybe it’s just a sore subject with me right now because I recently wasted an hour and a half of my ever-shortening life (the gypsy woman told me I cop it at 25 anyway) watching The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie’s latest and far-from-greatest. Now, it was far from the worst film I’ve ever seen; it was certainly stylish, albeit heinously self-indulgent, and I’m always kind to Rob Zombie anyway as I’m a pretty big fan, but there was one particular recurring theme, running through the film like a particularly tedious version of Groundhog Day, that stuck with me longer than any creeping sense of dread I might have felt. It was a cliché. Not just any cliché, either. It was the single most vein-poppingly annoying cliché in the history of cinema: the nightmare scene. You know what I mean, the bit in EVERY HORROR FILM EVER MADE (probably) where a character has something horrible happen to them, then all of a sudden they wake up gasping and sweating like an obese fish, and – phew! – it was all a dream. This happens so many times in The Lords of Salem that I legitimately lost count, and I’m sure as hell not going back and watching it again to check. There is nothing more insulting to an audience than this, which makes it all the more puzzling as to why it happens all the time in movies. It’s cheap. It’s basically the director saying “welp, we don’t have anything actually scary to do in this film yet, so I’ll just put in this meaningless scene where this woman gets disembowelled and say it’s a dream. Time for lunch.”  It shows a lack of purpose and confidence in writing. If you want to kill of the characters, then kill them. Be as mean as you like to them – IT’S A HORROR MOVIE. Don’t dangle this carrot of horrific violence in front of me, and then yank it away because you don’t have the bottle to make any of it stick. The only time this cliché has ever been remotely entertaining is in the remake of The Wicker Man, in which Nic Cage, hilariously, has a nightmare within a nightmare and wakes up twice. Think about that. The best example of this trope is in The Wicker Man remake. Worryingly, this also means The Wicker Man may have inspired Inception. I think I’ll leave that there.

There are plenty of other ridiculous clichés in horror movies that I’m passing over, such as the trip – you know, when someone is running away from the killer or other generally unpleasant thing, and they always, ALWAYS manage to fall over somehow. Surely if you’re running for your life, the body accounts for such things? You’re meant to be nimble and agile, with adrenaline flowing through your body, not tripping over a slightly uneven blade of grass like some lonely bridesmaid drowning her sorrows on a hen party in Newcastle. Granted, sometimes the filmmakers are nice enough to actually show them tripping over something, like a jutting branch, but most of the time their ankle just sort of crumples for no reason. This is usually accompanied by a close-up of said ankle, as if to explicitly point out that you are an utter moron for believing that this could ever happen in the real world, and that even if you don’t it doesn’t matter anyway because they still have your money. It’s a cheap, insulting way to increase threat because you aren’t creative enough to have your baddies carry any threat on their own, which, while I’m at it, is probably why most horror movies are populated with headstrong, egomaniacal cretins that make Liam Gallagher look like a well-balanced, reasonable individual, who always find ways to let their own stupidity relieve them of the air in their lungs.

That trope is fairly common in zombie movies as filmmakers contrive to make a bunch of shambling, stupid, slow dead folk get literally within licking distance of your characters, which is specifically the ONLY way they can possibly kill you. It’s all about using your clichés to artificially inflate the threat level, and boy do zombie movies have to work harder to do that than most. In fact, they have a whole bunch of clichés unique to the subgenre that serve precisely that purpose. Chief among them: that scene in every zombie movie where a character is bitten, and the rest of the characters decide whether to kill them or not. “But he’s going to turn!” “What if there’s a cure?” “WE CAN’T TAKE THAT CHANCE DAMMIT, THERE ARE CHILDREN HERE!” And so on, until eventually the character dies, and turns, and there’s either an emotional Old Yeller scene where they’re put out of their misery, or they eat a bunch of people, followed by an emotional Old Yeller scene where they’re put out of their misery. Honestly, this is slightly less annoying than most others, because it’s something that I could imagine happening to me if I was caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse (and it’ll happen one day). That’s a key part of any good horror movie: getting the audience to sit uncomfortably in the characters’ shoes. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still happens all the damn time, and there’s only so many movies you can watch play out exactly the same way before you become completely desensitized to it. It’s something that has long since worn out its welcome, and the only time I’ve really seen it mined for anything like a real emotional impact was in The Walking Dead video games from Telltale, which used it to craft a superb air of menace and inevitability that was crucial to the payoff of the story.

Pictured: a zombie, turning.

Woah, that actually ascended into something resembling niceness there. Let me remedy that by getting straight into what is, by some considerable distance, the second-most soul-destroying, teeth-grinding, facepalm-inducing cliché in horror movie history behind the dream scenes. The jump scare. Oh God, the jump scare, and it’s annoying, bratty cousin, the fakeout jump scare, where the musical score builds, the character creeps through the darkened room, when all of a sudden, THE ORCHESTRA SUDDENLY STINGS AND OH GOD WHAT IS THAT oh it’s just a cat or something. Horror movies, please: stop this nonsense. Now, jump scares have their place. Executed right, they can be memorable as hell. But here’s the thing: you get ONE, maybe two if done well, before they start to outstay their welcome. Anything more than that and you are failing in trying to make a scary movie, because your audience isn’t getting scared of what’s happening in the movie, they’re just getting scared of the screechy noises blaring at them out of nowhere every 5 minutes. That’s a natural reaction, and one that takes precisely zero effort to evoke. There’s a massive difference between being scared and being startled. Anyone can startle you. It’s the single cheapest scare tactic that there is, and as such it has to be earned. Sadly, far too many movies just abuse the privilege. Put it this way: if your friend kept sneaking up behind you and yelling in your ear, would you consider them to be masters of suspense, or simply a massively annoying dickhole? More to the point, why do you have such awful friends?

 

2 very different reactions to 2 girls 1 cup.

 

Anyway, here endeth the rant on horribly annoying horror movie clichés, the only scary thing about them being that they aren’t going to stop anytime soon. There are plenty more that I’m missing, I’m sure, and many other genres have their own predictable clichés, so if there’s any more annoying tropes that really get on your nerves, feel free to comment below and we can all join the circle of hate together. Go on. Embrace the hate. You know you want to. Liking movies is soooo cliché.