Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shocktober Revisited: Four Reasons to Remake Obscure Horror Films

Welcome to another installment of Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium. Tonight I'll have a few preamble-ish comments, followed by what I hope will be a brief addressing of a question I posed long ago: "why are studios remaking such random horror movies?"


One blogorium reader was kind enough to point out to me that the spaces do count in that "140 characters max" on Twitter, which renders my little experiment moot. It also proves to me that I could in no way give you reasonable feedback on movies using that ridiculous site.


To be honest, I understand why the remake happens. I don't necessarily like it, but rather than harp on its downsides - as the Cap'n usually does - I thought I'd take the opportunity to look at the pluses of this trend, because there are a few.

Big name remakes make enough sense; repackage a title that's well enough culturally recognized (your Friday the 13ths, Nightmare on Elm Streets, Halloweens, Texas Chain Saw Massacres, and so on), throw in a dispensable cast of Abercrombie and Fitch models-turned-CW-stars, and pay lip service to the "classic" original producers know their target audience doesn't watch because it's "dated" and "stupid", and voila - big box office pay off. I get that.

We've moved in a different direction, though: one you get past the "top tier" remakes, rather than simply go for the comparably well known second tier movies (your Critters, Phantasm, The Exorcist*), studios are jumping for lesser known "cult" films. In the past seven years, we've seen The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, Prom Night, Terror Train, Black Christmas, April Fool's Day, My Bloody Valentine, It's Alive, The Crazies, The House on Sorority Row, The Stepfather, The Fog, The Wicker Man, The Toolbox Murders, and When a Stranger Calls.

Not exactly part of the cultural zeitgeist, I'd say. Horror aficionados? Sure, but hardly the kind of movie everybody knows immediately. I can say "Freddy Krueger" and people who haven't seen A Nightmare on Elm Street. If I say "The Tall Man", it's 75/25 against, but I guarantee you most people couldn't name the killer in most of the above slasher films. In fact, I'm willing to bet that a solid 2nd-tier title like Creepshow is mostly unknown to the masses.

So why turn to such obscure films for remakes? Name recognition falls off steeply after The Last House on the Left, so let's look at four other reasons (besides "it's cheap"):

1. The Days of Video Store familiarity are almost at a close - meaning that the era of familiarity with "cult" horror films, or even more obscure titles like The Crazies, The Stepfather, and The House on Sorority Row are coming to an end. The DVD market, also winding down, is so packed with releases of "cult" horror films (not to mention Blu-Ray reissues, as Blue Underground has been devoting themselves to) that it's very easy for these once-recognizable films to lose shelf space.

That wasn't really the case in the golden age of VHS. Speaking strictly from personal experience, Carbonated Video and Video Bar had rows of horror films with lurid cover art, facing forward so that you always knew what it was you were in for. Go to Best Buy and try that. Their horror section (at least here) is packed in tightly between the end of "Drama" and the beginning of "Boxed Sets", with every movie scrunched together, spine forward. Unless you know what you're looking for, it's up to the title of the movie to do the work for you, and while I might think about looking twice at something called Bloodsucking Freaks or Gore Met: Zombie Chef from Hell, I never missed those titles at the video store.

2. Attention Spans are Getting Shorter and the Market is Getting Larger - It's very, VERY easy to find a dozen horror titles from the last year you've never heard of. Seriously, now that DVD distribution can get every zero-budget slasher / zombie movie a review on the major web sites, the older films get lost in the shuffle, no matter how revered they are. The frequency of releases and the relative obscurity of some of the titles even makes me mistake a movie like Street Trash for a movie like Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, chronology-wise.

When I have to remind people that a movie from last year - The House of the Devil - even exists, imagine how tricky it is to keep the horror neophyte abreast on The Burning. Or jeez, Visiting Hours, which I don't even like that much! There are simply too many horror movies that somehow never made it to DVD that should, because the VHS copies are getting harder to find. However, if a studio remakes the film, we get to reason number #3

3. The Original Film Gets Its Day in the Sun - Oh sure, it may not be for very long, but consider the fact that until The Stepfather remake was on its way to theatres that you couldn't get a copy of the original on DVD. There was an out-of-print copy of the sequel, but the very fact that a remake was happening ushered the release of both Terry O'Quinn Stepfather films in special editions, which might have eventually happened, but until that point had not.

The same applies for The House on Sorority Row (albeit several months later), Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine (in an uncut version to boot), The Gate, Child's Play**, The Crazies on Blu-Ray, and (I would imagine) is coming for Piranha, Suspiria, Patrick, The Brood, I Spit on Your Grave, Maniac, Fright Night, and Night of the Demons.

Even if you aren't planning on seeing the remakes (and I think I've seen two in the last year - Friday the 13th Shit Coffin and My Bloody Valentine 3-D), it was nice to be able to pick up the originals on DVD and Blu-Ray in something a little better than "bargain bin" editions. In fact, this leads me to my final point, one that might seem tangentially related, but -

4. Other, Lesser Known, Horror Films are Also Being Released "Just in Case" - There may be no plans to remake Night of the Creeps, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Maniac Cop, Two Evil Eyes, Silent Night, Deadly Night, or Monster Squad, but they've been slowly but surely coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray in between releases of movies that are being remade. As much as might might seem annoying, the remake mania opened up the market for older, "cult", titles to get their own special editions, on the off-chance somebody decides to option them. How else do you explain video nasties like Cannibal Holocaust getting a two-disc edition, or Faces of Death on Blu-Ray(!)?

This gives me hope for those films yet to be available. I talk a LOT about Terrorvision, but considering how many movies that are much worse are already on DVD, it's a crying shame that such a twisted movie is only on VHS. Or The House of Long Shadows, which maybe isn't a great movie, but has Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee together on-screen. That's not on DVD, but Uncle Sam is coming out on Blu-Ray. Look, I can understand City of the Living Dead on Blu-Ray, but Uncle Sam??? Really? And we can't even get a standard definition copy of Terrorvision?

But I digress. The point is, that with all of these remakes in the pipeline, as much ire as it raises, and the slow push to get "every movie out on DVD", I can look forward to eventually seeing these and many other lost "cult" horror films on shelves, however briefly. Then I have to contend with their remakes eating up space, but the option will be there for a while. And smaller companies like Severin or Blue Underground or Synapse or Dark Sky will continue to release other movies, possibly with remakes in mind, but possibly not. As long as I'm not obliged to see the new version, it's really a win-win

So there you have it, the "silver lining" to the remake madness. If I have to put up with continual announcements about this-or-that beloved rarity being churned out for a quick buck in order to have a proper copy at home, so be it. It could be worse: they could not be greedy and just bury the original films to we can never see them again...

* I realize some of you are going to take umbrage to my suggestion that The Exorcist is in any way "second tier", you have to admit that the fact nobody is even trying to remake it when The Evil Dead continues to be a viable remake is odd. I intentionally left out Hellraiser, as it apparently is the subject of ongoing remake attempts.
** While, technically speaking, there is no Child's Play remake yet, its existence figures prominently in the special edition dvd and Blu-Ray commentary tracks.

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