Everything Old Is New Again…Just Not Better – By Brian Morton

Ah, Spring. That time when everything that was frozen and dead is reborn and brought back to life. The time when we all crawl out of our winter doldrums and look to the summer and vacation and all those great things that come with this time of year. They say that in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love, first I’ve always wondered what part of me was my fancy, but that’s a different topic for a more adult forum. And second, seeing that I’m no longer a young man, my fancy doesn’t turn to love anymore, but it does turn… to the movies. So, I thought I would take a look this month at those movies that were old and worn out and some film-maker decided to renew then… in other words, remakes.

Now, I know you’re all waiting for me to harp on and on about what a great movie I thought the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, but I promise I’m not going to beat that old horse this time. Promise! Besides, I promised the editor that I’d let TCM rest, at least until the prequel this fall. Instead let’s take a look at some remakes that really didn’t work that well.

First, and the one that always springs to my mind, no pun intended, when you say remake is the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho. The first question that came to my mind when I heard that it was a shot by shot remake of the original, was, ‘don’t we already have a shot by shot version of this?’ because I thought Hitchcock did already did a shot for shot version of Psycho, I didn’t think we needed a shot by shot remake. And you know what? We Didn’t!! This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, the original is great and this is like a truly crappy photocopy. The only bright part of this dim bulb of a movie is Anne Heche finally dies… and I think we’ve all wanted that for a while, haven’t we? Bottom line here is, the remake of Psycho is like a breath of fresh air, under your blankets in the winter, after you’ve eaten a whole bulb of garlic… get my drift?.

How about King Kong? Now, I understand that the original is a ‘classic’, but even as a kid, I knew that this was just a gorilla version of Beauty and the Beast, and found it, frankly, a little boring. Then, in the 70s, Dino DeLaurentis decided that this needed a remake! So, we replace Fay Wray with Jessica Lange and dump Jeff Bridges in there and update the special effects and you got yourself a hit! Well, this awful thing was a hit mostly because in the 70s the ‘special effect movie’ was the king of the box office, anything with special effects in it was a huge hit and we flocked to it in droves. Why, I’m not sure, but we all did. They really don’t change the story all that much, we just make a giant monkey robot and a giant monkey robot hand for Jessica Lange to hang around in, and you got yourself a bonafide 70’s hit! Other than giant robotic gorilla hands and color film this is basically the same movie as the 1930’s classic. The bottom line? We have the original, we don’t really need a remake of King Kong, and yes, I know Peter Jackson is doing one too, but, trust me, if you’ve seen one giant monkey fall from a building, you’ve seen them all, computer generated or not, it’s still Beauty and the Beast..

Now, in the 90’s, we were remaking anything that didn’t move. Any TV show that we might’ve watched was turned into a movie or, as they say in the business a ‘big screen version.’ What this really meant is ‘instead of paying writers and taking risks on new ideas and stories, we’ll just put some crap out there that people used to like and they’ll at least go the first weekend to see what the hell it is.’ This kind of thinking brought us the update of Planet Of The Apes. This had all the earmarks of a great remake. A good story, a great director and with current technology, the apes would look really cool! Well, one out of three ain’t bad, no wait… yes it is!!! The original is one of my favorite movies of all time, I have very fond memories of seeing it as a kid and really loving it, and still when it turns up on TV, I’ll sit down and watch it again. But this update, should’ve been stillborn. The apes look great, but everything else kind of goes south. In the original, when the, now famous, Statue of Liberty scene came around, everyone was stunned, no one saw this coming. This was largely due to the writer Rod Serling, who was one of the all time greats. But, if you don’t see the twist ending coming in the update, then you’ve been living under a rock for the past thirty years or so.

So, remakes are really a catch-as-catch-can thing. Usually, though, it seems that they never live up to the original. Now, there are the rare remake that actually live up to or surpass the original, the Dawn Of The Deads or the Texas Chainsaws, but mostly they should be avoided at all costs. Which puts me in fear of all the remakes I see coming down the pike towards me. Like living in an old western town, I see the dust cloud on the horizon and I turn to the town sheriff and tell him, ‘There’s a remake a-comin’. And I don’t think it’s gonna be good.’ Then I dust off my chaps, saddle my horse and get the hell outta there!