I was honestly planning on having something new to say this month. Truly I was.
I'd worked on it throughout the past month, and each time I seemed to stumble or not quite find the right words to express my feelings. Eventually I realized that my heart simply wasn't in it.
I was going to talk yet again about the spate of remakes that were coming our way. I was going to mention seeing the trailer for the new POLTERGEIST when I went to see the wonderful IT FOLLOWS, and how unimpressed I was with it. I was going to talk about the jaw-dropping announcement that some company was planning a remake of DON'T LOOK NOW, simply one of the finest efforts of Dark Fantasy ever put on screen, a near perfect imagining that cannot possibly be bettered.
I was going to sigh again about the lack of faith and imagination in Hollywood today; that because of the amount of money involved in current productions and the demand for the largest slots possible for their summer blockbusters, that the major companies have limited their selections to the safest possible choices, counting on established adaptations of popular comic franchises, sequels and, yes, remakes.
I was going to postulate that the need to play it safe in a falsehood perpetrated by these film companies; that with the new digital technology the costs of producing moderately budgeted features have actually dropped and professional presentations are well within the budgets of today's independent filmmakers.
I was going to talk about the reasoning offered by some that remakes aren't necessarily a bad thing; how some liken it to revivals and new productions of theatrical efforts, particularly Shakespeare's oeuvre, such as presenting a new version of “Hamlet” or “Twelfth Night”. I was going to agree that this was a reasonable argument, so long as all remember that the best of the new productions should bring something new to the table, a different perspective or a fresh approach to the material rather than simply repeating by rote what was done before, possibly better.
I was going to agree that this argument could be put forth for the new versions of THE THING, THE FLY, CAT PEOPLE and the Hammer Studio versions of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, but that in reality many of these are not “remakes” in the strictest sense, but new interpretations of literary works; THE THING being a more faithful version of John W. Campbell's novella and THE FLY a reinterpretation of the novella by George Langelaan (a fine macabre author who should be better known). These are always acceptable (although I hope many will agree that, after all the previous versions released since movies began using books as their source material, that we really don't need yet another film version of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” unless it has something immediate to say to modern audiences.)
I was going to acknowledge some filmmakers for at least attempting new interpretations of some genre classics, but planned to judiciously point out that, in the case of CAT PEOPLE, THE HAUNTING, HALLOWEEN and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, what they artists offered wasn't remotely what the audience wanted. (Obviously they'd misjudged what made those movies brilliant to begin with.) But at least they were a welcome respite from the paint-by-numbers retreads of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH, STRAW DOGS, and, most egregious and pointless of all, PSYCHO.
I was going to point out that the remake of POLTERGEIST seems almost a point by point recreation of the original, with every set piece repeated - the tree outside the house attacks the son, the girl is enticed by voices in the television, the clown doll in the corner achieves malevolent life, someone suffers a hallucination of their face rotting away in seconds in the bathroom. What's the point, other than to increase the visual intensity with more state-of-the-art effects? Is that really the bottom line now?
I was going to discuss the argument some use, that remakes actually open classic stories to a new generation, making them their own. I suppose that has merit, but is a mediocre offering, even brand new, better than its predecessor? Did audiences really see that abysmal version of PSYCHO and think, “This is terrible, but I'll bet the original was much better! I'll have to watch that instead!” Sadly, I believe the thought process starts and ends with, “This is terrible!”
But another greater worry is the current cultural amnesia of this generation, who seem to regard anything prior to 1990 as ancient and unworthy, who are not only ignorant but defiantly proud of their state. (How else to explain the astonishing recent eruption online concerning Paul McCartney's collaboration with Kayne West where young people, completely straight-faced, offered their opinion about how nice it was that Mr. West was bringing attention to a novice musician with this effort?) When I recently announced that I would be attending a presentation of the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, a young human acquaintance of mine looked surprised. “There was an original version?” she said. What more can be said?
I was going to address a new argument gaining ground that Hollywood has always been a place for remakes, many of them becoming classics loved by all. Among the films offered are THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE TEN COMMENDMENTS, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE MALTESE FALCON, and BEN HUR.
This argument is specious at best. Many of these films such as THE WIZARD OF OZ, BEN HUR and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS were presented as silent films in a manner complete separate from their later counterparts, and then each so-called remake offered its own vision in the new era. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a cultural reimagining of the samurai myth juxtaposed into the old west. And again, many are literary adaptations. (And even if THE MALTESE FALCON was a remake, it was so important that no one has – as yet – thought to try and improve on it. It appears to have had the final word.)
But even if this is true – what of it? Just because a practice has become commonplace doesn't mean that it's sound. Were the remakes of MUTANY ON THE BOUNTY with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard or Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson really any better than the original with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable?
I was going to point out that the pulse of a remake seems primarily financial; that remakes are chose not necessarily because someone wants to make an artistic statement regarding and established work, but because a studio believes that using a recognized name will ensure some degree of success from those familiar with the original; in other words, a hedge against financial loss. But how realistic is that considering the cultural amnesia I mentioned earlier. I was going to relate screenwriter William Goldman opinion that sequels are basically “whore's movies”, because the financial impetus, rather than the artistic, make the motive are impure.
I was going to state that this didn't have to be so; that this is a very exciting time for Horror and the Dark fantastic, and the major releases of two exceptional works – IT FOLLOWS and EX MACHINA – after their limited release success, built entirely by enthusiastic word of mouth, indicates that audience are indeed hungry for new ideas, modestly budgeted and packaged. That underestimating the intelligence and taste of the audience is no longer an acceptable excuse.
I was going to go one like that. But why? I don't have the energy nor the desire. I've said it before, and others have said it far better than I. And I doesn't seem to make any difference. Studios will release the remakes and continue their tepid, innocuous practices, and young audiences will flock blindly to each opening night to be either disappointed or not, and no amount of reasoning will change anyone's mind.
My biggest argument previously has been that nondiscriminating audiences get the films they deserve, but that I deserve better. But that's no longer true. With the release of IT FOLLOWS, EX MACHINA, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, THE BABADOOK, WHATWE DO IN THE SHADOWS, HOUSEBOUND and other efforts, I'm receiving an embarrassment of riches; films of intelligence and impeccable artistry that are leaving us shivering and awe-inspired. And as long as this continues, I'm quite satisfied, if a trifle frustrated at times.
Enjoy your remakes. Defend them, embrace them, what have you; simply don't waste my time with them. And if that's the spectral equivalent of “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!”, so be it.
That's what I would have said this month, if I were going to say anything.
Which I'm not.
See you next time.