The competent but underwhelming The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) is unsurprisingly not the last we have seen of remakes this year. Total Recall (1990) has just been released in the states to a largely muted response and Robocop (1987), Carrie (1976) and Oldboy (2003) are all in the works. Here is my run down of the worst remakes, in no particular order.
Gus Van Sant has a fine back catalogue to his name encompassing media satire To Die For (1995) and the polarising Columbine inspired Elephant (2003). After awards success with Good Will Hunting (1997) his decision to embark on a shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) was severely misguided. The exercise is simply pointless. Other than the inclusion of a few shots Hitch couldn’t pull off due to technical constraints of the day we get an anodyne remake which, aside from William H Macy as Detective Arbogast, is badly cast. A post Swingers (1996) Vince Vaughan as Norman Bates? Baffling indeed. The centre piece of the film, an intrinsic part of film and cultural history, is edited within an inch of its life with rolling clouds etc. trashing the memory of the original in the process.
The Wicker Man (2006)
Transplanted to an island off the coast of Washington rather than the Scottish Summerisle, this bastardisation of Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult horror forgoes the quaint, sinister edge of it’s pagan original, bowdlerising itself in the process. Nicholas Cage is the cop sent to track down an ex fiancée’s missing daughter, a task he embarks on with the same level of acting prowess he has happily maintained for the last two decades as the pay cheques roll in i.e. generally disengaged but shouty and over the top when necessary to show some vague level of involvement. I’m not sure what is scarier, the thought of sitting through this film again or the fact that Neil Labute produced, wrote and directed it. Regrettably we are a long way from molasses black comedy In the Company of Men (1997).
A controversial selection maybe but I have never understood the love for Brian De Palma’s remake of Howard Hawks depression era gangster flick. Here it is not a case of a remake being unnecessary, the Cuban refugee angle is an astute move on paper, more the whole gaudy, eighties bombast of the enterprise. Some people say this is the whole point, the emptiness beneath Tony Montana’s pursuit of the American dream. All this equates to for me is Pacino at his worst, not so much chewing scenery as eviscerating anything and anyone he gets near, a man in dire need of some valium. Giorgio Moroder’s awful, tinny score is another black mark. Even the infamous set pieces, the chainsaw scene and the final shootout, are not as sublime as equivalents in The Untouchables (1987) and Carlito’s Way (1993).
Arguably Michael Caine’s defining role. The cheeky, cockney womanisers conquests through swinging sixties London are the core of the film but I think it is often forgotten how he also learns the consequences of his actions in a scene near the end, featuring Denhom Elliot as a backstreet abortionist. No such arc exists in the Jude Law remake making Alfie irredeemable. Law also lacks the old school appeal of Caine’s creation coming over as vain, slimy and incredibly loathsome, a rogue not a charmer. To add insult to injury this remake is based in New York for no particular reason whatsoever. Caine seems to have no luck with revisits of his past films, Get Carter (2000) and The Italian Job (2003) also getting the same treatment.
The Haunting (1993)
Robert Wise’s 1963 original may have a gimmicky plot, paranormal investigators staying overnight in a haunted house, but it also has style in spades. Although not on a par with the Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), Wise makes clever use of shadows and sound to generate atmosphere. The remake substitute’s clever film making technique, established through many genres over many years, for that most modern of cruxes, CGI. Unsurprisingly proceedings take a more telegraphed vein and any sense of dread is only felt at what ridiculous renderings the viewer will be subjected to next.