Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Movie Remakes That Don't Suck

Last night we took in a double feature of the two versions of The Fly from 1958 and 1986 respectively.  I love both films but naturally prefer the '58 version with Vincent Price, David Hedison and Patricia Owens for its suspense and horrifying payouts.  The Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis reboot is one of the rare exceptions for what I believe constitutes a worthy remake:  under the masterful vision of director David Cronenberg, that entire team made The Fly 1986 their own.  Suffice it to say, each film has a core concept linking them and that's about it.

Afterwards, we got into a discussion about the inexcusable plague of remakes in Hollywood that's been churning ad nauseum since the turn of the new millennium.  I believe especially in the case of the horror genre, the younger generation is suffering from an acute case of envy of what Generation X had in the genre, since damned near every iconic horror film (and many underground classics) have been given the redux treatment.  I've been very vocal about this over the years and hypocritically, I've tuned in to many of these remakes.  Most recently, the new Evil Dead laid an egg for me despite Sam Raimi's involvement and also despite the fact that it has a ton of supporters.  As a third timer, I'm boycotting the new Carrie on principal, albeit I will say my mouth was shut by the 2010 version of The Thing.  While it tried to mirror John Carpenter's masterpiece redo, at least it establishes its own identity in due time and the ending seams nicely into Carpenter's film as a prequel.

That being said, it was becoming difficult at first to peg some genuinely worthwhile remakes, but finally I let the cogs roll and here's a good handful of movie remakes I came up with that hardly suck.  In some cases, they're actually better than the original (i.e. Ben-Hur, True Grit, Casino Royale, Cape Fear and The Maltese Falcon) while others are just pleasant surprises, again honoring the main curriculum of being their own beasts.

Not every single minute of this legendary quasi-biblical epic is riveting, but the 1959 Ben-Hur is absolutely the finest remake in film history.  For me, it contains the single best action sequence shot on celluloid with the chariot race that took almost a year to film and had a casualty along the way.

Right on the heels of the 2008 Swedish version, American filmmakers teamed up with the prestigious horror house, Hammer Studios in 2010 to one-up what was already a masterwork, Let the Right One In.  The performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz were so ahead of their years, so adult-like, they cemented the legacy of John Ajvide Lindvist's story as the greatest horror piece in the last two decades, The Conjuring notwithstanding.

Audiences in '82 barfed and the face of horror was changed forever as John Carpenter set the bar for a splatter sweepstakes throughout the eighties that was seldom matched (except for Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator).  It's not just about the gore to The Thing from 1982.  While the original with James Arness is one of the tensest sci fi-horror flicks of the fifties, this one has characters you believe and believe in, characters you'll be betrayed by as the alien entity takes them over and splits them apart in spectacularly nauseating fashion.

The centerpiece of noir.  What Bogie and Astor accomplished in 1941, a full decade after the original film, remains influential on many media today.  Some things are timeless and Bogie's name is affixed to quite a few of them.

I admit, I'm not a John Wayne fan, though I am a western fan.  I think The Shootist, Wayne's final film is his finest hour, and I also like The Cowboys and Stagecoach (which would one day be remade itself).  However, Jeff Bridges achieved the impossible by making Rooster Cogburn exactly what a true western purist (not a Hollywood western purist) would want, devoid of Wayne's uber-macho huckstering.  True Grit 2010 might've been the shocker of the year, but it's immediately become one the greatest western flicks ever.

The film that made Jeff Goldblum a star.  In lesser hands than his, Geena Davis and David Cronenberg's this could've been a disaster.  Instead, it's a guttural, affecting and sad movie that weighs heavy on the heart as it does with gore.  It hardly contains the shock factor of the '58 original, but Cronenberg smartly swerved toward aesthetics and characterization, particularly as Goldblum embraces his new change then pays the worst form of penance for his arrogance.

Here's one I cried foul against, along with the third version of The Thing.  I'm man enough to admit this film won me over in a big way.  Its biggest crime is calling it Total Recall since it only takes just enough of Schwarzenegger's incredible action blast from 1990 and then establishes its own story from there.  I think that's the main reason people blow raspberries at Colin Farrell's version and I hardly blame them.  However, I challenge you to sit down with this movie.  It's a freakin' burner on its own merits.  Too bad it didn't have the same balls to come up with its own title.

Here's another one I declared blasphemy upon sight.  George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead from 1978 ranks in my top five movies of all-time, pick your genre.  I was actually offended Zach Snyder had the audacity to rip off Romero in 2004, but I went to see it with a buddy nonetheless and I came out feeling enthused.  It's nowhere in the same class as Romero's, but Snyder's Dawn of the Dead obeys the "make it your own" ethos.  I will always tip my hat off to him for having his characters try to communicate with other survivors via the rooftops and then hilariously interjecting a lounge cover of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" in the midst of his zombie parade. Cheers.

Robert DeNiro, one of the greatest actors of our time.  I don't think I've ever recovered from his chilling portrayal of a vindictive hedonist in the 1991 Cape Fear.  Scary by mere reputation.

Some people prefer the 1960 original and some people actually hate this 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven.  The cast alone here is worth your time.  The heist of the century never looked so enticing and you're actually pulling for this crew as a result, no matter what side of the law you sit on.  Why we needed an Ocean's Trilogy is strictly Hollywood's business, business being the operative word.

1958 was obviously a great year for sci-fi and horror.  The original version of The Blob is pure camp and pure joy.  Thirty years later, the 1988 remake retains much of the same spirit of camp as the original, if emphasizing more effects than acting.  Not the best remake of all-time, but it is one of my personal favorites.  Yes, I'm against the proposed new update that Rob Zombie just pulled out of.  Consider that an indication of a possible turd that needs an auto-flush.

Daniel Craig has emerged as the second best James Bond behind Sean Connery.  In many ways, Craig's more humanistic, less sexist Bond is the perfect antidote to keeping the character thriving in a politically correct society.  Out the gate with Casino Royale, Craig shows he has moxy, charisma, athleticism and just enough fallacy that would never be tolerated in Bond films of the past.  Skyfall is thus far Craig's signature Bond performance, but this remake as his coming out party is excellent.

                            Listenin' to:  Can - Ege Bamyasi

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