Thursday, February 22, 2018

Possible Remakes that Could Actually Be Good

By Jerry Chandler

A lot of people treat the word “remake” attached to a project as an automatic sign of a bad product. Some people- often people not realizing that some of their favorite movies are remakes –will also greet the news of remakes with declarations about how remakes are automatically inferior to the originals or are automatically devoid of any level genius or originality. One of my favorite remakes, 1986’s The Fly, is a film that puts a lie to both of these statements.

Admittedly, many remakes can be horrible. Typically, bad remakes come about because someone somewhere in a studio in Hollywood wants to remake or reboot a popular film or TV franchise just to try to jump back onto a money train. There’s often seemingly very little love or passion for the original versions, and some great deal less thought seems to be put into executing a new version thanks to the laziness of thinking everyone will just know what they’re supposed to know once the movie starts. There’s also an issue created when the original property is a hugely popular film or franchise with generations of fans. Of course, one way to get around that last bit is to let people who love the less than well-loved films get a shot at doing some remakes or reboots based on those. 

Remake/Reboot form- TV miniseries

A film I would suggest as a fine candidate for a remake would be the so bad it’s almost good classic, The Brainiac. Anyone who pays attention to my writings here or my appearances on various horror related podcasts (or the new podcast I’m part of, The Assignment: Horror Podcast) is going to at least recognize that name. It’s a film I love almost as much as I love picking on it. If you’re not familiar with it, you can read an older write up I did on the film HERE. I’ll give you a few minutes to read that. Done? Back again? Okay…

1962’s The Brainiac is a horrible film on many levels, but, as I noted in my older piece, much of what makes it horrible can be addressed just by better filmmaking. There’s a solid horror movie concept in there, a very good blueprint for a story, and some characters that could be fleshed out nicely.

The basic concept for The Brainiac is the return of an old evil that swore a curse of revenge. In this case, Baron Vitelius d'Estera is put to death in old Mexico for practicing the dark arts. As he’s burned at the stake, he sees a comet in the sky and swears a curse that when that comet returns to the skies he will return with it to take his revenge upon the descendants of his judges and executioners. 300 years pass, the comet returns, and he returns with it. He sets out on a killing spree, becoming a monster removing and feeding on the brains of his victims. There’s also a character conflict for the bad guy where the descendant of one of the tribunal is dating the descendant of the only man who defended him. Although, when push comes to shove, he doesn’t seem overly conflicted by that.

The reason I think this could be remade into a great TV miniseries is because it does in fact have a good outline for a story already built into it. Also, the original movie was made in Mexico. They just didn’t really play with things that made it obviously Mexican in any way. Why would that matter? Because it opens the door for a horror creature that plays by different rules than many we’ve seen.

One of the things I love about the television version of From Dusk till Dawn has been how it has taken an already slightly different take on the vampire from the movie and taken the show’s creatures and world heavily into the realm of Mesoamerican mythology. The same thing could easily be done here. Rather than make the background of the villain and his magics as generic as possible for sale and distribution in other markets as they did back in the day, they could now go all out with filling the story with mythologies we rarely see used in most major American productions. It’s not only a chance to make a good series from a bad film, but it’s a great opportunity to make something that draws its mythology from sources horribly underused in most of this country’s pop culture fiction.

Remake/Reboot form- Movie

I owe finding this… well… gem may be the wrong word for it… to a discussion over on the Gruesome Magazine Facebook page. Prior to that, 1946’s Strangler of the Swamp was a complete unknown to me. As it stands now, thanks to the power of Amazon streaming, I was able to learn of its existence and see it for the first time in the same day.

Interestingly, to me at least, Strangler of the Swamp shares a story concept that’s not too dissimilar from that of The Brainiac. A man is rushed through a local trial to judgement; hanging until dead. His ghost returns to take revenge on those who wronged him. Well, I think they wronged him. As a ghost, he seems bent on revenge even where it’s not warranted, so maybe he was guilty. The original could have used a few more passes on the script before it was filmed, but then Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) films weren’t exactly known for the care that went into them. On that score, this may well be the best of them.

The concept of a vengeful ghost returning to strangle the dead through various means so that they die facing the similar fear and pain he died in is actually pretty cool. The actual ghost effect seen in the film is borderline amazing. Or it’s not. What’s on Amazon streaming looks cool as hell with regards to that effect, but the print they’re streaming also looks like it’s been in someone’s attic since a year after it was released. The ghost effect may have looked far less cool when the print was pristine, but what we have now looks great. Additionally, the swamp itself and how it’s used in various scenes creates a marvelous feeling of atmosphere and doom.

The resolution of the film feels a bit classic storybook, but that’s not exactly a huge roadblock to remaking this into a good film. I’d hand this property to James Wan in a heartbeat, and I know he could likely make it into a fantastic little ghost movie.

Remake/Reboot form- Television Series

ABC is about to test the waters and see if the world is ready for a reboot of 1981’s The Greatest American Hero with a genderbend twist. Reactions have been mixed on both the reboot concept and the lead becoming a woman. I should note, the original attempt to reboot the series that followed the first series had the original cast come back to teach a woman how to use the super suit for The Greatest American Heroine. So, no, it’s not a new concept for the series.

But, ignoring that issue, there are still a lot of people out there not sure how to take this. Why? Well, for people of a certain age the show was hugely popular. However, even outside of that demo there are a lot of people who found the show in the years after its first run and became fans. It has a history, a recognizable name, and it has a style that people will bring into their viewing of the new series. If the powers that be wanted to go the path of making a comedy superhero TV series with an oddball twist; why not mine the goofy cult favorite selections?

1980’s Super Fuzz is a perfect choice for going with something that has a name in some circles, but is also something you can’t screw up all that badly. For those of you unfamiliar with it, I suggest you look at my Needless things piece on it HERE. That write-up includes the original trailer. As you can see if you checked it out, it has many of the same ingredients that came a very short time later with 1981’s The Greatest American Hero. If you didn’t look there, look here.

Super Fuzz was absolutely the same style of goofy fun that The Greatest American Hero was, perhaps just a tad more over the top and broad in style. The outlandish nature aside, the movie played with the superhero in ways that were very familiar. This included cribbing from a certain comic book legend for weaknesses that would cause issues with the hero’s powers. This could easily be remade into a modern superhero comedy film, but would probably make a much better cable original superhero comedy series.

Remake/Reboot form- Movie Franchise

1983’s The Keep is a legendary misfire from director Michael Mann that become so infamous during the production and after its release that almost everyone involved with it have disavowed it. Based on the novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann intended the movie to be a towering horror epic. What it became was a glorious hot mess of a film that only got screwed up more during home video release and television broadcasts due to rights issues around the film’s score. Again, if you’re unfamiliar with the movie in question I suggest a quick read HERE.

The Keep has become something of a legendary cult classic and, in its own way, something of a lost film. You can find very poor copies of it on YouTube and you can even buy horrible digital copies from Amazon. There’s also a DVD out there (also on amazon) to be wary of. It’s a bad transfer from a well-worn pan and scan VHS edition, and it’s missing scenes in that edition. The truth is that Mann’s version of The Keep has so few people championing it that it’s never seen an actual DVD release, and certainly never seen a Blu-Ray release. Most digital editions you may find are from poor quality, questionable sources, and there has never been an attempt to restore it.

This is a bit of a shame as the film, while absolutely a glorious hot mess of a film, is an amazingly enjoyable- almost hypnotically so -glorious hot mess of a film. It’s also a shame because the film’s failure seems to have made the property a largely forgotten one in Hollywood.

The 1981 F. Paul Wilson novel of the same name is an amazingly good read, and it starts a series of works much loved by his fans known as The Adversary Cycle. The story of The Keep is ripe for a reboot/remake, although the dense storytelling in the books may require films that have a runtime somewhere in between The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. That’s not even just my opinion on the matter. Back in 1983, Michael Mann was trying to make The Keep with a runtime at roughly that general area of length. While some may balk at that idea; I can safely say if it’s done right, the movies will fly by for audiences in the same way they did for them when the Lord of the Rings trilogy was hitting the theaters.

The Keep itself and the Adversary Cycle in general has everything needed to be an epic film franchise. If Hollywood is looking for a reboot/remake that could be box office gold for them in this day and age, The Keep and the book that it’s based on are absolutely where they should be looking.

Remake/Reboot form- Television Series

One of my favorite 1980s low budget science fiction films was a crazy little 1987 movie called World Gone Wild. It would never make a great modern film because there’s no way they would keep the tongue in cheek nature of it and handle it well on the big screen. They’d go either too serious or too goofy with it. However, it might be a fun little miniseries for a cable network.

The concept is mostly gotten with the trailer, but the finer details are missing. Something has happened to the world, and the water has largely disappeared. It’s treated as one of the most valuable commodities there is, and people will fight, kill, and die for it.

A traveler of questionable character, George Landon, finds himself turning into an unlikely hero after running into an old mentor of his, the enigmatic and almost weirdly mystical Ethan. Ethan has started a small colony of people trying to rebuild something of the old world again. They have a school for their children, they have laws that aren’t insane, and they have the foundations for rebuilding a world that once was. Oh, they also have a source of water right there in their little community.

However, an insane cult leader has heard of the existence of this source of water and he wants it for himself. Ethan knows that George is a fighter and enlists him in training the people to fight for their own survival, but George realizes that the people he needs to train will largely never be the fighting force he needs them to be; especially in the time he has to work with. To make up for their inability to be good and tactically thinking fighters, he heads out and recruits, well, scum. However, the scum are the right kind of scum. Buried somewhere in what this world has made them are good people, and, even if that weren’t totally true, the chance to live somewhere where water wasn’t a scarce commodity is something worth signing on for. This obviously all builds to a big fight where not everyone is getting out of it alive.

The movie had a surprisingly strong cast. Michael Paré played George, and it was during the phase of his career where he didn’t come across as phoning it in. His love interest Angie was played by a not quite fresh off of The Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet Catherine Mary Stewart. Ethan was beautifully cast and played with sarcastic style and wit by Bruce Dern, and he was absolutely not phoning it in with his performance due to the lower stature of the film. The Big Bad of the film was played by Adam Ant.

The rest of the cast was filled out with faces familiar to fans of 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s genre films and television. Names included Rick Podell, Alan Autry, Henry Kendrick, Anthony James, and Julius Carry. If the names don’t ring a bell, Google Image search them and you’ll instantly recognize every one of them. Although, for many geeks out there I can ring that bell in their memory for the late Julius Carry. He would go on to become famous in geek circles as Lord Bowler on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. during its sadly short run on television.

Give us a cast as good as that one for the main characters, give it a good one-season arc to tell the movie’s story, and you could have a really enjoyable post-apocalyptic series. Think The Walking Dead, just without the nonstop glum and downer plot twists and a touch more style a wit. Oh, but they would have to keep the song they used for the film’s theme. Not doing so is a possible deal breaker.

Finally, I offer this film up to the remake gods, and I do so without any unneeded commentary on it.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Subject Matter. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.

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