By Robbie Barnett
With the remake/prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 chiller “The Thing” in theaters this month, it not only becomes this year’s token go-to Halloween flick, but the latest in a long line of horror remakes to descend on movie-goers.
Let us not forget that Carpenter’s “Thing” is itself a take on Howard Hawks’ 1951 film “The Thing from Another World” – a story of a menacing plant-based alien found by an isolated group of airmen in the Arctic.
For a remake to succeed, it must improve on the original and offer something new for modern audiences, which is exactly what Carpenter accomplished in 1982. In some ways his film is better than Hawks’ original, and was more faithful to John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” on which it is based.
Gritty, raw and suspenseful, it benefited from some amazing special effects and boasted a talented cast. The shape-shifting being that was created for the ’82 version was much more effective than actor James Arness in costume and makeup in the ’51 version. What the 1950s couldn’t offer in terms of special effects, the team Carpenter assembled delivered well.
Even 30 years later, those elements still hold up next to the computer graphics of today, which brings us to this year’s “Thing.”
At times it felt as if it were a prequel masquerading as a remake while other times a remake masquerading as a prequel, and by calling this version simply “The Thing,” it doesn’t do itself any favors if it is to be touted as a prequel.
Either way, it does both previous films justice and further improves on its predecessor’s effects with some eye-popping CGI where the alien is concerned.
The cast of mostly unknowns give solid performances, although Kurt Russell in Carpenter’s earlier version is much more convincing as the tough leader of the group than the young, doe-eyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the one now.
When the end credits begin rolling, re-created scenes of the beginning of Carpenter’s “Thing” flicker across the screen, a clever device to show how this story leads directly into that film.
While it’s rare for a remake to outdo the original, which Carpenter’s “Thing” accomplished, there are a few other standouts in film remake history.
The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is by far the best remake of the three released since the 1956 original (let’s just forget Nicole Kidman’s Invasion ever happened).
Director David Cronenberg took the corny ‘50s classic “The Fly” to a whole new level with his grotesque remake in ’86. Similarly, a graphic reboot of “The Blob” was released in ’88 and is far superior to the ‘50s drive-in original. Tobe Hooper’s low-budget hit “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) got its glossy remake in 2003 and may arguably be the last truly excellent one the horror genre has seen.
Not all remakes fare as well, though. The most popular horror franchises of the ‘80s – “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” – have all recently seen remakes of their originals without impressive results.
But as mediocre as those remakes were, the honor for the worst remake of all time belongs to Gus Van Sant for his horrendous shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho.” As if the sequels weren’t bad enough! The only thing it succeeded in doing was exploiting a beloved classic. Let’s face it, Anne Heche is no Janet Leigh.
Don’t expect the remake train to stop anytime soon, however. Currently in the works are remakes of Sam Raimi’s cult classic “The Evil Dead,” killer ‘Good Guy’ doll Chucky in “Child’s Play,” Stephen King’s “It,” and Hitchcock’s “The Birds” with Naomi Watts rumored to fill Tippi Hedren’s shoes. Or try to.