Throughout the years the amount of American remakes have gone up in profuse numbers, leaving many Foreign original titles to rot in the graveyard of unprecedented and underrated films. Martyrs, Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood and Oldboy are amongst some of the most recent American adaptations, and it truly disappoints me to see the needless trend continue. Uncultured is defined by something “not categorised by good taste, manners or education” and I believe this to be true about American remakes of foreign horror films. Why? Sometimes it seems because people simply can’t be bothered to read subtitles and other times it seems like the filmmaker is genuinely trying to convey that terror, but with a native tongue. For me, it comes across as offensive because there’s nothing greater than plunging fear first into the graphic, relentless, brutal and most importantly, cultured, world of astonishingly exceptional foreign horror films.
The first film to truly terrorise me into a state of kicking my Dad out of my parents bed and taking residence with my Mum for two weeks, was Japanese horror film Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). What made the film so horrific for me was that it wasn’t necessarily scary, but just impossibly creepy. Sometimes it’s not the machete-wielding maniac that frightens you, it’s the person that menacingly stares at you just a little too long. Takashi Shimizu’s feature delivered immensely, with it’s segmented and non-linear story telling layered with disturbingly haunting spirits. Ju-on: The Grudge is the reason I’m petrified of attics and refuse to be anywhere near them because of that Goddamn scene with the kid and his weird guttural sounds. What perplexes me the most is why directors, such as Shimizu, remake their own film into an American version? I guess all signs point at money, which is Hollywood’s main focus. The Grudge (2004) follows the same style with a time-jumping and split-up story that features spirits created when someone dies in an extremely horrific way or whilst they’re in pain or misery. The anthology tales hold pretty bleak and unfortunate fates for the characters resulting in a circle of horrendous onryō murder. As much as Sarah Michelle Gellar was my hero as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she just doesn’t portray the victim as well as she does the victor. The overall tone of the film tries superbly well at trying to be creepy, but sadly fails at really conveying it.
Kairo (2001) is positively up there as possibly the scariest horror film I’ve ever seen and also at the forefront of my Asian horror favourites. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film is like a surreal nightmare, set in the dystopian world of social media and technology. Although the plot blatantly deals with the chilling and terrifying world of Internet ghosts, it holds a much darker connotation; symbolising how, in a generation of constant access to millions, we are still consumed by loneliness and self-loathing. Not only does Kario make me ill with fear, it also reminds me how depressing the social culture can be. Although written by Wes Craven, the remake Pulse (2006) completely misses the original point and undertone. They took an exceptionally powerful film and turned it into Americanised bullshit drivel, complete with no emotional subtext, awfully dire CGI effects and characters that were more worthy of death than a paedophile.
Following the theme of my adoration for Asian horror films, we come to Korean horror film Janghwa, Hongryeon aka A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) from director Kim Jee-woon, who you may recognise for his highly acclaimed I Saw The Devil. The perturbed psychological film focuses on Su-mi after she returns home from a psychiatric centre to her father, stepmother and sister Su-yeon. The young girl makes some gruesome and deeply unsettling discoveries regarding her sister and stepmother, although the possibility of it being her neurological disposition is constantly lurking in the background. The domestic ghost tale is particularly unnerving by presenting us with a potential child abuse case carried out by a vindictive and malicious stepmother, fuelled by greed for their father. Janghwa, Honagryeon presents to us a deeper, more human horror film, both aspects that were ruined by the remake. The Uninvited (2009) clearly dropped the poignant values and the unexpected plot twists in favour of a bigger budget donned with a completely outlandish plot that tries too hard to be creepy.
Another well-regarded film from Korea comes in the form of Oldboy (2003), which is actually categorised as thriller neo-noir rather than horror, so I’ll only briefly mention it. One of the most provoking and shocking scenes in Park Chan-wook’s feature is when protagonist Dae-su grimly devours a whole and very alive octopus. Spike Lee’s version of Oldboy (2013) may have starred Josh Brolin who gets me flustered, but I was damn despondent when Lee did not include the scene at all. Brolin eating a squirming, inking sea monster would have made great cinema.
Taking a short trip into Europe now as we look at the Swedish coming-of-age vampire flick Låt den rätte komma in aka Let The Right One In (2008). The spellbinding story is a novel adaptation about the beautiful yet unconventional friendship between a bullied 11-year-old boy and a young girl with a thirst for blood. The film itself has stunning cinematography coupled with an evoking story boiling down to the feelings of monsters. Even during the gory moments, the film holds its mesmerising visuals. Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson as Oskar and Eli, create a tense yet close atmosphere between the two characters that can’t be replicated. Although the remake Let Me In (2010) did superbly well at recreating the original whilst adding their own spin, I have to ask, was it needed? It seems absurd to produce a movie that is almost an exact copy, but with an English speaking cast. It brings us back to the realisation that maybe certain audiences are just too ignorant to read subtitles.
One film that springs to mind is found-footage horror [REC] (2007) from Spain, and this is a perfect example of why subtitles are a reason for remakes. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s feature is one of the few gems within the found-footage sub-genre that everyone agrees is fucking scary. The American counterpart Quarantine (2008) was a decent enough film, and made $9m more than the original, so they’re both on par in terms of money. [REC] stands as one of the most terrifying found-footage experiences, although there is illogical consensus that it’s hard to follow with the distorted camera effects as well as the subtitles. Hence they remade the film with a dialogue that suits the lazy English speakers who have the audacity to label themselves as cinema aficionados yet dismiss foreign cinema altogether.
Moving past the illiterate subtitle haters, we come on to the topic of money. Funny Games (1997) is an Austrian thriller film directed by Michael Haneke, and it certainly causes a discussion amongst fans. Like marmite, I’ve met people who absolutely adore the film and those who detest it. The film caused controversy over its often senseless depiction of violence, however, those who like exploitation and extreme brutality class this as a great interpretation. What really captures me is how the fourth wall is broken, blurring the line between reality and fiction by forcing the viewer to feel as though they are an active observer to the horrendous crimes. Original director Haneke went on to direct the 2007 remake of the same name, which although is not regarded as the better film, made a higher profit at the box office. Funny Games (1997) made approximately $31,000 from its release whilst Funny Games (2007) made roughly $7.9m. Its adamantly clear that however much we all agree that the 1997 version was gruesomely great, Haneke prowled for money and achieved that by destroying the reputation of his original movie.
The Wicker Man (1973) stands as one of the most highly respected horror films of not only British cinema, but also worldwide cinema. There has never been anyone in my life that has disagreed that the remake is an abomination. The original British horror starred late legend Christopher Lee, known for his Dracula portrayal in Hammer Horror films, as Lord Summerisle in possibly his finest role ever. Then what did Neil LaBute go and do in his 2006 remake? He went and cast Nicholas Cage. Fucking Nicholas Cage. Even though Cage didn’t play Lee’s role, you can see the beginning of where everything started to go down hill, and it started before the film was even shot. Original director Robin Hardy didn’t want his name attached to the remake and even Cage agreed that it was “absurd”. So why was The Wicker Man actually remade? It wasn’t subtitles as both were English language; it wasn’t money as neither made much profit; so it seems it may have been a bandwagon situation, with certain people wanting in on the film’s success.
The trend of remaking a vast collection of reputable foreign horror films into below average American versions is an unstoppable force that unfortunately none of us can prevent. We can boycott through promotion of unique, fresh and new stories, but we’ll never stop the unimaginative. It seems there are three main reasons for these remakes; those too unmannerly to read subtitles, making a bigger profit and trying (usually failing) to pay homage by getting in on the action. Filmmaking should be about expressing your creative flair and producing a piece of cinema that represents the story you want to tell, not just stealing someone else’s individual concept because you want money, or to please an ignorant audience. Cinema flourishes because it’s an eclectic mix of different genres, styles, ideas, characters, themes, meanings, languages and cultures. Without exploring the world of foreign cinema, you’re severely hindering your knowledge and acceptance of world cinema whilst missing out of some truly memorable chills, guts and paranoid duvet-hidings.
“I don’t believe in remakes. You can make a follow up to a film, but to remake a movie with such history and success just doesn’t make sense to me.” – Christopher Lee
Written by Zoë Rose Smith (@ZoeRoseSmitz)
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