Top 5 Remakes That Were Better Than The Original

As we groan in abject disdain as Hollywood pumps out more and more seemingly pointless remakes (hello Robocop and the-stuck-in-development-hell Highlander) we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that sometimes the remake can actually improve on the original. Yes, the percentages are low, for every Coen Brothers True Grit there is a bargain basement Get Carter, but remakes can sometimes surprise us, adding a new dimension to an old story, and in some cases (which there are two of on this list) new technology and visual effects can provide a more visceral experience.

I admit, I am a little bit of snob when it comes to remakes, especially those that don’t seem have a point to it; doing a remake for the sake of ego boosting or raising the profile of a particular actor/director makes absolutely no sense to me, there has to be an advance or something fresh whether it be political, technological, sociological, whatever… that the original either was lacking or fudged in the first place.

So here we are, my own personal top 5 remakes that were better than the originals.

1. Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978)

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The 70s remake of ‘Invasion…’ is on every single one of these remake lists and usually at the top. The reason being because it is absolutely bloody marvellous. The original ‘Invasion…’ was released in 1956 and dismissed without fanfare by the critics but as time as passed it has been widely re-assessed as an allegoric masterpiece tapping into the paranoia and fear of the US populace during the rise of communism and the Soviet Union. The remake keeps the main themes intact, the dangers of conformity, or not asking questions of those around, of just blending into the crowd, of someone exerting complete control over your mind and body, but ramps up the visuals with some deeply disturbing and Cronenberg-esque body horror (see the scene in the garden with Donald Sutherland and bunch of replicated bodies writhing on the grass). And that final scene, oh that final scene, hopeful at first and then horrific afterwards, I dare you to find a closing scene that gives you such a conflicting shock of emotions. Also you get a very, very youthful Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland with a moustache and perm. I don’t know what much more you would need.

2. The Thing (1982)

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A remake of an adaptation of book that has its own prequel, The Thing has its origins and tentacles all over modern cinema, but John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror is unparalleled in both technical achievement and as a perfect example of how to execute a simple plot in one location with small band of actors. We all know from a previous post how much i admire Kurt Russell and his glorious beard, but credit also has to go to the supporting cast, specifically Keith David as Childs and Donald Moffat as Garry (who has a cracking one liner during the tense blood test stand off). Like ‘Invasion…’ above, the main progression from the original is the special effects. Rob Bottin and his team create some effects and pieces so disgusting and strange that it’s both mildly stomach churning yet extremely difficult to look away. The Thing is not a complex watch but is a compelling one, and again like ‘Invasion…’ and all good sci-fi horror films, the ending is bleak but open for endless theorising, and I am not ashamed to say that I have watched the videos and read the message boards about whether or not Childs or MacReady or either of them is The Thing at the end (and it’s a heck of a rabbit hole).

 

3. The Departed (2006)

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A remake of the Hong Kong crime drama Infernal Affairs, The Departed is absolutely rammed to the gills of all the actors the Scorsese had on speed dial, apart from De Niro who was probably off making a shit comedy because he is De Niro. You’d think with all that talent, and egos probably, that The Departed would possibly sink under the weight but this is Scorsese and he is the king of keeping an ensemble cast in check (I’m guessing by boomeranging his eyebrows if one of them gets a bit feisty). This is one of those remakes that sort of doesn’t have a point to it apart from it being adapted from the Far East in order to suit the American market and usually that just doesn’t work (I’m looking at you Oldboy and Dark Water), but The Departed is one of those rare occasions  where everything just works. Damon and DiCaprio are the two sides of the same coin with Jack Nicholson, as unpredictable as ever, flipping between the two of them. The supporting cast is sublime (the scenes with Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg out-yelling and out-swearing each other is worth the price of a dvd alone), the script has some wonderfully ornate foul language and strong twists and turns, and while it does run on a little long, The Departed just pips Infernal Affairs in high crime drama stakes.

4. The Fly (1986)

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Of all the body horror films The Fly is the one that stays with me the most, probably because it’s the most…. juicy. A remake of the 1958 film, it sticks to the core plot of mad scientist mixes atoms with a fly after a cross-contamination incident but takes the gore and excess to new heights. There’s acid vomit, a maggot baby, Jeff Goldblum (who obviously has good taste in sci-fi because this is his second appearance on this list) falling apart in the most grotesque manner possible, and some phenomenally vile set pieces. The 1958 version was shocking at its time, the visual effects disturbed and appalled in equal measure, but watching it now it’s almost amateurish, so Cronenberg’s remake is a prime example of how advancing technology aids and gives reason to a great remake.

 
5. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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I’m being bold here and letting you all know that I am not a fan of musicals. Most musicals bring me out in a serious case of hives. Just give me drama, give me comedy, don’t sing it at me. Ya dig? However, I will let Little Shop of Horrors through my musical defences. A remake of a Broadway musical which in turn was based on Roger Corman’s 1960 film, Little Shop of Horrors is an absolute blast. With its tongue firmly in cheek, it presents the story of sad old Seymour and Audrey, desperate to escape the NYC slum and end up in the possession of a strange plant that feeds on human blood. What follows is a bizarre, amusing and pleasingly camp 90 minutes with some wonderful musical song and dance routines, and some glorious cameos from Bill Murray and Steve Martin. The original 60s film wasn’t a musical at all, just a very low budget black comedy and it did work, but when presented with the 80s form with musical additions then you realise that this remake is exactly what Little Shop of Horrors needed.

My Top 5 Musicals (for people who don’t like musicals)

I have a little confession to make.

I love musicals.

I love the stories, the romance, the songs! I love learning the songs and singing along, much to the annoyance of my housemates and neighbours (they dread Christmas and my annual Nightmare Before Christmas sing along), they’re quite often a bit of good old fashioned, campy fun.

Which is why I never understand it when people tell me they don’t like musicals, how can you not love escapist cinema in it’s purest form. For a couple of hours you’re going to get some great songs, a bit of a love story and a rolicking good time!

So, to try and spread the joy and my love of musicals to as many people as possible, I present to you a list of musicals that have often been accompanied by the phrase ‘I don’t like musicals, but I loved that!’.

5) The Wiz (1978, 127mins, U, Dir: Sidney Lumet)

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The Wiz, a Motown production, presents an alternative look at the The Wizard of Oz. Goodbye cute little Munchkins from the Lollypop guild, and hello urban wall dwelling graffiti munchkins!

I’m sure you’re familiar with the original story, Dorothy (here played by Diana Ross) ends up in Munchkinland and kills the Wicked Witch. The only way she can get home is by visiting the Wizard in the Emerald City, with Dorothy making friends with some unlikely heroes along the way.

As much as The Wiz sticks with the original plot it makes up for it with it’s wonderfully original design. It transports Oz from being a twee cute world into one of urban vibrancy. It celebrates African American culture, when it was first performed on broadway it was lauded for it’s roots in African American culture.

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This celebration is most present in the soundtrack. The songs are all wonderful and full of soul, the title of the original broadway musical is The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. As soon as they hit wonderland you’re taken back to that great era of soul, the mid seventies. 

Should see this film, it’s for a Sunday afternoon. Just look at Michael Jackson as the scarecrow there! Look at his little face, you wouldn’t to disappoint him, would you? Go watch it!

4) South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999, 78mins. 15, Dir: Trey Parker)

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Those of us of a certain age are sure to have watched this at some point. Due to its excellent story and writing, the fact it’s a musical often gets forgotten.

It’s rude, crude and sometimes kinda lewd.

All our favourite foul mouthed 8 year olds are here, and they have to go on an adventure to liberate their comedy heroes Terrance and Phillip who are to be executed for farting on TV.

Yeah, it’s as daft and as bitingly satirical as you could hope for from a big screen outing of one of the smartest shows on television.

The songs are wonderfully written and composed, especially with the Oscar Nominated ‘Blame Canada’. It’s here that we really see the influences of classic musicals such as Les Miserable.

If you want a bit of biting satire with your spontaneous music sequences then this is the one for you!

 

3) Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, 96mins, 15, Dir: Jim sharman)

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One of the original Midnight Movies, Rocky Horror has delighted audiences for 40 years.

It was first recognised for being terrible, audiences would start dressing up and talking or responding to the dialogue on screen, giving the film it’s cult classic status.

Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sandon) find themselves with a flat tyre, so they knock at the door of the nearest mansion to use the phone (remember kids, people in the 70s didn’t have mobiles), where they find themselves in a musical house of horrors.

This is the film that gave us the Time Warp, a staple of school discos everywhere. It’s got Meatloaf riding a motorcycle through a wall, it has half naked men running about the place, and best of all it has Dr Frank ‘N’ Furter (played wonderfully by Tim Curry) the ultimate transvestite party boy who creates his own human toy.

I Rocky Horror is truly a beacon for the lost generation, for those that march to the beat of their own drummer, it’s united those of us who enjoy and revel in the non-mainstream, the freaks, the weirdos. Watch this if you have ever felt ‘out of place’, you may just fit in.

 

2) Pitch Perfect (2012, 112mins, 12, Dir: Jason Moore)

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The most recent film on my list; Pitch Perfect has the perfect mix of irreverent comedy and brilliant songs. Unlike the other films this one relies mostly on cover versions, making Pitch Perfect feel like the edgier, more grown up,  cousin of Glee.

The story follows Becca (Anna Kendrick) as she tries to make friends with the Barden Bellas, her college’s only all female acapella group. The Bella’s are fighting their way to get to the national championships and come up against some stiff competition.

The premise sounds kinda lame, but I promise that I have yet to meet anyone who has not been swept along with it’s amazing cheeriness, brilliant covers of some inspired songs, and fantastic humour (with just the right hint of a bit of gross out). A shout out goes to Rebel Wilson who mostly improvised her lines.

 

1) Little Shop of Horrors (1986, 91mins, PG, Dir: Frank Oz)

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And so we make it to the final curtain. Little Shop of Horrors is with Rocky Horror in the cult classic camp. Like many great films that have reached the hearts of the people this didn’t do too well at the box office and really found it’s home in, well, the home. It’s release on VHS and Betamax really gave this it’s cult status.

Seymore (the always lovable Rick Moranis) was out buying plants one day (for the flower shop he works in) and came across an unusual looking plant. He simply has to buy it, and then name it Audrey II after his crush. The delightfully high pitched Audrey who goes out with a scoundrel dentist played by Steve Martin. However, it turns out the plant only eats human blood… Dum dun duuuuuunnnnnn.

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There is nothing not to like here, it’s got bright, lovely and somewhat intimate songs (see Audrey singing ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and not cry, I dare you!) to great scary moments. There’s thrills, there’s spills, there are moments where you’ll laugh, cry, and maybe wet your pants, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The puppetry was all the work of the Jim Henson Co. and it is astounding. There are stories I could tell about how they had to shoot certain scenes at super slow speeds and speed it up later so it syncs up with lyrics.

See this film! There is really no reason not to, the musical numbers are just fab and very original, there’s a mix of genres, the design is scrungy yet beautiful, the characters are just adorable and lovely. I would recommend the Blu-Ray version as you can opt to play it with the original ending. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s very different from the theatrical version.