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Hollywood's unnecessary remake problem

Why, Lord, why? Why does Hollywood have to take old movies that were perfectly good to begin with and make completely unnecessary remakes out of them? Do the producers of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (now in theaters) really think they’re improving on the original? Do they think they’re doing us a favor? It can’t just be about the money, can it?

The following list is a sampling of movies that had to be made over because they weren’t good enough for modern audiences—at least, that’s what some genius somewhere thought. You could probably add a baker’s dozen of your own, and hey, we’d love to hear from you. Sadly, none of us got around to seeing British director Guy Ritchie’s inexplicable remake of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, starring his blushing bride, Madonna. Here at the Independent, our interest in the grotesque and macabre only goes so far.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)
This time, it’s in color and the female lead is an ass-kicking warrior princess instead of a simpering ninny. But most of the other elements of George Romero’s 1968 masterpiece are still in place: moaning zombies rising from their graves, seven strangers taking refuge in a Pennsylvania farmhouse, arguments over the relative safety of the basement (note to horror-movie protagonists: Stop going into the basement), patricide, a redneck sheriff delivering the classic line, “Ah, they’re dead, they’re all messed up,” and lots of horrific gore.

It’s not a bad resurrection of what may be the best low-budget horror film ever made, but it’s a mystery as to why Romero decided to pour his creative talents and his financing into a rehash instead of moving his apocalyptic plot forward. The 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead was an exceptional and intelligent piece of work, but the series was degraded in 1983 by the incompetent Day of the Dead. This remake, though watchable, was a wasted opportunity. (Tom Zoellner)

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Americans are dim children who can’t be trusted with ambiguity—that’s why Hollywood had to take us by our little hands and patiently explain everything that was left unsaid and partly open for interpretation in this remake of the Spanish original, Abre Los Ojos. Then again, it might have been because one of the lead actors didn’t understand it. You have to wonder who got to explain it to the other: Dianetics practitioner Tom Cruise, or his girlfriend Penélope Cruz, who also starred in the Spanish version. Have you ever noticed that she’s a total babe until she smiles, when her scrunched-up face looks like a rat’s? Director Cameron Crowe should know better. How would he feel if someone came along and tried to remake Fast Times at Ridgemont High? I probably shouldn’t even say that out loud. Someone will! (Andy Smetanka)

Lolita (1997)
British director Adrian Lyne’s remake of the Nabokov story isn’t exactly bad; it simply doesn’t have the ingenious casting of the 1962 Stanley Kubrick film going for it. Dominique Swain is very good as Dolores Haze, but Sue Lyons was better. Romantically constipated James Mason was the perfect Humbert Humbert; Jeremy Irons is just too Jeremy Irons. Melanie Griffiths is blowzy and whiny enough to seem like the perfect choice for Charlotte Haze, but she can’t hold a candle to Shelly Winters. And finally, no offense to Frank Langella, but there’s only one Clare Quilty, and his name is Peter Sellers. Now vamoose. (Andy Smetanka)

Diabolique (1996)
Can’t blame a guy for trying—even Alfred Hitchcock wanted to buy the rights to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 chiller about administrative skullduggery at a down-at-the-heels boarding school, but eventually settled for having the people who wrote the book write Vertigo for him instead. Pretty good deal, that.

But the doorknobs responsible for this idiotic remake, starring Sharon Stone and Isabella Adjani, just don’t understand squat about what made the original so creepy. They’ve completely gutted the logic of certain characters, cheated shamelessly with plot points, and befouled the surprise ending of the 1955 movie with not just one but multiple dumb turnarounds and slasher-movie clichés.

On the bright side, Chazz Palminteri’s character gets poisoned and drowned in a bathtub. Chazz Palminteri’s character should be poisoned and drowned in a bathtub in all his movies.(Andy Smetanka)

Psycho (1998)
Perhaps the most notorious remake of all, Gus Van Sant’s controversial (read: no one friggin’ asked for it!) 1998 remake is an exact replica of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Ur-slasher masterpiece. Again, it’s not exactly bad. How could it be been when the director literally copied the original shot for shot?

But Van Sant was also going toe-to-toe with some truly iconic performances and images, and he must have known it. You can’t just scrub your mind of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins and replace them with Anne Heche and Vince (Swingers) Vaughn. What the hell was he thinking? And do we really need to see Norman Bates masturbating?

Many a remake is made by people who don’t love the original movie enough. Van Sant’s problem is that he loved the original Psycho too much. If you really love something, just leave it alone. (Andy Smetanka)

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