Have you ever watched a horror remake and thought, “What’s the point?” That seems to happen to us genre fans way too often. Whether it’s Gus Van Sant’s almost shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, Peter Jackson’s torturously long retelling of King Kong, or the straight-up terrible 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street, there’s no shortage of reimagined classics that feel like little more than wastes of our time. They don’t give us anything worthwhile that we can’t get from the originals, so there’s really not much point in watching them.
But they’re not all like that. While horror remakes can be notoriously bad, there are a bunch of notable exceptions. Some of these movies put cool new twists on stories we know and love, and others reimagine their source material in completely new ways. But there’s one thing all these films have in common: they set themselves apart from previous iterations and give us ample reason to esteem them alongside the originals.
So if you’re on the prowl for some horror movies that prove “remake” isn’t a dirty word, let me help you out a bit. Here are five of the best cinematic retellings of classic spooky stories, laying to rest once and for all the understandable but ultimately wrongheaded idea that beloved horror tales should never be put to film more than once.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
The original Nosferatu is one of the founding fathers of the horror genre. Released in 1922, it’s a silent adaptation of the Dracula story, but it tells that story very differently than most other adaptations. For example, it changes the names of all the characters, it gives the count a much more devilish, almost rat-like look, and it puts its own unique spin on the horrors he brings to his new city. Nosferatu the Vampyre is a retelling of this version of the classic story, but it changes all the names back to what they were in the novel.
If that’s all you knew about this movie, you might think it was just another throwaway horror remake. But you’d be wrong. This film has become a classic in its own right, and for good reason. Most notably, it’s one of the most beautifully shot and scored horror films ever made. Not only are the cinematography and score fantastic on their own, but they complement each other perfectly, creating an almost hypnotic ambiance that hooks you and draws you in right from the beginning.
That alone makes this remake more than worth your time, but it’s not the only thing that sets it apart from the original. Nosferatu the Vampyre also gives Dracula himself much more depth than he has in just about any other adaptation of Stoker’s novel. When most people think of the count, they think of pure evil. They imagine a demonic killing machine that goes about his business with just about as much emotion or humanity as a great white shark, but this version of the character is very different.
He’s lonely and weary, tired of passing through the ages without any companionship. He experiences the same monotony from day to day and century to century, so he longs to be free from the curse of immortality. This existential slant makes him a real character, not just a force of nature like he is in the original, so you can empathize with him and relate to him. It adds a unique twist to the story of the 1922 classic, and when you combine it with the great cinematography and score, you get more than enough reason to give Nosferatu the Vampyre a watch.
John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and I’d be lying if I said that having an excuse to rewatch it wasn’t part of my motivation for writing this article. It’s a masterclass in tension and suspense, and it has some phenomenal practical effects that still hold up almost forty years later.
Most genre fans are familiar with this film, but what’s not so well known is that it’s actually a remake of a 1951 horror movie called The Thing from Another World. That film is a classic too, but Carpenter’s version is so good that it has pretty much completely overshadowed the original and almost driven it into obscurity.
That’s a pretty amazing feat, but the quality of this movie isn’t the only thing that sets it apart from its predecessor. The Thing also changes the monster in a big way and tells a completely different kind of story. The original is a pretty straightforward “alien attack” movie. The humans uncover an alien that’s been trapped in ice for a really long time, and when it comes back to life, they have to band together to defeat it.
In contrast, Carpenter’s monster is much more subtle. It doesn’t just attack the people it encounters. Rather, it kills them and then takes their form, allowing it to move freely among the other characters without being noticed. They can never be sure who’s really human and who’s a “thing” until it lashes out and reveals itself, so paranoia and suspicion run amok. Nobody knows who they can trust, so instead of banding together to fight a common enemy, the group turns inward and they fight one another.
That’s a very different story than the original, so it almost feels wrong to call this movie a remake. It might be better to say it’s a reimagining of the bare-bones premise of its predecessor, but whatever you want to call it, one thing is clear. The Thing in no way steps on the toes of The Thing from Another World, so there’s room for both of these classic films in the horror genre today.
Of all the horror remakes on this list, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is arguably the one that’s most unlike its original. Both versions are about a scientist who inadvertently turns himself into a human/fly hybrid with his newly invented teleportation device, but beyond that basic idea, they don’t have much in common.
For starters, they structure their stories in different ways. The original begins by setting up a mystery about how the main character died, and then it slowly reveals its secrets through a series of flashbacks. In contrast, the remake is a straightforward, linear narrative that unfolds chronologically from start to finish.
More importantly, the movies’ respective monsters are also very different, and they make for very different stories. In the original version, the scientist turns into a sort of insectoid chimera. He emerges from the teleporter with the head and arm of a fly, and the fly in turn comes out with the head and arm that he lost. From there, the story becomes a race against the clock as the scientist tries to capture the fly and make himself whole again before his new fly instincts take over his mind.
In the remake, the scientist completely absorbs the fly, and at first, he doesn’t even realize it. His behavior is a bit different, and he’s much stronger and more agile than before, but he thinks those changes are just natural results of the teleportation process itself. However, he eventually learns the truth, as his behavior grows increasingly erratic and his body undergoes a series of gruesome, irreversible alterations until he finally becomes a human-sized insect.
Those are very different stories, so much like The Thing, The Fly is also more of a reimagining than a strict remake. It shares the same basic premise as the original, but it executes that premise in a completely different way. It’s just about the furthest thing from a pointless, regurgitative horror remake, so it definitely deserves its spot on this list.
The original The Blob is one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi horror films from the 1950s. It’s about an alien creature that’s literally just a blob of red goo, and it crawls around devouring people, growing bigger with every person it eats. The remake from the 1980s follows that same basic premise and even retains a number of specific plot points, but it differentiates itself just enough from its predecessor that it’s well worth a watch.
To begin, the blob effects are much better than the original. Now, I don’t normally think better effects are enough to justify remaking a movie, but this one doesn’t just redo the same things with updated visuals. No, this remake takes its titular creature in some cool new directions and even manages to add the slightest bit of depth to the monster.
For instance, while the original blob pretty much just rolled over people to eat them, this new one shoots out tendrils of goo to grab its victims and drag them towards it. On top of that, there are also a few times when you see its victims’ decomposing bodies inside of it, something the 1950s version never showed you. If you’ve never seen the movie, those may not sound like huge changes, but they actually add a sinister touch to this seemingly impersonal monster and almost make it feel like a different creature altogether.
Secondly, the remake also gives the story a new slant that completely alters its meaning. In the original The Blob, the monster was just a straight-up alien, but in the 1980s version, it’s actually a government germ warfare experiment gone wrong. With this one change, the film turns a story that was originally about fear of “the other” into an almost anarchic tale about why you shouldn’t trust the government, and even though it was made over thirty years ago, that theme is still very relevant today (no matter which side of the aisle you’re on).
All that being said, I have to admit that this movie still feels very much like its predecessor. At the end of the day, it’s the same basic story with just a few new twists, but in my opinion, those twists are enough. They don’t radically change the film à la The Thing or The Fly, but The Blob remake is just different enough that there’s room for both versions in my heart and in my Blu-ray collection.
It (Chapters One and Two)
A lot of people who grew up in the 1990s are big fans of the original It miniseries. They have fond memories of being scared silly by Pennywise when they were younger, and if you ask them about it today, many still consider it one of the scariest horror movies ever made. And for a long time, I was in a similar boat. While the movie never scared me, I did really like it as a kid, so as I grew into adulthood I always considered myself a fan of it even though I hadn’t seen it in ages.
But that all changed when I rewatched the miniseries a few years ago. While Tim Curry’s Pennywise lives up to the hype, the rest of the movie is lackluster at best (and that’s probably being generous). The original Stephen King’s It is simply not a good film, and in my experience, most people who still think it is just haven’t watched it in about thirty years.
So it’s easy to see why It and It Chapter Two land a spot on this list (yes, they’re two separate movies, but together they comprise a remake of one film): they’re actually good. Sure, the sequel doesn’t nearly live up to chapter one, but it’s an enjoyable enough conclusion to the story, and it’s still way better than the 1990s miniseries.
Literally, the only thing the original has over the remakes is Tim Curry’s iconic performance as Pennywise, but Bill Skarsgard isn’t that far behind. He’s also great in the role, so in my opinion, there’s not much of a reason to ever rewatch the original. I, for one, don’t have the patience to sit through a bad three-hour movie just to see one admittedly legendary performance, so whenever I want to watch the tale of Pennywise and the Losers Club, I always go for the remakes.