8. Black Christmas (1974)
After a series of threatening prank calls are made to a sorority house, the female residents are sequentially chased and murdered by an unseen lunatic hiding in the attic. The film was marketed with the immortal tagline, “If this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, then it’s on too tight!” A brilliant tagline which the film actually matches.
Considered to be a major influence on the emergence of the slasher films as it pre-dated ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday The 13th’, Black Christmas is a truly nasty horror film made all the more disturbing by a lack of motive and identity on the killer’s part and simply due to the fact that it takes place during the festive season. Even the bizarre dots of humour make the film all the more peculiar.
Released as ‘Black Xmas’, this banal remake only goes for gore and jump scares and even decides to attach a hackneyed backstory to the killer; a common trait of remakes and something that the original worked so well without. The utter grotesqueness of the film (hanging eyeballs from the Christmas tree, making cookies out of skin…) provide only the darkest hints of humour, but this is largely a dull remake through and through which the young cast could not save.
In retrospect, the remake was unfortunately pointless. The Yuletide season has provided us with so many schlocky horror films (‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’, ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Santa Claws’, etc) and the remake just adds to that pile. The original is still the granddaddy of Christmas horror films.
7. The Eye (2002)
Lee Sin-Je has been blind all of her life, but when she undergoes a corneal transplant to finally give her vision, her first blurry images of the world hold a ghastly surprise for her. Whose eyes does she now have and why is now cursed with such horrific visions?
With a genuinely extraordinary premise and a first 50 minutes chock full of individual and absolutely terrifying moments, Danny and Oxide Pang’s supernatural fright-fest is truly one of the most effective horror films of the last fifteen years.
The inevitable remake arrived 6 years later with Jessica Alba in the lead role and was one of the last of the English-language renditions of East-Asian horrors such as ‘Ring’, ‘Dark Water’ and ‘The Grudge’. Sadly, the strongest aspect of this remake was the striking theatrical poster that depicted a hand clawing its way out of an eye socket; the film fails to capture the panache, the mystery and the scares of the original.
It would be wise to stick with the original as still remains a truly frightening and imaginative film; one of the most competent of the flurry of East-Asian horrors which arrived during the late-90s/mid-00s. The remake has banality written all over it.
6. The Crazies (1973)
George A. Romero’s first venture back to horror after his game-changing ‘Night of the Living Dead’ five years previously. The Crazies focuses on a town whose water supply has been accidentally contaminated by an untested government bio-weapon that turns the locals into remorseless killers. The film cuts between a party of survivors who are trying to escape the town and the military and politicians who are attempting to keep the contagion under wraps from the rest of the country.
The clunky cutting back-and-forth between the two groups severely undercuts any of the film’s potential tension but also simultaneously gives the film a sort of pseudo-documentary quality. This is bolstered by a sense of rawness that the film has in spades; the same rawness which made ‘Night of the Living Dead’ so successful, but the success was not to be repeated with The Crazies as it failed to make any kind of impression in 1973.
Although the remake did not capture the documentary-like reality of the original, it certainly upped the tension and introduced a series of even grislier deaths. The remake is definitely a tighter film and the narrative is a lot more cohesive by featuring a set of characters who are followed more attentively, but the end result still feels a little prosaic for the genre.
Many would agree that it is something of an improvement on Romero’s 1973 version, but the remake simply lacks the chaos and despondent mood of the Vietnam War that the original was attempting to emanate. The original remains a must for Romero fans, although the remake is competent enough to be successful.
5. The Fly (1958)
The Original Film
The Fly is a film which espoused the popular 1950s motif of ‘warning man not to meddle with what he does not fully understand’ (thanks to anxiety over The Cold War, the advent of nuclear power stations and some major scientific breakthroughs).
It concerns a scientist whose molecules are fused with those of a housefly during an experiment. Before long, his head and body have become bristly and insect-like and he has developed some rather striking compound eyes too! The climax features what is still considered one of the classic moments of horror as the doomed scientist-fly-hybrid lays stuck helplessly in a cobweb shrieking “Help me” as a spider approaches.
David Cronenberg’s 1986 gooey and remake completely eschewed any kookiness or kitsch which time had seemingly exposed in the original.
The film was an update in many aspects: firstly the special effects which presented some of the grossest gore ever put on screen at that point, secondly the logistics of the premise are explored much more methodically and in disturbing detail (Jeff Goldblum’s fingernails, teeth, and basically everything else falling off as well as him vomiting on his food) and thirdly, the parables here reflect more timely issues of the 1980s; namely diseases and AIDS although it surely echoes the technological anxieties of the original.
The 1986 version is often – and arguably rightly – considered to be the better version of the story. Just as well, the Neumann 1958 version remains a classic in its own right and certainly had a telling influence over the abundance of visceral body-horror films that emerged in the 1980s, not just its own remake.
4. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
The release of the 1956 version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (and Jack Finney’s novel) tapped into the zeitgeist of its time so very particularly. Its themes reflected the paranoia and hysteria surrounding the McCarthy era in 50s America and many people also perceived the emotionless “pod people” – who are quickly replacing the small town citizens – to be communists lurking within the contemporaneous American midst.
Uncharacteristically for its time, the film features one of the most hopeless and chilling endings that horror or science-fiction has ever given us.
So far there have been no less than three remakes of the film (or re-adaptations of the novel). The first was Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version which added some squishy special effects, had a solid cast and also introduced audiences to the unfathomably odd “dog-man pod” as well as the infamous Donald Sutherland scream.
Abel Ferrara then offered his take on the premise in 1993, simply titled Body Snatchers. This version shifts the events into a small town military base where the detached “pod people” are mirrored by the mindless obedience of the soldiers. Though it does not seem to harness the sense of utter despair that the 1956 or 1978 version did, this overlooked film is still a unique and startling reinterpretation of the well-trodden story.
Finally, in 2007, came The Invasion; easily the worst of the remakes. This time the alien fungus causes an epidemic in Washington D.C., but a psychiatrist’s son proves to be immune and may hold the answer to a cure. Alleged interfering from the studio led to the film becoming a slightly incoherent mess with an abundance of contrived references to the war in Iraq proving to be more awkward than sobering.
Along with zombies, (which are almost the same thing) “pod people” have proven to be the perfect metaphors to represent the troubles of their times and even with three (two great) remakes standing chronologically before it, the original is still where it all started.
3. The Thing From Another World (1951)
Going back to the 1950s themes of anxiety borne primarily from the Cold War, science-fiction films like this and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ exploited the fact that people were anxious and forever looking into the night skies and wondering if an attack would ever take place. Imaginations went wild and the possibility of aliens coming to visit seemed like a more enjoyable premise than getting blasted into oblivion.
The film focuses on a team of researchers who are based in the North Pole as they unearth a frozen alien creature from the ice. It thaws out whilst at their base and proceeds to wreak havoc, killing whoever crosses its path. Although not particularly terrifying by today’s standards, The Thing From Another World remains thoroughly entertaining by maintaining its creepy atmosphere and featuring some priceless dialogue (“An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles…”).
In the same vein as Cronenberg’s version of ‘The Fly’, Russell’s ‘The Blob’ and Kaufman’s ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, Carpenter’s 1982 update of The Thing From Another World added cutting edge practical effects and increased the ambience of terror and dread considerably.
This version also opted to go back to the original John W. Campbell story ‘Who Goes There?’ where the alien entity can assimilate whoever it comes into contact with instead of the original’s giant man carrot. The film famously succumb to “the summer of E.T.” and was dismissed upon its release, but has undergone a massive re-evaluation since then and is now widely considered a classic.
It may have been outshined by what is rightly consider to be a superior remake, but people should not forget about the original Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks screen adaptation. Like its 1982 remake, time has mostly been kind to this classic 50’s sci-fi horror.
2. The Haunting (1963)
The Original Film
The Haunting is an absolutely masterful exercise in producing “implied terror” by director Robert Wise. All that the characters experiences is bending doors, walls that looks eerily like faces and deafeningly loud banging noises approaching from down the long hallways and its almost too much to take.
The film does not show one drop of blood, or even a solitary ghostly apparition, just an atmosphere of utter dread to help simulate a perfect haunted house.
Where the original 1963 version utilized minimal effects, mystery and tension to drive itself forward, Jan De Bont and his collaborators sought to bombard audiences with horrendous CGI and gory death sequences as if to say that “this is exactly what the original needed and now we can do it!”
As remakes go, this has to be one of the biggest misfires there ever was as it completely goes against what the original achieved so eloquently. An abysmal and retrogressive film that cannot even be alleviated by its star-studded cast.
You should avoid the remake, the only excuse one should really have to watch the 1999 version is to witness exactly how not to remake a film. The 1963 version is a masterpiece and the only telling of The Haunting which should matter.
1. Ringu (1998)
A female journalist begins investigating the death of her niece and some friends and traces the events back to a supposedly cursed videotape. Despite seeming a little too farfetched on the surface, it is a truly chilling movie and contains what is arguably one of the most heart-stopping finales in horror history.
With certain elements inspired by Peter Medak’s chiller ‘The Changeling’ and some inventively modern twists on the urban myth, Hideo Nakata’s Ringu took the horror world by storm in 1998 and certified East-Asia as the chief manufacturer of horror for the next decade. A modern genre classic.
Directed by Gore Verbinski of ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ fame, this is an otherwise highly watchable and suitably creepy Hollywood churning of the original Ringu and Naomi Watts gives a spirited performance in the lead role. But ultimately, it lacks the visceral impact of the 1998 version and the sucker-punch climax is not half as effective as that particularly ghastly moment in the original thanks again to the ignominious excess of now-dated CGI.
‘The Ring’ is respectable remake, but the original is the better film and most importantly, a lot scarier. It is one of biggest cases where the remake seems get a lot more credit that the original gets, especially in English speaking countries. This is a big misfortune as surely many people have heard of the original, but are not prepared to watch it after seeing it in their language. Such is the case with many films that have been included on this list.
Author Bio: Liam Hathaway has a lifelong passion of watching and reading about any/every sort of film which has lead him to be a Film Studies student at Sheffield Hallam University. His favourite directors at the moment are John Carpenter, Ben Wheatley, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese.