As we noted in our recent assessment of the 10 best horror movie remakes of all time, the very idea of “horror remakes” makes goosebumps raise on the skin of many horror geeks—and not as a result of excitement. Unfortunately, the poor image of film remakes and reboots in this genre is a particularly well-earned one—there has been no dearth of unfathomably bad horror remakes over the years, which tends to make viewers wary about any horror remake, even to the point that they underrate the few that serviceably update their source material.
It’s hard to blame those jaded horror fans, though, given that perhaps more than any other genre, horror is susceptible to studio cash grabs. A marginally recognizable title is often all it takes to end up with yet another Amityville Horror project, or ill-fated reboots of beloved slasher franchises. These are films that can be made on the cheap, with little danger that they won’t recoup their meager budgets—so why not take a chance on remaking something like Poltergeist, even when you know the result is likely to be garbage? It’s still almost guaranteed to make its modest profit, ready to be funneled into the next cheap remake.
Which is to say, a lot of these remakes have been bad, and the stereotype of their low quality absolutely exists for a reason. But some of them are so aggressively bad, with so little reason to exist or redeeming qualities, that they take on a special aura of badness. These are those kinds of horror remakes.
This is one of those remakes that feels like it was made for the most cynical reasons imaginable—in particular, because some executive noticed the approaching date of “06/06/06” and thought, “Well sure, that’s reason enough to remake The Omen, right?” The original film from Richard Donner is no unimpeachable masterpiece, but it does at least possess a distinctive, apocalyptic aura that is hard to shake, suffused with the impression that intractable evil will triumph over virtue. 2006’s The Omen, on the other hand, is a particularly inert, lifeless retread of the same material, so similar in plotting that if you’ve seen the first film, you’ve effectively seen the latter. It suffers in every direct comparison, with leaden performances from Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber, and a miscast Damien who is portrayed as pure evil from the get-go, rather than a boy who may or may not deserve to die. It’s even hurting in the musical department, lacking anything to compare with Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score from 1976. Like so many of the worst remakes, it’s immediately forgettable and can’t provide any rationale for revisiting the material in the first place.
Although it may not feel like it now, there was good reason to be cautiously optimistic back in 2007, before Rob Zombie’s first Halloween film was released. The director’s personal style, as seen in the likes of The Devil’s Rejects, seemed to promise a dirtier, grittier take on the Halloween mythos, and the casting was a genre movie’s dream: Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis, joined by the ever-creepy Brad Dourif and a returning Danielle Harris, which was a nice nod to Halloween 4 and Halloween 5. In execution, though, the film falls apart, emphasizing too much Michael’s abusive childhood as the source of his violence. The menace of Michael Myers in the original Halloween is due to the impression that something unfathomable, alien and sinister has entered into this little boy and led him to do unspeakable things—not that he’s lashing out in an almost justifiable way against household abuse. The segments focused on Michael’s childhood muddy the waters of the film’s retelling of the Laurie Strode story, detracting from its supposed central character and instead focusing on a guy who comes off as a mentally ill drifter, more in need of antipsychotic drugs than a bullet. There’s been a concerted effort in recent years by some horror geeks to reclaim the reputation of this film, but it’s honestly not worth their efforts.
The 2015 remake of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist is a black hole from which no memory can seemingly escape, as even those who have seen this film seem unable to recall anything specific from it. Chalk that up to an entire cast who appear to be sleepwalking through every moment of this by-the-numbers remake, to the point that not even the likes of Sam Rockwell seem the least bit engaged with the material. Missing in its entirety is the warm, believable, Spielberg-inflected veracity of the family dynamic in the original film, as are the killer practical effects that helped to make several scenes from Poltergeist infamous. Here, they’re replaced with the exact sort of vacuous CGI you’d no doubt be expecting from the era, in service of characters who don’t even seem particularly concerned when their daughter is sucked into an interdimensional portal. This is a sleep-inducing Poltergeist—the film equivalent of barbiturates, as somehow even the jump scare-chords manage to sink it deeper into its lull, rather than adding any sense of urgency. It would be easy to believe if Rockwell said he had no memory of making this film today, as it seemed to come and go with less than zero cultural impact.
John Carpenter’s 1980 feature The Fog has a cool visual aesthetic and some nice-looking effects, but let’s be honest—it’s nowhere near the horror master’s best work. Certainly, there was no particular need or call from horror geeks to remake this particular film, nor anything interesting to uncover in a story of ghostly sailors having their revenge on the descendents of a town that wronged them. That goes doubly, when your biggest draw is Tom Welling, right in the middle of his Smallville days. Still, if this had just been a straight remake, it might have been merely relegated to the “forgettable” pile, but it jumps up a few notches on the absurdity scale with a last-minute twist that pushes the movie into ill-conceived “horror romance” territory at the cost of any remaining vestige of plausibility. That pointless twist curdles whatever meager enjoyment one might have been taking from this film, standing as just one more entry in a mid-2000s period that was particularly rife with bad horror remakes.
Most of the films on this list are remakes of horror classics that have been seen by a wide audience, but the original 1962 Carnival of Souls from director Herk Harvey still sits firmly in “cult classic” territory, albeit as a pretty influential example of early 1960s psychological horror that has garnered much contemporary admiration. The original film is a tight, minimalist horror flick made on a miniscule budget, hinging entirely on an anxiety laden performance from actress Candace Hilligoss as a woman fleeing from an impending doom that she can’t fully perceive. It’s a very effective demonstration of how a foreboding atmosphere can be evoked solely with strong cinematography and a patient, slow build to your payoff.
The remake, on the other hand … has a killer clown, who’s also a rapist! Yeah! Because someone remembered the film’s title, and the word “carnival” was in there, so … you know. Aside from cribbing elements of the twist ending from the original, albeit in a way that is much more ham-handed, this is a remake in name only, and one that is much more badly hamstrung by its lack of a budget than the original Carnival of Souls ever was. Wes Craven, in full-on check-collecting mode, served as a producer, causing the film to be marketed as Wes Craven Presents: Carnival of Souls. One would have hoped that after the payday of Scream, such potboiler projects would have been unnecessary. As it is, this film stands as a weird attempt to cash in on the title of another movie that wasn’t even particularly well known at the time.
The J-horror/Asian horror craze of the early 2000s gave us some pretty bad American remakes, including the likes of Pulse, Shutter, Mirrors and The Eye, but One Missed Call really deserves extra badness points simply for the fact that anyone could have seen that the genre had become played out by this point, with whatever power The Ring had brought along with it having dissipated harmlessly by the time One Missed Call dragged itself into theaters. This is certainly the most laughable of the bunch, hopeless derivative of the structure of The Ring while containing haphazard visual effects that are rendered so silly, they venture into unintentionally comedic territory. Flat and bloodless, without even satisfying deaths to speak of, this is a good example of PG-13 horror at its most insipid. The only thing you can say for it is that at least it wasn’t butchering a classic, given that Takashi Miike’s original doesn’t have the most ardent following either. Along with Mirrors and The Uninvited, the reception of One Missed Call put a final nail in the coffin of the J-horror craze.
The original April Fool’s Day was a 1986 quasi-slasher that proved more than a little divisive, mostly because it contains a particularly infamous twist that redefines all the events of the film when it finally arrives. It’s a “love it or hate it” scenario for most horror fans, but the remake, on the other hand, generated a much more unanimous response. This is one of those remakes that doesn’t even seem to have any particular fondness for the film that preceded it, having only the barest hint of resemblance. Instead, it’s much more like a neutered version of the late ’90s teen horror sub-genre that gave us the likes of Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, with a set-up shamelessly cribbed from the latter a decade later. Full of grating, spoiled brat characters, and taking place on sets that look borrowed from daytime soap operas, it doesn’t even have the decency to bump these people off with any semblance of style. Released the same year as the equally loathed Prom Night remake, this marked a definite low point for creatively bankrupt ’80s slasher retreads.
A film so disappointing in its wasted potential that we recently published an entire essay on its failings, complete with commentary from Robert Englund, the 2010 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street fundamentally miscalculated what its audience would want to see in a reboot of the series. Its exploration of the pre-slasher roots of Freddy Krueger is uncomfortable in its desire to first make Freddy’s formerly implied sexual predation into an explicit reality, and then question whether he might have really been an innocent man, unjustly lynched by the Elm Street parents. Suffice to say, neither were topics that any fan of the series wanted to explore—not with a character that was already so well defined as Freddy Krueger, who had practically become the protagonist of the series over time. The film also squanders this opportunity to truly capitalize on what might have been possible in depicting Freddy’s dream world via truly modern CGI, which was one of the only good arguments a fan might have made in support of remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street in the first place. Instead, there’s no creativity at all on display, nor any inspired carnage—just retreads of entire sequences from the original, rendered less convincingly here than they were in 1984. There were a whole lot of bad decisions made here.
I can at least believe that someone like Rob Zombie genuinely intended to honor the legacy of John Carpenter when he sat down to write a Halloween remake, but 2008’s Day of the Dead can be afforded no such goodwill. This is a cash-in of the worst and most transparent order, never hiding its total indifference toward George Romero’s 1985 source material, widely regarded as one of the greatest zombie films of all time. Where Romero’s original is a bitter judgement of fragile male egos and their tendency to expand to fill any power void, this is just direct-to-video fluff that happens to share some characters with the same names. It’s not even directly tied in any way to Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, which exceeded (meager) expectations by suitably refreshing Romero’s mall-set consumerist satire for the 2000s. Day, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like anyone put any thought or effort into it—not its writer, or director, and certainly not its performers, or they might have objected to a film with a defining feature that isn’t “memorable characters” but “the number of fake CGI explosions.” It’s filled with embarrassingly stereotyped characters, inconsistent zombies that ignore Romero’s conventions for the genre, and more shaky-cam than you can possibly imagine. We pray that Romero himself never bothered to give this a watch.
It seems like there’s been a subtle effort over the years to shift perception of Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man. More reviewers seem to characterize the film over time as some sort of intentional gonzo comedy, with even Cage and the film’s director implying that we were meant to be laughing at this travesty all along. And I don’t buy that for a second, because it minimizes what a disaster this remake truly was, no different than Tommy Wiseau attempting to claim that The Room was meant to be comedic all along. Much of The Wicker Man is indeed hilarious, but it’s also appalling terrible on every level, and Cage and co. were absolutely trying to make a frightening horror film that went totally awry—don’t let them tell you otherwise. This movie is as bad as you’ve heard, and then so much worse.
Where to even start? Where the original 1973 Wicker Man is a dreamy, pastoral mystery that projects an ominous, almost blasphemous tone, the remake is an exercise in steadily mounting absurdity and some of the most bizarre dialog the genre has ever seen. Gone are the religious motifs of the original, swapped for some “battle of the sexes” material that doesn’t make any particular sense, but that’s par for the course in The Wicker Man, where even the film’s most often repeated images don’t connected to its plot in any way. Nicolas Cage, meanwhile, is a man possessed, tearing through this tiny town in a fury the likes of which bad movie-dom has never seen before or since. There’s just nothing quite like the scenes of him winging haymakers or karate kicking his way through the women of this town—a more memorable sight even than his eventual punishment via bee stings, or his curse that “killing me won’t bring back your goddamn honey!” Truly, there is no comparison.