I’ve been wallowing in the mantrum over the all-female Ghostbusters remake coming out soon for a week or so (if you want to see some top-shelf dude-vapors, visit my professional Facebook page). Annoying the fragile masculinities of those guys is both my job and my hobby, but through all of it, there’s another facet of the debate I find really odd. If there’s one thing the misogynists, feminists and everyone in between can seem to agree on, it’s that there are too many reboots and remakes in Hollywood, and that being properly, righteously angry at that is the preferred mode.
But why, though? What is the point of being mad at remakes and reboots as a concept? It seems weird that you can just say, “I’m against remakes” and such a wide swath of people will accept that as a valid stance without question.
My favorite horror franchise is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and yes, the original film is right at the top of the list of my favorite Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. I still have nightmares about that thing. It’s just one of the most perfect horror films ever made.
But consider Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the franchise, as a whole. Three films that are more or less a connected trilogy, a fourth film that works either as a sequel or as a reboot depending on how important it is to you for it to count, a remake, a prequel to the remake, a 3D sequel to the original film that ignores everything else, and an upcoming prequel to the original. That is a lot of looks at that story.
With soon to be eight films in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is more than just a movie at this point; it’s a complex cultural artifact that fulfills a need. There are themes that run through it that remain viable as Leatherface becomes an entrenched figure of cinematic terror. Humanity’s fear that we’ll be treated the way we treat animals, the terror of industrial machinery and what it can indifferently do to our bodies, hillbilly-phobia that stretches back to at least Lovecraft, and a monster who is more beaten-dog than man when you really examine him are all staples of modern horror in part because they continue to be expressed excellently through Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. These are things that we are still scared of, and for good reasons.
Whether you examine those themes through Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (and I love this glorious train wreck of a film), or through the original, or through the 3D sequel, it’s all an iteration on the basic ideas that make up the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meme. None of them erases the other, but all of them enhance the general idea that is Leatherface even if they fail to capture the genius of the first film.
When you talk about a film like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even Ghostbusters, you have to sort of ask yourself if a good remake is worth more to the idea than a crappy sequel. Ghostbusters doesn’t have a character arc, not really, which is why the sequel is nearly universally reviled. You can’t explore the themes of blue-collar science having to prove itself to a skeptical government out to shut them down a second time, and when they tried it sucked.
Some have said they would have preferred that Murray, Aykroyd and Hudson act as an older generation handing off to a new team, but that would entail us imaging a world where the afterlife has been definitely proven and scientifically screwed with for decades. No plucky young geniuses no one believes, no cobbled-together gear and tricked-out hearse, nothing that anyone loves about the original except maybe Slimer.
The main complaint is that remakes and reboots are indicative of stifled creativity, Hollywood cashing in on nostalgia and the road already traveled instead of coming up with new ideas. People say that, but people lie. Truth is we love remakes. Remember the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid? $359 million box office. That remake of Nightmare on Elm Street that came out the same year that people pretend they didn’t like? $115 million.
Once stories become a part of our cultural hivemind, we enjoy having the ideas that have made them so notable examined and re-examined. How many versions of the life of Dracula have we seen, or how many times have we watched Uncle Ben die in a Spider-man vehicle? I’ve personally seen nine different versions of The Phantom of the Opera, and each one brings with it some new perspective on a beloved classic.
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I might be more sympathetic to all the people pre-emptively pooping on the upcoming Ghostbusters film under the banner of “why can’t they make new original movies” if horror comedy audiences didn’t consistently let those new films they say they want fail. Does anyone remember the hilarious David Arquette film about a Ronald Reagan-obsessed killer called The Tripper? Here in Houston, we had a big party about it and everything, but barely anyone saw it. Did you skip Kevin Smith’s incredibly innovative horror comedy film Tusk, about a man becoming a walrus? Judging by the box office, you sure did. Same thing with the film adaptation of David Wong’s John Dies at the End. You know what recent horror comedy was a financial success?
The 2011 remake of Fright Night.
Remakes are fine. There’s really only so much you can do with a character like Jason Voorhees before you’re just retelling the same story. It’s not like “undead guy in mask with mommy issues hacks folks with a machete” is something you can turn into a long-running Tolkien saga, though I did actually really enjoy that time they shot him into space. Is Halloween a better franchise for having invented some ancient druid curse around the third sequel, or is it better because Rob Zombie took a fresh stab at a new, original take? The answer is probably a little bit of both and a little bit of neither. Either way, remakes are just a part of storytelling, as old as stories themselves. There’s just no reason to automatically hate them for their very existence.