My most favoritest time of the year has arrived, carrying with it leaf piles, mutilated pumpkins, decorative skeletons, fake cobwebs, and other oxymoronic traditions that are nominally ghastly but suddenly become socially acceptable. To celebrate the season, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon. Why six weeks? Because that’s, like, two weeks better than four (the typical Halloween marathon length).
We kick things off this week with what I’m calling “The Remade”. Mostly because that sounds cool and almost represents a horror movie title of its own, but in reality, I watched three classic horror movies from the 1950s that were remade in the 1970s and 1980s. Remakes have a somewhat spotty reputation amongst film nerds in general, and horror dorks in particular. The recent spate of Platinum Dunes (amongst others) remakes of beloved horror movies seems to be driving the current distaste, mostly with good reason. Remakes from other eras are perhaps not as universally reviled. For my part, I find it difficult to get too worked up about this sort of thing, especially since I’ve realized that a remake is generally accompanied by a corresponding release of a remastered, high-quality edition of the original movie. So yes, the Black Christmas remake wasn’t great, but the original got a fantastic DVD release, so it’s hard to complain. Similarly, this year’s forthcoming The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake is welcome, if only because the original will suddenly come back in print and be widely available too (in this case, the remake shows some promise too, especially since they chose a relatively obscure movie to remake). In any case, movies from the 50s that were remade in the 80s actually worked reasonably well for the remakes (not covered in this post, but could/should be: The Fly, whose remake is superb). But it’s still interesting to go back and revisit the remade, as I did this weekend:
- G.I. Joe – S01E28 – The Germ (TV Episode)
- Phantoms (trailer)
- The Blob (1988 trailer)
- The Blob (1958) – A small meteorite containing a small, blob-like substance that eats everything it comes in contact with, growing as it goes. I don’t know this is the first movie where something falls from the sky and some old dude finds it and pokes it with a stick, only to be consumed by whatever, but it’s certainly the quintessential example of the trope. This is actually a local movie, filmed in a bunch of Philly suburbs like Downingtown, and the famous movie theater and diner are still around in Phoenixville, where they have an annual “Blobfest” and re-enact running from the theater screaming. As a film, it concerns itself greatly with the no-one believes the teenager angle.
More metaphorically, it’s pretty clearly filled with Cold War symbolism, right up to the solution where they drop the blob off in the arctic, literally freezing the problem. I’m sure someone has a global warming polemic in store fore the inevitable next remake. As it is, the 1988 remake turned the threat from outer space aliens to a secret government project. And while the special effects are genuinely creepy and gory, there’s something mean spirited about the remake that doesn’t really jive with me. Which is a shame, because as these things go, the blob itself is a rather fantastic and genuinely alien concept. The original is entertaining enough, though it has some weird tonal issues (like, for instance, the absurdly silly theme song that plays over the beginning of the film). The remake overcorrects into making it a really unpleasant affair. Of course, it’s been done over and over again in pop culture, including Dean Koontz’s novel Phantoms (which is a gazillion times better than the movie adaptation and puts a different spin on a blob-like creature) and more goofy fare, like the episode of G.I. Joe linked above. In the end, this was an interesting enough watch, and worth the stretch for students of the genre. **1/2
- Who Goes There? by John Campbell (Short Story)
- Zombie Zombie (Stop Motion Short)
- The Thing (1982 trailer)
- The Thing from Another World (1951) – Very loosely based on John Campbell’s short story, Who Goes There?, this movie follows a group of scientists and Air Force personnel as they discover a downed spaceship and its alien inhabitant frozen in the ice. Eventually he thaws out, and hijinks ensue. It turns out that I’d never seen this before, which is surprising. It’s played more like a straight creature feature, and as those things go, it’s actually pretty good. A little talky at times, but there are some great shots, especially when the monster shows up (and they do a good job keeping him hidden in the early proceedings).
However, it doesn’t really leverage the “alien impostor” element of the story at all, which was surprising. This is a pretty clear case where John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is superior in almost every way. Not only is it a better adaptation of the original story, but it just works all around. Unlike the mean-spirited nature of The Blob remake, this one strikes a good balance, even while maintaining spectacular creature effects and gore. That being said, the 1951 film is very different, and has its own charms. The Cold War symbolism is probably toned down a bit here, but it’s clearly there, and that’s unsurprising given the nature of the 1950s! The 2011 prequel is a little perfunctory and forgettable, but it’s reasonably effective for what it is. In terms of influence, the original short story has certainly been referenced and homaged repeatedly throughout the years, such as the X-Files episode “Ice”. The original movie is worth a watch for fans, but you’d probably be better served reading the original Campbell story. **1/2
- The Puppet Masters (trailer)
- Slither (trailer)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 trailer)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – I was surprised to find that this was my favorite of the three movies I watched this weekend. A small town is slowly being replaced by emotionless copies of residents. It turns out that they are grown in pods from outer space. More Cold War and Communism symbolism here, and it’s funny, because it’s based on what is, by all accounts, a second rate novel that was preceded by much better received stories by Heinlein (The Puppet Masters) and Bradbury. And yet, Invasion is the one that clearly caught the zeitgeist and has proven to be very influential, inspiring countless remakes and homages.
I’ll lay this success at the feet of journeyman director Don Siegel, who was famous for accepting junk material and elevating it to something interesting or even great. So while perhaps not as action packed as the other two films, this one nevertheless manages to be the most involving thing I saw this weekend. I wouldn’t call it completely transcendent, and the ending certainly seems abrupt and a little strange, but I can see why it has garnered so much love over the years, and it’s well worth a watch. I actually have not seen the 1978 remake (except for that one clip we all know about), but I’ll probably revisit sometime during this 6WH. ***
So things have gotten off to an interesting start. Thematically, we’ve got a lot of Cold War fears being represented here, lots of alien menaces, communists are everywhere and they’re going to take us over, don’t you know? In addition, there’s a lot of “No one will believe me about the crazy conspiracy” tropes. I’ll have to see if these sorts of themes persist through other 50s movies, or if I just lucked out.
I have no idea what next week’s theme will be, but rest assured, it probably won’t be as quaint as the 1950s conception of horror. Also, just want to give a shoutout to the brainchild of the Six Weeks of Halloween, Kernunrex, who is of course going to put me to shame in terms of the number of movies he watches and quality of commentary he posts, so be sure to check him out. Also, Bonehead XL has already begun his marathon and will surely outpace me as well.