Friday, October 7, 2011

Do Young Fans Ignore Old Horror Films?

Horror cinema has been struck with a rash of remakes these past 15 or so years. It's one of the more creatively destructive trends in horror today.

What was the point of that Omen remake? The first Omen was already excellent, in a decade known for excellent Satanic horror (e.g., The Exorcist, Race with the Devil, The Devil's Rain, The Brotherhood of Satan, and my personal favorite, The Sentinel). The new Omen mimicked the old, scene for scene, minus Jerry Goldsmith's creepily demonic soundtrack. Hollywood took the old version, removed some great elements, and add nothing worthwhile.

So, what was the point?

Not that Hollywood should be encouraged to change old horror films. Sometimes the remake is an improvement. Toolbox Murders is superior (more imaginative, creepy, and atmospheric) to the original, sordid The Toolbox Murders. But more often, remakes are changed for the worse. The new Haunting lost all the ghostly atmosphere and subtle characterizations of the original Haunting, replacing them with embarrassingly silly and inappropriate CGI effects.

I suppose Hollywood thinks that "modern" horror requires CGI effects.

But the Big Question: Why? Why so many horror film remakes?

Certainly, Hollywood must think there's money in remakes. Maybe the studios regard the old films as pre-sold commodities. The title is already known. Fan base already in place.

But why does Hollywood imagine that fans of the old version want to see it remade? Or that fans prefer remakes over new films?

John Carpenter has a theory about horror film remakes. In the Special Features documentary on The Fog remake's DVD (another remake that's inferior to the original Fog), Carpenter says:

"I've heard several reasons why horror films are being remade. One, I think, probably is the simplest explanation, is a lot of kids have heard of these movies, but they've never really seen them. Maybe they've heard their older brothers or their parents talk about them. So it's in their consciousness, but they've never paid attention.

"But in general there's a cultural mindset right now that says anything over fifteen years old is kind of dead and old-fashioned. And so in order to make it viable again, we need to take it out, and kind of give it a fresh coat of paint, and try to revise the corpse."

In other words, Hollywood thinks that young horror fans have heard of these old horror films, and are interested in seeing them. But they refuse to do so, because these films are over 15 years old.


Does anyone say, "Wow, that film sounds great. I'd like to see it. But it's old, and so I can't."

Not only illogical, but contrary to the evidence.

Horror is the most enduring of genres. The 1930s Dracula and Frankenstein films remain widely known and admired today. Even lesser known horror films from that period (e.g., The Black Cat, The Raven, Maniac, The Devil Bat) win new fans every year. Apart from a few famous exceptions (e.g., Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach) the same cannot be said for most dramas or westerns from the 1930s.

Horror is an evergreen genre. Hardcore horror fans love horror films of every decade. There's no need to remake the older films (even if Hollywood does, on rare occasion, do it well, as in 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

So why does Hollywood produce so many remakes? Three theories come to mind...

1. Famous older films are seen as a pre-sold commodity, hence, a “sure thing.”

2. Hollywood has run out of new ideas.

3. Young horror fans refuse to watch any horror films made before the 1990s.

Of those theories, I doubt there's any truth to #3. Young casual filmgoers may shun older horror films -- but not young hardcore horror fans.

And hardcore horror fans are the target market for horror remakes. Why? Because only they would know or care about the horror films that have been remade over the past 15 years.

Don't Look in the Basement, Thirteen Ghosts, The House on Haunted Hill -- all remade. Not the sort of films known to casual filmgoers, but films that continue to attract hardcore horror fans of every age. No remakes required.


For more commentary about horror films, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.