The remake of Carrie comes out this weekend, marking the latest in a long line of recent remakes of horror classics. In recent decades, we’ve seen remakes of such classics as Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and plenty of others. The reasoning is simple: These movies are horror classics, but their visual effects are lacking in comparison to those of today’s movies. So, take their already proven-to-be scary material make it shiny and new with modern technology, and presto! You have a can’t-miss on your hands. The only trouble is that they have largely failed, especially when remaking the biggest classic horror films. In taking advantage of the ability to expand on more plot points, the films often end up showing too much and losing their well-crafted suspense.
The idea of updating these films with effects geared toward a modern audience has its merits. I’ve talked to a good number of college-aged students who dismiss most of the horror classics because the effects just aren’t convincing, so they don’t feel scared. If a film can’t suspend your disbelief, then it will be difficult for it to make an impact on you. So, since this is an actual problem for young men — usually the most important demographic for horror films — then it is worth addressing. Simply filming the same story but with updated effects, however, hasn’t made for very appealing movies. The best litmus test of this is Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake. The film is infamous for being a shot for shot recreation of Hitchcock’s original with updated content (such as explicit masturbation where it was only implied before, and more realistic violence). The film bombed, as its lack of originality was widely cited. Two other films that faced similar complaints were 2007’s Halloween and 2009’s Friday the 13th. One common word used to describe them was “unnecessary.” So, the public has largely spoken: Even if the effects can be updated, there has to be something extra or else they won’t care.
This pressure to change more in film remakes runs into the even greater danger of changing too much. Namely, while updating a film, the risk of showing too much becomes very real. A very common tactic in horror movies of the past was to not reveal or keep the monster in the shadows for a large part of the movie. This was often out of necessity, as they were unable to create a realistic-looking monster to present to the audience, but it allowed directors to adapt and take advantage of the fear of unknown. Any monster shown on the screen is less scary than one that has been allowed to grow in the spectator’s mind.
This is most notable when comparing Alien with Aliens. Both are great movies, but only Alien is a horror film. In it, the monster barely appears. The alien lurks in the shadows, and the audience is never really offered a good look at it, giving the viewer an added sense of fear while dealing with the claustrophobia of the spaceship. In Aliens, with a much larger budget, the creatures are fully shown and the film becomes a straight action movie in fighting directly against the monsters. It is a thoroughly entertaining action movie but it lacks the gripping suspense of the first installment.
So, this is the challenge facing the makers of the Carrie remake. They have to balance enough change for it to be necessary without changing too much and losing the actual horror. The original Carrie is beloved, and the idea of a remake was not warmly received by many of its fans as the original seems to hold up better than most other ’70s horror classics.
The creators talk a great deal about the ability to show things that they were not able to do in the original, but beyond this they also talk about being more faithful to Stephen King’s novel, the original source of the material. Brian De Palma’s adaptation changed a good amount of the story, partially out of an inability to film the larger-scale supernatural effects, and the creators of this remake strived to return to the book’s more expansive ending. It’s ambitious, and on paper, it seems to navigate those two competing criteria. It is interesting, however, to note that Stephen King himself has come out to say that he thought the original film was a marked improvement on his book. The importance of that statement is debatable considering the complete disdain King holds for the best film based on his works, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but it is rare for an author to declare a film an improvement on their own work. Carrie was King’s first published novel and after publishing 49 more, and he now refers to it as the work of a talented amateur.
So perhaps going back to the original material will not be enough to save this latest in the long line of recent horror remakes. The only way to really know is to watch it, though, and Kimberly Pierce, the director of Boys Don’t Cry, and the talented cast she put together seems to give the film a better chance at breaking through where others have failed.
Daniel Grzywacz is a senior majoring in neuroscience. His column “The Reel Deal” runs Fridays.