I’m not the biggest horror movie fan in the world, but – like anyone who appreciates the art of film – it was hard not to feel a bit heartbroken when Wes Craven passed away last week.
His early horror films were uncompromisingly bloody masterpieces, the original Nightmare on Elm Street still resonates as one of the most effective genre pieces ever, and Scream is still a delightful examination of the genre. Hell, he could just flat-out direct – he got Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination for Music of the Heart, and Red Eye is one of the most entertaining B-movie thrillers out there.
One of the most enduring monuments to Craven’s legacy has been the proclivity with which Hollywood’s remade his works. Now, none of these I’m about to list really match their originals – rent or stream those, please, in tribute to the man before you watch their second versions – but the remakes are still worthy of a ranking. So, here we are.
And Rest in Peace, Wes.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Craven’s first The Hills Have Eyes, from 1977, is a demented adaptation of the notorious Sawney Bean story, filled with a murderous, cannibalistic desert family that preys on a nice, all-American family heading out on vacation – just imagine if Craven had directed the Griswolds.
Alexandre Aja’s scary, brisk and brutal remake from 2006 is just as gory, and the cannibal family – this time warped and elongated from exposure to nuclear-bomb radiation – is even more frightening. The remake also has a much better cast than most of its ilk do; Ted Levine (best known as Buffalo Bill) shows up, as does Emilie de Ravin from Lost and the excellent Vinessa Shaw.
The Last House on the Left (2009)
The original 1972 The Last House on the Left was Craven’s first movie, and it’s a truly disturbing piece of work – a visceral, gory, and affectingly violent movie. If you can make it through even half of it, than it’s an accomplishment; the movie was so violent, in fact, that it was banned in England through most of the 1980s.
The violence is turned down a few notches in the remake (though it’s still avert-your-eyes gory), but the story – of an innocent family’s campaign against a brutal gang of criminals – is arguably more affecting, with a much better cast (Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn play the parents, and the great Garret Dillahunt is the main bad guy, with Aaron Paul showing up as another evil-doer).
The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)
It doesn’t match the nastiness or mood of the first remake, but The Hills Have Eyes 2 has enough going for it to make for an entertaining late-night watch. This time, it’s not a vacationing family – it’s an (admittedly pretty incompetent) U.S. National Guard unit that’s brought out into the New Mexico desert for the slaughter.
The mutants are just as ugly and brutal, but the sequel doesn’t have the shock value the first one has. Still, it’s not the worst, as far as horror-film remakes go.
Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
The good news about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake? The cast is top-notch; Jackie Earle Haley is a creepier, darker Freddy than the original, and Rooney Mara – on the verge of her Social Network / Girl With the Dragon Tattoo breakout – is a standout.
Aside from that, though … the remake of the still-scary Freddy Kreuger introduction is DOA. It doesn’t have Craven’s wicked streak underneath the surface, and it doesn’t stick with you like the original did. Like the worst horror-film remakes, it just seems to coast; at least with the others, there’s some type of a pulse. This one’s just plodding.
Have a favorite Wes Craven remake or movie to share? Let us know in the comments!