Horror remakes aren’t always a bad thing. David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of The Fly took a campy Vincent Price flick from the 50s and turned it into a shocking body-horror movie that fit in perfectly with the director’s own sensibilities. In 1982, Halloween director John Carpenter updated 1951′s The Thing from Another World into a very prescient character-driven thriller that capitalised on the cold war paranoia of the time. Therefore, there’s no real reason think that 2011’s The Thing would be bad. Or is there?
Horror movies have always been popular with the big film studios: they don’t normally rely on casting big-name actors so the cost of producing them is relatively low. The budget combined with the tendency for scary movies to perform well at the box office usually means there’s a greater chance of the studios turning a profit. In order to cut the risk even further, movie execs also prefer to remake stories that have a certain ‘brand-recognition’ and proven track record.
I really could go on…
In fact, I will!
There’s also been House of Wax, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Piranha, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, Straw Dogs, Wolfman, My Bloody Valentine and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This isn’t even counting the sequels to those remakes! So, faced with the prospect of this year’s The Thing, I wasn’t expecting anything new.
Dutch commercial director Matthijs van Heijningen and his writer Eric Heisserer have taken an interesting angle with this movie: in some way, it’s a sequel but in other ways, it’s very much a remake. In Carpenter’s cult classic, the opening scene shows two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog through the Antarctic wasteland, shooting at it with a rifle. This dog, we soon learn, is not quite what it seems: it ends up at an American research station where a creature starts replacing its inhabitants, slowly picking them off. 2011’s version is the story of where the Norwegians came from.
Set in the early 80s (to match the time period), we see an incredibly similar set-up to the film. The cast of characters feature a number of smarmy scientific researchers and blue-collar workers as well as a rough-and-tumble helicopter pilot (Joel Edgerton)who’s so similar to Kurt Russell’s character in the ’82 Thing that you wonder whether they are in fact the same guy, working in two different stations, who miraculously forgot the traumatic incidents that occurred only days before and also (somehow) managed to come back from the dead between the two films. Sorry: spoiler alert.
The two stories unfold beat-for-beat in exactly the same way that you simply cannot think of it as a prequel at all but maybe something akin to a cover version of a much-loved classic. After a while, I stopped worrying about the stark similarities and really started to enjoy it. The 2011 Thing is a well constructed and effective horror — the makers have taken what worked in the ‘original’ and managed to re-use them to great effect. It reminded me of how much I loved the original without necessarily making me wish I was watching it at the time.
The social and cultural relevance no longer looms over the film –we’re no longer as obsessed with having spies in our midst as we were in the 80s– so the sequences where they start a witch hunt might not resonate in the way they once might have. The digital effects are handled very well with the exception of a totally unnecessary giant spaceship set (imagine a studio executive rolling a cigar between his fingers: “Make it bigger okay? More explosions!”) and the monster designs are often inventive riffs on the originals.
So, in summation:
Is this ‘remakequel’ of The Thing entirely necessary? Probably not.
Is it scary? Sure.
Will people who haven’t seen Carpenter’s The Thing enjoy it? Absolutely.
Do I want to see studios remake more horror classics? I really don’t think we have a choice in this matter.