Horror movie remakes that are better than the original

At a time when it seems like every movie ever made is being eyed for a remake or reboot, the horror genre has found itself particularly ripe for pillaging. The '70s and '80s were a fantastic time for horror, and the classics of that era all seem to have made their way back to screens in recent years, rebooted for a new generation—with decidedly mixed results.

But we all seem to forget that remakes and reboots have been around for as long as Hollywood, and sometimes, a good yarn needs more than one attempt to get it just right. For proof, just queue up these horror remakes that actually turned out better than the original films.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

French filmmaker Alexandre Aja first gained attention for his 2003 film High Tension, a stylishly effective shocker that somehow got away with ripping off practically the entire plot of the Dean Koontz novel Intensity. The film earned him his ticket to Hollywood, and for his first assignment, he was handed the remake of Wes Craven's 1977 cult classic The Hills Have Eyes. Released in 2006, the film garnered middling reviews despite being every bit as stylish and effective as High Tension (while ratcheting the gore way, way up). Not that the remake is a great film, by any means, but it's far more effective than the original, which may be the most overrated horror film ever. 

Craven's Hills was released before the advent of home video, when a film's legend often grew by word of mouth. It's for this reason that people remember films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween as being far gorier than they are—and it's likely why the original Hills is remembered as anything but laughably inept. Every aspect, from the acting, writing and direction all the way down to staging, lighting, and editing, is nothing short of incompetent, robbing the few violent setpieces of any power they might have had. It's a "classic" that begs for a modern critical reappraisal so it can be properly identified as one of the worst films ever made—that Craven made an actual classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, only seven years later is utterly stupefying.

The Fly (1986)

The 1958 sci-fi/horror classic The Fly was probably terrifying to audiences of its time. In it, a scientist experimenting with teleportation gets his atoms mixed up with those of a common housefly; as a result, he's stuck with a giant fly head while pursuing the fly, which has his tiny human head, in an attempt to fix the mistake. It plays about as silly as it sounds, but for the 1986 remake, director David Cronenberg took the same premise to a truly horrifying, totally logical conclusion.

Jeff Goldblum gives the performance of his career as Seth Brundle, the scientist whose mixup doesn't produce any noticeable results at first…until he starts to change in very unsettling ways, both physically and mentally. Featuring an equally strong supporting performance by Geena Davis, some of the most disturbing practical special effects of a decade filled with them, and perhaps the most insanely visceral and frightening climax in all of horror, Cronenberg's The Fly is a true classic—it even boasts one of the greatest and most widely imitated taglines ever ("Be afraid… be very afraid"). No less an authority than the great Roger Ebert wondered why Goldblum didn't receive an Oscar nomination; in a retrospective on the film, Ebert said, "The Exorcist aside, I can't think of another horror film as intense as The Fly."

The Crazies (2010)

George A. Romero is a revered filmmaker for one simple reason: he created zombies as we know them, introducing the concept fully formed in his low-budget masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. But he wasn't only concerned with killer hordes of undead; with 1973's The Crazies, he branched out into killer hordes of the living, with a story about inhabitants of a small town going mindlessly homicidal when exposed to an experimental virus. Many children of the '80s will remember the ominous cover art from the shelves of their local video stores, which is the only place the film ever gained much of an audience—it was a box office failure, because it simply wasn't very good.

The 2010 remake was the sophomore effort of filmmaker Breck Eisner, who had previously handled the underwhelming 2005 Matthew McConaughey vehicle Sahara. Nobody was expecting much from a retelling of a little-loved, decades-old film—but what they got was a shockingly well-made, superbly photographed, and at times unbearably tense film that bears little resemblance to its schlocky,] B-movie namesake. Remaking Romero is hardly ever a great idea—you'll find no defense of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead here—but Eisner's The Crazies is simply excellent in its own right.

Maniac (2012)

Speaking of videocassette cover art that gave '80s kids nightmares, William Lustig's 1980 slasher film Maniac is an undeniable classic of the genre. Its grimy, low-budget aesthetic and the wild-eyed, none-too-subtle lead performance of co-screenwriter Joe Spinnell only add to its disturbing charms, and some of the practical gore effects—like the infamous shotgun-through-the-windshield scene, filmed on a New York City street with no permit—are jaw-dropping even today. But the film isn't exactly the work of a master craftsman (Lustig's previous directorial efforts were entitled Hot Honey and The Violation of Claudia), and its truly creepy moments are offset by an uneven tone.

Not so the 2012 remake, which understands its tone all too well. Co-written by none other than Alexandre Aja and directed by French horror vet Franck Khalfoun, the film asserts an incredibly bold narrative choice: it follows the exploits of brutal serial killer Frank Zito (Elijah Wood, shattering your image of him) from an almost exclusively first-person point of view. This means the main character is almost never onscreen (except, for example, when he sees himself in mirrors), and there's no cutting away—or even looking away—when Frank springs into murderous action, scalping his screaming victims as the camera looks dispassionately on. It's an intensely disturbing approach—well-written, expertly shot, and with a ridiculously impressive performance by Wood. 

Funny Games (2007)

Michael Haneke's 1997 German-language provocation Funny Games is a horror film that really wants to challenge its audience, implicating them in the onscreen carnage in a way that no film ever had before. It's an excellent and disturbing piece, and many of its fans saw the 2007 remake—also directed by Haneke, a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of the original—as completely unnecessary, if not insulting. But by a slight margin, it's the superior film, for one reason: Haneke intended for his original to be most challenging to the sensibilities of American audiences specifically, and his disappointment in its failure to make a splash in the U.S. directly led to the English-language remake.

One could go so far as to say that the 2007 version is the one Haneke intended to make in the first place, and it benefits from a pair of truly talented leads in Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. It's also worth noting that, having mounted the exact same production once before, Haneke's staging and direction are even crisper and more efficient in the remake. The debate around this oddly unique pair of films will likely never be settled, and they're both excellent and diabolical pieces of work—but the 2007 version is ever-so-slightly better.

We Are What We Are (2013)

The 2010 Mexican film Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are) was a confounding piece of work: a dark, brooding, well-made psychodrama about a family of cannibals, and how they adjust after the family patriarch dies. It was well-received, but—as noted in some of its reviews—suffered from a tone that some went so far as to call "relentlessly humorless," and fielded a cast that could be less than engaging. 

The English-language 2013 version borrows the basic premise of the original, but little else. It trades the 2010 film's urban setting for the backwoods of the deep South, investing the proceedings with an American Gothic feel that is much more appropriate to the lurid subject matter. Director Jim Mickle, whose previous efforts included the underrated vampire flick Stake Land, uses the material to raise questions about the dangers of tradition and religion that were completely absent from the original, and he trades that film's ending—a fairly standard tangle with police, including the obligatory shootout—for one of the most bizarre, haunting conclusions of any horror film this decade. We Are What We Are might not exactly scare your pants off, but it will stick with you long after viewing, and it's superior to its source material in pretty much every regard.

Silent House (2011)

The 2010 Uruguayan film La Casa Muda (The Silent House) is quite an achievement, all things considered. It's edited to appear as if it's one continuous, 88-minute shot, detailing the frightening goings-on after a young woman and her father show up to help renovate a creepy old house. The film was shot for all of $6,000, so the fact that it made the festival circuit before getting a limited release is impressive enough. The single-take gimmick is well done, but the film suffers from the rough edges you would expect from a shoestring production with an unknown cast.

By contrast, the 2011 remake Silent House benefits from putting its star, Elizabeth Olsen, front and center in every shot. Olsen is one of the most skilled, expressive actors working today, and she completely sells the mounting terror as things go from weird in the first act to terrifying in the second to sanity-shattering in the third. The film keeps the single-take conceit of the original, and the editing is flawless. The jump scares are also highly effective, and a late-film twist involving the heroine ditches melodrama (and local legend; the original film was questionably "based on true events") for something altogether more disturbing. Silent House is a heavy-duty upgrade to its ultra-low budget predecessor, not to mention criminally underrated.

The Ring (2002)

The story of a cursed videotape that kills you when you watch it might have sounded silly to American audiences before Gore Verbinski's The Ring was released in 2002. The idea was ported over from 1998's Japanese horror hit Ringu, and sure—on its surface, the premise sounded ridiculous, unless you were one of the lucky viewers who happened to catch the "killer video" on late-night TV, where it aired several times in advance of the film's release with no explanation. Then it probably sounded completely plausible.

Of course, The Ring has become a classic, and Ringu is a very good film with several genuinely creepy moments—and also a film which, unfortunately, suffers from the stilted and theatrical acting style typical of Japanese releases of the time. Verbinski's remake is a finely tuned machine with slowly building tension—in the form of a seven-day countdown to death for whomever watches the tape—baked right in. The carefully unpacked story of bizarre tragedy, a mother's desperation, and one very, very malevolent little girl moves relentlessly toward a nerve-shredding climax—or what we think is the climax. After an apparent resolution and a brief denouement, the real horror kicks in, with a deliberately paced, searingly terrifying scene that has lost absolutely none of its power. The Ring is an improvement in every way over the original, and—despite its PG-13 rating—is one of the scariest films of all time.

The Evil Dead (2013)

The horror genre wouldn't be the same without Sam Raimi's 1981 classic The Evil Dead. Made on a shoestring budget with no-name actors, the film used guerrilla special effects and first-time director Raimi's wildly inventive camera work to sell its story of a stay at an old cabin in the woods that goes horrifyingly wrong for a group of young people when an ancient, evil force is accidentally summoned. The film spawned two sequels—sort of—and is an undeniable classic, and many fans still stung by the failed recent remakes of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th were understandably leery when the 2013 remake was announced. What they didn't yet know was that it was being helmed by a heretofore unknown major talent, and would turn out to be one of the best horror films of the decade.

Raimi's original invigorated the genre, but its ultra-low budget aesthetic is so glaring that when given a chance to make a much higher-budgeted sequel, the director chose to basically make the same film again. Raimi produced the remake and spoke very highly of its director Fede Alvarez (who would go on to make the acclaimed Don't Breathe), saying, "I'm really excited to see something that I care about really deeply being reborn by a great artist." The 2013 film is tense, well-acted, and efficiently paced, with jaw-dropping practical special effects of the type Hollywood hadn't seen in years—a ridiculously underrated film, and a marked improvement on the influential but understandably flawed original.

The Thing (1982)

It's tough to believe that John Carpenter's The Thing, a remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World, was indifferently received upon its 1982 release. Perhaps the world simply wasn't ready for Carpenter's masterpiece, which took the bones of the original's plot—a stranded group of researchers in Antarctica face off against a deadly alien being—and turned it into a master class in relentlessly escalating tension, coupled with some of the most insane,  stomach-turning gore and makeup effects that have ever been put to film.

Gone are the plodding pace and lumbering plant-monster of the original, replaced with an intensifying, paranoid claustrophobia and a shape-shifting nemesis that might be standing right next to you in the form of a trusted buddy or an innocent dog… until it's exposed, and the madness begins. Rob Bottin's bizarre special effects setpieces, featuring such famously insane sights as a severed head sprouting spider legs and an open chest cavity becoming a giant, gnashing mouth, are still considered among the greatest ever 35 years after the fact. 

Carpenter's direction was never more disciplined, and the stellar cast includes Keith David, Wilford Brimley and Carpenter muse Kurt Russell at his steeliest and most badass. The world may not have been ready in 1982, but perhaps no film has undergone such a dramatic critical reappraisal. Originally dismissed as "instant junk" and a "geek show," The Thing is now widely recognized as one of the best horror films of all time.