Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Do Remakes Really BITE? - How the Remake Saved the Vampire Star

Hey, you want to hate a remake? Fuck that. I’m sick and tired of folks hating remake simply because a film is a remake. You have to learn to appreciate remakes for themselves and not entirely for because they are attempting to “replace” your favorite original. I like to think of remakes as the stepparents of horror films. They come into your house. Make new rules. They change things when you liked them the way they are. They don’t look like your favorite horror movies. They’re there to try and change the horror films you loved as a child. And what is the response to the remake… the stepparent? Hatred. Disobedience. A complete lack of respect and a disregard for the remake. With divorce running rampant at least a third of every person reading this must have a stepparent and must agree that at least a few of these stereotypes are true. For the rest of you just go watch your favorite Lifetime movie on the subject and draw your own conclusion.

Now I’m not here to berate anyone for their own personal taste. I would like at least a modicum of respect for the remade film. They’re not all being made to cash in. Hollywood isn’t a purely evil devise. After all, they have given us plenty to enjoy throughout the years which does not excuse them from their misdeeds in more recent memory, but we should at least try to appreciate what they give us. I guess once you hear the word remake in front of something the movie is doomed. I’ll go as far to say that if you didn’t call it a remake you might find people more embracing of the new film. The term re-imagining comes to mind which is most likely a more accurate term. It’s not like anyone is redoing movies just for the sake of redoing them. Most remakes or re-imaginings do have unique elements that are purely new footage/new concept.

It’s important to remember that they all start somewhere. Folk stories, early Hollywood or Euro-Cinema or maybe even in novels. … Even the novels are based out of some mythology and are the evolution of ideas greater than one author. One novel in particular always gets me going when we talk about the remake and the hatred there of. Dracula by Bram Stoker. The idea of the vampire or Dracula does not start with Stoker’s vision. It’s origins are in religion and folk tales. Every culture has one. So does Stoker rip of folk legends to profit? No. He re-imagines and creates a variation on a tale that has been handed down for centuries mixes a little Wallachian history in there and comes out with one of the most influential horror stories of our time. So it’s not a remake but leans on the border of re-imagining and then… Louis Lumiere trumped the Zoopraxiscope giving birth to early cinema.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a tale of pure unadulterated evil placed inside a man and then called a vampire. Stoker’s tale is creepy and scientific in deduction. Less romantic than many adaptations would have the audience believe. Dracula isn’t sexy. Dracula is a vicious monster hell bent on domination. When I was in high school I had the pleasure of doing a rather lengthy study and report of this novel, but most of those lessons have since passed this neural coil. One thing is for certain… there isn’t a film version out there that is a true adaptation of Stoker’s work. They all fall apart at some point in the storytelling. Whether Hollywood felt the need to rewrite a perfectly good story or maybe the rights to the film were not properly acquired or maybe the film version had to be different than any other version as a marketing ploy. If you take a novel and then adapt a film from it and then force that adaptation into a mold that is not the vision of the original work, is that not the same issue most viewers take with remakes? The change from what is considered sacred. Sure, take Lucy Westenra and make her fall in love with Dracula or Harker or maybe Van Helsing or maybe you should just drop her form the story all together. Well somebody out there adores that character. From the beginning, the first cut of the script the original idea is changed. From the first slice you can make any change you want until you finally end up with the modern filmography of Hollywood’s definition of Dracula. Beyond Hollywood even. The reinvention of Dracula is worldwide.

Who is Dracula really? Is he Vlad Tempest/Vlad Dracul or Count Dracula of Stoker’s vision? Is Dracula Bela Lugosi or Max Schreck. Maybe Dracula is Christopher Lee. Maybe Gary Oldman. Maybe Frank Langella. They’re all so different. Add a bit of romanticism here. Give this one the looks of a freak. Give this one a cape. Take the cape away and give this one longer hair and more realistic fangs. This one can die by walking over moving water. This one gets staked through the heart but can come back with the blood of a virgin during the disco era in 1972. Whether they’re sequels or remakes or reimaginings there is not Bram Stoker left in the modern vamp. And Dracula aside from any glittery vampire you may have seen recently crawls down a separate family tree from vampire legend as a whole. And now the tough realization…

Somebody will remake A Nightmare on Elm Street again. And again. And again. And the whole time you better hope they do because that’s how great folk tales get passed down regardless of how set in stone your personal vision of Freddy is. No matter what urban legend or campfire tale you were told as a kid, Bloody Mary has not face. Actors that play roles are just as transient as the medium on which we put them. From novel to picture book to film to 3D film to the next medium. So enough stones have been cast in the direction of Nightmare on Elm Street and very few of those stones actually carry any weight. I’m sure one could say the same thing for the remake after endless remake of Dracula.

Critics were not fans of Frank Langella as Dracula in 1979. The effects and music really carry that movie for most casual cinema goers. Unless you’re a Dracula fanatic this movie typically won’t top your list of favorite adaptations. It makes it no more an authentic adaptation than any other version. It does not make the film invalid and it has merits even if you cannot get over the Langella Fro of Doom.

Run down just the adaptations of the novel and the “remakes” the novel has inspired.

Nosferatu (1922) by F.W. Murnau and portrayed by Max Schreck (the Stoker estate won a lawsuit and this one almost didn’t make it out of the fire)

Dracula (1932) by Universal, directed by Tod Browning starring Bela Lugosi (two versions: an English and a Spanish verison. The Spanish version is considered superior)

Drakula Istanbul’da (1953) a Turkish production starring Atif Kaptan (Dracula gets his fangs)

Horror of Dracula (1958) by Hammer, directed by Terence Fisher starring Christopher Lee (filmed at the beloved Bray Studios, helped Hammer bite into the Universal monster market)

Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) by Hammer directed by Roman Polanski and starring Ferdy Mayne (this is a comic adaptation but still does not qualify as a sequel so I feel it’s appropriate to include on this list… tongue firmly in fang)

Count Dracula (1970) directed by Jesus Franco starring Christopher Lee (not Hammer and not the semi-porn you might be used to with ol’ Jess Franco lensing this one).

Hrabe Drakula (1971) directed by Anna Prochazkaova and starring Ilja Racek (I have never seen this film… sounds like it’s a good watch for the Dracula completist and perfect if you speak Czech).

Blacula (1972) directed by William Crain and starring William Marshall (this one has some creepy images and has all the humor you’ve come to expect from the Blaxploitation genre).

Count Dracula’s Great Love (1972) directed by Javier Aguirre and starring Paul Naschy (Dracula the romancer almost make a porno with this originally X rated Spanish production)

Dracula (1973) produced by Dan Curtis and starring Jack Palance (Good ol’ Jack was infamous for being in some fairly sick, sadistic film before he met Billy Crystal in City Slickers… makes it hard to take him seriously knowing how he would spend his golden years)

Blood for Dracula (1974) directed by Paul Morrissey and starring Udo Kier. (Udo Kier makes as a good a Dr. Frankenstein as he does a bloodsucking, sexy vampire. If Andy Warhol produced it you can’t go wrong… after all, he made the Campbell’s soup label art)

Count Dracula (1977) by the BBC directed by Philip Saville an starring Louis Jourdan. (a very complete adaptation with minimal changes… made for TV).

Dracula (1979) by Universal, directed by John Badham starring Frank Langella (critical reception was poor but many feel that that is as a direct result of the release of both the remake of Nosferatu and Love at First Bite which we are not including here because it’s pretty far off the mark)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) by Gaumont directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski (or as a call it, Dracula goes to art school… who would have imagined the main problem troubling this studio was the training of rats).

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) by Francis Ford Coppola starring Gary Oldman (it’s a fine film but a shotty adaptation especially to put Stoker’s name on. At least it ties in a history lesson and gives us some sexy images to toy with)

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) directed by Mel Brooks and starring Leslie Nielsen (it’s actually got some Stoker Dracula in it despite this being one of Brooks’ later less funny adaptations)

And we’ll leave you with Dracula 2000 (2000) directed by Wes Craven and starring Gerard Butler (a complete re-working of the Dracula legend with moments of Stoker)

Despite a slight lull in the 1980’s the adaptations keep coming. Wanna know why we stopped when I got to the year 2000 and didn’t include sequels or simply appearances of Dracula? Because it’s the most made and remade film/novel adaptation of all time. It keeps going and going and going and going… Please make sure to read the novel after all this film talk. Then go watch all the movies above in sequential order. Then watch all the sequels in order. By the time you’re finished you can talk to your grand kids about who did the most accurate one and why they never should’ve remade Nosferatu…or maybe it’s Browning’s version for you. Or maybe you think they should never have adapted the novel to begin with. Or maybe you think it’s only perfect for the stage and Lugosi should have kept himself out of the cinema all together.

Whenever you are prepared to pronounce a remake a phony or a sham or prejudicially judge one based on the pre-existence of another film with the same title. Think of Stoker’s Dracula and how it came to be and where it went after it left the pages of the original novel. That’s a long journey that is the proud heritage or our beloved genre. Let others make that same voyage.

Dr. Terror

Note: In case you haven't read the two previous blogs in this series we need you to get yourself some 3D glasses. Red and Cyan. Here's How!

IMPORTANT!!! READERS OF THE TRAVELING TERROR-VERSE... UH HMMM... I mean people who come around here and stand in the corner waiting for Suzy B. Good to ask you if you wanna dance with her to "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. I need you to do my a favor and send a self addressed stamped envelope to the following address courtesy of:

Dr. James P. Terror.
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Why would you do such a thing? Because I need to send you a free pair of 3-D glasses. Cardboard Anaglyph Glasses. Cyan and Red. You'll know why you need them when the time is right. If you have them at home. Get ready for something new... for me. If you own a pair they should work just fine (when the time is right... bwahahaha). If you own the blue and red one's or even the magenta and cyan they should work just fine. Get your requests in early because the holiday is coming quickly (like me... um... INAPPROPRIATE!).

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