Any dedicated horror fan knows that remakes suck. But while we may roll our eyes every time one is announced, there are a few remakes that are exceptions to the rule. The clever rejiggering of classic concepts and new takes on foreign imports can sometimes transform old material into something that is fresh, exciting—and downright scary.
Some remakes work because they’re drastically different from their source material—take The Thing and House of Wax, for example. Other times, they follow a familiar blueprint but eventually carve their own paths with shocking new twists. And sometimes, a great remake simply takes the most successful elements of its original and dials those elements all the way up to eleven.
1951 | 1982
Now widely considered to be the gold standard in horror movie remakes, John Carpenter’s body horror classic wasn’t always so well-received. In fact, when this reimagining of The Thing from Another World was released in 1982, it was panned by critics and bombed at the box office. Fortunately, we’ve come around in the years since, and now The Thing gets the respect it deserves. It also got a quasi-remake/prequel back in 2011, but sadly, the latest version failed where the others succeeded.
1998 | 2002
The Japanese film Ringu was a sensation in Japan and in the States, making it prime source material for an American remake starring Naomi Watts in 2002. Director Gore Verbinski’s moody take on the plot, with all its eerie imagery, only emphasized the inherent dangers of single parenting and home video. The movie was a huge success at the box office, eventually becoming the most financially successful horror remake of all time.
1981 | 2013
Last year at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, all three of the filmmakers on one panel agreed that the best horror remake of all time is 2013’s Evil Dead. Drawing from the first, now classic movie from 1981, this remake re-imagines that quaint cabin in the woods, flipping the gender from Bruce Campbell’s Ash to Jane Levy’s Mia, who is not only battling demons but also an addiction to heroin. With all the kitsch of the first movie, this Evil Dead remake is even gorier, scarier, all-around more intense than the original.
Night of the Living Dead
1968 | 1990
What this 90s remake of George Romero’s essential original film loses in cultural criticism, it gains in pure devastating nihilism. Unlike the original, this movie’s in color—and there’s something even more terrifying about that opening scene in the cemetery taking place in broad, full-cover daylight. This remake, directed by Romero’s prosthetics and makeup artist Tom Savini, focuses on the character of Barbara as the heroine, shifting the discussion from race to gender.
Dawn of the Dead
1978 | 2004
Controversially, this remake of George Romero’s 1978 classic features zombies that race toward their victims like rabid dogs rather than the lumbering menace of the original. Critics and contemporary audiences were snarky and claimed that the remake couldn’t possibly have the heart of the original. But dedicated horror fans love the remake for its intense gore (with special effects done by Heather Langenkamp’s studio, AFX) and superhuman zombies. Whether you like your zombies more like humans than monsters is, after all, a matter of taste.
1990 | 2017
We don’t often think of Andy Muschietti’s It as a remake of the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise. However, there is no denying that Muschietti’s recent take on Stephen King’s classic novel hits a lot of the right notes—especially in Bill Skarsgård’s jittery, animalistic portrayal of everyone’s favorite monster clown.
1977 | 2018
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 supernatural classic Suspiria may be one of the more divisive films on this list. But there’s no denying that the 2018 version is an ambitious, stylish, bizarre—and, at just over 2.5 hours—long take on the material. Tackling many different subplots, themes, and characters with various amounts of success, this new Suspiria left audiences scratching their heads and wondering what they hell they’d just watched. But given its source material, that’s hardly a surprise.
My Bloody Valentine 3D
1981 | 2009
My Bloody Valentine 3D shouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun as it is. It was a jump onto two worn-out bandwagons—the slasher boom originated by Scream in 1996 and the 3D craze of the mid-2000s. Not only that, it was a remake of the beloved 1981 horror film My Bloody Valentine. With so much working against it, it seems unlikely that My Bloody Valentine would make a “best horror movie remakes” list. But by couching a gory, old-fashioned whodunit in eye-popping (sometimes literally) 3D, the creators made a film that was aware of its outrageousness and also a blast to watch.
2002 | 2004
Many times, a remake succeeds by distinguishing itself from the original in some meaningful way. Other times, a remake is strictly that—a repurposing of the same material—and that’s okay. The American version of Ju-On: The Grudge came out just two years after the Japanese original, and with the same director at the helm. But though the 2004 film treads a lot of the same ground, just with a bigger budget and Buffy’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, we find it’s impossible to turn it off.
Let Me In
2008 | 2010
Like The Grudge, Tomas Alfredson’s instant vampire classic Let the Right One In was remade for English-speaking audiences. This time, however, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves sat in the director’s seat. But even without Alfredson, Reeve’s 2010 Let Me In retains the best elements of the original—while also seamlessly changing its story to better resonate with American viewers.
1958 | 1986
Most modern audiences probably don’t realize that Cronenberg’s delightfully disgusting 1986 film The Fly is a remake of a kitschy classic from the 50s. Starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, this gross-out body horror movie is a cult classic and fan favorite. The movie was critically acclaimed when it premiered, with its makeup effects and Goldblum’s performance the focus of the praise. The Fly remains the most commercially successful movie of Cronenberg’s to date.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
1956 | 1978
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade more than once—there’s also Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers and the 2007 Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig vehicle, The Invasion. But for many peoples’ money, the best “take two” on the story is the 1978 version directed by Philip Kaufman and starring…well, pretty much everybody. The star-studded cast features Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, and Donald Sutherland, whose vacant screech remains one of the most iconic moments in horror movie history.
House of Wax
1953 | 2005
Unfairly maligned (and too often remembered) simply as “that horror movie with Paris Hilton in it,” House of Wax is actually a tense and atmospheric backwoods Gothic. It helps that it isn’t a straight remake of the 1953 Vincent Price classic House of Wax—which was itself a remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum. In fact, the 2005 reiteration owes more to the bizarre 1979 slasher Tourist Trap than any other movie. Add this fresh material to a climax that takes place in a literal melting house of wax, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
1980 | 2012
William Lustig’s original Maniac is an unassailable classic, and it’s largely thanks to Joe Spinell’s performance as a damaged man who inflicts irreparable damage on others. Had you asked who could take up that mantle in a remake, we doubt anyone would have volunteered the name Elijah Wood. Yet Wood handles the job marvelously in the cunning 2012 take on the original story. The first-person camerawork may be a gimmick, but it helps to set this Maniac apart from its more famous forebear.
1985 | 2011
Adapted from the original movie from 1985 by none other than Marti Noxon, writer and producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this 2011 remake starring Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell does exactly what a remake is supposed to do: It honors the source material while updating it with joy for a new audience. Much of its success is thanks to the aforementioned great writing, but it’s also Farrell’s vampire Jerry (originally portrayed by Chris Sarandon) that keeps us watching. Though, to be honest, we’d watch Colin Farrell do just about anything (even sitting through Alexander).
The Hills Have Eyes
1977 | 2006
Who would be crazy enough to touch Wes Craven’s 1977 masterpiece The Hills Have Eyes? The two French filmmakers responsible for Haute Tension. Okay, fine. There are just some things you can do in 2006 that Craven couldn’t do in 1977, and boy, does it show in this terrifying joyride through an open desert.
House on Haunted Hill
1959 | 1999
Of all William Castle horror movies, House on Haunted Hill—though arguably his most famous—has one of the weakest gimmicks: Emergo, an inflatable skeleton that “emerged” on a wire and sailed over the audience during the film’s climax. The 1999 remake dials thing up a notch by adding realistic-looking ghosts and placing the action in an abandoned mental institution, but it also never loses sight of the original’s classic, campy fun. Fantastic performances by Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen elevate the film even further, making it one of our favorite horror movie remakes.
1971 | 2003
Glen Morgan was already dabbling in the world of remakes before he directed Black Christmas. In 2003, he took on the 1970 classic Willard, which followed a meek outcast who befriended rats. Morgan’s version features a clever cameo from the original star, Bruce Davidson. But oddball extraordinaire Crispin Glover is just as convincing of a Willard, earning this remake a spot on our list.
Mark of the Vampire
1927 | 1935
Remakes aren’t a new phenomenon in horror. Take, for example, the Mark of the Vampire. The 1935 film is Tod Browning’s reimagining of his own 1927 silent gem, London After Midnight. While Lionels Atwill and Barrymore are welcome additions to the second iteration, a somnolent Bela Lugosi returns to play a caricature of the Dracula persona he had introduced in the original just a few years before.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
1922 | 1979
Werner Herzog achieved the impossible when he made a quality remake of the most believed horror film of the silent era: Nosferatu. His 1979 adaptation is visually striking, and it’s made all the more effective by Klaus Kinski’s turn as Count Dracula. Wearing makeup similar to that worn by his predecessor in the 1922 original, Kinski delivers a haunting, tormented performance that only complements the film’s highly stylized look. Another remake of Nosferatu is rumored to be on the way, with none other than The Witch’s Robert Eggers at the helm.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
1974 | 2003
There’s no replacing Tobe Hooper’s original horror masterpiece of 1974. You just can’t. But this 2003 remake still scares in major ways. Starring Jessica Biel (who could’ve had a longer career as a final girl), if this terrifying remake gets younger audiences to see the original movie then it’s done its job. And it’s still plenty horrifying. We may have double, ok, triple-checked all the doors in windows after a screening at our house.
1958 | 1988
Releasing almost thirty years apart, the two versions of The Blob are both great representations of their respective decades. The original has Steve McQueen and couples necking at lovers’ lane. The remake has Kevin Dillon, motorcycles, government cover-ups, and lots and lots of gooey ‘80s gore.
We Are What We Are
2010 | 2013
Horror buffs are the first to acknowledge the excellent source material for this 2013 American remake of a 2010 Mexican horror movie, but most agree that the remake is better. Whether it’s the relish that the filmmakers take in the cannibalistic scenes or its commentary on the dangers of religious obsession, this movie just bangs.
1974 | 2006
Bob Clark’s original Black Christmas is one of the earliest slasher films—and also one of the best. Maybe that’s why the Hollywood gods are bringing it back to our screens this December 2019. But before you see the newest version, it’s worth revisiting the 2006 remake starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Trachtenberg. While it isn’t a patch on the original, it also doesn’t try to be—instead taking threads that were left unexplored and taking them in extremely weird (but entertaining) directions.
Featured still from "Black Christmas" via Dimension Films