When Remakes Go Wrong
A look at when a film deserves a remake and when studios need to back off.
By M.T. Bates
Don’t for a minute think this is an editorial against remakes or reboots. Sometimes, a series needs to be updated and freshened up when it becomes stale or gets put in a corner that even the best writers can’t come back from. Jason X would be a great example of that. On the other hand, some movies and franchises were just so beloved 30 years ago that filmmakers and studios think they can recapture that love by simply rebooting them. The horror genre in particular seems to have this love/hate relationship with remakes and reboots.
Some of them are hits. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Dawn of the Dead are examples of remakes that were both well-received and successful, though many fans rightfully did not enjoy the Dawn remake, However, for every good remake, you have a Nightmare on Elm Street, Day of the Dead (pick one), or Cabin Fever (why?). These are movies that failed on nearly every level and will typically send cold shivers down the spines of fans when mentioned.
Fans are generally split on the decision of whether to remake a beloved franchise. Some feel the originals did the job well and we should leave it at that. Other fans, such as this author, believe the originals were beautiful foundations that can be built upon tenfold with today’s technology. However, every so often a franchise will just live on. Almost every major horror franchise has either stopped or been rebooted at this point except for one: Child’s Play.
We've already taken a look at how amazing this franchise is for continuing on one path and one timeline from 1988 all the way until 2018, and it's not over yet. The series boasts 30 years of continuity over multiple sequels. No other major franchise has been able to keep those kinds of stats, at least in any kind of coherent fashion.
Child’s Play has thrived, failed, returned, died, and resurrected (gloriously at that) all on a single timeline in its rich, 30-year history. With plans in place for its future, including the possibility of another movie sequel and a television series, it sure looks like Chucky is going to make the best of his resurgence in popularity.
You Can’t Keep a Good Guy Down
A detailed look at the falls and resurrections of the Child's Play franchise.
Typically, a studio might want to hitch its wagon to this Good Guy and maybe sink a little money into the franchise to up the production value and budget. Obviously, Don Mancini has plenty of ideas and additional funds wouldn’t hurt in helping him realize them. Instead, we have recently learned that MGM is fast tracking a Child’s Play remake. Let that sink in. This is a classic horror franchise that’s been revived with 2 amazing sequels and it is now randomly getting remade to try and capitalize on its renewed popularity.
This is a shameless cash grab and it's hard to be on board with this remake when we have a perfectly viable and lucrative franchise already churning out an amazing product. Don’t scrap the cooks and the recipe to start from scratch. Remakes have their place, but not in the world of Child’s Play. Not right now, at least.
When Friday the 13th was remade, it was because the franchise had nowhere else to go. They were stuck between Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason. Short of making a sequel after those, Jason was in a place that he couldn’t be written out of. A Nightmare on Elm Street suffered a similar but slightly different situation with why it was remade. New Nightmare brilliantly put a cap on the franchise and to continue it further would have been awkward, so a remake was the only option, one that the filmmakers and fans regret to this day.
Night of the Living Dead was remade to just breathe some new life into the series. At that point in 1990, it had been over 30 years, a proper amount of time to wait before remaking something so classic and special. Honestly, there's a good argument to say that the remake was a better film, but that is a discussion for another time.
All of this points to the simple fact that remakes do have their place. Be it the passage of time or frustrations with the original timeline, there are legitimate reasons behind most remakes, except for Cabin Fever of course. Some movies get remade just because they are foreign and American filmmakers believe they can make a popular foreign film better for a domestic audience. Let the Right One In and Oldboy are two perfect examples of this. They are also perfect examples as to why filmmakers should stop this practice.
Aside from the ridiculous fact that MGM is remaking a franchise that still has the blood pumping in its original timeline, the possibility of the remake changing the lore of the series is a big concern. While there are changes that could be made for the better in the Child’s Play franchise, none of them are overly important.
The first thing they will do is change the name. There is no way this new movie won't be called "Chucky." That’s a no-brainer for marketing purposes, but sort of a slap in the face to fans who know where this franchise came from, unless it is a situation similar to when New Line Cinema took over the Friday the 13th rights from Paramount but couldn't use the name for future sequels. Universal may have been in the same situation when they made Bride of Chucky, but MGM should still hold all of the franchise naming rights in this case.
You can also be damn sure that they will add some silly twist to make this new movie "different" from the original. The other big slasher remakes did it, whether it is a third of a movie with a young animal killing Michael Myers, Jason kidnapping a woman because she looks like his mother, or Freddy being a child molester (but wait, he’s not a child molester; just kidding, he really is a child molester), these additions have become a staple in slasher movie remakes. They typically take away more than they add to the movies and the mythos, and are always the subject to fan backlash after the fact. Why continue this trend if it isn’t working the majority of the time?
Could we see Chucky unknowingly being the father of Andy, therefore giving us some kind of shocking twist reveal at the end of said remake? You can probably expect something transparent like that if this remake happens, and it could even work if written right. However, these twists are never particularly clever or completely fleshed out. It's not awful to add some new elements but the thought process has to be better.
Again, look back at the 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake. This was one of the cleanest and straightest remakes ever that managed to make a big change from the original, which only enhanced the movie more. In the original film, Barbara might have been the most useless character in a horror movie of all time, but the remake's Barbara, played by the wonderful Patricia Tallman, followed the tradition of strong female zombie slayers dating back to Dawn of the Dead. She was a no-nonsense ass-kicker that outshone every male character, including Tony Todd. That’s the kind of new element we need to see.
Instead, we will likely be forced to ingest some cliché Hollywood trope-style twist for shock value. Sure, that may not be the case and they could show this remake a lot of love, but the likelihood of it playing out any other way is slim. This author does not have high hopes for this remake and only believes it is happening now to simply cash in on the fact that Chucky is popular again. However, with all remakes comes another major aspect that completely alters the entire fabric that makes the originals so awesome: recasting.
Recasting beloved characters is no easy task and can often kill any momentum a movie might have. Even if the casting is particularly genius, it doesn’t always pan out. Jackie Earle Haley being cast as Freddy was a master cast, but the fact that everything surrounding him was a failure sadly also meant that his portrayal was a failure. Let’s face it, though, only one man can ever put on the glove and sweater and be accepted as Freddy.
Brad Dourif’s voice as Chucky is unmistakably legendary and profound. It’s instantly recognizable and when he laughs, not a damn other thing matters. Anyone trying to fill those shoes has their work cut out for them and there may not be anyone capable of doing it. Maybe Gustaf Skarsgård? Either way, the fact is that whoever they get to voice Chucky better be downright scared to try and fill Brad’s shoes or they won't be successful.
Fans will always look back at the cast from the original movie and have it in their heads that they can’t be replaced or duplicated. That is the given right of all horror fans. Attachments are formed after such lengthy exposure times to these characters, along with the actors and actresses who play them. Acceptance of a new cast will always be a hard sell for a studio spearheading a remake of an iconic franchise but that is their load to carry.
Expecting anything beyond mediocre from this remake would be very optimistic. We may not like the idea of this remake happening, but there is nothing we can do to stop it. We are powerless in that aspect and it is best to just vent our concerns and frustrations while preparing ourselves for a soulless (pun intended) cash grab entry.
Whether you choose to support this film at the time of its release is entirely up to you. At the end of the day, we have the original seven films to fall back on and that is something that no studio or remake can ever take away from us.