x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Feel the fear all over again with It and other horror remakes

Ahead of the big-screen remake of Stephen King's It, Alex Ritman looks at the less-than-impressive history of horror do-overs.

In 1990, the made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King's It did for red-nosed children's entertainers what Spielberg's Jaws had done for large aquatic animals 15 years earlier. Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the child-eating, drain-dwelling clown is likely to have seen bookings of magicians for birthday parties crash across the world, and numerous bright red wigs find themselves heading towards the dustbin.

The clowning community has had 22 years to recover its business, but there are no doubt going to be some upside-down smiles with the news that the wheels of an It remake by Warner Bros are gathering speed.

The latest update is that Cary Fukunaga, who directed the distinctly clown-free Jane Eyre, is at the helm and, perhaps most interestingly, the story will be split into two separate films. Given that the original book was some 1,138 pages and drifted between two periods, this makes good sense. (The original three-hour film was originally in two parts as well, but these are often just glued together when it is broadcast.)

But will it provoke the same reaction as the first ABC drama? Now that we've had more than two decades to get over the first Pennywise, will whoever steps into his oversized shoes have us hiding beneath the duvets again?

From recent horror remake experience, things aren't looking good.

Freddy Krueger might have been the stuff of nightmares beyond just the residents of Elm Street during the 1980s, but when he returned for an ill-conceived big-budget remake in 2010, the film was widely panned. It was a slick, visually stunning production, but the general consensus was that the 21st century A Nightmare on Elm Street simply wasn't anywhere near as scary as the razor-fingered, stripy jumper-wearer's first appearance in Wes Craven's low-budget original. "We've been there before," said one critic.

It was arguably another watching-through-your-fingers classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, that kick-started the reboot trend. However, 2003's return for Tobe Hooper's monstrous Leatherface set the precedent for most that followed - upping the gore, throwing in Jessica Biel as bait, but sadly lacking in that crucial ability to have us too scared to turn off the lights.

There are several links between these high-earning but low-scoring remakes. The first is a certain Michael Bay, whose Platinum Dunes production company was behind them both, along with several other generally awful horror returns (most notably The Amityville Horror in 2005 and Friday the 13th in 2009).

The second is budget. It seems that a film's fright index has an inverse relationship to spending. For all its lack of screams, the new Elm Street cost US$35 million (Dh128.6m), compared with the original meagre-looking $1.8m. Tobe Hooper famously produced the first Chain Saw Massacre for under $300,000, a far cry from the $9.5m invested in the 2003 version. Psycho, one of several horror classics that underlined Hitchcock's ability to build more suspense than the Golden Gate Bridge with minimal resources, returned to screens in 1998 thanks to Gus Van Sant, in a scene-for-scene remake with all the suspense of a soufflé.

The image of Anthony Perkins's Norman Bates looking through "mother's" window is one for the film annuals. The idea of Vince Vaughn doing likewise is almost laughable. One critic noted that the only reason to even consider the film was to "see Anne Heche being assassinated".

Naturally, there are those that go against the trend. The cannibalistic mutants in Craven's cultish The Hills Have Eyes were brought back to life in 2006 by the French horror director Alexandre Aje (of recent Piranha 3D "fame") in a fast-paced remake that was largely well-received, despite an increase in gore more towards Saw-like "torture porn" levels.

And so to It.

There are actually several reasons why a return to clown-stalking small-town America could actually raise the fright factor.

The original It may have resulted in thousands of sleepless nights, but it was made for TV, not the big screen. Having a maniacal Pennywise the size of a small house bearing down on you, together with the special effects not available at the time, definitely sounds like something with significant wet seat potential.

Also, despite being three hours long, the 1990 film didn't do full justice to one of King's meatiest books, with various elements of the story missed in an effort to squeeze it all in. Having the film spread across two instalments should allow the more gruesome and adult content of the material to be covered.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Michael Bay seems to be nowhere near the project.

Here's to a whole new generation about to be terrified of clowns for the rest of their lives.

aritman@thenational.ae