What We Can Learn From Horror Remixes

This month’s theme is creativity and that got us thinking about something that doesn’t seem very creative at all: remakes, reboots and sequels (by the way, it’s not your imagination, the number of sequels and remakes is on the rise).

Scary movies (’tis the season of Halloween) are notorious for this trick:

Nightmare on Elm Street: 9 Movies; Halloween (franchise): 10 Movies; Final Destination: 5 Movies; Check out this list from AMC that lists a lot more, half of which are Halloween-related. 

You might not think that sequels would be a source for creativity but if anything, sequels force their writers to be creative. After all, you have to get movie goers to come back for something fresh while keeping enough of what they liked about the first movies. It’s a creative art.

So what are some ways movie sequels force creativity?

Tone it Up, Tone it Down

Filmmakers wills often play with the tone of their source work. Take a look at the original Evil Dead franchise of the ’80s and ’90s, where filmmaker Sam Raimi combined splatter, camp and a healthy dollop of Three Stooges-type humor.

Fast forward to Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake, which toned down the humor and ramped up the gore, appealing to a new generation of horror fans that cut their teeth on shock-films such as the Saw franchise.

Fans of the original, meanwhile, were given an added bonus last year with the debut of the Starz series “Ash vs Evil Dead,” with the return of Bruce Campbell in the roll of Ash, and a couple of younger sidekicks. So there’s something for everyone.

Remix The Character

Some villains leave a lasting mark on the pop culture conscience. In terms of horror, look no further than Dracula, who has been remixed, rebooted and reimagined countless times since Bram Stoker unleashed the vampire on the world nearly 120 years ago.

As originally written, ol’ Drac was not all that attractive, with a unibrow and prominent “aquiline” nose. Yet, he still possessed a certain old, old, old world charm.

In 1922, Dracula was reimagined as the rat-like Count Orlock in F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized silent film masterpiece, “Nosferatu,” swapping out the character’s pose for a more demonic presence.

The Dracula best remembered is from the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which shows the blood sucker as a sophisticated, urbane lady’s man.

“Dracula” film remakes went on and on in the decades to come, with actors such as Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman each leaving a unique mark on the character with significant tonal differences.

Dracula, by the way, is himself a fictional remix of a re-world monster, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, a 13th-century Wallachian prince best known for — you guessed it — impaling his enemies.

Remix The Location

Taking the same cast but changing location is another way to change things up. It’s no secret that if you took, say, your office and cranked the temperature 30 degrees (or lowered it 30 degrees) the same people would act very differently.

Again, look at Dracula, or rather, works inspired by “Dracula.” “Vampire in Brooklyn” and “‘Salem’s Lot” take the same basic premise as “Dracula,” but tweak the characters and moves the action from London to New York and rural Maine, respectively.

This plot device isn’t limited to vampires. Check out both “An American Werewolf in London” and “An American Werewolf in France.”

Remix Everything

One thing most people can agree on is that a good remake can stand on its own. Sometimes the best way to do that is to completely rebuild the source material, as Stanley Kubrick did with “The Shining.” Kubrick’s film retains much of the original plot structure from the original source — Stephen King’s novel — but characters and tone differ wildly.

The conflict in King’s work involves not only the supernatural, but alcoholism, inescapable personal demons and the destruction of the family unit. The character Jack Torrence is nuanced enough so that when he finally succumbs to both the personal and supernatural demons, it’s as heartbreaking as it is frightening.

Kubrick’s vision, meanwhile, is as cold as the snow enveloping the Overlook Hotel, and Jack Nicholson portrays Torrence as a ticking time bomb. It’s not a question of if Torrence will go completely psycho on his family, but when. As a result, Kubrick’s rachets up the suspense to an almost unbearable degree.

(Spoiler alert: Ever wonder what happened to Danny Torrence, after his unfortunate state at the Overlook? King revisited him decades later in his 2013 novel, “Doctor Sleep.”)

John Swinconeck