Movie Machine

Horror Movie Remakes That Are Actually Good

the ring
The Ring | DreamWorks Pictures
The Ring | DreamWorks Pictures

"Horror remakes suck!"

You'll see this comment with alarming regularity whenever a new remake of an old horror film hits theaters. The sentiment is pure nonsense, but it's easy to sympathize with it; a large percentage of horror remakes are generic, lazy, cheap, unsatisfying, and/or instantly forgettable.

So here are a whole bunch of good, great, or downright fantastic horror remakes. Feel free to point your cynical friends toward any or all of them the next time this argument comes up on Twitter. It happens at least three times a year.

the blob 1988
The Blob | TriStar Pictures

The Blob (1988)

The original:The Blob (1958)
Why it's great: While the original is a kitschy, corny, and adorably old-fashioned tale of a giant glob of space goo that attacks a small town, this 1980s version has a lot more humor, horror, and several memorably creative moments of gruesomely graphic violence. Plus they went and added a subplot involving the military because, you know, it was the 1980s.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Cape Fear (1991)

The original:Cape Fear (1962)
Why it's great: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and (a very young) Juliette Lewis deliver some fantastic work in Martin Scorsese's remake of the well-regarded 1962 Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum thriller about a psychotic ex-con who preys mercilessly on the lawyer who messed up his case. Scorsese has always had a soft spot for pulpy thrillers, and his rendition of this gritty noir is a consistently entertaining nail-biter all the way through.
Where to watch it: Stream on Cinemax. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Carrie
Carrie | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Carrie (2013)

The original: Carrie (1976)
Why it's great: Director Kimberly Peirce seems to know how iconic Brian De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's debut novel is, so she doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here. Indeed, the plot is virtually the same as in the first film (and the underrated 2002 TV movie): a freaky young woman with telekinetic powers makes the school bullies and her horrid mother pay for the evil ways. But Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are simply great here, and the big payoff is quite gruesomely satisfying.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Cat People (1982)

The original:Cat People (1942)
Why it's great: When the guy who wrote Taxi Driver decides to remake a beloved old Val Lewton production, that's something a horror fan should look into. This odd, sexy, and occasionally shocking tale of human-like, shape-shifting "cat people" on the hunt for a mate is bolstered by some great performances (Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard) and some cool music.
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

the crazies 2010
The Crazies | Overture Pictures

The Crazies (2010)

The original:The Crazies (1973)
Why it's great: George Romero is remade often, but none of the remakes has improved upon its original... except, perhaps, this one. Romero's tale of a town that suddenly turns crazy was sort of shaggy and unfocused, while this remake has some grit and attitude -- as well as a few new wrinkles of its own.
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Dark Water (2005)

The original:Dark Water (2002)
Why it's great: Another Hideo Nakata film (after Ringu) to get the American remake treatment, and while it's a damn good "haunted apartment" story starring Jennifer Connelly, Tim Roth, and John C. Reilly, this movie didn't make a fraction of the box office splash the The Ring did. Absolutely worth a look if you lost it amid all the other "J-horror" remakes.
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Go and HBO Now. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

dawn of the dead 2004
Dawn of the Dead | Universal Pictures

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The original:Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Why it's great: So many remakes fail simply by coloring within the lines too strictly, but that's certainly not what James Gunn and Zack Snyder were interested in. Sure, it's still a zombie invasion that takes place in a mall, but where Romero's classic is a bitter indictment of conformity and consumerism, this is more of a straightforward action/horror mash-up. And it is fun.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

The original:Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Why it's great: If you've never seen the original, don't worry about it. It's a goofy old TV movie about a young girl who discovers creatures living in the basement of her eerie mansion home, and producer Guillermo del Toro liked it well enough to expand it for the big screen. I like the remake more.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead | TriStar Pictures

Evil Dead (2013)

The original: The Evil Dead (1981)
Why it's great: Sam Raimi's original The Evil Dead blew my freaking mind when I saw it as a teenager (and like most people, I love the sequel even more), so I was more than a little skeptical as I bought my ticket for Fede Alverez's remake. Ninety-some minutes later, I was a big fan. The remake employs the same "people in a cabin get mega-possessed by horrific demons" premise, but it also forges some of its new ground and delivers three or four "omg" moments. Easily.
Where to watch it: Stream on FX Now. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

The Fly (1986)

The original: The Fly (1958)
Why it's great: Not casting any shade toward the beloved 1950s adaptation of the George Langelaan short story -- it's definitely fun, if kind of goofy -- but there's something undeniably disturbing and David Cronenberg's masterful film. Not only are Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum at the top of their game, but Cronenberg's unflinching confidence turns this tale of human mutation into one of the most tragic romantic dramas of the 1980s. It's not for the faint of heart, but damn this is a great movie.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

friday the 13th 2009
Friday the 13th | New Line Cinema

Friday the 13th (2009)

The original:Friday the 13th (1980)
Why it's great: Same as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This basic, simplistic, and entirely predictable remake kinda pales in comparison to the cheap grittiness of the original movie, but it was clearly made by people who love the old franchise, it boasts a pretty badass Jason, and it actually gets fairly creepy and suspenseful in the third act. As someone who grew up addicted to these movies, trust me: this remake is better than a lot of the sequels.
Where to watch it: Stream on Cinemax. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Fright Night (2011)

The original:Fright Night (1985)
Why it's great: As a big horror fan and a loyal child of the 1980s, this is one of those remakes (like The Stepfather, Prom Night, and The Fog) I was mostly dreading, but thanks to a winning script, some great performances, and (of course) some of the original's best components -- like a teenage kid who's convinced that his next-door neighbor is a vampire -- this one turned out to be a pleasant surprise indeed. Well, as pleasant as a horror movie can be.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

The Grudge
The Grudge | Columbia Pictures

The Grudge (2004)

The original: Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Why it's great: Most of the "J-horror" remakes that followed The Ring were forgettable at best, and dreadful at worst, but this one managed to strike a creepy chord while changing virtually nothing from the original film. The pair together would make for a nice late-night double feature, given that they're both directed by the same guy (Takashi Shimuzu), and they're basically about a ghostly child that hides all over the place and scares the living crap out of everyone.
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

The original: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Why it's great: It takes a certain amount of confidence to mount a new version of one of Wes Craven's very best films, and that confidence is what helped Alex Aja (of High Tension fame) to modernize this tale of cannibals vs. suburbanites in stark, brutal, and intense fashion. Avoid the sequel. In both cases.
Where to watch it: Stream on Showtime and Starz. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

house of wax 2005
House of Wax | Warner Bros. Pictures

House of Wax (2005)

The original:House of Wax (1953)
Why it's great: Probably the best of the three "Dark Castle" remakes, which takes the Vincent Price classic about a demented artist and a terrifying wax museum, and jams it full of all sorts of nasty gore. Also pretty scary in parts.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The original:Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Why it's great: Don Siegel's 1956 adaptation of the Jack Finney novel is of course, an old-school science fiction classic, but (for me at least) there's something so dark and ominous about this Philip Kaufman rendition that just gets creepier every time I see it. A quiet alien invasion arrives by way of gross pods that generate human-like clones is creepy enough as a premise. And that final shot -- yikes.
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu and Epix. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

the last house on the left 2009
The Last House on the Left | Rogue Pictures

The Last House on the Left (2009)

The original: The Last House on the Left (1972)
Why it's great: There's no denying that Wes Craven's original film packs a visceral gut-punch, but the remake introduces a few new plot/character wrinkles that it make it a bit more interesting than the usual "rape/revenge" thriller. It's also shot a hell of a lot nicer than the original flick, and it dumps the atrocious "comic relief" stuff. Good changes.
Where to watch it: Stream on Cinemax. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Let Me In (2010)

The original:Let the Right One In (2008)
Why it's great: It takes some guts to mount a remake of a globally adored (not to mention very recent) Swedish import -- let alone one that's based on an equally adored novel -- but director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) knew what to keep, what to drop, and what to change for American audiences. Some say this oddly touching tale of a young vampire and her first brush with romance is even better than the original film. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but this is a remake certainly exhibits a lot of respect for its source material.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Maniac
Maniac | IFC Midnight

Maniac (2012)

The original: Maniac (1980)
Why it's great: William Lustig's original Maniac is little more than a Z-grade Taxi Driver premise, a truly unhinged Joe Spinnell performance, and some staggeringly cool Tom Savini gore effects. This remake takes the first-person perspective, as we see through Elijah Wood's eyes as he stalks and dispatches his prey, and it makes for a quietly disturbing experience. Plus it has an amazing score.
Where to watch it: Stream on Showtime. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

The original: My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Why it's great: Part of my affection for this one (like the previous pair) is that the original flick -- which is about a stalker in a coal mine during a Valentine's Day party -- is that I grew up a fan of the old version, and I like (some of) the new wrinkles they brought to the table this time. Plus it has a nice sense of humor, a solid finale, and some goofball 3-D effects.
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime. Rent on iTunes, YouTube, etc.

night of the living dead 1990
Night of the Living Dead | Columbia Pictures

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

The original:Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Why it's great: An acceptable, if unspectacular, remake of George Romero's classic, this time with gore master Tom Savini in the director's chair. It's almost a shot-for-shot remake, but of course Savini does get some wild gore into the mix.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

The original: Nosferatu (1922)
Why it's great: Cinema genius Werner Herzog is apparently a huge fan of the F.W. Murnau adaptation of Nosferatu (itself a thinly veiled ripoff of Bram Stoker's Dracula), which explains why he tapped the admirably unhinged Klaus Kinski to play the title role. If you think all vampires are smooth and sexy, prepare to be terrified.
Where to watch it: Stream on Shudder and FilmStruck. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

piranha 3d
Piranha 3-D | Dimension Films

Piranha 3-D (2010)

The original:Piranha (1978)
Why it's great: Too many remakes seem to hew too closely to their source material to make their own (ahem) splash, but that's not the case with the knowingly childish Piranha 3-D. Whereas the original Piranha was a thriller with a firm sense of humor, this one is more or less a sex comedy combined with a gory horror flick about ravenous fish.
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

Quarantine (2008)

The original: [REC] (2007)
Why it's great: Another remake that's almost the exact same film as the original, with only a small handful of nominal alterations. If you've already seen this found-footage tale of an apartment building under attack from ravenous zombies, which is certainly a fun horror flick, do yourself a favor and rent the original, [REC]. (It's streaming on Shudder.)
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz. Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

The Ring
The Ring | Dreamworks Pictures

The Ring (2002)

The original:Ringu (1998)
Why it's great: It was Hideo Nakata's original Ringu (along with a few other films) that kick-started the massive "J-horror" trend of the 2000s, and it certainly seems like every single Japanese horror film from this decade got an American remake. Few of them are very good, but Gore Verbinski dives into the lore regarding a deadly videocassette with a good deal of style and intensity. Avoid the sequel.
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Go and HBO Now. Rent from iTunes, Google Play, etc.

Silent House (2011)

The original: The Silent House (2010)
Why it's great: This might hold the record for quickest "international original" (in this case Uruguayan) turned into "American remake," and truth be told both versions are pretty darn scary. It's a simple story about a young woman (the incredible Elizabeth Olsen) who finds herself besieged by something supernatural while visiting a creepy old house. It also boasts a nifty little "all in one take" format which they actually achieved through clever editing, but the movie really does feel like 87 minutes of real-time gradual horror.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

texas chainsaw massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre | New Line Cinema

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The original: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Why it's great: Put down your pitchforks, horror fans. There's no way this oddly glossy remake is even half as powerful as Tobe Hooper's original tale of abduction, torment, and cannibalism, but taken on its own slick, sick merits, it's not a bad horror flick to throw on at a party.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

The Thing (1982)

The original: The Thing from Another World (1951)
Why it's great: Taking inspiration from the 1951 film, as well as John W. Campbell's 1938 novella Who Goes There?, horror master John Carpenter staged his remake with equal parts gruesome gore and unbearable suspense -- and while the movie died at the box office, it's gone on to be widely regarded as a true horror classic. Oh, it's about a seemingly invincible alien creature that can mimic human beings (almost) perfectly. And it's probably the finest horror remake ever.
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz. Rent/purchase at Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

We Are What We Are (2013)

The original:We Are What We Are (2010)
Why it's great: The Mexican original was one of the most intriguing horror movies of 2010. And just a few years later, Jim Mickle (Cold in July) delivered an American remake that's smart, creepy, and more than capable of standing on its own. On the surface it's about an odd family that has decidedly distasteful eating habits, but there's a whole of juicy subtext underneath.
Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime. Rent from iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, etc.

willard
Willard | New Line Cinema

Willard (2003)

The original: Willard (1973)
Why it's great: Superior to the original film (and its goofy sequel, Ben), thanks mainly to a dark sense of humor, and a great lead performance by Crispin Glover as a weird misfit who unleashes an army of rats upon his everyday tormentors. It's everything you want in a "killer rat" movie, though I don't like what happens to the cat.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

13 Ghosts (2001)

The original: 13 Ghosts (1960)
Why it's great: More freaky jump scares and gruesome ghouls as a bunch of idiots wander through a mansion filled with undead spirits. The original is hardly any sort of classic, and neither is this one. It is, however, a passable time-waster when paired with the previous film or the following one.
Where to watch it: Rent from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, etc.

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Scott Weinberg is a film writer and critic who has written for outlets such as Playboy, FEARnet, and Nerdist. He tweets @scotteweinberg but ignores mean people.