Oct 19, 2018

Horror Movie Round-up: Classics vs. Remakes

Whether you prefer horror originals or their remakes, great sound is essential for the scariest experience.

Some people fear masked murders, while others quake at the thought of malevolent ghosts or demonic possession. Still, others find themselves petrified by stories of monsters or extraterrestrials. Everyone's taste in horror movies is distinctly varied, and because of this, the argument for and against original films or their remakes isn't always cut and dried. But the role sound plays in effective horror is never up for debate.

 As Halloween approaches, let's look at some horror classics and their counterparts - not just which is "better," but also their sonic quality (or lack thereof). Feel free to disagree with our rankings - just take our word when we say upgrading your sound makes movie night frighteningly real.

 Many versions of Halloween

Halloween is one of director John Carpenter's best films. The punch the movie packs comes principally from its use of quiet and ambient sound, creating tension that boils over in scenes of shocking murders by Michael Myers (or The Shape, as the credits originally identify him). And there's that Carpenter-penned piano theme, one of cinema's most famous.

 Unfortunately, the 2007 remake doesn't emulate those aspects — it's as unsubtle as its writer-director, Rob Zombie. His Halloween is predictable and short on actual scares due to its clanging sound. Whether the latest reinterpretation by idiosyncratic director David Gordon Green is successful remains to be seen, but early reviews are generally positive. Also, Carpenter composed the music and consulted the filmmakers regularly.

 It: Miniseries or 2017 film?

For many millennials, the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's novel about the child-killing monster and seven kids who fight it (in childhood and adulthood) has nostalgic appeal. Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown was certainly horrifying back then, even if it appears somewhat campy now. Some may say that the film itself, like many TV adaptations of King works, suffers from bargain-basement special effects, uninspired filmmaking and a middling stereo soundtrack.

 Andy Muschetti's 2017 version is much different. Though limited to the story's childhood scenes and not above employing jump scares, It benefits from outstanding sound design and score, convincingly horrific visuals, directorial creativity, faithful adaptive screenwriting and outstanding acting. Bill Skarsgard's deeply disturbing depiction of Pennywise alone makes the new It worth watching.

 The Thing(s) from different eras

There's no way to talk originals vs. remakes without addressing John Carpenter again. His reinterpretation of Howard Hawks' classic The Thing From Another World (1951) hews closer to their shared source material: "Who Goes There," John W. Campbell's novella of a shapeshifting alien attacking an Antarctic science expedition. While hated by many critics upon its 1982 release, Carpenter's The Thing is now beloved by horror fans for many reasons. These include the stark cinematography of its snowbound setting, groundbreaking (sometimes truly gross) special effects depicting the creature's transformative powers, a spare, menacing score and understated lead performances by Kurt Russell and Keith David.

 Ringu or The Ring?

Horror is a Japanese film tradition, dating back to Kenji Mizoguchi's masterful ghost story Ugetsu (1953) and still-shocking descent into hell that is Jigoku (1960). But Hideo Nakata's 1998 Ringu, about a journalist investigating a cursed videotape, was the biggest horror box-office success ever in Japan, transcending its low budget with ingenious filmmaking and storytelling. The 2002 U.S. remake is genuinely disturbing, though, anchored by Naomi Watts' strong lead performance, and offers a more visually and sonically unsettling home-viewing experience.

 Texas Chainsaw Massacre(s): Bigger and louder is not always better

Part of why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre occupies hallowed ground in the horror universe is its occasionally ramshackle production values: They make Tobe Hooper's 1974 film seem like a documentary from hell. Also, the original tale of Leatherface's rampage isn't actually that violent, certainly by modern standards. Many of its "grossest" moments are seen in shadow or otherwise partially obscured.

 Not unlike Zombie's Halloween retread, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw remake and 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D ignore everything that made the original so disturbing. Both feature arduous sound, slick visuals and wall-to-wall gore, but few scares. It's hard to choose which wins the race to the bottom, though the 2003 Michael Bay-produced version inspired one of Roger Ebert's most scathing reviews ever.

 Even with the most impressive special effects and generous budget, sound can make or break a film. To fully immerse yourself in the suspense and lore this Halloween season, upgrade your entertainment with a home theater system from Polk. If you opt to enhance your movie audio with the Command Bar and encounter a scene that’s a little too frightening, you can ask Alexa to turn on the lights. We won’t judge. 

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