Or: Three movies that terrified my parents as kids in the 50s that came back to terrify me as a kid in the 80s.

Note: This is how this column works: I pick three movies based on connection and I work them together as a trilogy.  It’s as simple as that.  The movies can be linked by director, by star, by theme or anything else my strange mind deems as trilogy-worthy.  They may be movies you’ve seen before but never linked.  They may be movies you’ve never heard of and in that regard I hope to open your mind to some new cinematic treasures.  What this column isn’t about is becoming a top 3 list of any kind.  Because, well, that would limit me to “good” movies.  And, really, do you want to watch the top 3 Danish films about dysfunctional families in a row?  I don’t think anyone does.  All that being said, I have tons and tons of ideas.  Movies work great in threes.  When watching three movies back-to-back, it’s like having a 3 act structure for your entire evening.  But just because I have ideas that I think are good, doesn’t mean you want to read about them.  Please feel free to suggest topics.  Have a girlfriend that is pressuring you to pop the question?  Maybe you want a trilogy of movies about the downsides of marriage.  Leave a suggestion in the comments.  This column is nothing if you don’t read it.  So, lets just get right into it and build a trilogy around a hot topic these days amongst horror fans…

Frequently cited as definitive proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas, the never-ending flood of horror remakes has become an excuse for entire leagues of fans to pan a movie before a frame is revealed and for an entirely different generation of moviegoers to declare “See!  CGI blood is cooler!”.  Now, I don’t have any inherent issues with a film being remade when it is one that is available and familiar.  At least then, people have the chance to decide if they want to watch the original first.  Where I do get a bit peeved is when a foreign film is remade before the general masses have the chance to experience the original.  Case in point: QUARANTINE was a nearly shot-for-shot remake of a the superior [REC].  But how many people a.) knew about [REC] before venturing into QUARANTINE or b.) had the gumption to track it down and import the Spanish DVD?  The original didn’t have a chance to succeed.

What I propose to you is a trilogy of movies you have probably seen that display the awesome case of a remake equalling or very well surpassing the original.  Not only that, but I consider this the perfect 80’s horror trilogy.  All three movies have 2 word titles and the first word of each title is “The”.  What’s even more, while all 3 of these movies are first and foremost horror, they each have an element of sci-fi.  For this trilogy I suggest you grab your buddies, a couple six-packs and bask in the glory of gooey, ooey horror fun.

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THE BLOB (1988)

One Line Synopsis: A purple, gelatinous alien falls to Earth to wreak havoc on a small town while the town baddie practices his creek jumping and hair styling skills.

Okay, I lied.  I have an fundamental problem with this film being remade a second time.  But only because Rob Zombie has admitted he wants to remake THE BLOB… but not have a blob in the movie.  Such talk from a filmmaker immediately sucks him or her into some sort of self-defeating vortex of ridiculous anti-hype.  When you venture into a movie called THE BLOB you pretty much have every right to have your easiest expectation met – that there will be a blob of some sort.  In the 1988 version of THE BLOB the star is first and foremost the effects work (supervised by Hoyt Yeattman) that brings the blob itself to life. Take, for example, a scene in which a character is trapped in a phone booth.  The blob surrounds the booth, upgrading our character to “damsel in distress”, until the booth implodes.  The effects work here is top notch and sells the scene with incredible tension.  And this kind of mushy effects work is just one of example of what you will experience.  You have melting boyfriends, imploding girlfriends and short order cooks pulled through drain pipes.  Your night o’ trilogy is off to a quick and brutal start.

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Several other elements come together to make this such an amazing ride.  Kevin Dillon is no Steve McQueen to be sure, but he makes an adequate tough guy and Shawnee Smith as Meg Penny (sans a ridiculous misstep where her life is endangered by her own shoe) is an adorable and resilient heroine.  There’s a throwaway government-conspiracy related element to the plot that, due to the playful script by Chuck Russell (who engaged in horror fan’s other bane by delivering the best Elm Street sequel: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) and Frank Darabont, never crushes the spirit of the film.  THE BLOB is at times blissfully campy and others quite hardcore (there’s a pretty unflinching kid death scene and a scene that must have really shaken audiences watching this in the theater when it was first released).  At all times, however, it is fun.  It’s this balance that makes it a perfect start to this trilogy.

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THE FLY (1986)

One Line Synopsis: A brilliant scientist accidentally crosses his DNA with that of a fly while researching teleportation in his apartment and trying to win over Geena Davis.

You’re now riding high from the effects superstar THE BLOB.  That’s not to say we’re going to step down the carnage.  No way.  We’re just going to up the head meat workout just a bit.  You can find books dedicated to the common subtext in most of David Cronenberg’s films.  I’m not going to pretend I’m smart enough to summarize it here with even an iota of panache .  What is interesting to note here, though, is that after VIDEODROME, this was the first movie he directed that also had his name in the writing credits.  He directed only THE DEAD ZONE in between.  With this film, he was able to take his same themes (the technology and flesh themes, of course) and wrap them in modern horror sensibilities and deliver a remake of the 1958 terror classic that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.

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An upgrade from the paper-thin pulp level of character relationships in THE BLOB, you’ll be treated to a delicate dynamic between Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis).  It’s so good you’ll want to forget Hollywood tried to bottle that electricity twice by way of EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY.  Where the joy of THE BLOB is that you quickly learn any and every character is fair game for blobby destruction, here the tension comes from not knowing if Veronica will remain safe as she juggles her love for Brundle and her fear of Brundlefly.  There’s some semi-believable science behind the setup and much to our enjoyment once the transformation begins, there’s plenty of gross on display.  Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from showing a man’s descent into insecthood and each stage of the change brings new and more intense levels of fluids.  Once Brundlefly seeks to satiate his hunger, we jump headfirst into horror territory and the special effects here, as in THE BLOB are practical and awesome.  It’s a great balance between character, sci-fi, horror and gore that serves as a perfect bridge between THE BLOB and our final feature of the night.

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THE THING (1982)

One Line Synopsis: Kurt Russell and his beard star as R.J. MacReady in this sci-fi horror chiller in which an alien life form with the ability to mimic any creature it comes in contact with terrorizes an isolated Antarctic research facility.

By now, if you’ve started your trilogy in the afternoon, it is dark.  Perfect.  After the explosive and silly alien feature THE BLOB and the transformation-glorifying, mind-engaging epic THE FLY – we come full circle to combine the best of both worlds.  THE THING takes the alien element of THE BLOB, mixes in a healthy dose of the very real honest-to-goodness horror found in THEY FLY and caps it off with spirited, gleeful transformations that are an amalgamation of the two.  Get all that?

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John Carpenter’s THE THING, a remake of the 1951 classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, starts with a brilliantly bleak and bizarre opening scene in which a helicopter follows a dog running through the frozen tundra while a passenger shoots to kill all accompanied by an Ennio Morricone score that out-minimalizes any minimalist Carpenter score.  It sets the tone for the underlying dread that makes this film a clear winner in this trilogy for brooding terror.  After taking in the dog, the exclusively male researchers begin to discover something is not quite right just about the time the dog morphs into a bizarre dog-spider-alien creature, wreaks havoc in the kennel  and disappears.

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What follows the initial revelation of the alien is the realization that the alien can “be” anything.  It’s that realization that causes the stress that leads to the characters losing all trust in one another.  The movie is packed with tense scenes, none more nail biting than the one in which MacReady tests each researcher’s blood for a survival-instinct reaction.  It’s a slow building scene with payoff that has to be seen to be believed.  The effects here, as the horror mounts, start off strong and only get better and better.  The process of the alien changing one form to another or making an escape once it has been discovered are as top notch as anything you’ve seen through the course of these movies.  It’s all courtesy of special effects genius Rob Bottin and his crew. The movie culminates with a final scene that will leave you positively chilled to the bone and is a perfect end note to the evening.

Final Thoughts

Look, I know I’m not the first person to ever put these three films together – they will usually make any complete “best remakes” list.  There’s a very good reason they are all so highly regarded, they are all quality films.  The debate about remakes will rage on and on and there are several good reasons to tackle the full discussion.  For instance, does the time between original and remake become a huge factor in whether or not a remake can be decent?  Is the technology and filmmaking techniques so much better that a remake could benefit from the update in style?  Do we have better special effects capabilities with which we can better bring the vision to the screen?  Most importantly, is it a story that has been told well and could telling it again make it better?

Looking at this trilogy you can see that there were huge leaps in all these areas with the only real area of discussion left being the stories and whether they were told better.  Being an 80s kid I can say that I found 50s genre movies a bit goofy.  I could always understand why they had the power over the youth of their respective time, but I was used to things like color, latex and overacting in a different sense.  So the updates of THE BLOB, THE FLY and THE THING for the fans in the 80s and going forward were a blessing.  Appreciating the original stories and the movies themselves for what they were, we now had updated plots presented in a manner we were much more used to digesting.

Looking at the current trend of remakes today, though, it seems many are being made perhaps too soon.  This doesn’t automatically negate their utility, but does leave me wondering if there have been advancements that great in the ability to present stories on screen.  Personally, I’m in the not-so-thrilled-about-CGI camp and it’s the only real new thing I think can be added unless you suspect plot improvements.  Does the new brood of genre loving movie goers view our precious 80s horror the way we viewed those films of the 50s?  I think we can agree ,though, that this trilogy of films is a great primer to the world of quality remakes.  As the films we regarded as treasures as children are remade, don’t be so quick to dismiss the new product.  Something may just come along and surprise you and, who knows, maybe in 30 years I’ll still be running this column and discussing a trilogy of remakes that will be scaring your children.


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