The James Clayton Column: requesting creative remakes

James despairs at the idea of a remake of An American Werewolf In London. Unless they're actually going to do something different with it...

I see a bad moon rising over the multiplex. Having encountered reports concerning the next classic horror movie remake I am, indeed, left howling with wounded pain and despair. An American Werewolf In London, it turns out, has been added to the list of Much-Loved Movies Being Molested by Modern Hacks With a Mind on Finding Box-Office Success.

Savaged! My instant response to reading the news that John Landis’ legendary lycanthrope flick isn’t impervious to attacks from modern hacks was definitely one of sadness; I don’t see a single shred of merit in the idea of remaking the 1981 movie. What I do see, though, is a cynical attempt to surf the wave of momentum generated by other ‘new’ versions of old horror stories, like Halloween, The Hitcher and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

From a business point of view, redoing the revered werewolf movie makes sense. Not only does An American Werewolf In London resonate as a title like the aforementioned slashers, but shooting a lycanthrope feature is a good idea considering that the remake’s release will follow the fresh footsteps of upcoming film, The Wolf Man. If cinema audiences come away from Joe Johnston’s blockbuster with an appetite for more scary, hairy scary beast action, the pimped-up present day version of An American Werewolf In London will be ready to quench the bloodthirst.

With Benicio Del Toro as the hirsute eponymous anti-hero, I’m more inclined to interpret The Wolf Man project as a worthy re-imagining along the lines of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, crafted by creatively-inspired people who carry a considerable passion for the source material. Remakes need not necessarily be a derivative disgrace, as John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly – both also gushy horror greats from the ‘80s – prove.

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Furthermore, when there’s an immense amount of genuine fanboy enthusiasm floating around – as in the case of Jackson with King Kong – the notion of revisiting old turf and tinkering with it a bit doesn’t seem as diabolical and insincere. When marketing his ape epic, Jackson told tales of his New Zealand childhood and repeatedly recalled – through eyes misted over in sweet memory – queuing over and over outside his local theatre to see the monster monkey movie he adored. Likewise, Del Toro has talked about how he looked to The Wolf Man of 1941 as his inspiration for a career in acting.

I don’t see much of that sort of nostalgic enthusiasm and reverence for the original in the recent reproduction horror jobs, but then again, it’s probably too much to expect Hollywood studio suits to have a soul or a heart. Because you can only complain about pointless remakes so much and because the powers-that-be will ignore you anyway, what I will critique is the complete lack of creative vision on show.

If you’re going to get a goldie oldie and go over it again, why not do it with imagination and invention? If you’re going to be so lazy as to not be bothered bringing an original idea to the world, at least go at an old concept with oomph rather than handing in a cold and soulless carbon copy. With a large mass already against you, wouldn’t it be wise to actually put some effort in to both appease audiences and associate yourself with something effective and acclaimed rather than a by-the-numbers hackjob?

To look to the latest looming retread as a case in point, what justification is there for a new version of An American Werewolf In London? The special effects don’t need updating with the best of today’s technology and the metamorphosis scenes are still spectacular having well and truly stood the test of time. It’s also true that the movie hasn’t really dated hugely despite being released 28 years ago. Seeing as the original has a timeless quality, the brains behind Dimension Films’ planned remake are really going to have to up their game to validate their revisionist endeavour.

The creators need to get some inventive energy flowing. They’ve got the core idea of ‘young American hitchhikers go travelling, get bitten by wolf, metamorphic horror follows by the light of the full moon’. Never mind trying to please antsy film buffs and differentiate the film from the original – for the sake of just being interesting, why not shake things up? We’ve seen the self-affirming, slightly xenophobic ‘Yankees in Europe’ horror movie many-a-time before (from An American Werewolf In London to Hostel after a stopover at Straw Dogs and Suspiria) so how about approaching things with a bit of imagination? If you’re going to take apart a terrific film from the past, reconstruct it with a touch of creative craftiness.

For a start, let’s leave London alone. You need only look to the 1935 thriller Werewolf Of London to see that the city has served a lengthy spell as a horror hotspot and, quite frankly, it’s time for a change. England’s capital is crap – it has too much smog, too many Cockney wideboys and all the nice bits are buried beneath snap-happy Japanese tourists. What’s more, does the afflicted individual have to be a wolf? Taking a lesson from Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, it’d be nice to see some other animal adopted as the metamorphic animal antagonist. Enough wolves – what about monkeys? Rhinos? How about the squeaking terror of the poor human soul who becomes a man-eating squirrel after dusk?

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If they must remake An American Werewolf In London, they can at least have the dignity to do it in style and rail against the deficit of imagination that’s inherent in most remakes. When John Sturges wanted to copy Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, he was decent enough to dress it up in a different outfit, stick it in the desert and call it The Magnificent Seven. Sergio Leone did the same thing with Yojimbo, using the sublime ronin flick’s fundamentals on which to graft his glorious first spaghetti western, A Fistful Of Dollars.

Altogether, I urge the individuals involved not to simply release An American Werewolf In London without even trying to add a fresh twist. For a movie that touches on the current political climate and has at least a whiff of originality and inspiration, I pitch ‘An American Were-Pig In Baghdad’. It’ll have the same humour and visceral punch of John Landis’s monumental monster movie, but will update it for our age’s ‘War on Terror’ and swine flu fear. Because we’re pig sick of constant, cynical rip-offs, such a prospect would be less insulting.

James’ previous column can be found here.