As summer turns to fall, bombastic blockbusters are giving way to a barrage of horror-movie legacy properties. Leatherface and Jigsaw will arrive in October, and this Friday, there’s It, the second screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel about a group of friends tormented by a malevolent force inhabiting their hometown of Derry, Maine. But there are so many try-hard reboots and hollow sequels in horror that it can be hard to remember that some legacy properties can (and should) be properly dusted off. In that spirit, Vulture has compiled a list of scary-movie remakes that are truly worth your time: thrill rides that either improved upon their source material, matched wits with the classics that came before them, or, in a few cases, nobly committed to turning bad first movies into highly entertaining second efforts. From alien parasites lurking in Antarctic research facilities to girls getting picked off on sorority row, here are the horror remakes that are definitely worth your time.
The Crazies (2010)
Anyone who’s seen even one episode of Justified knows that Timothy Olyphant was born to play a small-town lawman. And just before he put on the signature Raylan Givens hat in 2010, he was local sheriff David Dutten of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, a small town on the brink of oblivion after the inhabitants contract a virus through the water supply that turns them into savage killers. The 1973 version of Crazies is a just-okay movie from legendary director George A. Romero, but the 2010 take is a perfectly gory white-knuckler that’s got Olyphant’s likability as an X-factor that raises its game. Romero executive-produced this updated take on his work, and it did right by his legacy.
The Thing (1982)
While Howard Hawks’s 1951 film The Thing From Another World is a great movie, John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is arguably the definitive adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella, Who Goes There? Kurt Russell stars as R.J. MacReady, a helicopter pilot at an Antarctic research station that’s about to be laid to waste by an extraterrestrial parasite that infiltrates host bodies and imitates their traits. The slowly building paranoia that turns the Antarctic group against one another still holds up, and the groundbreaking VFX continue to provoke a sort of visceral terror.
The Fly (1986)
How do you top one of the great science-fiction horror films of all time, especially one starring the incomparable Vincent Price? You tap David Cronenberg to direct your remake and cast the just-as-incomparable Jeff Goldblum. The 1986 Fly focuses on a brilliant scientist who slowly morphs into a man-fly hybrid after a teleportation experiment goes terribly awry, and it showcases one of the most truly disturbing feats of practical effects in all of movie history. That part is no surprise, considering Cronenberg is the undisputed king of gruesome screen transformations (see: Videodrome, Scanners, Naked Lunch, The Brood, and so on), but the emotional weight that Goldblum and his co-star Geena Davis bring to the relationship between Seth Brundle and Veronica Quaife sets the physical horror up to be so very devastating in the end. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Evil Dead (2013)
If this remake of The Evil Dead had tried to recapture the campy tone of the beloved original, there’s a good chance it would have fallen flat. Instead, Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez pumped the concept full of steroids and turned it into a bloody, outright horror film. In the Sam Raimi original from 1981, a group of friends set out for a happy-go-lucky weekend in a secluded cabin, where Ash (Bruce Campbell) accidentally summons the dead by reading from the dreaded Necronomicon. In the reboot, a group of friends are gathered to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her heroin habit once and for all — but that same book of the dead is still sitting around, just waiting to be discovered by the wrong person. This movie isn’t silly — it’s dark and grotesque — but Alvarez makes sure it’s still one hell of an aggressive good time.
Rape-revenge movies are largely a relic of horror’s exploitation era. Movies like Ms. 45, Act of Vengeance, and the original I Spit on Your Grave from 1978 were a kind of dirty power grab for women, a cinematic “fuck you” for the constant persecution they endured in genre films and in real life, too. No matter the decade, though, I Spit on Your Grave is a hard movie to get through, as it follows a woman who is repeatedly raped by a group of disgusting townies, prompting her to seek backwoods justice. The 2010 remake serves up a modern amount of blood-lusting revenge for its heroine — and her proxies in the audience — to get righteously worked up about, if you’re into that sort of thing.
There are eight movies in the original Halloween universe, starting with John Carpenter’s classic first film in 1978 and ending with Halloween: Resurrection in 2002. Instead of trying to elbow in and make number nine, director Rob Zombie chose instead to start from scratch. He reinvented the origin story of Michael Myers with his signature trash-horror style, but without taking it into full blown House of 1,000 Corpses territory. Everything in this reboot is a little more intense, a little more uncomfortable, and a lot more metal, as we get a closer look at Michael’s time in psychiatric care as well as his murderously arrested development. It’s also got Malcolm McDowell, which should tip you off to exactly how fucked up this movie is going to be.
The Ring (2002)
This Gore Verbinski remake of the 1998 Japanese classic may just be the scariest PG-13 movie of all time. Naomi Watts stars as a Seattle journalist whose niece dies after watching a mysterious tape. After she and her son both watch the same tape, Watts’s character has one week to find out what happened to the creepy little girl from the home movie — and how to keep herself and her son from falling victim to her curse. This stylish and disturbing winner may have opened the floodgates for a wave of lesser American attempts at bringing J-horror home (The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, etc.), but The Ring lives on as a triumphant adaptation.
Has there ever been a vampire with a less-intimidating name than Jerry Dandridge? Both the original movie from 1985 and the 2011 remake focus on a teenage boy who discovers that his sexy, charismatic neighbor Jerry is actually a demon bloodsucker that he must kill if he wants to protect his neighborhood and his family. The strength of the newer version is its star, Anton Yelchin, whose too-short life and career were defined by quirky roles that ascended thanks to his odd, undeniable charm. Colin Farrell is excellent as an update for Chris Sarandon’s original Jerry, and the supporting cast is rounded out with Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, and Toni Collette.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Joe Dante of Gremlins fame directed the 1978 version of this movie, in which flesh-eating piranhas are released into the rivers of a popular summer-vacation destination. Alexandre Aja, the mad mind behind New French Extremity exhibit A, High Tension, directed this gonzo horror comedy that follows the same premise, except in an Arizona lake town right before spring break. It stars Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, Dina Meyer, Eli Roth, and Jerry O’Connell as a Girls Gone Wild–style pornographer. Piranha 3D is totally ridiculous and totally fun.
Sorority Row (2009)
Most of the movies on this list had to accomplish the tall task of meeting or exceeding the quality of an excellent original film. Sorority Row, on the other hand, is a modernized take on one of the worst slashers you’re likely to see. 1983’s The House on Sorority Row is classic terrible horror, so low-budget that a boom mic drops into the frame of a shot near the beginning. And even though Sorority Row isn’t great, it is a truly great time, the best of the aughts-era remake fever that brought forth stylized, sexy versions of crucial films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s got one of those ridiculous ensemble casts that feels like names were pulled from a bin marked “Trending!”: Jamie Chung, Audrina Patridge, and Rumer Willis play sorority sisters starring, inexplicably, alongside a shotgun-toting Carrie Fisher, who plays the acerbic house mother. There is no greater good in Sorority Row, but there is a girl with the nickname “Chugs” and a foam party.
Let Me In (2009)
Based on the Swedish movie Let the Right One In from 2008, Let Me In could have easily become of those American remakes that just didn’t get the original tone and traded in Scandinavian restraint for homegrown gratuitous violence. But it didn’t — instead, it became an early preview of the coming art-house horror renaissance we’re experiencing today. Before taking over the revived Planet of the Apes franchise or assuming the controls of the next Batman, director Matt Reeves delivered this quiet, modern vampire tale that doubles as an adolescent love story. It’s tender, tense, and a fantastic update to the deeply entrenched vampire narrative that’s been around longer than horror movies themselves.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The original Body Snatchers came out in 1956, and it remains one of the great American horror films this day. In an incredibly impressive feat, the same can be said for the 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland as a San Francisco man witnessing the takeover of humanity by an alien race in need of a new home planet to colonize. The performances are outstanding. The practical effects are chilling. And that final shot featuring Sutherland with his finger pointing and his mouth agape is iconic.
The Spanish horror film [REC] is a found-footage zombie movie from 2007 that spawned three sequels and this American remake. And even though the Stateside version didn’t kick off its own franchise, this tight, terrifying tale of an outbreak contained within an apartment building is one hell of a stressful good time. Quarantine accomplishes exactly what a great found-footage movie should: It makes you forget what you’re watching is fake, and the frenetic, panicked pace is able to sustain an awful kind of tension throughout the duration of the film. When you’re under quarantine, no one is coming to save you.
We Are What We Are (2013)
The original Mexican version of this movie, 2010’s Somos lo que hay, is good. The 2013 American remake is better. The movie revolves around a strange family living on the outskirts of a small town; after the death of the mother, Emma, her two daughters must step up and help their father carry out a dark family ritual that’s persisted through generations. To say more would ruin the surprise, but this dark American gothic is like The Witch in its presentation of the family versus the self, of tradition versus autonomy, all playing out on a rural homestead. Bill Sage is an ominous, commanding presence as the Parker patriarch Frank, and Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers beguile as his fair-haired daughters who are coming into maturity just as they must decide whether to walk the path of their ancestors, or to set out on their own. Brace yourself for a truly special final scene.
Silent House (2011)
This remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film La casa muda did not get a great reception when it debuted, and that is, frankly, an injustice. Elizabeth Olsen stars in this incredibly claustrophobic haunted-house thriller about a young girl named Sarah who’s fixing up an old house with her father and uncle. After a series of strange sounds prompts Olsen’s character to try and flee, she finds she has been fully trapped inside the house, with the doors all locked and windows boarded up. As Sarah works her way through the house trying to evade capture by an unknown assailant, she experiences time jumps, witnessing past events in the house playing out before her. The head-swivel camera movement keeps you constantly terrified about what lies outside the frame, and the collapsing timelines lead Sarah to a terrible revelation.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
Another one from the “It’s the 2000s, so let’s reboot all the classics!” phase, The Amityville Horror is a respectable remake of the famous original from 1979. It tells the story of the Lutz family, a husband, wife, and daughter who move into a grand home in the woods where a man once murdered his entire family. The trauma of that heinous crime has infected the home in Amityville, and as the past surfaces, the new inhabitants are tormented. Like we said before, the years of music-video horror were great for putting attractive people in extreme duress, but Amityville became the example nonpareil, with star Ryan Reynolds showing off his iconic “shirtless in pajama pants” look. The movie mostly came and went, but it’s possible that naked torso Reynolds chopping wood and wearing those barely hanging on PJ bottoms launched his career as we know it today.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
The classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was remade a handful of times at the start of the 20th century, but we’ll refer you to the 1920 version of the movie starring John Barrymore as Dr. Henry Jekyll. The silent film was groundbreaking in its presentation of Jekyll’s transformation from the good doctor to the fiendish Mr. Hyde, utilizing minimal makeup and almost no effects, relying instead on Barrymore’s ability to contort his face to properly monstrous effect. It was a shock for cinema fans of the day, and one of the first truly great American horror films.