The Remake: On The Asian Horror Remake Boom


This May brings a remake of early 80s all-timer, Poltergeist, the latest in a long (long) line of cinematic reboots, retreads and more. By now, the ubiquity of reimaginings has rendered their existence less of a transgression than ever, with Poltergeist barely getting anyone up in arms. At the same time, the concept of remakes is an ever-hot point of contention among genre fans. Refusing to indulge in broad dismissal—and maybe in a bit of cautious optimism—we’ll spend this May looking at, and defending, some of the better redos in horror cinema. 

Hollywood doesn’t like risks. Hollywood likes winners, films that will make money, spawn sequels and ensure that everyone currently in charge gets to keep their jobs. Horror has often been a lucrative business, generally inexpensive to produce and, if successful, offering big returns and possible franchises. In the early 2000s, Hollywood had just about finished beating the dead horse of the Scream (1996) carcass, eliciting final money grabs such as Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and Valentine (2001). In 1999, the independently produced Blair Witch Project (1999) captured the minds and wallets of audiences all over the world and went on to become one of the most profitable films ever made. Was it possible that all the teens that fell in love with Scream had grown up? Was the witch hiding in the woods of Maryland more terrifying than elaborate gore and special effects? Hollywood was primed to try something new.

Roy Lee was the man with the plan for the next wave of Hollywood horror. While working at a talent management agency, he set a deal with Dreamworks Studios to remake Hideo Nakata’s Ring (aka Ringu) which itself was already a remake of a television miniseries. Lee would convince Asian filmmakers and producers that their films would never sell big in the lucrative American market. They were better off letting him represent them and sell the remake rights. Once in the door with the studios, Lee would present the original films as a successful blueprint that, with a few savvy upgrades, would be a box office hit.

Remakes of Asian films have had their place in the North American market for decades. From Fistful of Dollars to Godzilla to The Departed to Oldboy, Asian films have been adapted to varying degrees of critical and financial success. In the early 2000s, Asian horror would no longer be a secret that genre fans hoarded. It was getting made for the masses.

Looking at the Asian Horror remake boom as a whole, it seems like the ultimate cursed object is film itself. What starts as an original idea gets churned through multiple machines until a semi-recognizable or cohesive idea comes out the other end, a mangled shell of its former self. We ache for films that will provide thrills and chills, and Hollywood will keep giving them to us as long as there’s an audience willing to pay. The Asian Horror boom gave way to found footage, which is itself now giving away to something new after oversaturating the market. The overall positive of these films is that they gave the originals a larger audience, and a reference point for genre fans who want to seek out their twisted lineage.

Remakes, whether good or bad, provide a view into another world, another possibility or darkest timeline. While the American remakes of successful and influential Asian films have hit with various skill and success, they showed audiences another world of horror where ghosts, demons and trauma are just below the surface, looking for a way to get out.

Alexandra West is a freelance horror journalist who lives, works, and survives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Rue Morgue, Post City Magazine and Offscreen Film Journal. In December 2012, West co-founded the Faculty of Horror podcast with fellow writer Andrea Subissati, which explores the analytical side of horror films and the darkest recesses of academia.


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