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Horror remakes: Where do we draw the line?

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GUEST ESSAY

Gina McIntyre is the pop music editor at the Los Angeles Times but is a longtime devotee of horror films in all their gory greatness. She’s not a person of tender sensibilities but after watching the recent history of Hollywood splatter she finds herself, well, horrified.

Alright, that’s it. Maybe I’m a little behind the times in remake news, but I’ve just read in the Hollywood Reporter that director Darren Lynn Bousman has decided to resurrect the 1980 exploitation flick “Mother’s Day,” and somehow has managed to recruit Deborah Ann Woll, who’s delightful as vampire Jessica on HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” to star along with Briana Evigan. Brett Ratner is among the producers.

Admittedly, I have not read the script for this update, so the outrage I’m now feeling is based solely on the idea of remaking this movie. But as a woman who loves horror films, I have to ask, can’t we aim a little higher?

For those who might be unfamiliar, the original “Mother’s Day” is about a pair of young ladies who are captured by a backwoods family and sexually assaulted by the two sons, with the knowledge and blessing of their mother. Yes, they eventually kill their torturers and escape, but as is the problem with the rape/revenge subgenre, of which this movie is a part, the emphasis always seems to be on the rape. Allow me to state the obvious here: debasing women on film for shock value or cheap titillation is not entertainment.

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The genre offers writers and directors tremendous creative opportunities to visualize original, exciting scenarios and to examine real world issues through a fantastic lens – or simply scare audiences, which for some of us is a truly welcome form of catharsis. Sometimes brutality is involved, and it’s absolutely true that witnessing humanity’s all-too-real capacity for ugliness, especially when it’s taken to extremes, can be especially frightening.

But directors who specialize in gritty, brutal fare need to take the greatest care, to be the most responsible about the images they present, preferably to make sure those images are in service of a larger, compelling idea -- in short, that they mean something. Otherwise, they’re presenting violent pornography.

I realize that Bousman – whom I interviewed for a piece on the state of horror earlier this year – has directed three of the movies in the “Saw” series, a franchise that often has been classified as “torture porn.” As far as I’m concerned, that terminology really only ever aptly applied to Eli Roth’s “Hostel” films (considering Roth coined the term) with one or two exceptions. Bousman also directed “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” which I thoroughly enjoyed as a visually stimulating exercise in high camp, a movie that seems destined to be a future cult favorite. I would have hoped that he would have followed “Repo!” with something equally original in tone.

Of course, Hollywood continues to be obsessed with remakes, and when it comes to horror, almost all of the American studio releases are updated versions of much older films. Sometimes, that’s great: Cases in point, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and Alexandre Aja’sThe Hills Have Eyes,” the latter of which is a gritty, brutal movie that includes a graphic rape scene but also has bigger, fascinating ideas at its core. But for every one of those, there are plenty of others that are creatively bankrupt shells of their predecessors, movies that are slickly done but don’t have anything substantive to offer. (This spring’s remake of “The Last House on the Left”was particularly disappointing.)

I suppose I should take heart in the prospect of “Jennifer’s Body,” due out later this month, which was clearly intended as a feminist update on the slasher movie. And there’s enough exceptional fare out there – whether it’s last year’s gorgeous “Let the Right One In,” Sam Raimi’s unfairly overlooked Drag Me to Hell,” Park Chan-Wook’s stellar “Thirst” or even “True Blood” – to make it easy to avoid the baser material. But the thing that saddens me the most is when people wrongly dismiss the horror genre as something contemptible with no artistic merit. While I hope that Bousman will do something entirely smart and surprising with his remake, due out next year, I fear that producing more projects like “Mother’s Day” could only reinforce that decidedly incorrect notion.

-- Gina McIntyre

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