Remakes have been one of the most prevalent trends in entertainment for decades. Everywhere you look, there is a new take on an old property or franchise, sometimes to the point of nausea. However, remakes can also be exciting new takes on their source material, with fresh social insights and unique perspectives not explored in the original. It’s these that have caught our eye with this list of the best horror movie remakes.
From more convincing special effects to using a touch more care in shooting sensitive material, there are plenty of ways that these remakes have matched or improved upon their predecessors. We’ve also got a lot of variety, ranging from your classic slasher flick to sci-fi creature features and even some Gothic horror yarns. So clutch your covers tightly below your chin and read on for our picks for the greatest horror remakes.
The Best Horror Movie Remakes
20. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Director: Alexandre Aja
The main reason the Hills Have Eyes remake improved upon the original so significantly is that the source material wasn’t that great to begin with. As a lesser Wes Craven effort, the 1977 version has just aged so poorly that viewers can hardly even take it seriously anymore.
What Alexandre Aja’s new take gets right in the remake is the intense focus on realism in terms of violence. As the people of the desert attack the vacationing family, you feel their terror and pain as one gruesome act after another is visited upon them. Finally, the ramp-up as the family begins to fight back and the final confrontation that follows make all of the misery worthwhile. Though it may still be a bit trashy, Aja’s remake is head and shoulders above the original, and for that, it should be commended.
19. Candyman (2021)
Director: Nia Dacosta
By far the newest entry on this list, the 2021 version of Candyman takes on the 1990’s original with a renewed eye and a more transparent lens for the racial issues behind the story. If you’re old enough to remember trying to say “Candyman” 5 times in the bathroom mirror as a kid, then this one is especially for you.
With its relatable villain and some stark political and racial commentary on America, Nia Dacosta’s remake takes a bold stand during this time of civil strife, even if the messages are none too subtle along the way. Offering a bold visual style and plenty of cinematic flair, even those who do find the commentary a bit too on the nose will walk away having seen an impressive new take on the first film and certainly one of the best horror remakes of recent times.
18. Red Dragon (2002)
Director: Brett Ratner
While this one could get some flack, just stay with me here. Yes, everyone loves Michael Mann’s impressive Manhunter, but Red Dragon is far closer to the source material and, as such, remains the better watch for fans of the Thomas Harris potboiler.
Though Brett Ratner isn’t exactly a visionary, he does pull some impressive tricks, particularly in ratcheting up the tension with some tight editing during the finale. The cast is also bananas, with some of the actors’ best ever work peppered throughout. Ralph Fiennes and Edward Norton are magnificent as Will Graham and The Dragon, respectively, while Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson shine brightly as well.
Naturally, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ iconic Lecter who steals the show. Even when he’s not on screen (which is a lot of the time), his presence is always felt. While some may consider it an empty shadow on the legacy of Mann’s film, Red Dragon goes its own way often enough to make it worth watching at least once.
17. Let Me In (2010)
Director: Matt Reeves
Sometimes a faithful remake is good enough. How much joy you’ll get out of Let Me In depends pretty closely on whether you’ve seen the original, though. Aside from being in English, not much is different from this remake but the presence of the likable Chloe Grace Moretz and competent direction from filmmaker Matt Reeves helps matters considerably.
The tale of a bullied boy in the early 80s and the vampire he makes friends with, Let Me In is a fairly good retelling of Let the Right One In, even if it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from its inspiration. Still, if you’re not into reading while you watch or your Swedish is a bit rusty, you could do a lot worse than this one.
16. The Crazies (2010)
Director: Breck Eisner
Like The Hills Have Eyes, what makes The Crazies remake hold up so much better than the original is a big budget and the technological leaps forward in the cinematic medium since the original’s release. With the chilling premise of seemingly ordinary people suddenly losing it and going on berzerk killing sprees, The Crazies goes for broke in a totally unhinged fashion.
The bodies stack up, and the carnage is incredible, while the film remains anchored in some semblance of reality based on the stark realism of the kills, and the likable leads, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. This is definitely one of the best horror remakes in terms of improvements upon its forebearer, and it is also criminally underseen.
15. Evil Dead (2013)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Like a couple of other entries on this list, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake carves out its bloody path by putting a heavy focus on shockingly realistic acts of violence. Though the plot concerning demons possessing a group of young college students doesn’t exactly lend itself to realism, the brutality on display is so convincing that you’ll certainly believe what you’re seeing.
A remake that makes more changes than most on this list, Evil Dead boldly goes its own way by having its main character become infected by the deadites rather than being the only survivor not possessed. While purists might decry the many changes, I’ve always felt that a remake might as well just go for it rather than sticking to the original plot, an element that Evil Dead offers in spades.
14. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Director: Marcus Nispel
Michael Bay produced a whole whack of slasher remakes in the first decade of the 21st century, but this one is still the best. Though the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake lacks the frantic, ratchet-tight insanity of the original, it offers enough style in its place to still justify its existence.
Grounded by Jessica Biel as the final girl, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ups the violence considerably, with scenes like a man playing the blood-drenched piano with his feet as he dangles from a meathook. It also gets points for pretending the whole thing actually happened, even anchoring the conceit with opening and closing crime scene footage.
13. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director: Don Siegel
The image of Donald Sutherland screeching and pointing at the camera ought to be enough to cement this remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as iconic all on its own. Philip Kaufman’s take on the science fiction story by Jack Finney does nearly everything better than its predecessor.
Adding in heavy hitters like Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum is just the beginning. Kaufman’s film also shakes the starch out of the collar of the story, allowing it to feel genuine and lived in. As the audience comes to grips with the notion that anyone can be the enemy, they find themselves as infected by paranoia as the characters, all the way through to the chilling conclusion.
12. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Director: Tom Savini
While George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is an unquestionable horror classic, make-up maestro Tom Savini’s remake is certainly worth its weight in zombie guts. Holding to the central conceit while changing up many other elements keeps this one fresh, and Tony Todd as the leading man adds a renewed sense of gravitas as he acts with his whole being and chews on every scene he can.
Still, the greatest strength of Night of the Living Dead is a more robust take on the character of Barbara. Though she just mindlessly screams her way through the original, here Barbara is smart as a whip and one of the only survivors of the ordeal as a result. While this one may have its fair share of cheese around the edges, it more than distinguishes itself from the Romero film along the way.
11. We Are What We Are (2013)
Director: Jim Mickle
Nothing beats a great cannibal movie. Based on the Mexican film of the same name, We Are What We Are focuses on a secretive religious family and the hidden rites that have become a tradition for them over the years. After their mother dies suddenly, Rose and Iris are forced by their father to continue in her stead, murdering, dismembering, and cooking people for the family to eat.
As the girls begin to rebel against their father’s authoritarian rule, the family unit starts to fall apart. Featuring a genuinely chilling turn from Bill Sage and a grim finale that will leave you speechless, We Are What We Are is a nasty cannibalistic chiller that will keep you guessing until the end.
10. The Fly (1986)
Director: David Cronenberg
There are horror remakes, and then there are David Cronenberg horror remakes. This one, naturally, is the latter. While the original version of The Fly is genuinely laughable today, with its corny effects and a guy basically wearing a fly head, Cronenberg’s version is brutal and upsetting in its grisly dedication to the premise.
With some of the most horrifying make-up effects ever put to celluloid, Jeff Goldblum’s transformation into a human-fly hybrid is so terrifying that viewers will accept the mad teleportation conceit hook, line, and sinker. An unforgettable movie, The Fly is so much handily outdoes the 1958 original.
9. Cape Fear (1991)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro had big shoes to fill when he took on the iconic role of Max Cady in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake. Luckily Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro don’t just share a first name: they are also both masters at making a bad guy charming and charismatic. This skill is central to the Cady character, a man so sinister that he can swap from suave to serial at the drop of a dime.
Of course, Scorsese’s mastery of tone keeps the film edgy as Cady threatens everything his former lawyer holds dear. The script also makes Cady’s point a fundamental theme throughout the movie, leaving the audience almost on his side at times. Finally, any cast with Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, and Illeana Douglas is just a natural winner.
8. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Director: Zack Snyder
Like a couple of other films on this list, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead succeeds by taking the movie’s central concept but changes almost everything else along the way. An action-packed zombie flick more in the flavor of 28 Days Later than Romero’s film, this blistering redux turns up the heat in a big way.
Though Snyder has become more divisive as his career has gone on, this is one film even Snyder’s biggest detractors generally favor. Powered by the strong performances of Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames and featuring a large-scale finale that treads an entirely different path from the beloved George Romero original, Snyder’s take has just enough enthusiasm to make all of these changes and make them successful.
7. It: Chapter One (2017)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Andy Muschietti’s remake/re-adaptation of the mini-series based on the beloved Stephen King story, It: Chapter One isn’t just one of the most financially successful reimaginings ever; it’s also one of the best horror remakes to boot. Boasting the budget and the talented young cast to handily outdo its predecessor, this new take also utilizes some terrifying CG tricks to show off the fear-eating clown’s truly awe-inspiring power.
Best of all is Bill Skarskard’s deranged performance as Pennywise, which, with the help of a stellar make-up team, allows the monster under your bed to come to such nightmarish life as to be instantly iconic. Though the eventual sequel flubbed it hard, we’ll always have this one as a high watermark to hold future King adaptations to.
6. The Ring (2002)
Director: Gore Verbinski
The movie that launched a whole trend of Japanese horror remakes, Gore Verbinski’s American version of Ringu has the style and flourish to make a mark all its own, regardless of whether you’ve seen the original. Aided immensely by the effortless emoting of Naomi Watts, this ghost story will leave your jaw on the floor with its shocker of an ending.
It helps that the conceit of a cursed videotape is so silly that just about any of us could see ourselves falling for it. However, once the call comes in with the ominous warning (“seven days”), the tension and suspense become palpable with every passing moment bringing us, and the characters, to the moment of dread that we know must come. It’s a hell of a ride, but just don’t watch it before bed, especially if there’s a TV in your bedroom.
5. Maniac (2012)
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Though the original Maniac isn’t exactly a highly esteemed slasher in most horror circles, Alexander Aja’s remake does everything with the premise that can possibly be done. With a budget that dwarfs the micro, guerilla shoot of the 1980 film and a spirited performance by Elijah Wood, Aja’a Maniac outdoes its inspiration to an exceptional degree.
The story of a disturbed man who kills prostitutes and attaches their scalps to his mannequins, Maniac, is not for the faint of heart. Watch it for the weirdness of the concept, and stay for a totally unhinged Elijah Wood and one of the wildest endings in horror history.
4. Suspiria (2018)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
When it was announced that Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s big follow-up to the gay romance would be a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, it was an abrupt left turn for the hot new filmmaker. Aside from the original being so beloved as to be nearly untouchable, it didn’t exactly seem to be in Guadagnino’s wheelhouse either.
Luckily, the remake is so utterly different in tone, plot, and length from the original that both can breathe in the same space and have their places as mutual horror masterworks. While the 2018 version is still about a coven of witches operating in a dance school, it leans heavily in the direction of arthouse cinema, with beautiful cinematography, a committed performance from Dakota Johnson, a jaw-dropping double role for Tilda Swinton, and a knockout score from Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.
3. Nosferatu the Vampyre
Director: Werner Herzog
Here’s where things might get a bit divisive. A lot of horror fans swear by the Murnau original of Nosferatu as one of the best horror films of all time, so they may not take to the much different remake from German master filmmaker Werner Herzog. Like the aforementioned Suspiria, this retelling of Dracula is very, very different from its source material.
For starters, it’s longer, in color, and has audible voices (the original is a silent film). It also changes the ending and much of the plot. Still, for the staggering atmosphere alone, Herzog’s film is incredible to behold. Knockout performances from Isabella Adjani, Klaus Kinski, and Bruno Ganz further cement the deal. Still, even for those who live and die by the original, the films exist in such stark contrast that they occupy totally different spaces and scratch completely different itches.
Further, a haunting score, plagues of rats, and an opening featuring shots of real-life mummified remains offer Nosferatu the Vampyre an ominous and unforgettable place in the realm of the best horror remakes.
2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Yet another Dracula remake, Bram Stoker’s Dracula also comes from the efforts of a well-respected auteur, Francis Ford Coppola. Where Coppola changes the story, though, he constantly changes it for the better. Dracula is a lovesick warrior who’s tired of his long life, and this goes a long way toward making the villain relatable. Of course, Gary Oldman’s titanic performances as each iteration of The Count aids this element immeasurably.
In fact, nearly every performance of this gothic masterpiece (save a stilted Keanu Reeves) shines brightly, even 30 years later. Of particular note are Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins as Mina Harker and Van Helsing respectively, but Tom Waits as the mad, bug-hungry Renfield cannot be overlooked.
Still, in the end, it’s the impressiveness of Coppola’s commitment that leaves the greatest mark. Going to absurd lengths to pull this off, Coppola swore to only use traditional cinematic effects for every scene in the film. With only shadow play, matte paintings, and make-up, Coppola and co. create some of the most impressive traditional effects ever in what is almost certainly the finest version of Dracula ever put to celluloid.
1. The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
At the top of the heap, the greatest horror remake is unquestionably John Carpenter’s The Thing. Based on the original version that got stuck in John Carpenter’s head as a child, the director became obsessed with remaking The Thing From Another World, and boy are we glad he did.
Taking place on an Arctic base where an alien creature is killing and taking the place of one researcher at a time, The Thing is powered by a palpable sense of paranoia and fear of the unknown. With badasses like Kurt Russell and Keith David at the center of the struggle, the movie also has some real panache in its central performances.
However, where The Thing really makes its mark is with the brilliant effects work by Rob Bottin and his team. As the creature transforms or reveals itself throughout the movie, it’s the gruesomeness and nastiness that it slowly unleashes, and how convincing the traditional effects of these changes are, that viewers will remember most. Brimming with pure nightmare fuel and a script that keeps you guessing even after the credits have rolled, The Thing is an undisputed horror classic.
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