Musings of a Remake Grinch

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday!  Today I’m going to talk about what I think makes a good remake.  I will mostly use song covers to illustrate my point, but I’ll also talk about a movie or two.

My regular readers are aware of the original vs. remake series I do with Tiffany A. White. Usually, I do the original and Tiffany does the remake.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. I genuinely enjoy old movies.  It’s like traveling back in time.  Everybody is well dressed and well mannered.  Because I antique, I love the sets.  Sometimes I even see furniture that is just like a piece I have.
  2. The original has a special magic–a fresh idea, the right set of actors, the perfect director.  Sometimes this combination can’t be matched.
  3. I am a grinch about remakes (and about many other things).  Many remakes are nothing more than a regurgitation of the original.  There’s nothing new, nothing unique–unless you count seeing the latest fashions and hearing a different soundtrack.

Number three brings us to the reason for this post.   Not all remakes are made of the brown stinky.  Some of them really put a new spin on an old idea.  I see this more often with songs than I do with movies, so I’ll show you what I mean with a few songs.

Chris Isaac’s song “Wicked Game” got a great deal of exposure when it was used in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.  “Wicked Game” fit into the soundtrack of Wild at Heart like a missing puzzle piece.

Chris Isaac’s voice sounds like a cross between Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.  In “Wicked Game,” Isaac wails about lost love and a broken heart to hauntingly beautiful music.

Link for video.

Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” was the only version I knew for many years. One day, I found a cover version by a band I’d never heard of called H.I.M. I listened, expecting to be undewhelmed, but I was impressed.

The heavy metal version of Chris Isaac’s beautiful song is passionate, heartreaking–everything the Isaac version was.  But it’s different enough to be a whole different song.

To me, that is what a real remake is. It takes what was great about the original and expands on it, stretches it, and reinvents it.

Link for video.

Sweet Jane

“Sweet Jane” originally appeared on Velvet Underground’s 1970 album Loaded.  If you’re saying, “Wait a minute.  That’s an old Lou Reed song,” you’re right.  Lou Reed was a member of Velvet Underground.

Velvet Underground’s version of “Sweet Jane” is a rocking song.  The carefully written lyrics are almost overpowered by the driving chorus and the guitar riff.

Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” is a song I love to jam to when I’m driving.  Give it a listen:

Here is the link to the video.

In 1988, the Cowboy Junkies covered “Sweet Jane” on the Trinity Sessions album. In 1994, the Cowboy Junkies’ version of “Sweet Jane” was used on the soundtrack of the movie Natural Born Killers.

The Cowboy Junkie’s version of “Sweet Jane” is everything Velvet Underground’s version is not. It is romantic. It forces you to digest the lyrics. It is poignant and seductive and kind of dark.

I don’t jam to it when I drive, but I do love this version of “Sweet Jane.”

Here is the link to the video.

Personal Jesus

“Personal Jesus” is a song originally recorded by Depeche Mode in 1989.  It was from the album Violator.

The song was inspired by Priscilla Presley’s book Elvis and Me, which was about Priscilla’s relationship with the King.

Depeche Mode’s version of “Personal Jesus” reminds me of New Wave music, even though it was released in 1989.  Take a listen:

Here is the link to the video.

Johnny Cash was both an interesting individual and an excellent musician. His song song covers were sublime. Johnny Cash understood how to cover a song and knew that the right way wasn’t just to copy it. Cash’s covers of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and his cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” are two of the coolest, most unique song covers.

Johnny Cash covered “Personal Jesus” in 2002 for his Amercian IV album. Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist, John Frusciante created the acoustic blues arrangement. Mike Campbell (from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) also plays guitar on this song.

This is my all time favorite of Johnny Cash’s covers. Listen for yourself:

Here’s the link to the video.

Last example:

Don’t Fear the Reaper

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” originally appeared on Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 album Agents of Fortune.

The songwriter, Brian “Buck Dharma” Roeser, says “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is about the foolishness of fearing death because we all die eventually.  The song is often mistaken to be about murder-suicide pacts because it mentions Romeo and Juliet, but Roeser says he used Shakespeare’s star crossed lovers as an example of a couple who believed they’d meet up in the afterlife.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is well known for its distinctive guitar solo and for its use of cowbell. It’s fast paced and one of the songs I jam to while I drive around.

Take a listen:

Link to video here.

Gus (AKA Gus Black, AKA Anthony Penaloza) covered “Don’t Fear the Reaper” for the soundtrack of the 1996 film Scream.  Gus’s version of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” also appeared in an episode of Smallville and in the film The Howling: Reborn.

The amazing Blue Oyster Cult guitar solo is missing, but the soul of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is all there.  Like the original, Gus’s cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is haunting and memorable.  But it is very different, almost a whole new song.

Link for the video.

Tributes vs. Copies

The versatility of music makes it possible for a tribute song to hold the same power as the original–even though it is just a copy.  Staind’s cover of “Nutshell” (by Alice in Chains) is an example of this.  I can love Alice in Chains’s version but still sense the heartfelt sincerity of Staind’s cover.

“Nutshell” by Alice in Chains

“Nutshell” by Staind

(And, besides, “Nutshell” is one of my personal anthems.)

The faithful copy/tribute doesn’t work for me in movies, no matter how heartfelt.  Gus Van Sant’s version of Psycho–I believe–was a sort of tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. It just didn’t come together.  I kept thinking, “Okay.  Show me the money.”  I knew Van Sant was capable of masterful moviemaking because Drugstore Cowboy is such an amazing movie.

If I’m going to see a tribute, I like Quentin Tarantino’s style best.  Death Proof is made to replicate the grindhouse theater experience.  Jackie Brown pays homage to the blaxploitation films of the 70s.  But they are their own stories.

[Fun factoid: Jackie Brown was based on an Elmore Leonard novel–Rum Punch.  Tarantino did an amazing job of making the adaptation his own creation.  It wasn’t just a copy of Mr. Leonard’s book.]

What I Want to See in a Cinematic Remake

In short, I want to see something different, something I’ve never seen before and can’t see anywhere else.

The 2005 remake of House of Wax blew me away.  The original 1953 version was released in 3-D–which was a big deal at that time.  It showed more of the backstory of how the villain became the villain.  The remake took the basic idea of the original, ran with it, and ended up with a slasher/wrong turn flick.

(And Paris Hilton died magnificently.)

The 1983 remake of Scarface is still one of my favorite movies.  The 1932 original was based on a book by the same name.  It loosely followed the life of Al Capone.  The original has a very similar storyline to the 1983 remake.  It’s about mobsters fighting for power in South Side Chicago.

[Fun factoid: Al Capone supposedly liked this movie so well that he owned a copy of of it.]

The 1983 remake is about the rise and fall of a Cuban cocaine kingpin in Miami, Florida.  It has a totally different feel than the 1932 classic.  Al Pacino helps make 1983’s Scarface wonderful. He’s a dynamo of an actor.

Rumor has it that Universal is planning to remake Scarface…again.

Eli Roth–the creator of Hostel–was set to remake The Bad Seed (1956).  He has not yet done the remake, but I think it would be worth watching.  He has an interesting vision.

Floor is open.  What is your favorite cover song?  Or what is your favorite movie remake?  Or do you have any suggestions for the original vs. remake series Tiffany and I do? 

30 thoughts on “Musings of a Remake Grinch

  1. I too prefer the B&W movies, for similar reasons, Catie. Not watching much besides Turner Classic Movies these days…:) I’m about re-maked out, to be honest. With the exception of the modern day “Ocean’s 11” (and that took three to get it right), nothing has remotely come close to the charm and fun of the originals. The “I Spy” remake was ridiculous, as one example. And the new Spiderman movie? Why is the studio ‘re-booting’ a franchise ten years old? Makes no sense.

    I did enjoy the new ‘Dark Shadows’, but I went in with low expectations. It was not as goofy/stupid as I feared it might be, but it was nowhere near close to the original series (which wouldn’t work today). The new one did win me over by paying proper respect to the original, and that counts for a lot with me. I’ve been reading Johnny Depp is spearheading a remake of “The Thin Man”, but we’ll see how that shakes out. Offhand, I cannot think of an actress today that could be ‘Nora’ to his ‘Nick’. We’ll see what happens, I guess.

    • Like you, William, I am about re-maked out. Every time I hear of a new remake being made, I roll my eyes.

      I do plan to see the Bonnie and Clyde remake (so I can complain about it in detail). I can’t see how it could hold up to the original. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were far hotter than today’s actors and actresses.

      I have not committed to watching the Dark Shadows remake. Like you, I was afraid it would be silly. But you’re right. The content of the original series would not work today. Everything that was shocking and/or fresh about the original is now cliché.

      Please don’t tell me we’re going to be subjected to a Thin Man remake. Durrrr.

      • Well, it seems the remake of “The Thin Man” is delayed. With any luck, it will turn into the new MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movie, which was discussed for 20 years or so, was fast-tracked once George Clooney committed to playing Napoleon Solo, but has been put in turnaround when Clooney backed out due to some fairly serious neck surgery.

        No one was a bigger U.N.C.L.E. fan than I was, but I’m hoping this re-make will go the way of the dodo. MFU was very much a product of the 1960’s, and should stay that way. Maybe The Thin Man will go the same route… talked about, occasionally wished for, but it won’t happen.

  2. I forgot about the Velvet Underground. I think I have one of their albums in my attic! I recognized their voices when I clicked on the video. And you’re right, the Cowboy Junies’ version of Sweet Jane is totally romantic. AND I truly enjoyed the HIM version of Chris Isaak’s song (which is how I always thought of it). It was just as good, in my opinion.

    • Glad you enjoyed my examples Patti. I have a hard time picking between the Velvet Underground version and the Cowboy Junkies version of “Sweet Jane.” I have loved both at different times in my life. Same goes for both Chris Isaac’s and HIM’s version of “Wicked Game.” I have loved both versions for different reasons.

  3. I started watching all of these videos and I have to get back to work. Hahaha! I totally agree about the remakes. They are amazing and I found a new artist I will be checking out! HIM!

    • Oh, I’m so glad I introduced you to a new artist. I’m not very cutting edge in my music tastes, so your interest in a cool novelty for me. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed the videos.

  4. Fascinating post. I love your examples. I like a twist on the original, but not too far typically. Some fun covers are Bette Midler doing the Rolling Stones’ Beast of Burden; Tori Amos doing Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit; Lenny Kravitz doing Guess Who’s American Woman; and Alison Kraus doing The Foundations’ Baby Now that I’ve Found You. Best cover ever, IMHO, is Tina Turner singing CCR’s Proud Mary. It’s so different, but it keeps the underlying feel of the song.

    As to movies, I’m a big stickler on those too. I love old films. You’ve Got Mail was a great remake, though, of The Shop around the Corner–updated but still romantic.

    • I always learn something from you, Julie. Before today, I never knew Tori Amos had covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I am a huge Nirvana fan, so I had to look it up. I LOVE her version for different reasons than I love Nirvana’s.

      I thought Lenny Kravitz was sexy, and I thought his music decent. But I really liked looking at him better. What a handsome dude.

      Ike and Tina’s version of “Proud Mary” is one of the most powerful remakes I’ve ever heard. I recently stumbled on remake Ike and Tina did of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” (originally by Otis Redding) It’s very neat.

      The other thing I learned from you is that “You’ve Got Mail” is a remake. Of course I’ve never seen it. I have, however, seen “The Shop around the Corner.” Love that one!

      • Aha, I knew I liked you for some reason. 😉 I really respect a gal who has seen the original Jimmy Stewart movie, but not the remake! And I’ve heard that Ike & Tina song; my dad and uncle were BIG fans.

  5. on ,
    Emma said:

    I don’t mind remakes and covers as long as they offer something new.
    I adore Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game”. It’s a moody, sexy song, perfect for these hot summer evenings. I didn’t know about the cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” but the guitar sounds at the opening are haunting.

    • I love Gus’s version of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” I have loved it ever since I saw Scream in the movie theater in 1996. Marilyn Manson has a cover of the Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams” that I find haunting in a similar way.

  6. on ,
    alandhopewell said:

    I generally don’t care for film remakes, especially as they often seem to lose the original point of the story, particularly when it’s in favor of more gore, sex, or the flavor of the month as per opinion.

    Musical remakes can move me, sometimes past the point of the original, depending on the artist.

    This was wonderful; I first heard it in a “Smallville” episode.


    My favorite remake by The Man In Black….


    • on ,
      alandhopewell said:

      The machinery wouldn’t add the URLs for some reason….

    • I like both of those, Alan, but especially the Johnny Cash one. He was terribly cool. Other remakes of his I truly love are “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Redemption Song.” I love the originals of both those songs, but Johnny Cash’s magic can’t be ignored. 😀

  7. Don’t Fear The Reaper and Wicked Games are two classic, awesome songs. I’d have to agree the remakes stood up to the originals. And I’ll now have to see the remake of House of Wax. I haven’t seen it, of course. Like you, I’m picky about remakes. So far I’ve been pretty much against all of them. I don’t know why great movies are subject to being remade. Why can’t they leave them alone?

    Sorry, I’m the grinch today;)

    • I loved the House of Wax remake. Hey, you’re into Supernatural. It has Sam from Supernatural in it. You might like that part.

      I totally agree with you on the remaking of great movies. Why can’t they come up with something new and original that might turn out to be great? Because of many of these remakes, there is just no way they can capture the magic of the original.

  8. Black Lable Society’s remake of Heart of gold is worth checking out, as is Kindey Theives’ cover of Crazy.

    For movie remakes, I think often someone just wants to cash in on an existing idea, and they don’t really bring anything new to the table. Least, nothing beyond an update in special effects and new vision of the cast with current standards of sexy. All in all that’s fine with me. Some of them are worth watching, most aren’t. You can usually tell by the trailer which is which. Rarely, but sometimes, someone actually has something new to bring to the conversation…and this is when remakes are spectacular. I really think this is what happened with the Texas Chainsaw remake. And this is why I don’t cringe in dread whenever I hear something else is going to be redone. I don’t understand the mentality of remakes being an insult to the original. When one flops, it doesn’t detract from the original so much as reemphasize the magic that was pioneered that day.

    • I LOVE Black Label Society. Zakk Wylde is the kind of remakes. Not only are his original songs wonderful, he somehow captures what was cool about a song and puts his own spin on it. I’ll have to check this out.

      I don’t necessarily think remakes are an insult to the original. I think they are an insult to my intelligence. The words that go through my mind are this: Do they really think I’m so dumb that I’m going to prefer newfangled special effects and seeing the current standard of sexy over a classic movie?

      Reading your comment shed new light on the remake thing for me. It’s not about intelligence; it’s about money. And as long as audiences will go see remakes, there’s a reason for filmmakers to make them. You made some good points. Thanks for commenting.

  9. on ,
    Rich Whittle said:

    I think the most disappointing remake I have ever been subject to was Rollerball. The original of course was a tragic futuristic story about a sports hero (James Caan) who defied a ’’big brother-esque” government who attempted to bend his will to their fascist ideals and force his retirement. The film had plenty of great action, a tormenting love interest played by the delicious Maud Adams, and a villain played by John Houseman who was nothing less than fascinating to watch.
    Although also set in the future, the 2002 remake did nothing to capture the mood surrounding the oppressive and hedonistic culture that evolved from a morally unrestrained society. The action was fast and the special effects were certainly beyond that of its 1975 counterpart, but in no way was I able to identify with the main characters like I did with the original.
    Not to go unappreciated I must point out that the remake did feature Rebecca Romijn’s butt in tight fitting leather pants. This is no small thing to consider when comparing these movies side by side!

    • Confession time: I have seen neither the original nor the remake of Rollerball. I like James Caan, though. I might need to take time to watch the original. He is such an awesome actor. I loved his as Sonny in the Godfather and as the villain in Flesh and Bone. He’s one of my favorite actors.

      I think you’ve brought up a good point about remakes not capturing the mood. Perhaps it’s impossible? Mores and expectations are so different now than they were even when I was a kid. Things you would NEVER have seen on TV (the effword on a primetime TV show) are commonplace. I’m not particularly offended, but it is a different world.

  10. it’s interesting to me how a different rendition changes a song so completely. I listen to country and i’ll hear a song penned by a country writer (and recorded in that genre and then Ill hear it in rock or metal or something and hardly recognize it.

    I’ll take Cash’s version of almost anything. He has such a distinctive voice. I’ve been a fan since I was 8 or 9 an dhis album (anyone remember those) was one of the first I bought. and then I went to see him a number of times when he appeared in clagary. I was in love….LOL

    thanks for the ride, catie. what fun

    • I know what you mean about songs being remade in totally different genres. Some of them are great. Some are stink bombs.

      Johnny Cash was one of those performers who transcended genre. I’ve met people who usually listen to heavy metal but still like Johnny Cash. There was just something about him. 😀

  11. You make some great points here, Catie. I’m not a fan of regurgitations either. :) Shawn Colvin’s “Cover Girl” is one of my favorite albums, especially because she makes each song her own while honoring the original.

    It’s fun when a song or story is portrayed in another genre. Some modern day Romeo & Juliet stories, for example (like West Side Story) rock.

    • I’ve never heard of Shawn Colvin, so I’m going to have to check her out. Sometimes I love hearing a bunch of covers by the same artist. Joan Jett did an album of them several years ago.

      Confession: I loved the Baz Luhrmann interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. 😀

  12. What a great post!! To respond to the title, I don’t think you’re a remake grinch. So many remakes are just wasted money. And I don’t mind watching the remakes for our series. Luckily, we haven’t picked anything too horrible yet. :)

    I still love the remake of Wicked Game that you pointed out to me earlier. I also like the Don’t Fear the Reaper, but don’t kill me–I didn’t know it was a remake. LOL

    I also LOVE the remake of Hurt by Johnny Cash, originally performed by Nine Inch Nails. That’s some good stuff. I’ll listen to either song. :)