Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s: Why Don’t They Do It Like They Used To? by David Roche

I was fascinated when I found out about the subject matter of this book. The horror movies of the seventies were a staple of my formative years and fueled the passion for horror that I hold so dear. The slew of remakes of seventies and eighties horror have often caused me to groan. The book is certainly not a shallow attack on remakes but a legitimate examination. David Roche looks at the similarities and differences in themes and wider meanings drawn from the films. Horror films are in many cases a reflection of the issues of the day, and although some problems remain from the seventies to today, others have changed what with societal changes and different audiences and all.

I should point out that this is an academic text, rather than one of the more casual horror movie non-fiction books you can pick up. It is heavily footnoted with reference to articles and critics’ discussions. For me, this made me seek out the original articles as I wanted to know more. It is incredibly in-depth. Themes that are key areas of the book include race, class, family, sexuality and gender. Whether a film is considered good or bad is a somewhat subjective discussion, so Roche used criteria to compare and contrast the original with the remake beyond that. The main question Roche is seeking to answer is: Are the movies of the seventies more disturbing than the remakes? The analysis is based on criteria including economic success, technique, what the films tell us about about the period or genre, emotion (fear), and originality.

Although other films that were remade in the 2000s are given mention in the book, the focus is on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 & 2003), The Hills Have Eyes (1977 & 2006), Dawn of the Dead (1978 & 2004), and Halloween (1978 & 2007). There is much to discover about these titles with the viewpoints of a variety of critics along with quotes from creators and producers of the films. Personally, I found the discussion of The Hills Have Eyes the most interesting, although I’ll admit that Halloween is my favorite of the films he talks about.

Thanks to this book, I have a greater appreciation of the meanings and subtexts of the films, including the remakes. It brought up aspects of the films I’d never picked up on despite many viewings of the originals. I don’t agree with every conclusion Roche reaches but that’s ok; that’s the beauty of discussing horror films. I’m now going to re-watch the originals and the remakes and look at them in a new light. It’s not light reading; it’s for students and dedicated fans of the genre. Are the originals more disturbing than the remakes? Most horror fans are quick to dismiss the remakes. That’s up to you, but reading this thought-provoking book will make you consider it more carefully.

7.5/10

Book Cover Blurb:

In Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s author David Roche takes up the assumption shared by many fans and scholars that original horror movies are more “disturbing,” and thus better than the remakes. He assesses the qualities of movies, old and recast, according to criteria that include subtext, originality, and cohesion. With a methodology that combines a formalist and cultural studies approach, Roche sifts aspects of the American horror movie that have been widely addressed (class, the patriarchal family, gender, and the opposition between terror and horror) and those that have been somewhat neglected (race, the Gothic, style, and verisimilitude). Containing seventy-eight black and white illustrations, the book is grounded in a close comparative analysis of the politics and aesthetics of four of the most significant independent American horror movies of the 1970s–The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, and Halloween–and their twenty-first-century remakes.

To what extent can the politics of these films be described as “disturbing” insomuch as they promote subversive subtexts that undermine essentialist perspectives? Do the politics of the film lie on the surface or are they wedded to the film’s aesthetics? Early in the book, Roche explores historical contexts, aspects of identity (race, ethnicity, and class), and the structuring role played by the motif of the American nuclear family. He then asks to what extent these films disrupt genre expectations and attempt to provoke emotions of dread, terror, and horror through their representations of the monstrous and the formal strategies employed? In this inquiry, he examines definitions of the genre and its metafictional nature. Roche ends with a meditation on the extent to which the technical limitations of the horror films of the 1970s actually contribute to this “disturbing” quality. Moving far beyond the genre itself, Making and Remaking Horror studies the redux as a form of adaptation and enables a more complete discussion of the evolution of horror in contemporary American cinema.