B-Movies Extended: Remakes Are Dead, Long Live Re-Releases!

The Lion King, Ghostbusters and Top Gun back in theaters? Bibbs and Witney say it's the wave of the future.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

That episode was fun. For those of you who listed to the latest episode of The B-Movies Podcast here at CraveOnline (which was episode #33, should you be paying attention), you would have found a bubbly and energetic tirade from William and I, with the aid of one dynamic Beth Schacter. The three of us stumbled upon the news that the 1984 hit film Ghostbusters was being re-released in theaters come October. The details of this re-release are still, as yet, unclear; we don't know if it's going to be a big-cities-only deal, or one of those releases where the film is only shown two or three times, but the news got the three of us salivating. After all, if this is a nationwide release, it will give thousands of young people the opportunity to see a funny and beloved comedy from my own childhood. The sheer joy of revisiting a classic of this stripe on the big screen is nothing but good news.

I probably don't need to reiterate this, but I'm one of those obnoxious sticklers for cinematic purity. I feel that if you have the opportunity to see a film in a theater, you ought to. During the heyday of VHS, I was irked by peers who would, in their insufferably blasé fashion, declare that they would “wait for home video.” If a film is worth seeing, I felt, certainly it's worth seeing on a big screen. As turnover times from theaters to home video began to rapidly contract in the early '00s, I was irked that studios didn't allow their films to stick around in theaters long enough to garner any attention. And these days, as my favorite video stores close, and home-viewing audiences mutate from a group of active cinematic seekers into passive absorbers of free Netflix distractions, I am irked that people don't even feel the need to go out to theaters anymore. In a weird way, now that thousands of films are readily available for instant viewing, the need to watch quality films has waned. It's that weird paradox: Once everything becomes available, you're back at square one, and don't know where to look.

So home video is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows people to see older classic films that don't regularly screen, even in big city repertory houses. One the other, it flattens out the cinema experience into something small, less grand, less rapturous. It's great that you can see something like Through a Glass Darkly on DVD, but will you really meditate on the film properly if you're watching it on your couch, in the middle of the day, with the noises of the world ready to distract you? Nothing has the shimmering, living beauty as actual celluloid film.

So to Hollywood, I openly declare: Re-release your classic movies more often.

Seriously. Do it. Dig into your archives, find the big hits, spend a mere $1 million to restore the prints, strike new ones, do some simple advertising, and re-release them on a regular basis. This is such a wonderful idea, I don't know why studios don't do it more often. As we have seen from this obnoxious glut of remakes over the last ten years, people are hurting for nostalgia. For the kids who hadn't seen the original films that are being remade, well, they're clearly interested in taking in the stories, but are only coasting on a vague name recognition. Ask anyone, and they'll likely tell you that they're sick to death of remakes, reboots, and the like. Why spend millions, though, adding CGI and internet references to, say When a Stranger Calls, when you could, for a twentieth of the money, restore and re-release the original?

Not that I necessarily want to see the original When a Stranger Calls on a big screen, but I think you get my point, Mr. Hollywood. It's easier and more cost efficient for you, It's more fun for the film buff like me, and, here's the real kicker, it's more educational and enlightening for the young people who don't get to see too many classics. Imagine the awe and wonder of a 14-year-old boy, perhaps unfamiliar with Raiders of the Lost Ark, managing, on a Friday night, to see it with a big crowd in a darkened theater. Congratulations. You just improved that 14-year-old's life. They don't necessarily need some “gritty” re-imagining of Death Race 2000 with younger actors, CGI and 3-D effects. But they do need to see Raiders.

“But where do I start?,” I hear you cry? Luckily, I'm a smug critic who thinks about such things, and have, as such, come up with the following suggestions for re-releases. N.B. I've tried to steer clear of obvious cult hits, and the usual plea to have huge epics like Ben-Hur on the screen; I felt those were obvious choices. I'm going a bit off the beaten path…

 

THE SHINING

As I mentioned on the podcast, I have seen Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror classic on the big screen before, thanks to a midnight screening at a local movie house. While the film can be plenty spooky on your own TV, there's something entirely eerie about seeing it in public, trapped in the dark, completely surrounded by the film. Kubrick creeps his cameras down the halls of the Overlook hotel, speeds around corners, and jars us into fear with striking and terrifying images that calmly appear before us. On the big screen, though, with 35mm film, you see and hear so much more. Not only are the images heftier and have more weight, but the very walls seem to be whispering to you. Horror films are always going to be scarier when you're not being distracted. Let's trap people in their seats and show them one of the most terrifying films ever made, shall we?

 

THE THIRD MAN

A weirdly playful, and refreshingly upbeat film about post-war Vienna, Carol Reed's 1949 classic has everything you need to make it on a big screen: You have a big star in Orson Welles, you have a fun musical score by Anton Karas, you have a brilliant, twisty screenplay by Graham Greene, and, most importantly, you have some rather gorgeous black-and-white photography by Robert Krasker. The Third Man is a noir hit with all the funny bitterness, irony, and antihero dynamics we've come to expect from the genre, but is a good deal more mannered. And while The Criterion Collection did a dandy job of cleaning up the film, and making the rubbled city look gorgeously dingy, and the long shadows in the film's famous sewer chase look appropriately ominous, the full visual impact of the images can only be more strongly felt on a big screen. I imagine a theater full of 18-year-olds who haven't seen it, being surprised by the twists for the first time. What a delight.

 

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Part of the joy of a theatrical experience is the shared ecstasy received from seeing it with a crowd, and rarely is a large crowd's blood pumping more wickedly than when seeing a well-placed exploitation movie. Sure, we can all sit in collective awe of something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but hooting with peers to the mammoth mammaries of the immortal Tura Satana is a kind of shared experience that just can't be duplicated outside of a theater. Russ Meyer's most notorious 1965 classic is a weirdly acted affair, and is actually, technically, kind of shabby. But what it lacks in finesse, it more than makes up for in earnest glee. Meyer knew of the cheapest gimmick in film history, and was sure to hire actresses with plenty of that gimmick hanging off of their chests. A good “B” film cannot be a solo experience. It has to be cheered with friends.

 

REPO MAN

This may just because of the age I am, but I feel that kids don't have the same kind of subversive cool they used to. There doesn't seem to be a dangerous youth hipster lifestyle out there in the same way there was in 1984, when punk rock was in full swing, kids would get into violent fistfights over their favorite bands, and Alex Cox could make a maniacally bizarre film like Repo Man. Equal parts edgy, twisted, weird, funny and deep, Repo Man is one of those strange, strange films that need to be seen to be believed. And while I can think of plenty of stranger and better-looking films (I briefly considered Eraserhead for this list), Repo Man has a subversive quality rarely seen in films these days. Cox seemed like he was getting away with something by telling his tale of a repo man (Emilio Estevez) and his hunt to repossess a car that might have an alien corpse in its trunk. Like a good B-film, a good oddity is something that is stronger when shared. And the more people you can share it with, the better. They'll feel like they're discovering something for themselves. And if you can get Repo Man in theaters, you can perhaps lure new youngsters in, and blow their brains open.

 

THE UNIVERSAL MONSTER FILMS

Most of these old monster flicks from the '30s and'40s are in desperate need of a clean up, so clean them up. Most of them are well known, so you have a built in audience. Heck, even little kids who haven't seen the movies know about Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Cheney, Jr. What's more, they're all pretty short (I think the longest of the old Universal Monster films is about 79 minutes), so you can fit many screenings in a day. Oryou can pairthem up as double features. However you do it, it would be a wicked, funHalloween thrill to seeDracula on the bigscreen. I loveBride of Frankenstein,and having people laugh, scream, quote along would be joyous. There aren't a lot of great werewolf films in the world, so remind the world that in 1941, we had The Wolf Man. There are at least six of these classic movies that could be released. Release them all in the month of October. Or release one every other month one year. Build the following back up. Don't let them languish in vaults and on home video. It's time to let the monster roam free. They'll steal imaginations and earn you bucks. They're only awaiting resurrection.

 

NEXT: Bibbs reminds Hollywood that re-releases used to be an industry standard, and has some ideas of his own for which movies deserve to come back to theaters…


FROM THE DESK OF WILLIAM BIBBIANI:

Everyone’s sick of remakes. Yes, I think that’s true. I think it’s unfortunate that we don’t actually rebel against them more often, but the sad fact is that most audiences are so desperate to be distracted from real life that they’ll regularly compromise their own principles just to pay $12 for a lesser version of Halloween. And why will they do that? Because it’s in theaters, you jackalopes! I made the point on this week’s B-Movies Podcast: if you and your family went out to a theater – a major multiplex, mind you, not a second-run or arthouse theater – to see Shark Night 3D, only to get there and find out Jaws was playing at the same time, you’d probably see Jaws instead. Wouldn’t you?

I’m not saying that remakes can’t be good. There are more good remakes than most film critics are willing to admit, from The Maltese Falcon to The Departed. I’m pretty sure that neither Witney nor I are suggesting that Hollywood stop making them altogether, but if you just want to make a quick buck, re-releasing Raiders of the Lost Ark in theaters isn’t a bad way to go about it. I’d also like point out that, before home video, Hollywood used to re-release movies all the time. In fact, when Hammer wanted to release their first Christopher Lee horror experience in America in 1958, they had to change the title from Dracula to The Horror of Dracula just because the original Bela Lugosi Dracula was still playing in theaters, 21 years after its original release. And people were still lining up to see it. Yes, the medium was only available in one format back then, but the allure of a film that was old enough to – today, at least – seem ancient actually brought people out of their homes.

Hollywood still does this once in a while, particularly lately with “Special Edition” versions of Star Wars or the recent 3D version of The Lion King, but Hollywood – as usual – is missing the point. I haven’t heard from a single person who went to see The Lion King this weekend because it was in 3D. They went to see it because it’s The Lion King in theaters. That’s special. And it’s actually available at a theater near you. Art house movies get limited re-releases fairly often (even Witney’s pick, The Third Man, had a brief theatrical return a decade or so ago), but if you don’t live in a major city it does you no good. We’re advocating the re-release of classic movies that audiences either grew up with or will now want to share with their kids, in a significant release at major movie theater chains across the country. Strike 500-1,000 new prints, throw out a smattering of advertizing, and you’re looking at a few million dollars – tops – of investment on a film you’ve already made a huge profit on. You’ll make even more millions, introduce a new audience to an old classic, and you’ll surely have a huge spike in Blu-Ray sales the very next day. It’s a good idea, damn it. Even if it barely cracks the box office Top Ten, it’ll still be a win/win for everybody involved, filmmakers, moneymen and audiences alike, and there’s nothing but net.

Before I get into some “proof of concept” picks of my own – movies that will actually do really well, if Hollywood gives this a shot (without the 3D gimmick) – I offer one more vital suggestion to the folks marketing these pictures. If you’re re-releasing Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example, don’t advertize the film. Advertize the experience. “See the film that started it all… on the big screen!” You don’t have to sell the content of the movie. People already know all about it. You just have to sell the idea of seeing the movie in a classic viewing environment, the way it was meant to be seen. Just to clarify: the way it was meant to be seen. 3D might make your movie an amusement park ride, as our guest Beth Schacter smartly pointed out, but it doesn’t actually help the film itself. We’re sick of it. Knock it off.

 

AIRPLANE!

I own what’s probably bordering on 1,000 DVDs and Blu-Rays, and you know what? Not many comedies in there. Way less than a hundred. But I sure as hell own Airplane! Comedies tend to thrive on offering something unexpected, so not many of them hold up after too many viewings. Airplane! does. There were a few films like it before 1980 (The Kentucky Fried Movie among them), but it was Airplane! that spawned decades of joke-a-minute slapstick movie parodies. I have literally never met a single person in my life who claims that Airplane! isn’t funny, and that won’t agree to watch it again at the drop of a hat. Some of the jokes are lost today – the riff on the commercial about “Jim never drinks coffee at home” now works only as random silliness, although audiences at the time surely recognized the reference – but with the rapid-fire delivery of honest-to-god hilarious gags Airplane! puts most modern comedies to shame. Re-release it opposite the latest Parody Movie and watch the new rip-off tank against its classic competition.

 

ENTER THE DRAGON

To quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Everyone doesn’t like some things, but nobody doesn’t like Bruce Lee!” And they’re right. There has, quite simply, never been a star quite like him. Devilishly handsome, perpetually charismatic, and although his fight choreography was never as elaborate as what you’d find in The Matrix (by design, incidentally), it has a fury to it that’s just as magnetic now as ever. In his most famous role, Bruce Lee starred as a Shaolin monk whom the CIA hires to take down an evil kung fu master hosting a fighting tournament as a front for drug smuggling. As directed by Robert Clouse, the film has a James Bond swagger that’s just intoxicating. Every frame of Enter the Dragon drips with “cool.” Even Bruce’s co-stars get to be badasses, with Jim Kelly’s rebellious anti-White Power heroism and John Saxon’s “I’m Too Cool To Fight” recklessness. Lots of kids know who Bruce Lee was, but I’ll bet you that 99% of them have never seen his movies on the big screen. And I bet you they’d bug the crap out of their parents to go see this one.

 

PREDATOR

Lots of 1980’s action movies would probably make a lot of money in a high profile re-release, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop and Terminator 2: Judgment Day among them. (Yes, that last one’s from 1991, but it just feels like it belongs, doesn’t it?) I’m picking Predator as their representative. John McTiernan’s 1987 sci-fi action thriller literally plays just as well today as it did upon its release. Even the special effects work great. Everyone knows the dialogue: “I ain’t got time to bleed,” “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” etc. But I think years of watching the film on TV,  with the good parts edited, or even on DVD with unlimited potential interruptions via phone calls, internet fumblings and sudden burrito cravings, watching this superlative action movie on the big screen will bring out the macho guys by the truckload. And I think they’ll be surprised to discover that the film works not just as a highlight reel of badassery, but also as a dissection of the same, with Spartan gods of war turning impotent in the face of the unknown. God, I’d love to see this in the theater again. My Dad took me when I was five years old, and it remains one of my favorite cinematic experiences ever.

 

PSYCHO

I’m not elitist enough to think that all the black & white movies I love will hit it big with modern theatrical audiences, although like Witney I think re-releasing the Universal Monster movies is a brilliant notion. Horror movies you can actually watch with your kids would make for boffo October box office. But Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief and The Best Years of Our Lives might be a tough sell, as brilliant as they are. Psycho, on the other hand, is an American institution, and was always marketed as an experience. Audiences were denied admission after the film began in an effort to build the film’s mystique and preserve the film’s groundbreaking story structure. Everyone knows about Psycho, but raise your hands if you’ve seen it on the big screen. No? Now, raise your hands if you’d be up for it. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Halloween weekend, guys. We’d all run out for it.

 

THE SECRET OF NIMH

There are tons of classic animated kids movies out there, but Disney’s got something of a monopoly on them. The Secret of NIMH is one of the truly great exceptions. The dark, spooky and ultimately entirely rousing tale of field mouse Mrs. Brisby desperately trying to save her family from oncoming farming equipment has both a supernatural and science fiction vibe thanks to the rats of NIMH, a society of super-intelligent rats whose political infighting gives the film a sense of “cool” that attracts audiences beyond the young girls who’d race out to a re-release of Cinderella or something similar. Cross-over appeal, that’s what it’s got. And it’s a fantastically entertaining movie to boot. If you had the choice of taking your niece or nephew to The Secret of NIMH or Shrek Forever After, wouldn’t you pay to see this instead?

 

WHAT MOVIES DO YOU WANT TO BE RE-RELEASED?