The merits and pitfalls of remaking classic horror films as TV shows – separating the sublime successes from the vapid failures

By ·October 31, 2016 11:30 am
Wolf Creek

Remaking a classic horror film is both a relative safe bet (there’s already a huge core audience that adores the story that you’re selling) and also a very risky proposition (if you step a single foot wrong, the fans are just itching to jump on the proclamation that your effort is “just another terrible remake”).

TV rather than film is becoming ever more popular as the home for these contemporary remakes. This is because TV allows for a stronger fleshing out of the original story. Big name stars are ever more frequently signing on for TV shows and the cinematography of these shows is becoming ever more expert and refined. All of this is allowing the small screen to merge ever closer towards the glory and quality of the big screen.

Below we highlight and assess (in chronological order of air dates) all of the big classic horror film adaptations to TV that have passed our screens in recent years. At the end of each section we provide our verdict (using our set assessment criteria) on whether the show in question was a successful remake or a failure.

Assessment Criteria

The very best remakes provide some additional contribution to the story that you didn’t even know you wanted. Whether this is improved casting choices, or more backstory for a beloved character, sometimes these remakes are so impressive that they even outshine the original and become the definite version of that story.

The very worst remakes simply try to rehash what the original already accomplished and attempt this in an inferior manner. Whether this is through poorer casting choices or changes to the story that really shouldn’t be made, there are many terrible remakes (mostly in film), which often give the entire remake methodology a bad name. If this article shows anything, it should be that remaking (or re-imagining) a classic is not always a bad thing.

In order to define criteria for ‘success’ and ‘failure’, we’ve used a combination of three things: viewer ratings, critical reception and our own personal opinion. We’re also including shows that are sequels or prequels of the original films, because for us these still count as a kind of contemporary re-imagining. Please be aware that there are some spoilers within.

Bates Motel (Seasons 1-4) (2013-present)

A prequel to and remake/re-imagining of: Psycho (1960)

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in A&E's Bates Motel.

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in A&E’s Bates Motel.

Ratings: Bates Motel has been a success ratings-wise, to the point where it has been granted a fifth and final season (which few shows get). To give a view of the ratings successes we’ve drawn some viewing figures for Season 2. The Season 2 premiere on March 3rd garnered 4.6 million total viewers and delivered 2.6 million adults in the 18-49 range and 2.2 million adults in the 25-54 range. Throughout Season 2, the show continued to be A&E’s #1 drama series of all time among adults aged 18-49. (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: The show holds a surprisingly low (but still positive) score of 66% on Metacritic at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We’ve followed the show since its pilot as we’ve loved the whole thing. From Norma and Sheriff Alex Romero’s complex relationship, to the simplistic brilliance of smaller characters like Chick (Ryan Hurst), it’s always proved to be exceptional TV. It’s also a show that isn’t afraid to broach taboo subjects, as proven by the incest involving Norma and Caleb. More recently, even though it was expected, due to the film, what happened to Norma last season surprised us a lot. We’ve listed the show as a remake as well as a prequel, because the showrunners intend to remake the film for the show’s upcoming fifth and final season.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Hannibal (Seasons 1-3) (2013-2015)

A prequel to and remake/re-imagining of: Manhunter (1986), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), Hannibal Rising (2007)

Also a fresh adaptation of: Red Dragon, The Silence of the LambsHannibalHannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Ratings: Hannibal was a success ratings-wise, particularly during its first season. Through its eight original telecasts for Season 1, Hannibal averaged a 2.0 rating, 6 share in adults 18-49 and 4.7 million viewers overall in “most current” results from Nielsen Media Research. By the time the Season 3 rolled around, Hannibal was seeing much lower ratings in the region of 1.7 million viewers and a 0.5 in the demo, causing NBC to pass on a fourth season. (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: The critics really embraced the show. The show holds 88% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We absolutely loved Hannibal and were glued to every episode. There’s simply been nothing like Hannibal before or since on TV; it was artistic, thought-provoking, grotesque and highly intelligent. The only flaw we’d say that it held is that it could get a little too abstract for its own good sometimes, which is probably what deterred some viewers from sticking around. Bryan Fuller helmed the show and did an amazing job of it, right down to embracing the fans wholeheartedly – including their flower crown meme. When you watch the show it’s very noticeable that the books are (and previous films) are being respected and adhered to. There are lines that are directly pulled from the page and there are other changes that compliment and update the narrative. This was one of those rare instances where the remake actually far surpassed the quality of the original films. To us, Mads Mikkelsen will forever be Hannibal Lecter, Hugh Dancy Will Graham and Fuller’s vision the definitive interpretation of Thomas Harris’ books.

Verdict: SUCCESS

From Dusk Till Dawn (Seasons 1-3) (2014-present)

A remake/re-imagining of: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Eiza Gonzalez as Santanico Pandemonium.

Eiza Gonzalez as Santanico Pandemonium.

Ratings: From Dusk Till Dawn was a success ratings-wise, given the fact that is has been renewed twice. Despite airing on the El Rey network, the show also is available on Netflix. We don’t have exact viewing figures, but after Season 1 concluded, Scott Sassa, El Rey Network’s Vice Chair, said: “Our decision to launch this ambitious original in just our first few months on the air was certainly bold but the payoff has been incredibly satisfying.  As the television landscape becomes even more crowded, it’s important for El Rey Network to have a recurring and memorable franchise that speaks to our audience and allows us to break away from the noise of all the competition. ‘From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series’ is most certainly that kind of property and we are thrilled with the response from our affiliate partners, advertisers, viewers and the international community.” (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: The show holds 61% on Metacritic at the time of writing.

Our opinion: Season 1 is brilliant (we’ve seen it twice). It is also, of course, the only season that holds remake content, with Season 2 and Season 3 elongating the story with new content. Season 2 was only OK for us. Season 3 we have yet to get that far into. This was another instance of the remake (Season 1) surpassing the original. The casting was so much more on point in this remake and Rodriguez still helmed it (one half of the original duo, minus Tarantino). The length of Seaosn 1 really allowed the narrative to time to showcase and explore its merits more fully. Whether Season 2 onwards are successes or not, we leave in your hands, but the fact that the show keep getting renewed does show that it holds an audience.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Rosemary’s Baby (Mini-Series) (2014)

A remake/re-imagining of: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Zoe Saldana as Rosemary in NBC's two episode mini-series.

Zoe Saldana as Rosemary in NBC’s two episode mini-series.

Ratings: Rosemary’s Baby was a success ratings-wise. Night 1 (1.1/3 in 18-49, 3.7 million viewers overall from 9-11 p.m. ET) equaled NBC’s top 18-49 rating in the time period since March 23 2014. For its first hour from 9-10 p.m., Rosemary’s Baby tied for #2 among the Big 4 networks in adults 18-49. Night 2 (1.0/3 in 18-49, 3.3 million viewers overall from 9-11 p.m. ET) grew substantially from its first half-hour to its fourth, by +38% in adults 18-49 (to a 1.1 rating from a 0.8) and by +31% in total viewers (3.8 million vs. 2.9 million). (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: Critical reception was mixed, with the show holding a middle-of-the-road score of 51% on Metacritic at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We liked it a lot. Zoe Saldana is superb casting for Rosemary, as is Patrick J. Adams for her partner. The show retained the core plot points, while also adding new components like The Devil (Steven Marcato) appearing to her regularly prior to the rape scene.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Scream (Seasons 1-2) (2015-present)

A remake/re-imagining of: Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), Scream 4 (2011)

Willa Fitzgerald plays protagonist Emma in MTV's Scream.

Willa Fitzgerald plays protagonist Emma in MTV’s Scream.

Ratings: Scream was initially a success ratings-wise, which were high enough to acquire it a second season, but the show hasn’t been a huge rating success. The Season 1 premiere episode of MTV’s hit slasher series Scream scared up big viewership numbers, drawing more than 6.0 million total viewers in live + 3, including 3.1 million viewers in MTV’s core P12-34 audience. Season 2 averaged 0.49 in the 18-49 demo, with an average of 0.377 million viewers for the season. Whether the show will be renewed for Season 3 is yet to be revealed. (H/T TVbythenumbers and TVseriesfinale)

Critical reception: Scream holds below average 47% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We like it  alot. Although we guessed the killer in Season 1 way before it happened, the characters and construct are great and highly reminiscent of the films. For example, Season 2 opens in a screening, just like Scream 2 did. Season 2 was excellent in its own right, but the killer was even easier to guess this time around. We hope that Season 3 happens.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Ash Vs Evil Dead (Seasons 1-2) (2015-present)

A sequel to: The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)

Bruce Campbell pleasing Evil Dead fans everywhere by returning as Ash in Ash Vs Evil Dead.

Bruce Campbell pleasing Evil Dead fans everywhere by returning as Ash in Ash Vs Evil Dead.

Note: Although not technically a remake or a re-imagining (it’s solely a sequel), we have included Ash Vs Evil Dead because it does still take a huge classic cinematic horror properly and update it in a modern way.

Ratings: We don’t have any ratings figures for Ash Vs Evil Dead and the Season 2 renewal can’t be taken as indicative of ratings success. This is because Starz actually picked up a second season of the show three days ahead of its Season 1 premiere, which is pretty much standard operating procedure for Starz, who pre-ordered second seasons of several of their original shows before or just after their series debuted. (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: The show holds a very positive 75% on Metacritic at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We’ve only seen the pilot of this, so we have to reserve our opinion until we’ve got a little deeper into it. We get the impression, however, that the existing Evil Dead fanbase are enjoying the show.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Damien (2016)

A sequel to and remake/re-imagining of: The Omen (1976),

Bradley James as Damien Thorne, in A&E's Damien.

Bradley James as Damien Thorne, in A&E’s Damien.

Ratings: Damien was ultimately a failure ratings-wise. The show moved from Lifetime to A&E initially, where it was subject to low ratings from the beginning, which continued throughout its entire ten-episode run. 11 days after Season 1 ended, creator Glenn Mazzara tweeted out that A&E would not be giving the show a second season. The show being cancelled doesn’t make the show a failure in and of itself (some amazing shows have been cancelled after one season), but it does indicate that the existing fan base weren’t showing up for it. (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: The show holds a dire 37% on Metacritic at the time of writing.

Our opinion: We’ve tried to watch the pilot a couple of times and have found it a little difficult to get into, but we aim to persevere, despite its cancellation.

Verdict: FAILURE

Wolf Creek (Mini-Series) (2016)

A remake/re-imagining of: Wolf Creek (2005) and Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

Lucy Fry as Eve Thorogood - the victim turned hunter of Outback killer Mick Taylor.

Lucy Fry as Eve Thorogood – the victim turned hunter of Outback killer Mick Taylor.

Ratings: We were unable to locate any ratings figures for Wolf Creek. It has achieved a Blu-Ray release, however (which we purchased), which indicates that there is evidence of a fan base that might purchase it.

Critical reception: There are no scores on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. The Guardian and Bloody Disgusting both gave the mini-series 3 out of 5 stars. While other outfits like The Sydney Morning Herald really praised the shows as something well worth checking out.

Our opinion: Brilliant. We loved every second of it (apart from pretty much every male in the Outback being a rapist or killer). Lucy Fry absolutely kills it – proving far better than any of the preceding female leads. The fact that John Jarratt also returned as Mick Taylor sealed the deal. The result is brilliant fleshed-out storytelling and highly refined television.

Verdict: SUCCESS

The Exorcist (2016-present)

A remake/re-imagining of: The Exorcist (1973)

Also a fresh adaptation of: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Ben Daniels as Father Marcus Keane - a seasoned Exorcist - in FOX's adaptation of the classic horror film.

Ben Daniels as Father Marcus Keane – a seasoned Exorcist – in FOX’s adaptation of the classic horror film.

Ratings: The Exorcist didn’t exactly burst out of the gate with its premiere, but it put up a respectable-for-Friday 1.0 rating. Then it fell 40 percent in week 2, which is a huge second-week drop. The show is in a low-risk timeslot, so if it doesn’t fall any lower the network will probably tolerate it for the remainder of the fall. But a 0.6 rating is usually what you’d find on shows that cost much less than The Exorcist probably did to make. (H/T TVbythenumbers)

Critical reception: Critical consensus is surprisingly very good so far. At the time of writing, the show holds 77% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Our opinion: We’ve only seen one episode so far, which we didn’t enjoy. Where we feel the premier went wrong was in its lack of a tangible story to grasp onto and also its lack of style. When you compare this show to the big successes above it’s really a below par effort. However, we have heard that the show pays off down the line, so we intend to return to it. Whether the show is granted a second season will be the true test of how it fared. For now, the show is too fresh to label as a success or a failure.

Verdict: YET TO BE DETERMINED

As has been seen, judging by our criteria most of the major remakes/re-imaginings of classic horror films in recent years have been a success overall. Some have even soared so high as to surpass the original films, and some have sunk so low as to probably make the fan base wish that they never happened.

The reason that networks keep opting to remake classic horror properties isn’t only – as some claim – that they are too lazy to come up with original ideas. It’s not even just because they know there’s a huge fan base as a foundation. More likely it’s the simple fact that they’re witnessing other networks have immense success with this approach and they’re thinking ‘we can do it too’. The losses can be heavy (no doubt Damien lost a lot of money), but the potential rewards and respect that can be garnered are arguably even higher. Just look at how Hannibal changed the standard for modern television and how respected it’s become.

Granted, we used our own assessment criteria, but the figures don’t like and our assessment clearly shows that this approach has worked many times, very well. So we encourage this process. If it gives us gems like HannibalBates Motel and Wolf Creek then we can’t imagine our TV without it.

Image credits: A&E, NBC, El Rey, FOX, Stan Entertainment, Starz, MTV

More: Damien From Dusk Till Dawn Hannibal horror Rosemary's Baby The Exorcist Wolf Creek

Written by Christopher Hart

Co-Editor in Chief / Film, TV and Literature Writer

Christopher holds an MA in Publishing and a BA in Comparative Literature, and currently works as an analyst for a major Bank in London.

Christopher self-publishes his own Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. His completed series of short stories is titled 'Altered Stone' and can be found on Amazon.

His specialist subjects include LOST, Preacher, Supergirl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kevin Smith, Bioshock and Fallout.

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