Putting the accent on success

Blog by Jonathan Melville | 21 Apr 2008

With two new Spanish films about to scare and delight UK audiences, Jonathan Melville wonders if every decent foreign film really needs to be remade by our American cousins...

 The history of English language remakes of foreign language films is a long and chequered one. For every Fistful of Dollars (the surprisingly successful 1964 reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 feature, Yojimbo) there’s a City of Angels (1998’s remake of the 1987 German classic Wings of Desire) not far behind.

Sadly, horror films don’t seem to have a much better track record. While 2002’s Naomi Watt’s starrer The Ring was a passable remake of 1998’s Japanese original, Ringu, 2004’s Grudge, wasn’t a patch on Japan’s Ju-on: The Grudge (2003). It seems film studios just can’t let a decent foreign film succeed without wanting a slice of the paella/gateau/sushi for themselves.

This week’s release of new Spanish chiller The Orphanage, a mesmeric tale of the sins of the past affecting the present, is the latest European film optioned by American studios for an inevitable remake. In it, Laura and Carlos decide to move into the building that was once the orphanage of the title and Laura’s home as a child, with their adopted son, Simon, who is HIV-positive. Soon they are swept up in a series of events that threaten their lives and their sanity, as the camera prowls the corridors behind them.

The fact that Guillermo Del Toro, the Spanish director behind the thematically similar Devil’s Backbone (2001) and the more recent Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) has given Orphanage his seal of approval (in a similar fashion to the “Quentin Tarantino’s Presents…” films, including Hero (2004) and Hostel (2004)) means that the US money men are no doubt keener to spend some cash on the rights.

In perhaps the most unique case of a remake getting greenlit with haste, the perfectly crafted Spanish zombie flick [REC], due out here on April 11, has already entered production in America as Quarantine…before it's even been released in the country. [REC] deserves to be treated with some care. As a small town news crew follow the local fire department around on their duties, they soon end up inside an apartment block infected by…well, you’ll have to find out for yourself, but I’d urge you to do so rather than waiting for the yanks to turn up with their version. It literally raised the hairs on my neck and caused the audience to scream at all the right places…and these were hardened horror aficionados.

The same goes for The Orphanage, a kind of fairytale for the noughties, which takes the story of Peter Pan and Wendy and turns it on its head. Take a few hours out to try the full fat version before the diet one comes along.

Of course it’s possible that these remakes will outshine the originals. But it’s also just as likely that they’ll take up much more space in the multiplexes than the genuine articles ever could, leaving gems such as The Orphanage and [REC] only half-remembered by a few devotees and giving the ghosts of the past something worth getting really worked up about...