Which is Your Leatherface?

The SXSW three R's of horror panel takes an axe to film stealers

So, which Texas Chain Saw Massacre do you prefer? 1974 or 2003? There may be no wrong answer.
So, which Texas Chain Saw Massacre do you prefer? 1974 or 2003? There may be no wrong answer.

There's something slightly beautiful about watching a panel go so off-topic that it ends up on a different and equally interesting track. Well, that's what happened to yesterday's 3 R's of Horror: Remakes, Reboots & Rediscoveries: Or, as it should be called Torrent Horror Stories

It really started when someone from the audience admitted, well, boasted, that they download movies from bit torrent sites. Cue the wrath of director Adam Green, who has been screwed over pretty badly by people uploading his movies like Frozen and Hatchet. What's worse, he said, was that people actually get pissy when you try to tell them that illegal downloading is just as much stealing as pocketing Blu-Rays at Best Buy. The first lesson of the session was "Don't piss off Adam Green" but the second was "BitTorrenting hurts all film makers, large and small."

Green and his fellow panelists have found ways to fight back. The classic is to put your own cut of a movie on a pirate site: Just the first ten minutes, and then fill the rest of the file with two hours of your cat's litter box (Green's suggestion) or midget porn (courtesy of horror documentarian Daniel Farrands)

But back on topic, and here were some surprising conclusions. The first is that remakes are not actually that bad. There was some love in the room for the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, as FearNet's Scott E. Weinberg put it, "We eliminate all remakes, and we lose The Fly." Not that everything got a pass, and that included the now-mandatory ragging on Rob Zombie's Halloween reboots. Ironically, the case was made for genuinely revolutionary remakes that bring something new to the table (and I'd argue that Zombie did just that. I'll admit it. I like the first one a lot.)

But the deeper question was simple: Why are there so many remakes? "People want something slightly old but slightly new," said Weinberg, but Green was less generous. "Because they make money," he said, "because the audience loves remakes." For all that complaining by fans, they're still there on opening day and they'll still buy the DVD: What's worse, very few will actually support new horror. He recounted his experience at Texas Fright Fest, when he asked the audience about remakes they had seen: "How many people saw Hills Have Eyes? Boo! How many people saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Boo!" Then the real test: How many people had seen indie horror Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon? "Silence, and it was playing at four theaters in ten miles of that convention center"

The complex issue seems to be how to deal with the older fans, the ones who will quite happily lay down money for the later, shabbier, pedophile-serial-killer-as-hero Freddie Krueger movies, but kvetch about the remake. Sometimes that takes some ingenuity. Take the timing of the release of Farrands' definitive Freddie doc, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. "We knew that (the remake) was going to be a disaster," he said, "so we wanted to be there on the day it came out for the fans of the original."

Yet there's a line between quality fan service, like Farrands' encyclopedic works, and mere cash-in. "How can we live without the deluxe edition of Jason Goes to fucking Hell?" snarled Weinberg, but Image Entertainment's VP Mark Ward had two counterpoints from his time at gore connoisseurs Anchor Bay. First, that the re-re-re-releases subsidize the less commercial titles ("You wouldn't have got a Dario Argento or a Lucio Fulci if I couldn't have released the Evil Dead movies.") and secondly that the new versions and the remakes can inspire interest in the original version. Take Dawn of the Dead: He called that "an evergreen title" that will always sell solidly, but when the remake emerged "We sold almost a million units of the original."

That's a thought that got some Green back-up. "When I saw John Carpenter's The Thing," he said, "it made me go back and watch The Thing From Another Planet."

Cue another turn: Did Carpenter remake the Howard Hawks classic, or did he create a brand new adaptation of John W. Campbell's 1938 novella Who Goes There? And what does that mean for the 2011 prequel? Quick, hand me my book on semantics!

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SXSW, Scott Weinberg, Hatchet, Adam Green, FearNet, Anchor Bay, Never Sleep Again, Dan Farrand, The Thing, Who Goes There?, The Thing From Another Planet, John H. Campbell, Howard Hawks, John Carpenter

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