Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s
Why Don’t They Do It Like They Used To?
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014
Hardcover. 339 p. ISBN 978-1617039621. $60.00
Reviewed by Georges-Claude Guilbert
Université François Rabelais (Tours)
The corpus of Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s is composed of eight movies: Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978); Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004); Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978); Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007); The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977); The Hills Have Eyes (Alexandre Aja, 2006); The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel, 2003). The secondary corpus lists another fifty movies or so. And, yes, “Chainsaw” is spelt differently in the title of the remake. Being already somewhat familiar with David Roche’s work in literary criticism and film studies (notably his articles on David Cronenberg and Quentin Tarantino), I was not exactly surprised to find that he should conceive such a project.
The amusing subtitle, Why Don’t They Do It Like They Used To?, is deliberately misleading: Roche, surely, is too young to have seen those late 1970s gems upon their release in movie theaters, and in this book he does not really indulge in nostalgia (no romanticization of the period here). Rather, he wonders, literally, why the horror movies of the 2000s are not made in the same way as their 1970s predecessors. In this respect the book is a long list of comparisons—but before you sigh with anticipated boredom and move on to another book of film criticism, let me clarify: Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s is a fascinating list of comparisons. Roche examines every nook and cranny of those eight movies, looking at whether they are more or less parodic, more or less ironic, more or less palimpsestuous, more or less (American) gothic, etc. Are they generically hybrid? Do the remakes stick “closely to the narrative of the original film” ? Do they cite cult lines? Do they rewrite ordinary lines or do they quote them verbatim? Do they repeat them with variations? Do they change the duration of key scenes? Do they displace them? Clearly, every answer to these questions is highly significant. Every movie of both periods is examined in the light of whichever war or such event the US was undergoing at the time of its shooting, with Roche trying to determine if it is (as some critics sometimes have it) a critique of society (or possibly government), or not.
As far as his “elders” are concerned, Roche forgets no-one, on either side of the Atlantic. Robin Wood gets mentioned some forty-four times, and it might be deemed tiresome, but seeing the kind of material that is under discussion, it only seems fair. In the same way, Gregory A. Waller is featured as early as in the very first page of the Introduction, as well as in the first page of the first chapter (and eight other times), which is highly fitting in such a book. Roche is not only familiar with film theory in general, he is also intimate with every important text of horror movie criticism that has ever seen the light of day—or should that be the wavering light of a damp torch in loco horroris? He is also flawlessly knowledgeable in literary horror criticism, from the nineteenth century onward.
Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s is divided into eight chapters, the eighth serving as a “tentative conclusion.” Three of them kept me particularly enthralled: “(Dis)connecting Race, Ethnicity, and Class”; “The (Dys)functional American Nuclear Family”; “Gender and Sexual Troubles.” Roche is well versed in feminist criticism (although he is not a “feminist critic”) and is astute at exposing how things are never simple when it comes to interpreting horror movies, notably when gender is concerned. Admittedly, there are eras in filmmaking (although they tend to be reconstructed after the facts, at a sometimes much later date), just as there are eras in film criticism, but even if Roche is acutely aware of those, he is also never too systematic, he never shies away from showing that, no, not all the movies in this or that group are left-leaning metaphors of, say, a consumer society in the throes of depression. Roche totally avoids the totalizing temptation—but he aptly strives to determine the degree of coherence of the subtexts.
I agree with one of the presiding tenets of this book, though: the remakes are generally “less disturbing” than the originals (which does not mean the originals should be idealized). The whole book is to a large degree dedicated to a convincing search for the various societal and cinematic phenomena that explain this. If one were desperate to find fault with it, one could reply to Roche, who wonders if the remakes “also reflect or tap into context-related anxieties” , that all movies do, wherever, whenever, if not all artistic undertakings. This in no way invalidates his interrogations, obviously. Roche knows his American history, and it shows. He also knows his psychoanalysis, as is indicated by his sometimes amusing and always pertinent use of notions such as “the return of the repressed.”
Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s is also a book that may be used by anyone interested in remakes, in general, for it asks all the right questions about what remaking a movie entails and means, for whom and in what historical context. It helps distinguish, besides, between different categories of remakes (“transformed,” “close,” etc.). As Roche puts it before pertinently quoting Linda Hutcheon, “this book is ultimately a study of adaptation.” 
One last minor qualm: in the Filmography of his Works Cited section, Roche gives us his Corpus, then “Other horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s,” “and their remakes in the 2000s” [318-319]. The reader might have appreciated a tertiary corpus, as it were, featuring movies such as the Scream franchise. Roche waits until Chapter 5 to write that the remakes “belong to the post-Scream (1996) era of in-your-face metafiction,”  but the reader is quickly made to remember the Scream movies, which obviously come to mind the minute one mentions the rules of slasher movies, and the “last girl” or “last woman” trope. Some of us use these movies in class to help students grasp the postmodern. All in all, I heartily recommend this book for any fan of horror, as well as any academic who has ever studied horror movies and / or the art of remakes.
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