Saturday, December 22, 2012

Top 10 Remakes (That are Better Than the Original Films)


It certainly doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, a filmmaker has the stones to not only remake a film, but somehow manage to make a better version. A handful of the films below are remakes of very fine movies, others are revisions of bad movies ultimatly made better. Whether the remakes are foreign-to-American, spanned decades apart, or an attempt by the same director to recapture his own magic, below are the 10 best remakes I’ve ever seen. And don’t forget to share yours in the comments!

10. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Remake of Abre los ojos (1997), directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Amenábar’s Abre los ojos is a damn fine film, one with an inventive story that had a lot of trouble finding a stateside audience. Thankfully for us, Cameron Crowe saw it and thought he could change things up while staying true to the original. The main difference between the two films is Crowe’s incessant use of American pop culture, which he imbeds subtly and/or blatantly, in nearly every frame of his film. The use of Radiohead, The Beatles, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bob Dylan and much much more (including a Spielberg cameo), turned off some but engaged just as many. Infusing Vanilla Sky with so much Yankee pulp nonfiction was a huge gamble, but one that continues to pay off.

9. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), directed by Norman Jewison
Much like Abre los ojos, I have no problem whatsoever with Jewison’s original Crown Affair, but I do think John McTiernan’s New York-set remake is immeasurably more fun. And sexier. And smarter. And just all around better. Pierce Brosnan, delivering one of the greatest non-Bond performances during a Bond reign by an actor yet, is captivating as Thomas Crown. And the film’s bookended heists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art still bring a smile to my face.

8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Remake of Nosferatu (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau
I’m in minority on this one (hell, I’m in the minority on most of the picks here), but I’m one of the few people who thinks Werner Herzog’s reimaging of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is slightly superior to Murnau’s classic. You can thank Klaus Kinski’s sensual performance, or Herzog’s continual cue of Prelude to Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner, but whatever the reason(s), Herzog’s Nosferatu creeps in and stays in a way that Murnau’s simply doesn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, Murnau’s movie is deservedly iconic, and will remain as such for the duration of the film medium, but there’s something about Herzog’s mystery that I’m more drawn to.

7. Funny Games (2007)
Remake of Funny Games (1997), directed by Michael Haneke
In my recent career profile on the marvelous Michael Haneke, I made note that him remaking his own film, Funny Games, was one of the ballsiest film moves of recent memory. Haneke has repeatedly said that the main reason he made the original, German Funny Games was to not so subtly call out American film audiences’ fascination with grotesque, violent cinema. That film didn’t have the reach Haneke desired, so he made the same exact movie, using the same script, the same sets and the same shot list, but cast English-speaking actors in the roles. The result is the ultimate inside joke. Haneke forced the perpetrators to pay attention, and goddamn did we ever.

6. Insomnia (2002)
Remake of Insomnia (1997), directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
You can blame me liking some of these remakes on the fact that I’m American, but that’s honestly not the case. Typically, us Americans are the ones who fuck up great foreign films with disastrous remakes. The horror genre gets it the worst, but if this list was reversed, I could easily rattle off 100 originals that are better than their remakes. I mention all of this because, like Vanilla Sky and Funny Games, I think Christopher Nolan Americanized Skjoldbjærg’s already fantastic film, to slightly more effective results. A thrilling Pacino helps, as does a steely Robin Williams, a lush Wally Pfister, and an understated David Julyan. Simply put, in my eye, nothing tops Nolan’s isolated vision.

5. True Grit (2010)
Remake of True Grit (1969), directed by Henry Hathaway
Henry Hathaway’s original, G-rated True Grit continues to have a steady following, which is fair enough. John Wayne’s performance as Rooster Cogburn merited the actor’s only Oscar, and it has nestled itself as one of the more iconic films in Wayne’s vast filmography. Me? I’m not a fan. Never have been. So when the Coen brothers announced that they planned to remake it, I was stunned.

I lot of things make the Coen’s version superior, most notably its harsher, and, you know, grittier tone. Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper make for excellent, trashy villains, while Matt Damon brings the appropriate amount of arrogance to his Texas Ranger. Jeff Bridges dutifully fills the shoes of The Duke, but the star here is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who probably should’ve won the Oscar for her cold, domineering performance as Mattie Ross. You couldn’t pay me to rewatch Hathaway’s film, but the Coens’ version? I’m all over it.

4. The Fly (1986)
Remake of The Fly (1958), directed by Kurt Neumann
Kurt Neumann’s The Fly is a perfect example of a movie that hasn’t stood the test of time. It belongs in the whole So Bad It’s Good Category. It’s just… bad. After nearly three decades, David Cronenberg decided to seriously step things up by making a moody, creepier than all hell remake. The result is one (if not the) most iconic film Cronenberg has ever made, and a lasting horror film staple.

3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Remake of Ocean’s 11 (1960), directed by Lewis Milestone
In the same vein as Neumann’s The Fly, watching the original Ocean’s 11 now, it’s impossible to not be distracted by how dated it is. Don’t get me wrong, the members of The Rat Pack knew how to seriously ham it up, and have a damn fun time doing so, but there’s really no substance to their folly.

Enter iconic movie producer Jerry Weintraub, who got an itch to remake the Sinatra-starring romp, so remake it he did. His smartest move was bringing on Steven Soderbergh, who had recently resurged his career with the fantastic Out of Sight, and would actually take a break from filming Ocean’s Eleven, to accept an Oscar for Best Director. When it came time to cast, Weintraub suggested filling the movie with every A-lister they could get their hands one. That plus a superb, ceaselessly amusing script by Ted Griffin, and we’ve got contemporary crime thriller gold.

2. The Departed (2006)
Remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
It’s best to just come right out and say it: I’m not a fan of Infernal Affairs or its two sequels. At all. (Sorry.) I watched them all in one sitting when I was in Hong Kong a few years ago, and I had to laugh my way through them as a way of keeping entertained. Fans of the original franchise say I was corrupted because I saw Martin Scorsese’s film (his vicious, hilarious, cocaine-fueled, impeccable film) first. Well, possibly. But if I don’t like a film, then I don’t like a film. It doesn’t’ really matter what it’s based on.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to bash the original films, but rather draw attention to their remakes. I absolutely love everything about The Departed. I completely bought into what Scorsese and his writer William Monahan were selling. They made a smart, engaging, and immensely entertaining cops and robbers freak show that I will forever love.

1. Heat (1995)
Remake of L.A. Takedown (1989), directed by Michael Mann
I consider Michael Mann’s Heat to be the finest remake ever made for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, Heat marks an expert director realizing that his old work was garbage, and having the audacity to give the material another go. There’s no denying that the original is a crap film. The acting often equates to a soft porn melodrama, the action is laughable in its design (both acoustically and visually), and the suspense barely scratches the surface. Basically, it is the perfect encapsulation of an ‘80s TV movie. There was no reason for anyone to remember it, until Mann gave us one.

It’s funny, watching L.A. Takedown now is like viewing a moderately promising student film that eventually spawned a miraculous feature (not unlike Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Dirk Diggler Story). Yes, L.A. Takedown is an amateurish mess, but it’s impossible to not watch it and find yourself gaining a newfound respect for Michael Mann. Instead of trying to salvage material he’d already shot (by issuing a remastered director’s cut, or the like), he spent years getting funding together, casting two of the most famous actors of all time, and recreating crime in Los Angeles as we’d never seen. And we’re likely to never see again.

44 comments:

  1. The thing about this list is that I haven't seen both the original and remake for any of these. I'll take your word for it though. Heat, The Departed, True Grit, The Fly and my favourite, Ocean's Eleven are all excellent films,

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    1. Gotcha, yeah, watching some of these original films was rough. LA Takedown, for example, is really quite bad. But it's entertaining to see what inspired a great film!

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  2. I'll be one of the few who really dislikes Werner Herzog's Nosferatu as it is badly acted and in places utterly laughable, the original is by far the superior film (in my opinion, of course). I agree with number three, somehow the original was not cool, despite having Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

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    1. Yikes! I completely expect most everyone to prefer the original Nosferatu to Herzog's, but badly acted?! Ah, I'll just have to very respectfully disagree with you there. Oh well, to each his or her own!

      Yeah, you'd think The Rat Pack could make anything pop. Nope.

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  3. The Thing (1982) vs. The Thing From Another World (1951). No contest.

    The Maltese Falcon (1941) is infinitely superior to The Maltese Falcon (1931).

    I don't have much issue with any of your entries here--there are some that I might disagree with if I had seen both versions (say...Funny Games) but since I've seen only one, I can't really make a call.

    I like Jewison's Thomas Crowne Affair better, and I prefer Murnau's Nosferatu--but that one, I can see why you went the other way. Herzog's version really is fantastic.

    The others I can comment on--The Fly, The Departed, Oceans 11, True Grit, and Insomnia--remake all the way.

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    1. Both The Thing and The Maltese Falcon made the shortlist here. In fact, I have no idea how Falcon made its way off the final list, but oh well.

      I'd love to rewatch both Funny Games back to back. I think my opinion would still hold up, but who knows.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, always enjoy your insight!

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  4. I was so ready to clutch my pearls at this list but, from every original/remake combinations that I've seen, you are indeed right. I'm just happy you didn't place Soderbergh's Solaris above Tarkovsky's!

    (Also, I've decided to start my own movie blog and hope you won't mind that I used the idea for your header background.)

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    1. Whew, thanks man, glad you like the list haha! (You know, I almost did put Soderbergh's Solaris here, as I do slightly prefer his version. But I know that is batshit nuts. Believe me.)

      Hey man, I love your header and I'm looking forward to your content. I'm honored that my header could help inspire yours, no worries at all!

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  5. There's only a few in that list where I've seen the original and the remake.

    Abre Los Ojos vs. Vanilla Sky... I'm going with Abre Los Ojos. Not only do I feel it was the better film but I also felt that Penelope Cruz was able to do a whole lot more in that film.

    As for the 2 Insomnia films. I'm going with the original as well.

    I've seen everything else except for Funny Games. Some of which I saw bits of the original films but I can't really say what's better.

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    1. Of the people who have seen both Vanilla Sky and Abre Los Ojos, I think I'm the only person I know who prefer's Crowe's film, so fair enough. Both great flicks there.

      Likewise both Insomnia's. Those are two tough calls for me.

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  6. Interesting list. I agree with you on some of these, but certainly not Funny Games. The original is far better and has scarier and better actors for the villains. The knowledge that Arno Frisch was the titular character in Benny's Video makes his performance in Funny Games '97 all the more terrifying.

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    1. Like I said in my Haneke post, I think that the main reason I prefer the American version (and I prefer it very slightly) is because I didn't have to constantly be reading the subtitles. As a lover of foreign films, that's pretty shitty logic, but it is the truth, so who knows. Ha.

      I do agree that after seeing Benny's Video, the original Funny Games was that much creepier. Yikes.

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  7. I did not even know the Departed was a remake. Shows what a film fan I am!

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    1. Ha. A lot of people don't, so it's all good! Many would recommend Infernal Affairs, but not me.

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  8. Even I haven't seen both versions in many cases, so it's little difficult. I loved the new versions of Insomnia, True Grit, Ocean's but I have never seen the old ones and reverse in case of The Thomas Crown Affair and Nosferatu.

    I have seen both Infernal Games and The Departed. Yes, Departed is much better but I didn't hate Infernal Games. I was OK with it. However as for Vanilla Sky, I preferred Open Your Eyes and I strongly think that was because I saw Vanilla Sky after.

    Carpenter's The Thing sure would have my list.

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    1. I was honestly stunned that I didn't like Infernal Affairs as much as I did. I had heard nothing but good things about it, but I dunno man, just didn't work for me. Sigh, oh well.

      I'm pretty sure I stand alone via Vanilla Sky, but I completely get why people prefer the original.

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  9. I don't know, I spent years saying I preferred Herzog's Nosferatu, until back at the start of this year I saw the Murnau version for the first time in ages, and for the first time in a properly restored version too. Suddenly it worked for me, after about 20 years of not really doing it.

    Never saw the original True Grit, but saw the Coens' version. STRONG dislike.

    I saw Infernal Affairs when it came out and I didn't understand the fuss people were making about it back then; it was good, but not THAT good. Same held true of The Departed when I finally saw it, good but not that good. I'm still baffled by the idea of Scorsese remaking Infernal Affairs to begin with, it still looks like a gesture of desperation, and the original has one advantage: it's not 150 minutes long.

    The suggestion of The Maltese Falcon above is good too, there's no denying the 1941 film is the best of the three, but I think all of them have their strengths, and even Satan Met A Lady (which is the least of the three versions) does some things better than either of the "real" versions.

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    1. You know what, I'm not sure I even know what the proper restored version of Nosferatu is. I honestly do not know if I've seen it. So maybe I need to hunt that one down and rethink my opinion.

      I love The Departed, man. Unabashedly love that film. Works in every way for me. The Maltese Falcon, in hindsight, should've been in my Top 10. It was at some point, but then I crushed it out for whatever reason. Either way, yes, remake is FAR better.

      Thanks for your comment, I always appreciate your opinions!

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    2. The most recent restoration of Nosferatu is the one done by the Murnau-Stiftung in 2007. This is the one Kino have put out as their "ultimate" edition and it runs 94 minutes, correct speed, proper tinting (which is vital for some scenes in this film), with a reconstruction of the original 1922 score as well. It certainly made me totally rethink my own opinion of a film I hadn't thought was much good.

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    3. Shit man, thanks so much for that info. That might have to be a Christmas gift to myself. Sounds incredible.

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  10. Awesome list, I've been meaning to get to a few of these.

    I've also been meaning to catch Internal Affairs, I love The Departed too. Perhaps though I may keep them down on the priority list for now!

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    1. Thanks man! Yep, I can't suggest that you throw Infernal Affairs up to the top of your watchlist. Plenty of better things out there for you to see!

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  11. Alex, I feel like disputing any of these is sort of foolish because it's so difficult to compare in most cases. It's going to depend on when you saw it and what your expectations were for a lot of them. That said, there are examples like The Fly where you're totally right and Cronenberg's movie is far superior. Also, Heat is a great example because Mann had better actors, a lot more experience, and a bigger budget to truly create an amazing epic. I still feel like you're not giving Infernal Affairs enough credit, but I did see it before The Departed, so that's tougher like you mention. On the other hand, I saw Vanilla Sky before the original and liked Abre los ojos better. I did like Cameron Crowe's remake and think you nailed one of the reasons, but it wasn't as creepy. Still, they're both very close.

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    1. All great points here, Dan. The notion of comparing two films to begin with can be a little tricky, for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

      I'm not opposed to a rewatch of Infernal Affairs, but it really did nothing for me the first time out. Maybe my opinion would be changed now. Who knows.

      Thanks for commenting, my friend!

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  12. I can't find myself agreeing with you about the remake of The Fly. It just doesn't get better for me than Vincent Price and the film-noir style of the original. The remake creeps me out in ways I can never recover from, and not in a way that I slightly enjoy the horror of the film.

    I definitely agree with you about the Ocean's 11 remake. Despite the Rat Pack taking over Vegas which should have skyrocketed the movie to an iconic status, it's blander and uncooler than Brad Pitt and George Clooney teaming up.

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    1. Oh I love me some Vincent Price. The Last Man on Earth was one of my favorite movies as a kid. But yeah, The Fly sadly does not do it for me.

      Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven rocks! Glad we agree there.

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  13. Holy crap I didn't even know Heat is a remake! Completely agree about The Fly, Cronenberg really took this idea and made it into something incredible.

    Glad to see Vanilla Sky on your list, it's still in my top 10 favorites :)

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    1. Yep, Heat's a remake, but boy, is LA Takedown a damn mess. Rough stuff.

      I completely forgot you loved Vanilla Sky that much. I think you're the only person who agrees with me there!

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  14. Great post! Of these, True Grit is the only one that would make my list, as I haven't seen the original versions of most of them (or vice versa). Gaslight, Scarface, Let Me In, Dawn of the Dead, Disturbia, and Father of the Bride are some of my favorites, even if they aren't necessarily better than the original versions.

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    1. Thanks! I was really impressed with Let Me In. I didn't think it was better, but I thought it was a damn fine effort. Snyder's Dawn of the Dead rocked ass. That's a fun flick right there.

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  15. I disagree about Vanilla Sky. The only thing I liked better about Crowe's version is the use of Everything in its Right Place in the opening.

    I also agree with Tyler about Funny Games. I too found the original creepier and better acted.

    But I'm with you on Nosferatu. Klaus Kinski, and all those rats.

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    1. Well hey, at least we can find common ground over Radiohead. That's a win for me!

      And Nosferatu, so glad to hear you're a fan of Herzog's version. I thought I all but stood alone on that one. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  16. Wow, some ballsy choices here, Alex! A lot of them I can't comment on, though, not having seen both versions.

    I would agree with you on Ocean's Eleven (the original is fun in a "watch the Rat Pack hang out" kind of way, but that's about it), and True Grit. I'd have a tough time choosing between Abre los ojos and Vanilla Sky, to be honest. It's become fashionable to bash Vanilla Sky, but it's a pretty dang good movie, and so is Abre los ojos. I do think Cruz is better in the Spanish version, which holds true for her in general. I think her only English-language role I really love is Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

    RE: The Fly. I haven't seen the Cronenberg yet (keep meaning to and it keeps getting pulled off Netflix Instant right as I get in the mood), and you're definitely not the only one I've heard saying it's better than the original. I wouldn't even argue that, as I rather expect I'll think the Cronenberg is better, too, once I see it. However, "Kurt Neumann’s The Fly is a perfect example of a movie that hasn’t stood the test of time. It belongs in the whole So Bad It’s Good Category. It’s just… bad." Totally not true. :p The original version of The Fly is one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi/horror flicks. It's just great, and that last shot actually sent shivers down my spine.

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    1. Ha, thanks!

      You're right, it has become fashionable to bash Vanilla Sky, which I understand but not really. Occasionally, there is the shift in the way people seem to appreciate a specific flick. Not sure why that happens, but either way, I've loved and love Vanilla Sky, so whatever. Ha.

      Awww, maybe I was too hard on the original The Fly. Honestly, I haven't seen it in many years, so maybe it's better than So Bad It's Good now :)

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  17. Unfortunately, I don't think I've seen the original and the remake for any of these choices except for the pairing of Vanilla Sky/Abre los Ojos. In that case, I wasn't a fan of either film to be honest and I found the Spanish version slightly better (my first language is Spanish I have to say).

    In most of the other cases, I've managed to see the remake but not the original. Highlights in your list include Cronenberg's creepy "The Fly", the entertaining and flawlessly acted "Heat" and, above all, the superb "The Departed" by my man Martin.
    As for the other choices, they are all good movies, but none scratch the "great" status for me.
    I do commend you for trying to come up with 10 films for this list considering it'd be hard for me to even come up with 5. In most cases, like you very well said, the originals end up being a whole lot better than any remake can aspire to be. The opposite list is nearly endless.
    The only examples I can think of are Carpenter's "The Thing" and another Martin Scorcese gem "Cape Fear" which was based on the film of the same title from the 1960s.

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    1. Nice man, thanks so much for this comment. It was a little tricky to come up with 10, but I'm definitely satisfied with my choices.

      I love Scorsese's Cape Fear, but because of that off the wall boat finale, I think I prefer Thompson's original. Close call though!

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  18. I haven't seen the originals for many of these, but you picked some damn good films for this list. Great job, man.

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  19. I haven't seen it, but L.A. Takedown encapsulates everything about 80's TV Movies because it was a made-for-TV movie! To my knowledge, Takedown was the bare-boned material for Heat and Heat was what had in mind given the resources. Resources he secured after completing another better-than-the-original remake: The Last of the Mohicans. Yeah, that's right, he worked back-to-back with Day-Lewis, De Niro and Pachino. So badass...

    As for Jerry Weintraub casting as many big actors as he could.. lol. I watched a History or NatGeo program about The Men Who Built America and he was in it as himself. Then I happened to rewatch Ocean's 13 for whatever reason and realized he's in it as well as 11 & 12.

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    1. Mann is just the fuckin' Mann. It really takes balls to, firstly, attain those resources, and then ante up and remake your own shit. And to such fascinating results, no less.

      It's great to see Jerry Weintraub in the Ocean's flicks. Dude plays a perfect whale.

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  20. A few people have mentioned Carpenter's The Thing which would definitely be on my list, as my hands-down favourite horror film, but it's also worth mentioning Wes Craven's grisly Last House on the Left, technically a re-interpretation of Bergman's Virgin Spring (which I'll cop to having not seen, but it's hard to imagine it being as influential as Craven's creepy classic).

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    1. Oh man. Oh, oh, man. The Virgin Spring is a masterpiece. I mean, what Bergman did there was disturbing then, and, miraculously, still mortifying now. Craven's vision is wildly different, but you can tell they came from the same place. But Bergman's film definitely takes it for me. Remarkable film.

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  21. Man Who Knew Too Much, A Fistful of Dollars\Yojimbo, Scarface are a few I really think are better than the original.

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    1. The Man Who Knew Too Much and De Palma's Scarface, for sure. I do prefer Yojimbo though.

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