BOOK REVIEW: Reanimated (2022)

Author – Laure Mee

When something comes back to life it doesn’t necessarily mean it will return in the same guise. And love them or loathe them, remakes are constantly returning from the dead.

Like the zombies of a George A. Romero film, the horror remake is far from lifeless. In 2022 alone there were a proliferation of reboots, requels, and sequels with the release of Scream 2022, Netlfix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the final instalment of the David Gordon Green Halloween trilogy to name a few.  How timely then is Laura Mee’s eye-opening, meticulously researched and thought-provoking appraisal of the remake in this ground-breaking academic text.

Mee opens by discussing Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) which she locates as a key starting point in the remake movement, carving into such meaty topics as the success and controversy of the horror remake, the untouchability of original sources and how the remake repurposes trends and patterns. In addition to delving into the importance of intertextuality and whether we can ever judge original sources and remakes side by side, Mee addresses the cynical attitudes that often circulate. Several misconceptions are also refreshingly challenged, including the belief that remakes lack range and versatility. 

The chapter Defining and Defending the Remake focuses on both the merits and drawbacks of reading remakes in the context of their original source and the remakes’ cross-over into universes, spin offs and parodies. Mee also offers plenty of food for thought on the issue of labels and assumptions, the role of transmedia (video games, theme park rides etc) and how this feeds into the genre.

The question of fidelity is also raised along with an interesting discussion on the paradoxical nature of the remake.  Specific attention is turned towards the cycle of Platinum Dunes remakes with an in depth look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Of specific interest is the discussion of how these iterations place villains at the centre of their narratives. Elsewhere, Mee also provides well-considered insights into the remake’s unique ability to refresh backstories and fill in plot holes. 

One of the common charges mounted against remakes is their lack of commitment to social messaging. In response, Reanimated assesses how far the remakes of the 00s reflect the cultural and political landscape of the time, with observations on the intentions of those making the films and the level of importance (or not) that an audience places upon such content. Using examples in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Mee highlights the presence of ambiguity and the lack of clarity in their social messages. Rather than asserting that this is a weakness or that it signals an absence of inventiveness, the chapter proposes that it is this very quality that makes them so compelling.

Mee dedicates the riveting final chapter to a study of gender and the rape revenge remake. Using two foundational films of the sub-genre, I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, she reviews the importance of reading horror films within their own contexts. She continues with a compelling analysis of the framework of the originals and remakes with perceptive and enlightening commentary on the opposition of city and country locations. There is also a detailed and erudite discussion of the role of erotic vengeance, the portrayal of rape, and the ways in which this reflects the violence visited upon women. 

In consolidating her thoughts in the book’s conclusion, Mee revisits the commercial and critical factors of remakes, using The Evil Dead (2013) and Carrie (2013) as illustrative case studies. She also takes a crucial look at remakes within the world of television – with specific focus on the Bates Motel series – to demonstrate how these contributions play with our prior knowledge to subvert and revise expectations.  The text is drawn to a close with a call from the author for increased recognition for the remake, owing to the opportunities it provides for stories to be told in a new way and for its overall contribution to the ongoing tapestry of horror. 

Reanimated is invaluable for both research and those wishing to take a thorough look at this topic. The breadth of analysis is at the level one would expect in an academic text but with Mee bringing so many complex threads together with such clarity the book feels welcomingly accessible.

It’s important to note too that Mee is not just writing as an academic here, as the passion and enthusiasm she harbours for the genre is evident, a factor which adds genuine delight and pleasure to the reading experience. It is no overestimation to assert that Reanimated will change the way horror fans appraise remakes, fostering an appreciation for their position in the evolution of the horror genre. As Mee says in her conclusion they are ‘not the death of the horror genre. They represent its remarkable capacity to reanimate’.  

© Rebecca McCallum

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Available through Edinburgh University Press. Hear more from the author here in the BAFTSS Horror Studies Book Launch and Panel Discussion.

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