The Best American Remakes You’ve Probably Never Seen


Down (2001)

A high-rise building in New York City becomes home to a strange nightmare when one of its express elevators goes on the fritz. And by fritz I, of course, mean it begins killing people. As the body count rises, only two people, a journalist and an elevator repairman, seem to see the real threat, but will they be able to stop the killings or become the next victims?

That’s right. It’s a killer elevator movie. And it’s great! Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas re-makes his own homegrown hit, The Lift (1983, Holland), and delivers a movie that feels at times like a forgotten Larry Cohen gem in its straight take on a ridiculous premise. The original is good and features many of the same beats, but Maas’ bigger-budgeted Hollywood debut ups the ante in every way. The kills are better, bloodier, and more frequent, the effects are given more room to breathe, and he commits to two great gags that we don’t see enough of in horror movies. Dogs do die a lot in horror, but it’s played here so perfectly in a scene involving a blind man and an elevator-free elevator shaft that it’s hard not to applaud. Second, Maas has no compunction about killing off a kid or two. No further explanation needed.

The remake also outshines the original for American audiences when it comes to the cast. Twin PeaksJames Marshall and Naomi Watts headline, and both seem to be having fun as they face off against an unnatural evil. Bigger joy, though, comes from the supporting cast of bad-asses including Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, and Michael Ironside.

Buy Down on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.

the pledge

The Pledge (2001)

Det. Jerry Black is on the eve of retirement when news comes that the body of a murdered child has been found. While passing the news on to the grieving parents, he makes the rookie mistake of promising to catch the child’s killer and that decision will haunt him going forward.

Sean Penn‘s third feature as director – he once again doesn’t star here at all – is not only my favorite of his, but also one of my favorite films period. It’s a dark tale that works as a procedural, a serial killer film, and a story about the high costs of obsession. The film is a remake of It Happened In Broad Daylight (1958, Germany) and shares its exploration of how far someone would go to not only stop a criminal but also to honor their own word. The answer in this case is very far indeed and to a devastating conclusion.

Jack Nicholson‘s performance is equally among the very best of his career despite it not being mentioned much, and he takes his character from likable and competent beyond the rim of sanity. Black’s journey sees him find companionship and perhaps a break from the darkness, but we quickly realize he’s using that relationship in pursuit of his previous vow, and it’s a horrendous realization that Nicholson sells with conviction and sadness. He believes he’s doing right and is oblivious to his world burning around him, and as the film reaches its final minutes we’re left with a punch to the gut that lands with tremendous weight.

Buy The Pledge on DVD from Amazon.

ripleys game

Ripley’s Game (2002)

Tom Ripley is living a life built on lies, and when those lies catch up to him, he’s forced to think fast on his feet. Bodies hit the ground, but as long as he isn’t among them he can count this game as a win.

Patricia Highsmith‘s novels have seen numerous adaptations with this one previously hitting screens as The American Friend (1977, Germany). The better known Ripley film, The Talented Mr. Ripley, was also previously made into a foreign language film with René Clément’s Purple Noon – which is the better known of the foreign adaptations. It’s unclear why this tale hasn’t received similar love, but all the pieces are here for fans of twisted and devious killers. Some might argue it lacks the sex appeal of Talented, but I’d say John Malkovich embodies Ripley every bit as well as Matt Damon.

This film is the more straightforward of the two, but it still finds plenty of suspense along the way as Ripley plays friends and foes alike at this stop in his lie-filled life. The film moves from Berlin to rural Italy and back again as Ripley manipulates those around him – or when that fails, simply kills them – and he personifies the sociopath with exquisite detail. He’s no anti-hero and is just a very bad man, but viewers can’t help but sympathize the smallest bit at the end of the film as Malkovich’s performance reveals the pained humanity within unable to get out.

Buy Ripley’s Game on DVD from Amazon or rent via Amazon Video.

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