We’ve recently seen requels to the Scream, Candyman, and Halloween franchises, but this belated–sequel-cum-remake approach has a longer history in Hollywood than you might think…
It would be fun to think that the phenomenon of the ‘requel’ (a term possibly coined in 2018 by James Rolfe of YouTube’s Cinemassacre) that has swept through horror cinema in recent years actually has its roots in a film based on a British sitcom.
2016’s Dad’s Army looks, at first glance, to be a standard big-screen remake of a vintage TV favourite, much like Starsky And Hutch (2004), The A-Team (2010) and countless others. On closer inspection, though, its explicit setting of 1944 means it continues rather than overwrites the story told in the show’s clunky-but-beloved 1971 cinematic retelling (which depicted the 1940 origins of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard).
So Dad’s Army (2016) is actually a sequel to Dad’s Army (1971) – a requel before its time. It even employs the soon-to-be-standard trick of bringing back an original generation actor and character to lend credibility to younger pretenders: Frank Williams plays Reverend Timothy Farthing in both films, though judging by his appearance in the later instalment, four years of wartime privations have aged him something fierce.
But perhaps something like a requel had already appeared within the realm of horror. Something very, very like a requel, but with an additional consonant: yes, a prequel.
2011’s The Thing had been originally intended by producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman to be a radical remake in the vein of their 2004 Dawn Of The Dead. However, the producers, by their own admission, realised after rejecting various script drafts that they couldn’t make a better version of the story than John Carpenter achieved in 1982. Accordingly, writer Eric Heisserer and director Matthijs von Heijningen Jr. were assigned to craft a film that would be an appendage to, rather than a reinterpretation of, Carpenter’s vision, exploiting his film’s ‘this all happened before’ plot point to allow for a standalone prequel.
When it was ready for release, the producers further admitted they couldn’t come up with a better title than Carpenter’s film had, so just re-used it, even going so far as to justify this by stating that the 1982 film was actually titled John Carpenter’s The Thing and so there would be no confusion. All of these admissions were present in the prequel’s publicity materials, gamely but unconvincingly spun as positives, a gambit that might have won over some Carpenter fans, but left general audiences uncatered for – which may go some way to explaining the film’s poor box–office.
In fact, The Thing (2011) made little impact at all – fans hoping that Carpenter, who had zero involvement in the film, might enjoy a renaissance by association with a mainstream hit would have to wait a few more years – so it can’t be patient zero of the requel phenomenon.
Perhaps this could in fact be 1978’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Philip Kaufman’s lauded do-over of Don Siegel’s 1956 classic. The original’s lead, Kevin McCarthy, cameos in the 1978 film as an unnamed drifter who reprises the actor’s climactic 1956 warning: “They’re coming! You’re next!” The implication is that the quest of McCarthy’s Dr Miles Bennell to warn of the stealthy alien invasion has moved from Santa Mira to San Francisco, and that the first film’s small-town events happened only recently.
However, the details of the two films don’t sit easily together: Kaufman’s lead being Donald Sutherland as Dr Matthew Bennell, similarly-named but unrelated to McCarthy’s character, seems to be a fairly unlikely coincidence, and even harder to reconcile is the change in the aliens’ modus operandi, and a two-decade gap between events in town and city that suggests a rather slower invasion than was first implied.
Arguably, moving once more outside the horror genre, an unlikely but better candidate for the accolade of inaugural requel would be 2000’s Shaft. When producer John Davis and director John Singleton conceived their revival of the iconic 70s blaxploitation franchise, toplining the equally iconic 90s star Samuel L Jackson, it was apparently to be called Shaft Returns.
And indeed the plan was that Shaft himself would return: the barely-aged Richard Roundtree reprising his star turn as the Harlem sleuth/sex machine in a supporting role, while Jackson got most of the limelight as the nephew and namesake of the original John Shaft. Isaac Hayes even joined the production to re-record his classic theme song, having been notably uninvolved with the 1970s Shaft sequels.
But at some point, someone, somewhere lost confidence in the title – perhaps because Jackson’s version of Shaft wasn’t returning from anywhere, but more likely because it implied ‘tired franchise’ rather than ‘fresh start’. (Shaft 2000 was also considered as a possible title but rejected, maybe because someone remembered Blues Brothers 2000).
Better to appear to be a shiny new remake: and so the film became, simply, Shaft. Although the result made back its money, it wasn’t seen as successful enough to warrant a sequel, so no-one had to worry about what to call the next one. If there were any lessons from all this, Hollywood wouldn’t learn them for a few more years.
2003 saw the release of Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a product of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes outfit whose box office success ushered in a decade of horror remakes, mostly drawing on titles from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But from this vantage point the film almost looks like a requel.
The basic story is near-identical to that of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 Massacre: following an unnerving encounter with a hitchhiker, four youths traversing 1973 Texas in a camper van are waylaid into the dismembering clutches of wordless slaughterman Leatherface and his associates. However, in an intriguing twist, the remake’s hitcher isn’t a knife-happy male but a traumatised female (Lauren German) who seems to have already survived an encounter with the evil clan.
Given that Nispel had presented an entirely new batch of characters in the camper van, it seems quite plausible that the hiker is actually Hooper’s sole survivor Sally Hardesty (originally Marilyn Burns) and the 2003 film is continuing her story.
However, even before Leatherface’s supporters are revealed to be quite different from their 1974 incarnations, this reading has been negated by the decision to set the remake on exactly the same day as the original – both films explicitly date their events to August 18, 1973 – so even if the two films took place in the same continuum, Sally would’ve been happily travelling with her friends at the same time as the remake crew were picking up their hitcher.
Despite efforts to flesh out Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) into a character capable of carrying an ongoing franchise, the Texas Chainsaw remake did not lead to sequels, although there was an unimaginatively-titled prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, in 2006.
Titling follow-ups is always a problem. Simply adding a number to the original title, Jaws 2-style (that convention originating with Nigel Kneale’s 1955 TV serial Quatermass II and its film remake) was once the norm, and it’s a gambit that can still work okay for a couple of entries, but tends to become unsexy when the numbers climb higher than 3.
In the 1990s, late franchise entries used the dreaded ‘unnumbered coloned subtitle’ as a counter-productive way to avoid this walk of shame (counter-productive because these films, including such 1995 triumphs as Hellraiser: Bloodline and Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, tended to be greeted with even more disdain by critics and audiences than would a putative Part VIII).
In the 2000s, new tactics were hit upon: firstly ‘the full character name’. Sylvester Stallone was responsible for the brief former trend, with the 2006 and 2008 revivals if his most famous characters revelling in the excitement of being called Rocky Balboa and John Rambo rather than Rocky VI and Rambo IV. Some (me) were hopeful that Ellen Ripley would follow, but it was not to be, and the trend petered out.
Ripley, of course, had been part of a franchise known for subverting sequel-titling conventions due to James Cameron, with chutzpah and arrogance, naming his 1986 sequel Aliens rather than Alien 2. This ‘pluralisation gambit’ proved to be a profitable way of tricking audiences into flocking to see a film that they may have assumed was a standalone. However, the tactic has been little-imitated (bar 2010’s Predators) perhaps because it permanently flummoxed the Alien franchise’s titling scheme, as shown by the never-repeated and mildly deranged ‘cubed’ effect of follow-up Alien3.
But another 1990s titling fad, ‘the definitive article’, was a more widely-imitated punt at Cameron’s trick of making a sequel sound like it was an original. The new tack began with 2009’s The Final Destination. Someone realised that slapping ‘The’ onto the title of a sequel to an original that had happily eschewed it – or, conversely, stripping words out, as with Fast & Furious (also 2009) and Blair Witch (2015) – was enough to make the new film distinctive.
Though hardly a long-term solution to the sequel-titling conundrum (The Final Destination was hilariously followed in 2011 by the back-to-basics Final Destination 5 – so clearly not that definitive and not that final), the tactic proved to have lasting worth. Just the last few years have brought us The Predator (2018), The Suicide Squad (2021) and not-quite-sequel The Batman (2022).
During the same period, though, an upcoming horror studio would hit paydirt by employing what we might call ‘the Shaft approach’ or ‘the Dad’s Army tactic’ (we might, but Jason Blum almost certainly wouldn’t) – just reuse the original film’s title without changing it at all. But Blumhouse’s Halloween (2018), and the resurgence of requels it caused, is another story altogether…
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