Lindsay Parker and Kristy Swanson in Flowers in the Attic/Photo © 1987 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc
Regardless of whether it turns out to be any good, Lifetime’s “Flowers in the Attic” faces the essential challenge of being twice removed from its source. The best-selling 1979 book was the perfect forbidden fruit for morbid, misunderstood teenagers, and the lurid 1987 adaptation was the stuff of soapy nightmares. Who cares if it didn’t make much sense? A new generation became hooked on the trials of the incestuous Dollanganger family, reading all existing paperback copies to shreds.
Lifetime knows exactly what the expectations are, and seems intent on delivering high-gloss pulp a la the recent “House of Versace.” But just how flexible is the law of diminishing returns? Here are five more cult-ish books that were made, remade, and then forced to stand next to each other on video store shelves and in Neflix queues for all eternity, forever competing for our limited attention spans.
“The Fly” (1958)
Based on a short story by George Langelaan originally published in Playboy magazine, this film was shot in Technicolor (a medium more typical of splashy musicals) and featured special effects makeup by Ben Nye himself. The story is told via flashbacks and inquisitions, giving it a downright Lovecraftian tone that elevates it miles above the pantheon of schlocky 1950s sci-fi.
“The Fly” (1986)
David Cronenberg took every liberty imaginable with the concept put forth by the original, and the gamble paid off big-time. Unforgettably gross special effects play up the horror in the tale, and the Vincent Price character is eliminated altogether so we can spend more time watching Geena Davis getting it on with dorky Jeff Goldblum.
If you had to pick just one: It’s a tie. Watch them both, in chronological order.
“Les Diaboliques” (1955)
Henri-Georges Clouzot turned Pierre Boileau’s dime-store crime novel into a sensationally gritty thriller that went on to serve as partial inspiration for Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” In retrospect, the idea of a man’s wife and mistress teaming up to murder him is so incredibly Parisian that the Criterion special edition should probably come with a black beret.
The “Freedom Fries” version of the same story, which naturally includes a lesbian subplot between the two heroines (Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani). Inferior in nearly every way, but still oddly one of Stone’s best performances. If you skip it, you’ll miss lines like: “Killing him is a good thing, like planting a tree.”
If you had to pick just one: Lie and claim you’ve already seen the original. Stay up late and watch the remake.
“Let the Right One In” (2008)
This Swedish film about a close friendship that forms between a little boy and a vampire (based on the novel by screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist) became a cult sensation in the States, mostly thanks to its crystalline winter cinematography and copious bloodshed. To up-and-coming horror fans, it was the anti-”Twilight.”
“Let Me In” (2010)
This remake was doomed from the outset, because it was announced just as its target audience was falling in love with the original. While the film was well-received critically, most horror fans found it insultingly similar to the original, which they were prepared to defend tooth and nail.
If you had to pick just one: No contest! Let the Right One In (to your living room).
“The Wicker Man” (1973)
Robin Hardy managed to spin a slim novel by David Pinner into one of the most celebrated British horror films ever made. Don’t be fooled by its strange musical interludes and heady theological arguments — there’s still something powerfully creepy lurking around every single corner of this eighty-seven-minute movie, even after many repeat viewings.
“The Wicker Man” (2006)
You’d think that “Flowers in the Attic” star Ellen Burstyn would have learned to stay away from cult remakes after her brush with this notorious failure. It’s unclear how Hardy’s chilling detective story became transformed into a Nicolas Cage romper-stomper, but the sheer silliness that resulted has made this into a midnight movie in its own right — if only it wasn’t also deadly boring and misogynistic to boot.
If you had to pick just one: The original, forever! You can catch the best bits of the remake on YouTube.
“The Omen” (1976)
Gregory Peck. Lee Remick. A Jerry Goldsmith-composed Oscar-winning score featuring a choir chanting “Ave Satani!” Need I say more?
“The Omen” (2006)
Liev Schreiber. Julia Stiles. David Thewlis lost that year’s Best Supporting Actor Razzie to M. Night Shyamalan in his turn in “Lady in the Water.” Again, need I say more?
If you had to pick just one: 1976 was a spectacular year for horror. Without Googling, can you name one good thing that came out of 2006? Exactly. So, the original it is!