Monday, June 7, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Remake Story

Catatonia is remake. They can call it a reimagining, but it's the same title, same main characters, and it's still about a child molester who contemplates philosophy in dreams. I think if you keep the philosophical child abuser who walks in other people’s sleep, you’re not re-imagining too hard. It’s a remake.

The original Catatonia was released in 1971. It was kind of grind house, kind of art house. The stuff he makes his victims dream is really graphic and disturbing, but it wasn’t scary. It was like porn, except bad things instead of sexy things. It opens in this one scene about a school bus driving through a graveyard, and all the kids are buried under their seats, then wake up and try to claw their way out of the vinyl before they suffocate. The sleepwalker watches from the driver’s seat, talking about nihilism. Unsettling stuff. When it first came out critics said only a perverted American could make. They implored people to go see better films from Europe.

Which is funny because the 1971 Catatonia was actually a remake of Au-dessous de Votre Lit, a 1960 French film. It opens with kids trying to claw their way out from within the seats of a car before the suffocate while the driver reads from Camus’s The Stranger. It, too, was about a master of dreams fascinated with doing terrible things to kids. Claude and John in Catatonia seem funny once you see Au-dessous de Votre Lit’s child protagonists: Claude and Jean. They dispatch their stalker the same way as in Catatonia, tripping him and impaling him on broken pieces of a crib (though in the French version it’s the crib he’d made for his son, who was stillborn; in the American it’s a random crib). The directors of Catatonia didn’t even acknowledge Au-dessous de Votre Lit.

Before you get angry at America, though, it’s worth noting that Au-dessous de Votre Lit was also a plagiarism. There was no film like it beforehand. However, there was Himmel Nabel, a Swiss novel by Hans Kohler that was widely circulated in the 1910’s largely about two German boys who are haunted in dreams by a foreign soldier their fathers have killed in the Great War. He tortures them for what their fathers are doing. In an unusually surreal scene for Horror lit at the time, they have to dig themselves out of his unmarked grave, which has no tombstone, but instead the military tank that blew him up parked on top of it.


  1. John, thanks for such an interesting write. I guess it proves that some things aren't as original as they seem, huh?

    I, for one, hate the term "re-imagine" ... It's horseshit.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anthony. I made all of this history up - just felt like trying to tell the story of a series of remakes, messing with derivations.

    Re-imaginings can bother me. They seem to veer into the territory of homage, except explicitly banking on someone else's brand, which can kill the homage. It doesn't help that most Horror remake movies have been utter garbage.


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