Humans have gotten exceptionally good at evolution, at Darwin’s grand idea of natural selection, at not dying sooner than we should. We live in sturdier homes now than even our great-grandparents did — homes our ancestors may not have even been able to obtain. We have access to running water and food at most turns. Medical professionals snuffed out diseases that would otherwise kill us in childhood, dietitians realized not everyone can benefit from low-carb-and-low-sugar diets, and everyone finally learned smoking and drinking during pregnancy is a big no-no. Granted, the healthcare system in the U.S. is as broken as that Franklin Mint Princess Diana memorabilia plate I shattered when I was eight years old, but overall, we are outliving the people that came before us by a wide margin — of several years and sometimes decades.
But cycling through the many evolutionary stages to get us to where we are today — (almost) universally vaccinated and aware that eating eight Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes at 3 AM will probably scrape off a week of our life — hasn’t scrubbed away from our psyches something that will always remain, like a cockroach after the apocalypse. It’s the cousin to the imp of the perverse: the desire to feel genuinely terrified — the tiny demon of terror, if you will.
This is why horror films are as commercially and critically successful, popular amongst moviegoers of all sorts, and deeply resonant as they are: most of us crave the feeling of being scared. It’s the same reason why we shell out hundreds of dollars on amusement park tickets to ride the biggest, fastest rides. In both theater seats and the coaster carriages, we scream and then we laugh, and then we do little bit of both in one breath. It’s that part — the laughter, the release of an internal pressure — that places the horror genre in the same echelon as comedy. There’s tension in each, absurdity in each, and, most importantly, the opportunity for a spontaneous eruption of emotion.
Listing the ways horror and comedy are sisters would be a hollow endeavor — film-lovers have already learned them watching Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Shaun of the Dead, Gremlins, Little Shop of Horrors, Scream, Creepshow, An American Werewolf in London, and more. Filmmakers marrying the genres together in unholy matrimony has been A Thing for years, but what’s to be said of creatives grounded in comedy making the transition to horror?
The past two years have seen two comedy greats — Jordan Peele of Mad TV and Key & Peele fame and John Krasinski, the guy who will be remembered as “Jim from The Office” until the end of time — jump headlong into horror and satisfied millions with the sweet and spooky fruits of their labor.
Peele’s Get Out found itself in the top spots on many critics’ best-of lists, went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and had everyone talking more openly about race, complacency, elitism, liberal ignorance, and why you should never trust your girlfriend with the car keys. Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, his first directorial effort backed by a major film studio, scored two Oscar nominations, inspired sublime critical reviews (“A Quiet Place is John Krasinski’s breakthrough as a triple-threat entertainer … even if he goes on to even more ambitious or prestigious movies, A Quiet Place may very well be the definitive project of his career,” wrote Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com), and had Stephen Goddamn King singing its praises (the master of horror tweeted after seeing the film, “A QUIET PLACE is an extraordinary piece of work”).
Sophomore year at Horror High is here for Peele, who released his second genre offering Us. Krasinski, too, is hard at work on a follow-up to A Quiet Place. (An Even Quieter Place, perhaps?) And a whole host of filmmakers are aiming to reinvigorate the horror landscape with new spins on old classics — like Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who will launch their remake of Pet Sematary (featuring a major change to the original story) over the first weekend in April.
The face of modern horror has changed thanks to Peele and Krasinski, two men who made a name for themselves in comedy, and is evolving with their contributions and those of writers and directors bringing fright-fests from yesteryear back to the big screen for a brand-new generation.
But what if the buck didn’t stop there? What if it served as the beginning of a new era of film: writers and directors who have already honed their craft in comedy doing an about-face to switch to the side of horror — to create horror remakes?
This sparked something inside my head, and got me thinking which director I’d like to see scare me silly by remaking a horror classic, following in the footsteps of Peele and Krasinski’s cozying-up to horror and the rising trend of remakes. The answer was clear: Kay Cannon and Rosemary’s Baby.
If “Kay Cannon” isn’t a name that automatically fires off your mental cannons upon reading it, a little franchise called Pitch Perfect probably is. Cannon’s the visionary responsible for the 2012 sleeper-hit-turned-cultural-phenomenon and its two sequels, having written every installment in the trilogy that put her on the Hollywood map. (Aca-amazing, right?) TV fans have been exposed to Cannons work — whether they knew it in the moment or not — when binge-watching 30 Rock (she was a writer and producer) and New Girl (she served as a co-executive producer and writer). Cannon even dipped her toes in the waters of showrunning when she created Girlboss for Netflix. Following the short life and swift cancellation of the Britt Robertson-led series, based on Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s autobiography of (almost) the same name, Cannon took a leap of faith: directing her first feature film, the raunchy and unexpectedly heartwarming sex comedy Blockers, starring Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz as a trio of parents attempting to stop their teenage daughters from having sex on prom night.
The premise of Blockers could be taken as problematic from certain angles, especially without having actually seen the film, and adding fuel to the fires that want to burn away young women’s sense of independence and agency over their bodies. To my (and many others’) delight and relief, Blockers had a whole lot of heart and not a whiff of the troublesome slant its elevator pitch suggests or the male gaze so many R-rated comedies of its kind do. Blockers was charming, endearing and insightful, examining self-acceptance, the double standards teenage girls face and the difference in attitudes surrounding sex from the current generation to that who raised them.
With Blockers, Cannon demonstrated her snappy, smart directorial style — establishing a signature that shone even in moments that felt not quite as bubbly as others. Chris Gore of Film Threat summed up Cannon’s debut with Blockers best in saying, “Fortunately for all involved, Blockers’ director is, gasp, a woman! Kay Cannon’s contribution to the matters at hand can be felt all over the story, the characters, the real moments and the little details that result in the best kind of sex comedy, one with a heart.”
Her experience writing women with the half-a-billion-dollar-earning Pitch Perfect trilogy and her confirmed excellence directing films about sex and what might come after the deed is done with Blockers led me to the idea that, if the film studio gods listen to my plea and filmmakers take a page out of the Peele and Krasinski Bible, Cannon should direct (and write!) a remake of Rosemary’s Baby.
Roman Polanski’s OG psychological horror from 1968, adapted from Ira Levin’s so-perfect-it’s-bulletproof novel published a year earlier, is the kind of classic that many wouldn’t even think of breathing the word “remake” near. The story is air-tight: a husband and wife, aspiring actor Guy Woodhouse and pregnant Rosemary Woodhouse, move into a Gothic Revival-style New York apartment building known as the Bramford, a few of whose tenants are eventually revealed to be members of a Satanic cult who want to kidnap Rosemary’s baby and sacrifice it to the devil. In the end, Rosemary’s suspicions about her nefarious neighbors were somewhat wrong: they didn’t want her child, a son, because they longed to murder him — they wanted him because he is the Antichrist, and his father is Satan. Rosemary’s Baby, both the novel and Polanski’s film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, is a flawlessly crafted thriller in terms of its story, and yet still offers room for creative liberties to be taken.
Imagine it: Cannon gets behind the helm and at the head of the writers’ room for a Rosemary’s Baby remake. She sets it in 2019 — social media and tech and the current global culture all points to play with — and makes Rosemary (played by rising star Florence Pugh or Bohemian Rhapsody‘s Lucy Boynton, methinks) a homeschooled girl from a small town and a conservative family who leaves for the bright lights of the Big Apple after her high school “graduation.” (Plenty of opportunity here for Cannon to flex her comedic wit.) When Rosemary meets the strapping Guy Woodhouse (Zac Efron could channel Cassavetes’ aura), taken by his good looks and his wild ambitions of stardom, she falls hard and fast. The loved-up pair find a cracker-box apartment in a converted warehouse in one of the five boroughs and sign the lease — and do it all against the advice of her straight-laced pals and parents back home in, I don’t know, some stop in the road somewhere in Utah. (“Are they just being protective?” Rosemary will wonder. “Do they disapprove of Guy? Is there something they can sense that I don’t?” Cannon can use the elements of generational divide seen in Blockers to really highlight the tension here.) Rosemary and Guy notice their eccentric neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet are nuttier than a fruitcake — and then realize strange occurrences happening all around them. Even still, the pair decide to have a baby.
The remainder of the film would play out as the original does — with Rosemary falling ill during her pregnancy, uncovering the truth about the Castevets, and giving birth to the Antichrist — but spread a layer of feminism and sharp humor over top. The many colorful characters in the story, from Hutch and Laura-Louise to Dr. Sapirstein and Dr. Hill and more, could be gender-swapped and docked down in age to add zesty twists to the well-known tale. And rather than keeping the events leading to Rosemary’s due date all-out terrifying at every single beat, Cannon could lean into the humor that’s made her a filmmaker to watch. Hell, maybe she’ll cast John Cena again to provide the comic relief. I’d blindly shell out my last dollars to watch that happen.
This is a very niche hill to die on, I know, but die on it I shall. If American Horror Story: Murder House and Apocalypse can include elements that evoke Rosemary’s Baby, what with the whole “your baby daddy isn’t your husband but Satan himself” thing, why can’t Cannon make the narrative her own? And after that dreadful Rosemary’s Baby reimagining that NBC dumped out in 2014, doesn’t the IP deserve fire power from a little Cannon? Aye, I say, aye.