The worst thing a cover of a song can be is faithful. The point of a cover should be to shift a song in a different direction, whether it’s Jimi Hendrix transforming “All Along the Watchtower” from a cryptic folk song to an apocalyptic howl of electric madness or Take That turning Barry Manilow’s dark, dramatic piano ballad “Could It Be Magic” into a synth-driven dance track. It’s fascinating how a change in genre – something so often treated as cosmetic, even superficial – can make the same song sound completely different.
I wouldn’t describe any of these films as covers of each other exactly, but I feel a similar thrill watching them together and thinking about them, the thrill of common elements changed utterly by their context, style and genre. Like they’re singing from the same hymn sheet, but with wildly different approaches to the material. Some of the shifts are smaller than others, but all of them reflect on each other in really interesting ways, and most importantly, all of them rule.
Here’s five more double features.
The Lost Boys (1987) / Point Break (1991)
It’s kind of incredible how alike The Lost Boys and Point Break are when they’re so very different. The Lost Boys goes so long without really having a plot that it’s almost a surprise when it coalesces in the final act. Most of the film before that is – and I say this as high praise – just pretty, moody boys meandering through setpieces and speaking cryptically at one another, interspersed with the hero’s mother and brother having a normal one. Point Break has a clear, urgent plot pretty much from the get-go and its pretty boys don’t meander, they move through the film at speed. Where The Lost Boys is dreamy and hypnotic, Point Break is a no-holds-barred thrill ride that makes you feel alive just by watching it.
But at their core, they’re both about the darkness lurking under the sun and fun of coastal California, and also gay as all hell. The male leads of both films are ostensibly in love triangles with a mutual female love interest, but anyone who’s ever watched either knows every ounce of romantic and erotic charge in both is between the dudes. Michael and David from The Lost Boys? They want to fuck. Johnny and Bodhi from Point Break? They want to fuck. These are tales of reluctant gay love between ostensible enemies on the beaches of southern California, one in the key of gothic horror and one in the key of big, dumb action thriller.
Trainwreck (2015) / Uncut Gems (2019)
I feel like Trainwreck got a really raw deal in the cultural memory for no good reason that I can find. I think part of it was a result of simultaneous backlashes against director Judd Apatow and writer-star Amy Schumer, but a lot of it is just weird, like essentially accusing it of being antifeminist because in this rom-com, it’s the lady who has to shape up to win back her man instead of the more common reverse. There are many reasons that’s a dumb take, but chief among them – and elevating it from a dumb take to a truly insane one – is that Amy Schumer’s character isn’t just an immature slob, she’s an alcoholic. When she shapes up to win back her man, she’s not trying to convince him she’s worth it, she’s taking steps to recover from addiction so he can trust her as a partner.
Uncut Gems is also an addiction drama woven into a different genre, but where Trainwreck is a rom-com, Uncut Gems is a thriller so tense that calling it a panic attack is a cliché at this point. I’ve obviously conceived this double bill in large part to draw out the themes of addiction in Trainwreck that are rendered more overtly in Uncut Gems, but they share a lot of other interesting similarities. Both take place on the periphery of high-level professional sports, with Bill Hader as a sports doctor and Adam Sandler as a jeweller who becomes involved in a deal with Kevin Garnett, playing himself. Trainwreck also features an all-time great basketball player as himself: a shockingly funny performance by LeBron James, a client and friend of Bill Hader’s character. It won’t surprise you to know these films end in very different places, but the journeys share far more than you would ever expect.
The Mercy (2017) / Nightcrawler (2014)
I’m kind of obsessed with the late Donald Crowhurst, who died during a round-the-world yacht race in 1969. He represents for me a singularly tragic figure of post-war capitalism, a foolish true believer in the lie that if you keep your head down, work hard and believe in yourself, you too can make it in the marketplace. He bet literally everything he owned on winning a boat race he never had a chance of winning to get publicity for a navigation device he invented because you have to take risks as an entrepreneur and if you really believe in your product, the risk will pay off. He tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps, exactly how he was told, and he died alone in a boat of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In James Marsh’s The Mercy, he’s portrayed by Colin Firth, who does an absolutely beautiful job bringing his slow spiral into oblivion to life, especially given he spends most of the film without a scene partner. The tipping point, late in the film, when it switches from drama to horror is so subtle you could miss it, but Crowhurst’s final moments are some of the purest psychological horror, just a man and a gun inching ever closer to an inevitable conclusion. It’s gut-wrenching.
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is not subtle and there’s no tipping point when it becomes a horror movie, because its protagonist, Louis Bloom, is a slasher villain from the first second he appears. It’s kind of extraordinary, then, to watch him spend the film pulling himself up by his bootstraps. Nightcrawler might be the blackest of all black comedies about the American Dream and where Firth mines the nuances of English repression, Jake Gyllenhaal ransacks the broadest strokes of American sincerity. Donald Crowhurst fails and it’s horrifying, but Louis Bloom succeeds and it’s a hundred thousand times more horrifying than almost anything I’ve seen in a movie. It’s not just a difference in genre, it’s the difference between playing a song in a minor key versus a major one. And just like when you transpose a song that’s supposed to sound sad into a happier tone, Nightcrawler is the unsettlingly manic mirror to the depressive The Mercy.
The Guest (2014) / Color Out of Space (2019)
The Guest and Color Out of Space are both horror films. They’re both even throwbacks to eighties horror. They’re both about rural families changed forever by a strange visitor. The titular guest is a soldier called David, played by Dan Stevens, who claims to be a friend of one family’s son who died in Afghanistan. The titular colour emanates from a strange meteor that lands in the front yard of another family’s alpaca farm. The teenage son of both families is even played by the same actor. But each of them draws from very different legacies of eighties horror. The Guest starts out more like an action-horror film before accelerating into a full-blown slasher movie. Color Out of Space is a paranormal horror, with a particularly huge debt to Poltergeist, that gradually – and then very, very suddenly – switches to body horror, with a particularly huge debt to The Thing.
As well as both being excellent, they’re probably the best eighties throwback films I’ve ever seen at actually capturing the spirit and not just the aesthetics of eighties horror, even as they bring them into the present day. Touches like the daughter in Color Out of Space being into Wicca for no reason or how The Guest really begins as a domestic drama before any horror elements are even suggested are so perfectly eighties in how they forefront characters and relationships, especially family ones, as the primary arena of their horror.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) / Falling Down (1993)
1993 was a great year for movies about fathers being so upset they can’t see their kids that they go insane. Mrs. Doubtfire and Falling Down (the second film on this list from Joel Schumacher, RIP) are both what you might call fairy tales of father’s rights: silly, almost fantastical stories of men trying to reunite with the kids they’ve been separated from by divorce. But there are different kinds of fairy tales. Some are light and sweet and have happy endings. Some are dark and fucked up and end with corpses.
Mrs. Doubtfire and Falling Down are the same story told not only in different genres, but at opposite ends of the spectrum between sincerity and irony. The former is a lovely and timeless family comedy about a voice actor impersonating an old British lady so he can be nanny to his children, with one of the best-ever performances by Robin Williams. The latter is an extremely tense black comedy thriller about a missile designer walking across Los Angeles to murder his ex-wife and kidnap his daughter, with one of the best-ever performances by Michael Douglas. Naturally, it’s Williams’ character who gets the happy ending and finds his way home to his children, while Douglas’s self-destructs upon discovering there’s not only no place for him in his daughter’s life, but no place for him in the world at all. It’s bleak, harrowing and puts you in the deeply uncomfortable position of feeling for the pain of a domestic abuser. If Mrs. Doubtfire is the story you tell your kids at bedtime to lull them off to sleep, Falling Down is the one you tell to teach them not to stray from the forest path. It’s the one you tell them to teach them about monsters in the dark.