17 September 2007

Halloween

Written & Directed by: Rob Zombie
from a screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Grade: C-
Watch the Trailer

There were some cries of heresy when certain cineastes caught wind of a Halloween remake/reimagining, as some people consider particular films, such as that one, to be sacrosanct. (Its many sequels, some of which I'd argue are surprisingly good, still do not impugn the integrity of the original.) While I personally don't share that view of sanctification, I can sympathize with those wary of another Hollywood remake, especially of a horror film, when the past decade or so has seen an onslaught of vulgar cash-ins on familiar titles. (Did we learn or feel anything [new] from Marcus Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre?) Still, there was some modicum of hope for the new Halloween among some other film fans, such as myself, since Rob Zombie, who showed at least a measure of directorial promise (or more, to those particularly partial) in his previous film, The Devil's Rejects, was on board to write and direct it.

Well, so much for that sign of promise. Zombie strives to add a bit of psychological depth to his telling of Michael Myers' origin story, but he also tries to balance it out with boilerplate slasher gore until both sides negate each other; the resulting movie that emerges is merely dull. Intriguingly, Zombie features Myers, the well-known, white-masked supervillain of slasher legend, as his protagonist rather than, as is customary, a potential victim of said villain; he opens the film, as Carpenter did, with ten year old Michael (sporting a Kiss t-shirt, suggesting only a sociopath could like that band) and the vicious slaying he commits one Halloween night—though Zombie quadruples the body-count and centuples the gore—but Zombie sticks around where Carpenter flash-forwarded into the life of a suburban Illinois teenage girl, digging into Myers' family life and staying with him in the slaughter's aftermath as he undergoes hospitalization and psychological counseling from therapist Malcolm McDowell (replacing the late Donald Pleasance and his pleasant presence in a turn as equally hammy as his predecessor's.) Slasher movies, at least those not based on real-life serial killers, rarely position their villains at the forefront, and as such Zombie's Halloween is at first curious, though it soon becomes clear why writers and directors rarely opt for that route: by the time Zombie gets to the Laurie Strode section of the film (the character played in Carpenter's original by Jamie Lee Curtis, here by Scout Taylor-Compton), he has stripped Myers of his mystique and therefore, I presume unintentionally, of his menace without leaving adequate space for something like commiseration in its absence. (We never even see the adult Michael's face.) By default, our sympathies align with Taylor-Compton in the second section, making the two halves of the movie feel like two different films. Added to that, the second half of the film merely plays out as Carpenter redux, but Zombie, in general, doesn't measure up as an equally effective frightsmith, and the remake can't help but suffer from inevitable direct-comparisons to the superior original. Aside from the last reel or two, which are as efficient as any adequate slasher, Halloween simply fails as a horror film because it fails to frighten.

But some critics argue that Zombie actually makes family dramas that only masquerade as horror films. ("Halloween isn’t so much a horror film as a biopic" — Nathan Lee.) But that argument seems bordering on the spurious to me. In Zombie's Halloween, the dysfunctional Myers family—the prick-creep stepdad, the pole-dancing mother—has a campy, cartoonish tone, and one wonders what exactly Zombie hopes to accomplish by introducing serious subjects while refusing to treat them with a modicum of seriousness. The only explanation I can muster is that Zombie is not being unintentionally facile in his psychologizing but that he is being cheekily snarky, mocking those who might actually take such things seriously. In Zombie's film Myers, despite the early scenes, is still, as in Carpenter's film, not a product of his environment, a boy gone wrong due to a combination of circumstances, but a born monster—Satan himself. Hiding under his Halloween is a running criticism of 20th-and-21st Century cultural namby-pambiness; a rather large portrait of President Kennedy looms on the Myers wall, a crude indication that Zombie blames modern American liberalism for creating this monster. In fact, Zombie reserves some of Myers' most gruesome (well, they're all gruesome) murders for those who've only tried to reach out to him and help him, including McDowell (eyes gouged out), a friendly nurse (fork to the throat) and, most cruelly, a just-short-of-retirement hospital guard who was unfailingly kind and understanding to Michael for nearly twenty years; he gets tortured by being repeatedly dunked in a toilet bowl just short of drowning until finally put out of his misery, having his head crushed by a television set. Zombie seems to suggest that Michael Myers is the inevitable end-result of a debauched, permissive and effete America where the kids are extra sassy and the teens super salacious. I suppose if only the young Myers had committed his initial crime in Texas rather than Illinois, a sissy Eastern state, then perhaps he could've been dealt with for good.

2 comments:

james flames said...

rob zombie is good friends with howard stern and was on the show recently to talk about the movie. and he seemed REALLY proud of what he did with it. all the things that you mentioned you didn't like were things he mentioned he specifically did to (in his opinion) improve on the original.

nevertheless, the next week, after the movie had opened, there were numerous callers into the show to inform stern that his buddy fucked up big time.

but like you said, with all the chainsaw massacres and haunted hill remakes, as well as the ability (thanks to computers and bigger budgets) for MORE gore, i think the horror genre is killing itself. sorta like pro wrestling or nu-metal, there's an automatic built-in and mindless audience that's constantly pandered to, but there are no strides being made to strengthen the genre from within and gain new, outside fans. and those folks are just as responsible for the shitty youth culture of today as the liberals you mention in your review.

i know i saw the original once, but i was incredibly inebriated at the time and i don't remember a single scene - tho i get the impression from your review that you really like the original (true?), so maybe i'll scare the shit out of myself and rent this one night.

H. Stewart said...

Hey you're definitely right about the genre catering to its built-in fanbase...and thus it plays up what I would consider some of its lesser aspects (while ignoring things like, uh, tension...)

I really don't like the exaggerated and over-the-top tone of Zombie's movies...I think it was the downfall of House of 1000 Corpses and is much to blame here as well.

And I'm not in love with the original but I like it well enough. You should see it.