Monday, February 28, 2011

Halloween

2007 **

Another Horrorthon 2010 review! I had a little sub-theme at the end: contemporary remakes of the classic slashers.

My reasons for disliking this aren't going to surprise anybody.

I try not to be a harsh critic of soulless trends in movies. I don't sweat sequels or ever-stranger adaptation choices, nor do I automatically poo-poo the current jambalaya of reboots, remakes, prequels, and do-overs. I believe every remake wants to be Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, except for remakes of foreign flicks that want to be The Ring. I believe that Star Trek and Casino Royale show us that reboots aren't necessarly copouts and can actually make things great. However, Rob Zombie's Halloween is guilty of crimes that make me rethink my whole position.

Much of my problem with the new Halloween stems from viewing Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses back when that came out. Someday I will watch that for the 'thon and bitch about it properly, but for now I will just reference what's relevant to Halloween, and that is that Rob Zombie has a hard-on for hillbillies.

While discussing the violence in Reservoir Dogs long ago (bear with me here), a friend of mine said "there is a vital quality to violence, and that's something that turns on intellectuals." Broadening that Tarantino-specific point, those of us who don't have Edge in their lives (i.e. most of us), look to movie characters for it. I do it too, but I draw the line at dirty, toothless, don't-give-a-fuck hillbillies.

But that's just me. Take a group of hipsters as defined by our poetry contest a few weeks ago, add a few similarly-aged conservative jock types, and chances are both groups will regard the cast of Corpses with the same swooning declarations. "His clown suit was totally disgusting! He had, like, half his teeth! SO COOL!" I'm not saying Zombie works this strange attraction as exploitation; on the contrary, I think he's got the bug worse than anybody. He's endlessly fascinated with the sordid underbelly of America; he fetishizes trailer trash.

John Carpenter wrote Michael Myers as a character on the razor's edge between guy next door and the dark sum of all your fears and nightmares. He's The Shape; there's nothing to know about him besides the fact that he kills and comes back and kills again. That's his whole point. Why did a six-year old kid turn murderous? No idea. It's a much better question when it's unanswered. It's such a potent quality that Dr. Loomis, a man whose life is dedicated to treating maladies of the mind, is forced to abandon all he's learned just by being in the same room with Michael Myers. He's just... evil.

Now, if there's one thing I do hate about the aforementioned cultural jambalaya, it's the notion that prequels exist to root out the answers that audiences are hungry for. Hell bent on that regrettable mission and armed with his favorite tools, Zombie exposes the past of Michael Myers with all the artistry of an after school special, (albeit with more swearing). His mom is a stripper, his sister is a slut, his father figure is an abusive, alcoholic dead beat. Whereas John Carpenter laces Michael's homicidal urges with unsettling but subtle sexual issues, before killing her Zombie has Michael stroke his sister's thigh.

I'm italicizing all these bits because it conveys the weight with which each element is unceremoniously dropped in your lap. This Halloween does what countless other reboots, remakes etc. haven't managed: turned me into an old crank, grousing about how things were better in my day.

Remember Halloween: Resurrection? No? Lucky you. In that cinematic tumor, a reality TV show cast wander around the old Myers house, discovering a collection of morbid "clues" into Michael's insanity. These are blunt, ridiculous props like a high chair with steel manacles on it, the room in the basement where the Myers imprisoned Michael, etc. These are revealed to be fake props, placed there by the reality show's producers to zip things up a bit. Silly, right? Well, Rob Zombie is doing the exact same thing, except he's not pretending. That's right, he stole an idea from Halloween: Resurrection that Halloween: Resurrection did not itself take seriously.

Equally offensive is Zombie's bludgeon-like attempts at writing dialogue for teenage girls, who seen through his "dark underbelly cam" apparently only talk about fucking. I don't mean boys, or making out, I mean fucking. Our first line from Laurie Strode is a foolish, caustic joke about an older neighbor being a child molester, a joke accentuated by her poking a pen through the middle of a bagel. Oh, and the joke is aimed at her mom.

The sad thing about all of this is that Zombie is actually a competent horror director. He knows how to get his point across, and although it's overdone I can't call it artless. The young Michael story is engaging, especially as the kid is creepily reminiscent of JPX and JSP's old next door neighbor Rob K. You see a bully get his, and that's always satisfying. Michael's obsession with wearing masks is genuinely creepy, as is his relentless aggression when he's finally on the loose. And Danielle Harris spends half the movie shirtless, so there's that.

But if I had my way this movie could exist pretty much like it is, but with no reference to the original Halloween or even the holiday Halloween. That way nobody has to hear about Rob Zombie's "vision" for the classic story, which is more characterized by Ken Foree the truck driver loudly exclaiming about the Mexican food he's about to poop out than it is by anything really scary. The cavalcade of b-level names gracing the cast (Mickey Dolenz!) makes it seem even more like a big, overblown party that should've never happened.

Gol dang Hollywood, ruining everything good to make a few bucks! Get off my lawn!

4 comments:

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I love unexpected Octopunk reviews! I'm not going to argue with you or even assert that Zombie's Halloween is worthy even though I'm a bigger fan of his movies than everyone else is on this blog (and it may or may not have something to do with how unbelievably pumped up Thunderkiss '65 still gets me after all these years.)

The things that I like about Zombie's movies - his ability to take me out of my comfort zone and his dedication to capturing 1970's anything can happen unease don't necessarily balance out the things I don't like about them. I also won't argue against JPX's sound thrashing of Halloween 2 where he pointed out the unsympathetic characters and Zombie's bleak, pessimistic worldview.

[Yup, just watched Thunderkiss '65 again and I was punching the air the same way I did when I first saw it.]

I've watched at least one Rob Zombie movie each Horrorthon for the past 4 years but I never reviewed them. They're always lingering at the end because I have a hard time identifying and verbalizing my conflicting thoughts on them.

Anyway, awesome review, Punk!

Catfreeek said...

"But if I had my way this movie could exist pretty much like it is, but with no reference to the original Halloween or even the holiday Halloween."

Exactly my sentiment! Why he insisted on remaking a classic instead of just writing his own original is beyond me. The story was lost in comparison to a film that was essentially perfect as it was originally made. I too liked that the original had a family that seemed perfectly normal and Michael was just plain born evil. No explanation necessary. Excellent review.

JPX said...

I couldn’t agree with your review more, Octo. In fact, I think you’re too generous. Zombie is a frustrating director. He’s able to recreate the look, sounds, and feel of 70s b-move slasher cinema better than anyone out there yet for some reason his films never work. His love affair with the seedy side of life is a big part of it as you note, but I believe it goes beyond that aspect of his vision. As JSP notes, the characters in his movies are unsympathetic jerks. The best example I can recall is the Laurie Strode character. Carpenter’s Halloween was scary for a number of reasons discussed to death on this blog but one of the most effective elements of that film was Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal of Laurie. Halloween was scary because Laurie was a shy, vulnerable young woman who was forced to discover her inner strength after finding herself in extraordinary circumstances. Contrast that with Zombie’s Laurie, who is a trendy, snarky cocksure brat from the first moment she first appears on screen. I hated her within 3 seconds and that’s the problem with all of Zombie’s films, the characters are either gross or completely unlikable. Zombie’s Halloween II was a slight improvement only because it works well within the slasher genre if you can put aside the fact that it’s a “Halloween” film. Another excellent review, Octo! Now write up House of the Devil, damnit, I’ve been dying for your take on that one!

Whirlygirl said...

I haven't seen this, but I accidentally watched Zombie's Halloween II. I thought I grabbed the original at the video store, and didn't realize my error until I sat down to watch it. You can imagine my disappointment. I find that many of Octo's complaints for the first one echo my thoughts on the second one. I can't take the hillbillies, the dialogue, or the back story. I'll elaborate when I post my review. JSP, don't even say that I'm not going to write it because I am. I'm going to write every last one of my reviews before the end of 2011.