Monday, September 03, 2007

Halloween (2007)


First of all, I can't say that I agree with the ire that this movie is apparently meeting among some of the online horror community. Obviously, people don't like their cherished icons messed with, and I can sympathize with this to a certain degree - from the sounds of things, J.J. Abrams's version of Star Trek is going to be D.O.A. as far as I'm concerned. But in a lot of ways, I think Rob Zombie is attempting to do exactly the right thing as far as Michael Myers is concerned. Attempting, mind you.

The major difference between John Carpenter's original film and this one is the focus. Carpenter's primary interest was in the character of Laurie Strode, a normal small-town girl who faces off with the physical embodiment of the Boogeyman one night. In this movie and all the rest, Michael Myers isn't a person, he's an unstoppable killing machine, the archetype of the slasher before Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. Yes, Michael came after Black Christmas and Leatherface, but Carpenter perfected the icon - faceless, unemotional, relentless, all to the point of being essentially supernatural in his unstoppability.

Rob Zombie, meanwhile, is more interested in treating Michael Myers as a character, a real person, and to a certain extent in deconstructing the mythos of the unstoppable slasher. Somebody - I think it was Stephen King in Danse Macabre - wrote that as scary as Halloween's murders are, the scariest thing for him in the movie was the moment at the end where Laurie manages to peel off Michael's William Shatner mask for a second to reveal the slack, vacant, psychotic farmboy face underneath, before he pulls it back on again. Zombie's movie is an attempt to spread out that one moment into the entire first act of his movie, which is why we spend the first act getting to know a young pudgy kid with dirty blonde hair who wears a KISS t-shirt and gets bullied and lives in squalor. The first third of this movie is Rob Zombie at his best, bringing us close to this kid and the world he lives in and daring us to sympathize with him once he starts killing people.

The major flaw of the movie is that Zombie's interest in Michael's psychology all but disappears after the first act, from which point the movie becomes a condensed rehash of the original 1978 movie, almost point-for-point. I wish Zombie had stuck with what he was doing, but instead Michael reverts into form as a big, bad boogeyman. And since the film has less time to work with, we barely spend enough time with Laurie Strode to really get to know her, so that the final act of the movie becomes a battle between two characters we only halfway care about.

So on that level, the movie's something of a disappointment. Fortunately I still enjoyed it, because even if it's not rich in characterization, Zombie still delivers in a lot of ways. I love the textures of his movies; they tend to take place in a hyper-real universe of supreme white trashiness. Zombie is basically the cinematic heir to John Waters in this department, but with a more enveloping sense of place and detail and mood. I don't know any other director who can do as good of a job directing a scene of a lower-middle-class family arguing over a breakfast table about how much they all hate each other. The new version of Dr. Loomis, played by Malcolm McDowell, is also wonderfully sleazy, a hipster exploitationist more interested in celebrity than in saving the world from a serial killer.

On the whole a mixed bag but thumbs up. I'm curious now to revisit the scripts that have apparently been floating around or the older cuts to see how the Weinsteins altered this movie after they greenlit it (apparently producers not really understanding what they're doing at the greenlight stage is the cause of 95% of the problems in the editing room, as I'm currently learning).

14 comments:

Joe Valdez said...

I don't know - it's not like Michael Myers is my cinematic hero or anything, but - this trend with remakes just shows how difficult it is for anything halfway original to be made by a film studio anymore.

I tend to look at remakes on the basis of whether or not the original needed to be remade in the first place, and whether the filmmakers brought anything new to the film, perhaps with a bigger budget or no censorship issues.

I'm curious whether you think Halloween needed to be remade and if Rob Zombie brought anything to the story that was not possible in 1978. I don't know, I don't plan on seeing this one.

Good review though, Jeff!

frankbooth said...

You're a...

you're a...*choke*


Trekkie?!!

Jeff McMahon said...

It gets worse...I've won trivia contests at conventions.

Re: remakes, I think we're all sick of them in general, but like every other type of film, there are good ones and there are bad ones and there are ones in between. I don't think the original Halloween "needed" to be remade, but I also don't think that it's a film that is damaged by having been remade, in that "Rob Zombie raped my childhood" kind of way. It stands as one of the most classically pure examples of its genre, just as The Thing from Another World or Invasion of the Body Snatchers did in their day. I would say that Rob Zombie brought something different to the mix in terms of his grungy, finely detailed, grindhouse aesthetic, which I enjoyed viewing. That said, the movie completely illustrates the stasis that American horror movies are in, which extends out to Tarantino's Death Proof and this upcoming Hatchet thing - that right now the best that American horror can do is take concepts and images from the golden age of the 1970s and renovate them with bigger budgets.

cjKennedy said...

This is an interesting case of where I thought nearly the exact same things about a movie, but I ended up drawing a far more negative conclusion.

I'm not quite in the "Rob Zombie raped my childhood" camp (I save that chamber of hell for Ron Howard for his violation of Dr. Seuss) and I don't think the remake detracts in any way from the original.

I also don't think his ideas were necessarily bad. If you're going to remake something, you might as well try to bring something new to the table. Unfortunately in this case the original lack of the very thing he's adding, backstory, is part of what made the original so brilliant.

If you want to make a horror film that sympathizes with (though I'd argue the ultimate fate of Danny Trejo in the remake is where Zombie abandons his notions of sympathy) the killer, make a different movie that isn't about Michael Meyers.

And seriously, the scene where mom is dancing to Love Hurts while Michael mopes was 100% purely refined retardation.

Jeff McMahon said...

Sounds like a glass-half-full/half-empty kind of situation. Also, a matter of expectations. I don't agree with the idea that the addition of backstory is a waste of time. In the original movie, Michael is a boogeyman, for all intents and purposes supernatural. I don't think that this kind of faceless evil appeals to Rob Zombie, who seems to prefer his horror in broad daylight with a recognizable human face. And as far as I'm concerned it's been done to death in every Halloween and Friday the 13th knock-off of the last twenty-nine years. I would argue that this may have been the major appeal of Freddy Krueger as a bad guy back in 1984, that he actually had some personality. But the idea of making a modernized slasher movie that has a greater basis in reality is a good one, I think, I just wish Zombie had gone all the way with it instead of giving up on the idea after one act.

cjKennedy said...

I agree Zombie should've trusted his original instincts and run with them. I'm not convinced they would've made a brilliant film but it certainly would've been more interesting than this half and half business.

Piper said...

I've struggled with this for a long time and I've wavered about what makes me the most angry. And really it's three things. First: like Joe said everything is being remade and to me it's such a hack statement that these directors are adding something and calling it a re-imagining. I think Burton may have coined that phrase. Second: I am a big fan of Halloween and John Carpenter and I don't believe this movie needed to be made. But that opens more wounds since John Carpenter is completely fine with this and with every one of his films being remade and that's hard for me to take. Third: I don't care for Rob Zombie in the least. You might be right about the comparison with John Waters and I'm okay with that comparison, I just don't want a John Waters type remaking a serious horror movie. Hey, there's always the movie House. Zombie was successful in recreating a look and feel for The Devil's Rejects, but I thought the movie was shot like a rock video and the acting was terrible.

It just goes back to the question: why do we have to know everything? Why do I have to know why Michael kills? And why should Rob Zombie tell me? It's far more terrifying if I think about it than if Rob does.

Jeff McMahon said...

Like I said, John Carpenter already made the version of this movie where Michael Myers is a reason-free, emotion-free murdering phantom. It's the template of the modern horror movie, and Zombie's version doesn't harm it one bit. I like the idea of seeing him rendered as someone who could exist in the real world, even if it's only done halfway in Zombie's movie.

Piper said...

I agree with you that it doesn't hurt it, but I don't like the statement it sends. There are too many remakes. We can argue whether it hurts or helps the original, but I don't believe Halloween needed to be remade. And the upcoming Birds doesn't need to be remade or rethought or retold or anything. There is a serious lack of originality and the message out there is that everything is fair game again.

Jeff McMahon said...

What 'message it sends' exactly? I'm as tired of remakes as anyone, but I also think that it's necessary to judge the movies individually on their own merits.

Piper said...

How can you judge a movie individually if it's a remake? Seems hard to me. And the message it sends is that there is no respect for original work. It's obvious that Zombie felt he had more story to tell, but even his story is borrowed as well. Michael Meyers becomes a serial killer because he had a bad upbringing? How many times have we heard that before?

Anyway, Zombie himself has come out against remakes himself. He said he didn't feel Dawn Of The Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should have been remade because he thought they were classics.

http://finalgirl.blogspot.com/2007/08/dont-quote-me.html

Piper said...

I need to write 'himself' one more time because I didn't write it enough in the previous post.

Jeff McMahon said...

When I say 'individually' I mean that some remakes are good (The Thing '82, Invasion of the Body Snatchers '78, Dawn of the Dead '04) and some are bad (Texas Chainsaw Massacre '03, The Hitcher, The Invasion) and that to put all of them into a blanket 'movies shouldn't be remade' statement isn't especially useful.

Piper said...

Jeff,

Agreed. All of those were good remakes and you absolutely can't say that there should be no remakes because you exclude the chance that some will be great. If you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm especially sensitive as it relates to the Halloween remake.