Reel Opinions

Friday, August 31, 2007


There are a lot of people who believe that critics have a natural bias against slasher films, and horror films in general. This, of course, is absolutely not true. We can admire any type of film when it is done well. John Carpenter's Halloween was definitely done very well, and still stands up as a genre classic to this day. It knew exactly how to play with its audience, without ever resorting to cheap thrills. It earned its thrills, and it made us actually care about the characters that were being stalked by the seemingly-unstoppable Michael Myers (who back then, was just referred to as "The Shape"). It would usher in a string of generic imitations that studios trotted out in unbelievable numbers throughout the 80s. And yet, no matter how often someone tried to make lightning strike twice, no one, not even Carpenter himself, was able to recapture just what made Halloween so memorable.

Now, musician turned filmmaker, Rob Zombie (House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects) has brought us an expanded update of Halloween. Having seen his version, I have to wonder if he knew he was supposed to be doing a remake of the original movie. This version has none of the tension, suspense or fear that the original generated seemingly so effortlessly. Instead, we're left with a sloppy and chaotic body count movie that resembles more the countless imitations and inferior sequels than the movie it's supposed to be emulating. Not only is it almost completely devoid of thrills, but the once-memorable characters have been reduced to mere shells of their former selves. It's strange that the director claims to be a huge fan of the original, and when the remake was announced, boasted that he was going to make Michael Myers scary again. All his movie does is show complete contempt for everything that made the original what it was.

Part of what made the original so effective is that we knew so little about the villain. That flies out the window right away, as the remake gives us a good 45 minutes or so describing Myers' past. As a 10-year-old kid (Daeg Faerch), Michael lived with his trailer trash family, was verbally abused by his alcoholic father, ignored by his older sister, and picked on by bullies at school. Michael's mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) does what she can to help her awkward boy feel comfortable in a world that doesn't seem to understand him, but even she seems to be at a loss of what to do with him when the school principal reveals her son's hidden passion for mutilating animals. Michael decided to move up in the world from animals to people by first torturing his bully in the woods nearby the school, then going home that night and murdering his father, sister, and her boyfriend seemingly out of anger and also out of spite because his sister wouldn't take him trick or treating on Halloween. Yes, that's right, Michael Myers may be a cold-blooded psychopath, but deep inside he's just a lonely little boy who just wanted his Halloween candy. I can't wait for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake where we discover that Freddy Krueger turned psycho because his mom didn't let him stay up past his bedtime.

After the murders, Michael is shipped off to a local asylum where he is placed under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Loomis tries to reach through to the boy and discover why he committed the murders, but young Michael clams up after months of exhaustive therapy. He hides his face behind crude hand-made Halloween masks for seemingly no reason, and refuses to speak to anyone. Flash forward 15-years later, and the now-adult Michael (Tyler Mane) decides to escape from the mental hospital around the anniversary of the murders. Michael Myers, who spent the past 50 minutes or so as an angry, abused boy, has somehow grown into Michael Myers, unstoppable human tank who bursts through walls like the frickin' Kool-Aid Man (Every time he came charging through a wall, I kept on waiting for him to scream "Oh yeah", while holding a pitcher of the sweetened drink.), rips open doors as if they were made of cardboard, and goes on a neighborhood killing spree, murdering horny teenagers as he tries to find his long lost baby sister who was given up for adoption after Michael's mom killed herself during the aftermath of his first rampage. His sister has grown up to be Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who is an unassuming teenage girl who is planning to spend Halloween night babysitting, unaware of the man from her forgotten past watching her in the shadows.

Right off the bat, Rob Zombie's Halloween goes off the rails in trying to portray the young Michael Myers as a scared and misunderstood boy who went off the deep end, and then just somehow grew up to be a silent killer for reasons the movie keeps to itself. At times, the movie seems to be trying to paint the young Michael in a sympathetic light. Then, he starts cursing up a storm (Zombie's screenplay seems to be in love with a wide variety of four-letter words, and uses them as if they were going out of style), and killing people. One thing that prevents us from truly getting behind the character in the first place is that the movie never really gives us a close look at what makes Myers tick, like it wants to. He has a family of creeps that look and act like cartoon caricatures of scuzzy rednecks. It doesn't dig deep enough for us to care, and it's too silly and broadly overacted to take seriously. There's a hideous music montage where the movie keeps on showing little Michael sitting on a street corner looking sad, because all the kids are trick or treating, and he's not. For no reason whatsoever, the scene keeps on cutting to his mom at work as she dances at the strip club. I have no idea what Zombie was getting at with this sequence, and it's probably best that it remains that way. Once the kid's in the asylum, the movie speeds right along to when he's an adult and its time for him to kill a bunch of people during his escape. We never get a true sense of his sessions with Dr. Loomis, as we only get to see brief glimpses, then he goes off and supposedly writes a book about the kid and giving lectures about his time with Michael.

Almost as soon as Michael's out on the streets, the movie stops trying to tell anything resembling a story, and turns into a series of random gore scenes combined with a CliffsNotes version of the original film. The movie speeds right through the plot, doing recreations of key scenes from the original film, but giving us absolutely no reason whatsoever to care. The lead heroine, Laurie, is about as underwritten as any lead character has ever been, the most we ever learn about her being that she doesn't have a boyfriend. The thing that set the original film apart from its many imitators is that it took its time to get us to know the lead characters, and get us attached to them. There was always a sense of menace, due to the fact we could see the shadowy figure of Michael watching them in the background at times, which was very subtle and effective. Here, all subtlety has been thrown out the window for a nonstop barrage of over the top death scenes that aren't even that interesting or well-staged in the first place. There's plenty of blood, but there's no originality. We're just watching him bashing heads and throwing people around like the Incredible Hulk over and over again. Michael's victims seldom if ever get any chance to be developed or even show a shred of humanity before they wind up face to face with the masked killer. Speaking of which, for a large guy, Michael Myers sure does get around a lot. He seems to be able to teleport about the neighborhood at will, and pop up suddenly in places where he should have been plainly visible to the future victim. I know, this is a common trait in slasher movie villains, but it still gets me every time it happens.
Watching Halloween, you can see potential in just about every scene. The movie has a decent cast, including a few genre veterans such as the previously mentioned Malcolm McDowell and Brad Dourif (best known as the voice of the Chucky doll) as the town Sheriff. There are even a few good actors who are able to rise above the screenplay and give a good performance, such as Sheri Moon Zombie, who gives the role of Michael's mother the right amount of warmth, fear, and sadness that the character needs. Unfortunately, even the best performances can't shine through enough to make this junk work. This movie is a flat-out mess from beginning to end. You know the movie is in trouble when it utilizes the classic theme music that John Carpenter himself composed for the original film, but it doesn't even manage to raise the slightest amount of tension. Anyone who has heard it knows that it's one of the more tense orchestral themes composed for a film, ranking right up there with John Williams' Jaws theme, in my opinion. And yet here, it seems muted and unmemorable. This is a cheap and misguided movie that's likely to be forgotten long before the real holiday arrives. Sometimes, you just have to look at the positives, and the fact that the original will remain a classic while this will likely be forgotten, much like the ill-fated remake of Psycho back in 1998, is a thought sure to bring a smile to any fan's face.



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