Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rob Zombie's Halloween

Oddly enough, I didn't hate Rob Zombie's Halloween. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I actually liked it (albeit with some reservations). It's definitely Zombie's best feature film to-date, although I admit that's not saying much.

I approached Zombie's first two movies, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, with an intense desire to like and champion them. But unfortunately, I couldn't (and can't). With Corpses and Rejects, Zombie knows how to make a good-looking horror film, but doesn't know the first thing about tension or suspense (crucial ingredients to any horror film worth its weight in intestines). Not only did I not think for a second that the kids in Corpses were going to survive, I didn't care if they did, so I spent the bulk of that film checking my watch and the run-time on the DVD case, thinking, "Okay, got 40 minutes left before this crew of murderers kills these brats."

And I know, I know, we're somehow supposed to be worried for the family of killers in Rejects when William Forsythe's rogue cop crosses the line and begins to torture them to death, but I wasn't sold for a minute. I just thought, "Hell. If there's any group of fictitious characters I feel no sympathy for whatsoever, it's this group of mean-spirited assholes."

So, I approached his remake of Halloween, a movie of which I didn't believe required a remake, with some trepidation. On one hand, not only is Zombie 0.1 for 2.1 with me (I liked his "Werewolf Women of the SS" trailer for Grindhouse, hence the .1), he's remaking a touchstone of horror films.

On the other, perhaps if he worked on someone else's already established material, he could bypass the problem found in his previous films (the inability to write a genuinely tense and suspenseful story).

Now, does he bypass the aforementioned problem? Well...yes and no.

Also, does it even compare to the 1978 original? Of course not. Not even close. But I knew that going in.

Zombie's Halloween is really two movies (the way Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is ostensibly two separate and distinct movies): the first half is a case study (or rather, Case Study) of a psychopath. We watch Michael Myers's (played as a kid by Daeg Faerch) sad and abusive childhood, his being bullied at school, and his predilection for killing and cutting up little furry animals (then later members of his own family). We then see him institutionalized and interviewed by Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcom McDowell), where his psychiatrist first has hope, then slowly gives up on young Myers.

The second half is pretty much a faithful remake of John Carpenter's original film (which even reprises chunks of dialogue verbatim): three young high school girls getting ready to either baby-sit or get laid on Halloween night, only to be hunted down by Myers 17 or so years later (now played by Tyler Mane), who's now a mute hulking giant in a distorted William Shatner mask.

The case study portion is actually quite captivating and powerful, easily the best section of the movie and an admirable take for something that's ultimately a slasher film. Faerch is perfectly cast as the young serial killer, with his pudgy face hidden behind long blonde hair looking both innocent and teeming with rage.

Before young Michael brutally murders his mother's horrific boyfriend (Forsythe), older sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), and her boyfriend in an extraordinary expansion of the opening scene from the original, he has a penchant for wearing masks, much to the dismay of his family. When at the institution, he spends most of his time in his cell making new masks (he finds himself ugly, and wants to hide his face all the time). I was impressed at the shot of his cell that, after being incarcerated for 17 years, is filled wall-to-wall with an array of paper mache masks.

The scenes where Dr. Loomis tries to reach young Michael Myers show surprising depth and realism. Dr. Loomis asks a pretty cheery and polite little kid what he remembers about murdering the bulk of his family. Michael offers him a shy and somewhat precocious shrug, and then asks when he can see his family. The psychiatrist then asks Michael to explain how, if he has no memory of killing most of his family. Again, the kid just mumbles an evasive, "Dunno."

As is the case with Corpses and Rejects, the movie looks great. Phil Parmet's camerawork is utterly captivating. Zombie always knows how to make his movies look good (he's such an obvious fanboy of '70s style exploitation flicks he always takes such time and care into making his movies look like they come from that that era and school of guerrilla filmmaking). The use of ultra-saturated color and ultra-dark shadow offers the viewer some genuine eye candy (if you're into really repulsive blood-soaked grindhouse films like me).

The problem with Haloween, however, is that it wants to have his cake and eat it, too (which is honestly the same problem all of Zombie's movies have thus far). The audience is expected to sympathize and identify with Myers and to be utterly repelled, horrified and disgusted by him. The case study portion and unstoppable monster section don't fit together because the former makes Myers a somewhat three-dimensional (albeit disturbing and unpleasant) character while the latter makes him merely a personality-free catalyst for plot events.

The second half of the film is a surprisingly faithful remake of the original, although what made Carpenter's film so brilliant was its simplicity: he, along with producer and co-writer Debra Hill, took all the clichés of the Unstoppable Monster film and Haunted House movie and stripped them to their bare essentials (Nick Castle, who played the adult Myers in the original, was simply credited as "The Shape"). Because we spend the first hour following Myers's upbringing and institutionalization in Zombie's remake, we're not left in the dark the way Laurie is as to who-or what-this thing chasing her is (which makes Jamie Lee Curtis's portrayal of terror in the '78 version much more relatable than Scout Taylor-Compton's in the '07 version).

As of this writing, Zombie's remake of Halloween has a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, which I think is highly unfair. No, it's not the original. So what? It had no hope and no intention of being so (Zombie clearly knows better). Although I have some problems with it, I think it does highlight some of the best attributes of the original and offers a chance for Zombie to show off his gifts for filmmaking.

Wondering why Austin Powers is killing these people,

James "Nope, I Don't Find That Joke Old" Comtois

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Blogger Goose said...

"The audience is expected to sympathize and identify with Meyers and to be utterly repelled, horrified and disgusted by him. The case study portion and unstoppable monster section don't fit together because the former makes Meyers a somewhat three-dimensional (albeit disturbing and unpleasant) character while the latter makes him merely a personality-free catalyst for plot events."

Here is what we have discussed regarding Zombie's flicks via a case in point. It's not so much a "getting cake and eating too", but that he tries for everything. As all good horror goers know - the recipe was made a very long time ago - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Fear and pity. Zombie tries to have you be afraid of his characters (fear), but also writes them like the good old 1970/80's horror psychos, the ones you don't feel sorry for (Leatherface, Freddy, etc.),but who either gets rooted for, or enjoyed as the killer- scary, but enjoyable if you will.

Mike Meyers was a faceless killer. I believe, at least my 2 cents, what made the original so popular is you have this unstoppable vengeance, that you don't really see (again, another great scare tactic) and a heroine you want to see make it through to the end. Again, like you said, where Zombie falls short. On the edge of your seat terror.

Well, of course, I am still going to see this. I am really intrigued by the pre-story, which, if I remember correctly, wasn't addressed until Halloween 2, and then subsequent ones.

I also, saw H2O in the theatre, so, I mean, why not this. Ok- it was for free.

Thanks for being the guinea pig!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Qui Nguyen said...

Thanks for the review, James. I've been actually quite excited to see this film. Mainly because as you said, Rob Zombie makes really good looking films and also it's friggin' Halloween! I love good trashy sclock.

1:36 PM  
Blogger parabasis said...

I thought the film was just awful. Both halves of it (although I agree with your analysis of why the two don't go together). Here's why:

(1) The first half's psychology and sociology are ridiculously simplistic. Evil is created by... bad white trash people and their bad home lives. It's just not very interesting. Although at least the set up to Mike Myers' psychotic break at least has some tension.

Which leads to
(2) The second part has no tension whatsoever. The average episode of Frasier got me tenser about what was going to happen next. You just know that what you're in for is this procedural doing away with people. Once the violence starts, the movie moves from being overly-simplistic to just plain boring

Which bring me to
(3) The film's misogyny. The movie just can't stop punishing people for having and enjoying their vaginas. Most of the men get quick, clean deaths, while the women are left to crawl around on all fours, bodies on display, to be slowly hacked apart by the boogie man.

And just to preempt a defense-- there's nothing in the back story to jusitfy the slow painful woman deaths.. Myers' primary tormentors as a child were all men.

But this again is the problem with most horror movies these days, they jsut can't stop taking excruciating enjoyment out of the dismemberment of women. Preferably young. Preferably beautiful. Preferably naked.

Give me Session 9 or The Descent over this piece of garbage any day. At least both of those movies have tension and actual character development.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Mac Rogers said...

Isaac, I don't agree or disagree, not having seen the film, but how did you happen to decide to see it? This looks like the kind of movie you would know you were going to hate from watching a third of the trailer. (I'm going off your previous writing on horror films in making this assumption.) You'd have to know in advance that a Rob Zombie-directed remake of HALLOWEEN is going to feature ultraviolence perpetrated on women, surely.

I agree, SESSION 9 and THE DESCENT do rule.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Hey, Isaac. Although I’m not surprised that you wouldn’t like this movie, like Mac, I am surprised you’ve already seen it. I would think this would be immediately filed under the, “No Way In Hell” category.

(Warning to those that haven’t seen it: some spoilers below.)

I’m not sure I see this version as outright misogynistic (although I’m not saying you’re 100% wrong in your assessment). Carpenter got some flack for the original that the sexually active characters are the ones that die while the shy virgin survives and has been insisting ever since that there was no intentional “Kill the Whores” message (they ended up getting killed because they were distracted while Laurie, who’s inherently introverted, is just more naturally observant to her surroundings).

Zombie follows the deaths/victims pretty much to a T, just amping up the gore and nudity (that just seems to be how he rolls).

And to be fair, I wouldn’t say the men get off clean and easy: the bully’s death is pretty horrific and protracted, as is the mom’s boyfriend (William Forsythe) and Danny Trejo’s character’s (the retiring security guard).

I will concede, however, that they aren’t topless.

Zombie’s version hints that Meyers is resentful/uncomfortable about his mother being a stripper (the bullies do mock him in the bathroom about it), so my guess is there is something about the character finding disgust and discomfort about sex.

But yeah, there is a problem with the second part to the movie (i.e., the outright remake portion). It has (I think) at least some more tension than his previous two films, but that’s because I think, to paraphrase you, the finale of Frasier has more tension than Corpses or Rejects. (With those two movies, you can’t go anywhere but up.)

Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on the original?

2:42 PM  
Blogger parabasis said...

I saw the movie because a friend really wanted to see it. I've never seen the trailer. And I actually genuinely like non-torture-porn horror films (which, thankfully, this film was)....

and i'd never seen a Rob Zombie film, actually, and was intrigued based on stuff I'd heard.

And to be honest, the misogyny of a film is not always a dealbreaker. The problem with SPOILER ALERT High Tension, for example, is that it's fucking lame and absurd that it's a multiple personality thing, rather than the obvious homophobia and misogyny of its plot.

Anyway, as to Halloween, I like the original. It scared the poop out of me when I first saw it!

(Oh, and the one good thing about the movie is its use of good, relevant songs rather than the flavor-of-the-month MTV EmoCore crapfest that is most horror movie soundtracks)

But I was not seeing it (in case this was what you were wondering, Mac) for the sole purpose of hating on it. THat's just a waste of time and energy. I saw it cause afriend wanted to, there aren't many movies playing in Richmond, and I thought it would be kinda fun.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Ah. Well, I guess you may not like his previous two films then. I mean, I admittedly liked his version of Halloween, but I did go in knowing that a.) his ability to create suspense and tension (based on his previous films), how shall we say, leaves something to be desired, and b.) he has a very unapologetic “buckets-of-gore and hardcore nudity” aesthetic (which I actually admire — there’s something about his method of having everything so over-the-top that I find appealing in a ‘70s Drive-In meets Grand Guignol way).

I also admit that saying Halloween is his best film to-date is a bit of damning with faint praise, but I also think I went in with lower expectations than you.

You may be asking why I went if I thought I wasn’t going to like it. Well, as much as I can’t really recommend his first two films, there’s something about both of them I can’t quite dismiss. Zombie has a simultaneously retro and unique style that I find appealing in an oddball way, and he clearly shows a love for a type of film I enjoy as well.

There are also aspects of Corpses and Rejects that I really dig (Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, for example, is a great character).

And that original film is great. Had to rent it again as soon as I came home from the movie theatre. I'll leave you all to debate amongst yourselves whether or not having the urge to rewatch the original is a good or bad thing about Zombie's version.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Mac Rogers said...

I didn't mean to suggest you went for the purpose of hating on it. (I'm totally the boy who cried wolf now with asking rhetorical questions as argumentative tools on comment threads!) For one thing, from all the time I've known you, I'd never assume you had that much spare time! It's just that it SO didn't seem like your cuppa. Nearly every review I've read has mentioned the multiple killings of naked women, etc. Though I totally forgot for a second that you're in Richmond right now, where there are fewer films and they probaly don't cost eleven bucks.

It strikes me that the 31 mil opening gross for this movie puts horror, and particularly hardcore horror, back on the Hollywood front-burner after a recent box office decline where several underperformed (Hostel 2, HHEyesRemake 2, TCMassacreRemake 2, etc.) I remember reading a while back that Michael Bay's company had a FRIDAY THE 13TH remake in the pipeline, and you've got to assume that's fast-tracked now. I wonder how they'll shoe-horn hockey mask Jason into it?

5:48 PM  
Blogger parabasis said...

I think, James, I mgiht suggest that th ething that keeps you going back (and, indeed, the thing I liked about the movie) is that Rob Zombie seems to actually give a shit about the movies he's making. he might not be very good at it, but hter's a soul and a beating heart behind the films and it shows.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Oh, I think you're absolutely right about that, Isaac.

9:56 AM  
Blogger parabasis said...

Why thanks!

One other point, because i realized re-reading this that I was woefully unclear... the misogyny I was speaking to (the specific women-dispatched-horribly-and-sexually, men-dispatched-quickly dichotomy) is only really in the third act of the film, the "remake" portion. There it takes a fault of the first movie and exagerates it into a (in my mind) fatal error.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Joshua James said...

Damn it James, I came here simply to give you a hard time about not having comments and here we are, 11 comments on one post . . . you rich lucky bastard!

Me, I have to challenge the veracity of Christianity to get near 10, and all you do is write about yet another cheesy remake of a classic 70's film.

I didn't go see Halloween because:

A) It's Labor Day, it ain't Halloween yet! Release Halloween on Halloween, you assholes!


B) why remake a classic? Just begging for me to hate you.


C) I didn't care for Zombie's earlier films, though I agree he's got some game and will someday make something really cool, if he can let go of his fetish for nasty backward white trash socio-paths . . . but I didn't like 'em, and coupled with the above, I didn't go . . .

So I have no review, except to say IT AIN'T HALLOWEEN YET!

10:58 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Gotcha, Isaac. I honestly don’t know how to regard that, if that’s just a case of kicking the gore and nudity level up “to 11” from the original (“Like ya do,” as Eddie Izzard would say) or a serious case of vile misogyny. I viewed it simply as the former, but I’m certainly not going to argue with anyone saying they found it vile, disgusting, and in poor taste. That’s sort of the conundrum with discussing trashy and violent exploitation films: everyone’s in agreement with them being vile, disgusting, and in poor taste (I mean, hey: their whole reason for being is to cross lines and break taboos). It’s always just a question of how seriously and unforgivably the line has been crossed.

And Joshua, I know, right? Seriously, I get five comments on this thing and I feel like a rock star. I should trash a hotel room or something. (That what rock stars do, right? I’m so un-hip.)

With regard to B, that was exactly what I thought when I first saw the trailer: “Robert, Robert, Robert, what are you DOING?”

But I couldn’t help myself. I knew…KNEW...I wasn’t going to let it slide. I had to see the movie. It’s just one of those things. (Like absolutely having to go see Star Wars Episode III on opening night regardless of how inept the first two prequels were.)

Going in knowing it couldn’t possibly be the original and Zombie’s own “take” on the material set me at ease. If you go in thinking the remake will compare, you’re going to be trembling with rage. But if you go in comparing it to all the other sequels, it really is leagues above.

(On one of the late-night talk shows, it may have been Jimmy Kimmel, Zombie talked about how he found a Michael Meyers doll that would play the Halloween theme when you pressed his chest, and said he wanted to mitigate the cheese factor that the later sequels brought to the character [I mean, Meyers shouldn’t be a musical action figure, people!], so I think his heart was [is] in the right place in making this.)

I agree with you and Isaac in Zombie having some game going on, and actually caring about making his movies, even though his first two (and this one) are very seriously flawed (though I still stand by my assessment that he shows his strengths and hides his weaknesses as a filmmaker the best in Halloween and reminds me why I stick around).

To me, each movie gets slightly better than the last (Halloween is better than The Devil’s Rejects, The Devil’s Rejects is better than House of 1,000 Corpses). I’m not sure how long you’ll have to be waiting for him to get over his nasty backward white trash sociopaths fetish, though…that very well may be a Zombie “staple.” Who knows, though?

And yeah, the Labor Day Weekend release is as close to a vote of “No Confidence” from the studio as you can get.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

"the finale of Frasier has more tension than Corpses or Rejects"

Just because Frasier set fire to the apartment, killing all inside, and we finally see Maris as a charred corpse being rolled out on a gurney?

12:46 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

That was the finale of Friends, Jeremy. Ross set fire to the apartment, killing all inside, and it was Phoebe's charred corpse we saw...

12:51 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

Actually, if I remember correctly, the finale to Friends was a sincere apology on behalf of the cast, crew, and network for ten years completely and utterly wasted, and for all the damage their theme song caused for society.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Paul Rekk said...

A Bay-produced Friday the 13th? He's seen the original and is aware there are no bombs, missiles, or other explosive projectiles, right?

At the same time, I dare say I would enjoy the Joe Everybody "Where the fuck is the hocky mask guy?" reaction that a true-to-form remake would incite.

Sorry, James, I'm useless on the Halloween front. Seeing it this weekend, but am tres excited. While I don't champion Zombie's first two films, there are moments in each (the leeeeengthy crane shot execution in House, the final scene in Rejects) that I hold up as masterful filmmaking.

4:26 PM  

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