Saturday, September 15, 2007

On Halloween Past and Present

Oh the wrath that bears down upon the head of a filmmaker when he dares to remake a hallowed classic. That's the current situation with Rob Zombie and his re-visualized version of John Carpenter's "Halloween". This is an interesting position- you've got the Carpenter enthusiasts, such as Piper at Lazy Eye Theater, rallying (sight unseen) at the mere presence of Zombie's movie and then you have those who just wanna go see a bloody, gory horror movie, regardless of the creative eye behind the camera or even the film's trampling of an American classic. Granted, I've seen Zombie's "Halloween" now and even I find myself in some discussions over the merits (or lack thereof) with friend and horror-buff Chris at his blog . This movie has sparked more debate in me than any other in the last couple months. Is that good or bad? And do I like "Halloween" or not?

Let's put it this way- I was not averse to Zombie's remake when I first heard about it. I've seen the original "Halloween" a couple times and can appreciate the standards it set and broke in its day, but it's not the epitome of horror films for me. It falls in that mediocre category that I appreciate more than favor. I much prefer Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness" and "In the Mouth of Madness", films I witnessed without an ounce of pre-conceived hyperbole attached to them. My first viewing of "Halloween" when I was 15 or 16, was already heralded as the standard slasher flick, produced on a shoe-string and manufactured with an intense lack of exposition surrounding its main character. Not knowing why or how Michael Myers became the hulking killer certainly provided Carpenter's flick with an added sense of psychological superiority, but didn't register with me as anything more. It followed the same slasher rules, provided the same slick scares, and honestly, provided me with very little except a theme song that I hummed for days.

Compare that with the feature debut of Rob Zombie entitled "House of 1,000 Corpses"- dumped into theaters in October '03 after numerous production closings, financial backing issues, and a ratings board fiasco. No one, even myself, gave it much thought. It felt like a nice diversion during October of that year so a few of us went to see it. Not only did I love it, but was a bit shocked at how far the film rolls down the rabbit hole. Zombie isn't a master of the subtle, like Carpenter, but "House of 1,000 Corpses" tapped into something primal and exploitative. I've mentioned before, but the film's final 30 minutes diverge into something very dark and morbid and no one expected that type of cinematic manipulation from Zombie. It's one of the finest exploitation films of the last few years.

So, in my personal universe, the stars were aligned to make Rob Zombie's "Halloween" a smashing success. How did this all go so wrong? Zombie's "Halloween" is a shrill, empty failure. I don't care that he gives Myers a backstory... I don't care that the film failed to keep me interested.. and I certainly don't care that it features such gaping plot holes that one could drive an 18 wheeler through. My main concern with the film, and Rob Zombie himself, is that he's shrinking any talents he revealed in his feature debut. He's made this movie before... we've seen these characters before... and if he uses the term "skullfuck" in one more scene, I think I might walk out. Not only does he (again) use his wife, Moon Zombie, and actors such as Sid Haig, William Forsyth, Bill Moseley, but they act in the same manner as they have in every Zombie movie. Repeating oneself, whether its in a new genre, new year or new voice, is still repeating oneself.

This really should be no surprise, I suppose. The shortcomings were already evident in Zombie's second film, "The Devil's Rejects", but the massive tone of the film's loud, obnoxious narrative supplied it with some breathing room. In"Halloween", Zombie's complete dis-regard for character development and natural speech patterns are thrown out the window. If this is meant as an exercise in parody of the horror genre, then we're getting somewhere, but the way Zombie films the murder scenes, makes me think otherwise. The first kill of Myers as a young boy is shot in long distance, through a few branches away from the scene as if someone was watching the murder take place. It lends itself that exploitative feel. That's the essence of true exploitative filmmaking- it makes the viewer complicit in its ugliness. If Zombie wanted to play everything for laughs, then it would've been visualized in less personal terms. Instead, no... "Halloween" definitely wants us to take it seriously. Even more disconcerting is Zombie's awkward use of music in his films. In "The Devil's Rejects" we're treated to an ultra-serious finale in which the death-gasp of its characters is timed to Lynryd Skynyrd's "Free Bird". I hated that scene when I first saw it and hate it even more now. In "Halloween", Zombie attempts to affix surface emotions to the young Michael Myers and his stripper mom by juxtaposing their empty night lives against the theme of Nazareth's "Love Hurts". It's yet another inept move in a completely inept film experience. So, for those of you who worship the original, I don't think this one will be around long enough to cause you much pain. The one good part of seeing this film? I was in Springfield, Missouri on business and instead of sleeping away the time in my banal hotel room, I decided to venture out into the thriving college town and experience some local flavor. The theater, something called The Springfield 8, looks to be the oldest damn theater in Missouri. Not only is it one of those rare single floor theaters, full of gold curtains right out of the 70's, but a place that houses those short, plush chairs that no one makes anymore. If only the film lived up to the theater-going experience.

1 comment:

PIPER said...

Excellent piece, and I'm not just saying that because you bagged on the remake.

Yes, Zombie has a love of 70's rock and white trash and it shows.

While watching The Devil's Rejects, I was pleased that the acting was so terrible because if it were handled by a much better director, the subject matter would have been too much for me.

I will say with The Devil's Rejects Zombie was able to capture and look and feel lost in modern horror and that is, as you have described, the exploitive nature. The Devil's Rejects felt like a great drive-in movie.