Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007)

Ugh.  Just when you thought it was safe to venture into the waters of the dreaded remake, what with competently-made, very enjoyable films like “The Thing,” “King Kong,” and “The Departed,” here comes that piece of shit Rob Zombie to squash any momentum the so-called art of the remake had going for it.  Watching his “Halloween” and then thinking back to John Carpenter’s original, I almost feel compelled to use the dreaded m-word in reference to Carpenter’s (that’s “m” for – gasp – masterpiece, mind you).  But yes, in terms of an absolute barrage of suspense, drawwwnnn out lead-ups to very quick moments of violence, and that ever-moving camera, Carpenter’s little low-budget project back in ’78 was indeed a poor man’s Hitchcock, a near-masterpiece of edge-of-your-seat suspense in the true tradition of the Master himself.  But now here’s Rob Zombie, harbinger of the new no scream, all squeam era of “horror,” and what does he do?  He takes the “Halloween” source material, brilliant in its simplicity, and butchers it the way his iteration of Michael Myers butchers his poor sister and many, many others.

John Carpenter had no illusions when he made Halloween.  He and all those involved knew from the start it’d be nothing more than a cheap, simple exploitation film where a masked, indestructible psychopath goes around an idyllic suburb killing babysitters.  It ended up becoming something much greater perhaps because of that simplicity in both production and an alleged “story.”  Michael Myers’ deranged ways and status as evil incarnate (Donald Pleasence’s “He’s gone from here!  The evil is gone!” to this day is one of the superbly awful and delightfully cheesy lines I’ve ever heard 😆 ) are merely hinted at, so that there’s, you know, an air of mystery.  There’s a reason he’s called “The Shape” in the credits: he (or rather it) is simply a terrifying hulk of a monster wearing the Captain Kirk mask, always lurking just within view or, even more terrifyingly, just outside our view.  This puts the focus, and our worry, on Jamie Lee Curtis’ virginal Laurie and even her troublemaking, slutty friends, so that their plight becomes ours, and we care when they’re endangered by the Shape.

Well, Rob Zombie had the illusions that John Carpenter didn’t bother with.  He wanted to go above and beyond cheap horror and make something grand.  Carpenter had no illusions about making something grand, and made something grand by accident.  Zombie actually went for grandeur, and he fails.  And that failure comes in the impossible task of actually trying to turn “The Shape” into Michael Myers.

Carpenter’s original “Halloween” begins with a young Michael murdering his sister, and the entire sequence, complete with long tracking shots from Michael’s point of view, including behind a mask, takes about five minutes.  Now look at Zombie’s film, and something very strange happens.  I’d say about a quarter to a good third of the entire movie goes by before young Michael does the dirty deed (I can’t be sure since this felt like one of the longest sub-two hour movies I’ve ever watched), and yet the remake is only about 10-15 minutes longer than the original.  How can this be?  Well, it’s because of Rob Zombie’s grand plan to make that dastardly shape into dare I say a sympathetic figure, giving Shape-O a name-O. 

From what I’ve read on IMDB, the studio originally wanted to simply make a prequel to “Halloween” chronicling Michael’s time in the sanitarium with Dr. Loomis, before they went into remake mode with Zombie at the helm.  Turns out the studio should’ve stuck with its guns, because dare I say, this first portion of the film featuring a young Michael and his woeful home life, was kind of well-done.  You disregard any comparison to the original “Halloween,” and what you have is a competent enough little yarn about a cute little kid with some major issues inside having a hard time with bullies and an even harder time at as squalid a home you can imagine.  Look, it’s nothing you wouldn’t see on the Lifetime channel, and indeed explaining away Michael’s future psychosis with a simple diagnosis of “he wasn’t loved enough” syndrome is a pretty cheap plot device, but it wasn’t terrible, either.  I rather liked the performance of this Daeg Faerch kid as young Michael, at one moment surreally innocent, the next a mindless killer.

Zombie’s intention of humanizing Michael is admirable, I guess.  But why, then, does the movie take such a dreadfully gruesome turn?  I don’t care if it‘s Gandhi or a cute little kitten behind the Captain Kirk mask, no humanization of an antagonist can transfer to what comes next.  We see throats being slit, drownings, strangulations, heads being crushed, stab after stab into abdomens, backs, and just about anything else with skin on it.  You name it, Michael does it.  We spend so much time watching this young kid’s descent into violent madness and then complete withdrawal from Dr. Loomis (an overacting Malcolm McDowell…and not the enjoyably silly Donald Pleasance-esque overacting, either), and really feel for the kid as he truly ceases to be human.  But then that little kid becomes a huge, masked monster who simply stalks vulnerable girls and does some pretty unspeakable stuff to them.  And we’re supposed to feel for this guy as he’s scooping out innards?  What, because in between murders he shows Laurie the cute picture he’s kept all these years, now he’s just a misunderstood soul who happens to be a mass-murderer?  Give me a fucking break.  John Carpenter knew what he was doing when he gave us only a hint of Michael’s backstory so that he could be seen as the terrifying monster that he is.  It’s that air of mystery, the mere potential to commit violence rather than seeing so much of the violence itself, that made Michael such an imposing force the first time around.  Now, an early, too-deep focus on the man behind the mask (that’s pretty much nullified by the later blood-capades anyway) backfires two-fold.  It takes away that power and that aura of indestructible evil incarnate, and also it takes away our ability to care for, well, anyone.  Any chance we had of caring about Michael is swept away when he and his trusty knife go to town, and now even those he terrorizes become nothing more than stock horror movie victims.  In Carpenter’s film, your heart pounded as Jamie Lee Curtis’ vulnerable but able Laurie hid in the closet, with Michael slowly but surely breaking in.  Now, Laurie (Scout-Taylor Compton this time around) is screaming / hiding victim # 17 or so.  Chase after chase, stab after stab, gets pretty exhausting when you couldn’t give a shit about who’s stabbing and who’s stabbed, ya know?

I do like me some good movie violence / deaths, no matter how explicit, as long as it’s relevant to the movie at large.  Looking back now on John Carpenter’s original “Halloween,” that has to be one of the most tasteful murder / mayhem movies ever made.  There’s virtually no blood to speak of, murder scenes are quick and non-glorified, and the focus is on long stretches of the camera following a vulnerable character / potential victim (keyword “potential”) with that now-classic music, as the Shape might or might not be watching and lurking.

John Carpenter had good taste.  Rob Zombie apparently loves the taste of blood.  How else do you explain what pretty much amounts to an orgy of blood and violence as explicit as you’ll see in a sub-NC17 movie?  This is the crux of the terrible turn the horror genre has taken in the past few years, as suspense, the ticking bomb, has pretty much been completely replaced with blood ‘n guts, the explosion.  Audiences today are impatient.  Something like the original “Halloween,” with its long stretches of Jamie Lee Curtis walking slowly towards the house you know she shouldn’t be walking to and Michael watching his tasty morsels from a distance, would infuriate today’s moviegoers who want instant gratification.  And Rob Zombie certainly obliges them.  Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the not-so-wonderful world of torture porn. 

Carpenter’s “Halloween” was the kind of exhausting where you’re exhausted with worry, wondering when and if the Shape will strike.  Long stretches of nothingness become agonizing and tantalizing.  Carpenter was brave to stretch out some of those set-pieces as long as he did, and what he got out of it was brilliant.  And to be fair, Rob Zombie gives plenty of dap to the source material.  It was actually a nice little novelty to see updated reprisals of Carpenter’s music score pumped up, the Captain Kirk mask, and classic scenes like Michael dressed as the bespectacled ghost.  Carpenter did it better, but it was cool to see a modern, updated, more gruesome perspective on once-campy scenes.  But in the end, Zombie’s “Halloween” is just exhausting, period.  In terms of a barrage of stupid, bizarre images, it’s not on the level of his “House of 1,000 Corpses,” essentially a feature-length music video that could be the worst film I’ve seen made by somebody not named Ed Wood, but it ain’t far behind.  When will these modern, wannabe “horror” filmmakers learn that one extremely explicit and violent death scene after another is in bad taste, dulls our sense of shock through boring repetition, and most importantly, is not scary?  You tell me what’s scary about scene after scene of fully-naked high school girls having sex, finishing up, and instead of the post-coital cigarette get a knife in the abdomen (and again, I don’t at all object to stuff like gore and nudity and overly-explicit violence when it’s put in the proper context to make it shocking).  That is, unless, Rob Zombie just wants to titillate rather than fright, in which case he really did throw the last semblance of John Carpenter’s taste, economical filmmaking talent, and overall purpose out the window. 

Fear is that one essential element that brings out so many things in us.  We don’t “like” to be scared, but fear provides a kind of thrill that nothing else can.  John Carpenter knew this, and somehow made a cheap little exploitation film with little to no blood (or overt violence for that matter) that’s somehow built up a reputation as one of the bloodiest and most violent and depraved films ever made.  Fear has a tendency to make you remember things and sense things that were never there.  This remake’s inexplicably “humanized” Michael Myers creates an obsession out of covering his face in masks.  Well, Rob Zombie can cover his little magnum opus with the mask of John Carpenter’s simple but brilliant classic all he wants, but in the end, garbage is garbage, and no mask can cover that.  Today’s audiences aren’t into genuine suspense and pure thrills, but rather all the squeamish, exhausting instant gratification the filmmaker can throw at them.  It’s ironic, that blood ‘n guts are in these days, but audiences have become too squeamish for what can really go bump in the night.


1 comment so far

  1. isabella on

    Michael mair is creppy

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