Sunday, September 02, 2007

Halloween / *½ (R)

Dr. Samuel Loomis: Malcolm McDowell
Laurie Strode: Scout Taylor-Compton
Michael Myers: Tyler Mane
Michael Myers (age 10): Daeg Faerch
Deborah Myers: Sheri Moon Zombie
Sheriff Lee Brackett: Brad Dourif

Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company present a film written and directed by Rob Zombie, based on the 1978 screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Running time: 109 min. Rated R (for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language).

Dear Mr. Zombie,

I feel the need to address you personally on the subject of your latest film. Because I respect who you are and what you have accomplished, I am amazed at how misguided and off the mark your “re-imagining” of the John Carpenter horror classic “Halloween” is. Surely, someone who’s last name is derived from a horror monster has a solid understanding of what is and is not scary. You have proven yourself as an innovator of horror concepts with your music and videos. You’ve even directed a couple of horror films that show an obsession with and a refined talent for exploring the dark nature that peaks horror enthusiasts’ interest. But I wonder if your fascination has more to do with disturbing people than actually scaring them.

I have to admit that when I first heard that one of my all-time favorite horror films, and one of my favorite films period, was being remade, my heart sunk. With horror films today consisting mostly of grotesque torture porn and quick-cut editing that misses the whole concept of how to jolt an audience out their seats, I was sure I would see yet another slasher-flick hack job (pun intended). Then I discovered you were to direct, and my hopes were raised at the thought of a true fan of classic horror getting to pay tribute to a classic while offering his own unique take.

Then, I heard a radio interview with you about the film and suddenly there wasn’t another movie I was more excited for this year. Maybe if I were a horror movie character who gets ridden off as a crazed fool only to have my muttering come true, I might have recognized this rollercoaster of emotions as the bad omen it obviously must be. Or maybe I just should have known they would only release a movie called "Halloween" on August 31 for good reason.

In your interview, you mentioned that the key to this story is the characters. While that seemed compelling on the radio, I should have known that you were a victim of the notion that to be taken seriously in Hollywood you need a character-driven story. Because of this, you spend the first hour filling in Michael Myers’s backstory. You make him a kid with a poor childhood: his mother’s a stripper, her boyfriend is abusive, they live in trailer trash hell (but later we find the Myers’ had a pool in their back yard—when was that installed?), and bullies persecute him in school. Despite all this, you later fall back on the notion that Michael was born evil, even using some of the Dr. Loomis dialogue from the original film almost verbatim.

But the real problem with humanizing the killer is that you take away all of his mystery. The genius of Carpenter’s original version of Myers is that he never talked, not even as a kid. The audience didn’t know anything about him. Maybe he was the devil incarnate. And those scenes of character development throughout the first half just drag on. Character development, even when it’s Michael Myers we’re talking about, isn’t scary. It may be disturbing, but seeing the kid make the choice to kill isn’t nearly as scary as not seeing him make the choice.

And if you want people to think this killer could be real, why cast such a hulking man as ex-professional wrestler Tyler Mane (“X-Men”) as your killer. The guy is so big, of course he’s a killer. There was never a doubt how he was going to take out his victims. With his massive size, the only sensible way to kill anybody is to bludgeon them to death, and that is pretty much what he does to everyone. You can see this guy coming a couple of blocks away. The only reason we don’t is because you didn’t have the second unit shoot that scene.

And for all of the development time you’ve spent on Myers himself, you’ve spent no time on the actual heroes or victims. These are the people the audience is supposed to relate to. Without a connection to the victim, why should we care? Laurie Strode was the lead role of the original picture, where she was played by the instantly likable Jamie Lee Curtis, practically originating the teenage slasher heroine standard. With this film, I’m not even sure if Laurie should be listed as a main character. She’s played by Scout Taylor-Compton, who seems likable enough but is never given a chance to define who Laurie Strode is. You put some glasses on her, apparently to evoke the bookworm quality Curtis had, although I never got the impression she actually used the glasses.

Really, the second half of the movie is just a nightmarish mess. You obviously have great respect for the original material, as you have gone out of you’re way to re-envision slightly altered versions of the murders of Laurie’s friends and the attacks on Laurie herself. But you take no time to set these scenes up. As in the original, the murder victims are all teens just trying to have some sex, but the only thing that happens faster than these kids jumping into the sack is Myers yanking them out again to drive knives and other household items through their chests.

The murder scenes seem spliced together from a shooting schedule that wasn’t long enough. If I hadn’t seen the original version, I would have no idea who was who or what had happened. It’s as if you thought you were directing music videos again, where a literal sense of what is going on is not the point. Not one of these scenes made me jump. In fact, there is only one moment in the film where my heart even rose a bit. During the final ten minutes I just wanted either Myers or Laurie to die (I didn’t care which), so I could just go home.

I am not trying to disrespect you with these criticisms. I just can’t understand how someone who has built an entire career on the ideals of horror could show so little understanding of them. Perhaps this is just a case of a studio run amuck. They want you to save a long-dead franchise. They make you feel like an A-list director and fill your head with phrases like “character-piece.” And you think you’re putting together a serious “re-imagining” of the source material; when in fact, you were supposed to be re-making a slasher flick. It is a remake. It is a slasher flick. I’m not sure what you were trying to make.

Disturbed, but not terrified.

Buy it: Halloween movies


Alan Bacchus said...

Good review as always Andrew. Our hopes of a good remake lasted about 15 mins. Carpenter is yet to be trumped.

Next up...Len Wiseman's "Escape from New York". Good luck Len. You have NO chance.

Andrew D. Wells said...

Thanks, Alan. Considering Wiseman's previous work and the fact that not even Zombie could do Carpenter justice, you are right. I have little hope that "Escape From New York" will be worth the effort.

In fact, there is one very big problem with anyone remaking "Escape From New York" at this point in time. At the time of the original, New York City was one of the crime capitals of the world. I don't see how anyone will be able to reconcile NYC's relative peaceful state today with Manhattan becoming a giant maximum security prison.