Thursday, September 6, 2007

Halloween (2007)

Director: Rob Zombie

Just imagine goading the original, 1978 Halloween out of its serene pasture and into Rob Zombie’s family owned and operated slaughterhouse, allowing the film to slues through various conveyors and grinders before ultimately splattering onto the silver screen. Sounds catastrophic, right? Believe it or not, most of it sticks. Horror films and comedies are probably the two movie genres least capable of gathering a group consensus among the viewing public. And even further divided are the professional critics. You sort of have to agree to disagree most of the time. Given that, I at least hope people will check this film out before writing it off as “another unnecessary remake,” despite polarized reviews. I can’t defend it too much, but it at least contains some really interesting and effective ideas that show Zombie’s unique, if at times grating sensibilities.

Scout Taylor-Compton is heir to the “Scream Queen” throne and does a descent enough job given her allotted screen time. Scout plays Laurie in the role Jamie Lee Curtis cemented in horror history nearly 30 years ago. This time Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) exploits Michael with a “tell-all” book. Unfortunately, Loomis has even less to do in this film than he did in the original. But the real character here is the new and improved Michael Myers, both young (Daeg Faerch) and old (Tyler Mane). He’s sort of like the Incredible Hulk in this film. His motives also received an upgrade when we find out that he’s come back for the baby sister he spared in his killing spree as a child. The deluge of revamped exposition ultimately leaves you with more questions, though. Michael never really resolves his issues. This is a relief, sparing the audience from some sort of big reveal at the end. The backstory with Michael’s beyond dysfunctional family seems like it would undermine everything the original stood for by defying horror’s golden rule: Less history, more mystery. It fits into the mythos perfectly, but unfortunately, it throws the pacing way off. Still, there are some great moments amid the chaos. One effective scene involves the young Michael munching candy corn in utter silence in his kitchen. It’s sort of the calm before the storm. And my favorite moment features the young Michael sporting the classic mask. Something about seeing that oversized, stoic mask on the little kid’s body as he snuck up on his sister really disturbed me.

Zombie’s affinity for depravity can wear out its welcome at times. It does seem as though every other character is a greasy trucker with the mouth of a sailor who’s just been kneed in the groin. Zombie’s also a big fan of close-ups. This ends up doing a disservice in the absurdly murky and dark visuals in the climax. The geography becomes a little disorienting. At times, I was unclear as to where everybody was, since the houses all look similar, and the rooms within the houses look similar. The compaction of the original’s material leads to some melding of characters and loss of tension. All the actors are hyper-animated. They all hang off each other and launch into voices. It’s like they all just saw Robin Williams on “Inside the Actors Studio” and thought, “Now that’s acting!” Even the parents have a zany answering machine message. I wish they would have toned all that down a few notches. I also couldn’t even remember the names of any other characters, or where or how each one died. I know there was some stabbing and roughhousing, but that’s about all I remember. I didn’t really mind that as much, since Michael Myers is uber-intimidating here. He rams through walls, and shows up on doorsteps in what sound like cheap shock effects, but their simplicity ends up working quite well. Michael is truly a force to be reckoned with in the version. There are times when he bursts through walls, and relentlessly pummels his victims, i.e. the man Michael pounds in the men’s room – ok, that didn’t come out right. Also, keep an eye out for the Texas Chain Saw Massacre shot, which subtly pays homage to this film’s most obvious influence. And is it possible that Zombie actually came up with a more effective and chilling ending than the original? I’ll leave it up to the audience to ultimately decide, but I really loved the very last sequence, which involves a twist on the famous high-dive from the second floor of the Myers’ residence, and a memorable last shot.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a GREAT horror film? Probably not. But revamping a classic horror film is not an easy task, and the road to victory is fraught with pitfalls. If someone is able to retain the elements that work in a film and also able to add to it without bastardizing it, then I would say they have succeeded. Zombie knows how to create those disturbing moments when the soundtrack goes fuzzy, evoking a sense of ringing ears, and let the images speak for themselves. You may feel like squirming in you seat a little at these moments (that’s kind of the point), but unlike the popular “torture porn” films, we’re left to decide how we want to feel as opposed to parading the deaths in front of us to relish in. I still think Zombie’s best work is yet to come, but I think he pulled this film off in a way no one else could have. And I was prepared to hate a re-imagined, backstory-laden, modern day horror flick. Sorry, Rob. Can you blame me? I mean, did you see Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning??!!

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