Saturday, September 01, 2007

REVIEW: Halloween (2007)

NOTE: Review may contain, by necessity, discussion-of or allusions-to differentiations between this film and the original which may constitute SPOILERS. You have been warned.

The reason I don't automatically get bent out of shape about movie remakes is that, when you get right down to it, almost everything is a remake of something else "officially" or not. It's pretty likely that we ran out of "new" stories on the fourth or fifth night of Cro-Magnon campfire tales. Joseph Campbell neatly sorted every story in every culture into one of only THREE seperate stories, Karl Jung apparently got it down to ONE. The plain fact is, almost any movie you'll see is either directly or indirectly "inspired" by other material, and from where I sit after a full century of existance it oughn't be forbidden for movies to add other movies to the list of "stuff to base movies on" next to books, plays, history, etc. This especially goes for the Horror genre: If- as many horror fans continue to insist- Freddy, Michael, Jason, etc. are the modern equivalents of Dracula, Frankenstein etc.; then it shouldn't be a de-facto sin to similarly re-imagine or revamp them in the same way that other monster-mainstays have been... or at least try to.

So, short-version, I don't begrudge anyone merely for ATTEMPTING to, 25 years later, put out a different spin on the Michael Meyers mythos. I especially don't begrudge Rob Zombie doing so, since if you ARE going to demand horror-genre bona-fides he's spent two genre films and an entire musical career establishing his. And while Zombie hasn't exactly made a perfect film he's made a fascinating and noteworthy one, which I'll take any day of the week over what we might've gotten had the producers gone the risk-free hire-a-hack route. Brett Ratner's "Halloween," anyone? Didn't think so.

The plain fact is that the original "Halloween" is just about the perfect example of it's own franchise and genre. No straight-up "slasher" film is better, and none will likely ever be better. Going in to Mr. Zombie's remake, my biggest hope was that it would compare to John Carpenter's original film in the way that the Hammer "Dracula" movies compared to the Bela Lugosi/Tod Browning original: Familiar story and characters but with a total visual and characterization overhaul. Instead, what we have here is a film that resembles no other horror remake so much as Coppola's "Brahm Stoker's Dracula." Both are reboots of an iconic character that place the antagonist in the forefront of the story, both make it a point to delve into a newly-minted "origin story" for said antagonist, both are intentionally prodding the audience's sense of cognitive dissonance by making the viewpoint and story-structure "sympathetic" with an unsympathetic character at the center and both are framed as self-aware tributes to the genre/franchise keenly aware that the audience will probably NOT be able to "forget" the original while watching.

The key difference, and easily the most controversial and "difficult" thing about the film, is that Zombie's take involves a revised "origin" for Michael Meyers that completely reverses the original film's approach to characterization. The 'point' of the original Michael was that he was an empty-vessel for pure evil, sprouted without rhyme or reason in the heart of genuinely good suburban familyland. The "new" Michael is the abused and unloved product of a home enviroment accurately described by one character as the "perfect mix" of forces to turn someone into, well... Michael Meyers. For literally one half of the film, we watch as lil' Michael starts off killing animals (like any good psycho in training) and then moves up to schoolyard bullies and eventually all but the youngest of his vile family members - an act which, as you already knew, lands him a lifetime stint in an asylum. It's not so much that Zombie wants us to "sympathize" with Michael so much as he's forcing us to place our audience-interest in him. To "understand" the why of what he does. The original film was "about" the babysitters stalked by the killer, this one is ABOUT the killer.

This reversal indeed extends to the 2nd half of the film, an abbreviated retread of the original film but this time with greater emphasis on Michael's perspective. Now that it's the killer with all the depth and perspective, the film's victims are the empty, dehumanized ones. The film sees the "good guys" the same way Michael does: As lesser beings, targets, nothing more. They aren't important (well, one of them is, maybe) to Michael, they're in the way, and by extension they aren't important to the movie and aren't ever made important to the audience. We don't "want" them to die because they seem like nice-enough people (Zombie pretty much shoots his 'characters who deserve it' load on the Meyers family in Act I, so the latter half is refreshingly free of 'you stupid suburbanites' cheap-shots) but we're only "invested" in babysitter Laurie Strode for reasons that everyone and their grandma already knows and that the movie barely seems to recognize is supposed to be a twist.

So, yes. 40 solid minutes getting us "inside" the head/world of a savage murderer and a 2nd half that turns him loose on a cast's worth of one-dimensional canon-fodder, from the director of "The Devil's Rejects." And yet, what keeps the film from finally becoming the amoral "root for the killer" epic the prude-set has been warning us about since the original Michael stabbed his original sister comes down to a very deliberate and even MORE ballsy decision by Zombie: The killings aren't fun. There's no Freddy Krueger "funny" deaths, none of Jason Vorhees' improvisational genius, not even much of the original Meyers' "heh. Did I do that?" quizzical head-tilting. The butcherings of this new "Halloween" resemble the kind metted out by "Hotel Rwanda's" machete-wielding Hutus: Brutal, merciless and cold.

The new Michael, re-imagined as a towering 7-foot behemoth inhabitted by wrestler/actor Tyler Mane, is all business: He works fast, doesn't play games, and is so physically powerful he can take out some of his targets just by squeezing their neck really hard. And when the deaths do take longer than a few moments, Zombie purposefully dwells on the victims, not the hardware: Empty characters though they may be, the unlucky citizens of Haddonfield meet their ends with aplomb; screaming, crying, pleading for their lives. It's uncomfortable, it's hard to watch, it's horror-ific. There's not a single "Aw yeah, get 'im Mike!!!" moment once The Shape hits the 'burbs, and it seems to be the key to Zombie's vision: He's let the "slasher" audience deeper into the mind of the monster than they've ever been, but in exchange he's robbed them of the chance to "enjoy" the splatter.

So many of the choices Zombie makes here, and the fearlessness with which he carries it all out, are so fascinating that one wants to overlook or outright ignore some of the more basic and noteable flaws... but in the end that's not entirely possible. Setting up what is eventually a "two-act" structure is an interesting approach, but the fact that "part two" must so closely resemble the original film causes it to feel jarringly seperate: After spending 40+ minutes in the entirely new world of "growing up Michael," there's a genuine "oomph!" in realizing that the NOT entirely new world of the familiar "Halloween" story had just touched down.

More bothersome, the decision to retain (and directly involve) the true connection between Michael and Laurie despite the now much-less-supernatural-like Michael raises some basic logic questions the film just can't properly answer. And on the just-plain-silly side, while Zombie's penchant for stunt-casting genre icons thankfully doesn't get in the way of the movie (the who's-who of grindhouse vets appear in a series of minor roles, do their parts "straight" and move on) a somewhat gratuitous bit of striptease by Sheri Moon-Zombie does. Mr. Zombie, if you're listening: This officially became "showing off" about midway through "Rejects." Yes, you're wife is really, really hot. We're all very impressed. Good goin' on your part. But enough is enough.

I'll give him his biggest credit where it's most due, though (and this is where that SPOILER WARNING comes into play, kiddies): THANK YOU for finding an ending that is A.) as ballsy and brutal as the rest of the "big" scenes, B.) still doesn't let the audience "off the hook" or go for quick catharsis and C.) is an actual ENDING. I won't spell it out, folks, but if this new "Halloween" gets only ONE thing absolutely, spectacularly, perfect right; it's the decision to stand up in full knowledge of the ever-worsening sequels that followed the first film and boldly scream "fuck no!, NOT doing that!" at the very idea. Bravo, at least, to that.


1 comment:

joe said...

" the unlucky citizens of Haddonfield meet their ends with aplomb; screaming, crying, pleading for their lives. It's uncomfortable, it's hard to watch, it's horror-ific. There's not a single "Aw yeah, get 'im Mike!!!" moment once The Shape hits the 'burbs, and it seems to be the key to Zombie's vision: He's let the "slasher" audience deeper into the mind of the monster than they've ever been, but in exchange he's robbed them of the chance to "enjoy" the splatter."

It sounds like Zombie is giving the Slasher film the same treatment Homer gave to the War-epic with The Illiad. He's making the characters actually more human by making them act like real people who are coming to understand that they're dying. They don't just oomph, or gurgle when being slashed or pierced. They scream in pain and plead for their lives. It sounds like a way to make them more human then they really were in the original. Now that I've read your review I think I'm gonna check it out.