Monday, September 10, 2007

No Trick, All Treat: Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN

Hey, yeah, been a while. Sorry, went to Arkansas for a week to celebrate my grandparent-in-laws family reunion. Got a hell of a sunburn digging for crystals (and found some real beauties), found I prefer my inlaws to my own flesh and blood without fail, and it was so goddamn hot that coming back to New England in 90+ degree weather didn't seem so bad in comparison. Ugh.

Also went to a hibachi place for the first time in my life, with mixed results: the young Chinese chef cut himself performing on the table, and we were twice forgotten as far as food was concerned. At least my aunt picked up the tab, as the bastardly place charged the price of 6 orders for 4 that were actually bought. I also literally drank soup that tasted like water with scallions floating in it. Weak...

Also been busy as all hell: read STARSHIP TROOPERS and I can't for the life of me figure out how in the hell Amino's OVA or Vorhoeven's Hollywood feature were 'based on the Robert Heinlein novel'. Also watched a bunch of crap that doesn't quite belong to me, including THE ABANDONED, 3 episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR, the first 5 episodes of HIGURASHI NO NAKU KORO NI (aka When They Cry), and the banned-in-Japan horror classic KYOFU KIKEI NINGEN (aka Horrors of Malformed Men). The Abandoned, directed by Nadcho Cerda of "Aftermath" infamy, is every bit a masterpiece and makes me wonder why the fuck it took the man 15 years to direct a feature after his last short film, Genesis. Malformed Men, sort of a twisted detective/sexy version The Island of Doctor Moreau, may well be the greatest masterpiece ISHII Teruo directed. Considering his long, varied, and flashy career that's saying something. As far as the MoH episodes went, The Black Cat appears to be Season 2's masterpiece, literally adapting Poe's tale of madness with Jeffery Combs giving the performance of his life. No cats were harmed in the making of this episode, though my wife doesn't believe it. And finally, Higurashi... well, if you like more and guro, this is the show for you. Period. I'm glad I waited for the uncensored R1, since seeing a show with adorable little girls stabbing themselves in the head edited would just make me go insane. I should skip the fansubs on awesome guro themed titles more often...

[Hoo-hah! Bandwidth thievery ahoy!]

But to hell with all that. I'm here to give my own verdict on what may be the single most controversial horror title of the year in the form of Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's legendary HALLOWEEN. I have a confession to make: despite having seen 7+ Jason films, every Freddy movie ever made, and my share of slasher shit circa 1980-1990 the likes of which I can barely remember (and I finally gave up on pursuing the genre after Scream proved to me that the joke was old enough that even people who weren't fans got it), I've never been a huge fan of Halloween. I like John Carpenter - The Thing, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China remain favorites of mine so many years later, and I'll admit I've missed a few classics while having generally mixed feelings about stuff like Vampires and Prince of Darkness - but I always felt that Halloween was... lacking. I can't explain why, exactly. It had the style of Argento at his peak, an immensely catchy and unique soundtrack, plenty of tits and blood, and more importantly set the ground rules that Friday the 13th and it's hundred or so knock-off's would abide by carefully and without fail for the next 30 years. I think the real problem is just... Michael Meyers. Known in the script as "The Shape", he was a soulless, personality free bogeyman who killed randomly, without rhyme, reason, or even satisfaction. Average size, wearing a very generic costume, and seemingly immortal Meyers was every part a supernatural monster in the guise of an ordinary man, a concept that horrified audiences
in the late 1970's as reports of serial killers in their midsts became more and more common and imaginations ran wild that their next door neighbor may one day rise up against them and decapitate them with a spatula only to make sweet love to their neck hole.

The trouble is, having read up on serial killers in my teens when the concept of "real" monsters fascinated me as much as the kinds in rubber masks, I just never bought Meyers' tale. For no discernible reason, little Mike Meyers becomes a mute psychopath who stabs his teenage sister to death, and 20 years later escapes back to his hometown to continue the slaughter anew. Meanwhile, a plucky and sexless teenage babysitter (in the form of the tasty Jamie Lee Curtis) has to defend herself and the children in her care from the masked maniac while his long time counselor (played by the always awesome Donald Plesance) tails him the whole way, ready to put a stop to what he believes is evil incarnate. That's really all there is to it. No matter how good the mood and acting for the feature may have been, the simplistic nature is only aided by a subtle and probably subconscious motive of the script which turns Meyers - and his imitators - into bizarre anti-heroes, punishing the wicked teenagers who smoke dope and have premarital sex, yet is somehow outwitted by both the well meaning Dr. Loomis and the virginal Laurie. In the end, good vanquishes evil, but is Meyers gone for good? With 8 movies in the cannon, it's safe to say "no".

[Whoa, Mike Meyers IS scary! ...oh, wait...]

With the original film having failed to impress me (and yeah, a lot of controversial and influential films have had that effect on me) I never bothered with the sequels. I watched a little bit of part 4 on cable, but got bored despite Donald's best efforts and never bothered to finish it. I may, in time, though I'll be damned if I go so far as to watch Meyers get beaten up by Bustah Rhymes in "Resurrection". I refused to watch Jason in Space, and you bet your ass I refuse to watch that bullcrap.

So with the original rotting in the recesses of my mind, I went into Rob's 30 years later remake expecting... well, I wasn't sure. I doubted it would be any less impressive, and with Malcom McDowell and, well, half the cast of The Devil's Rejects, not to mention early reports of a masturbating animal killing shota Michael Meyers who rapes and talks as an adult, it seemed poised to bitchslap every single possible expectation. Evidently, I'm in the minority on thinking that Rob's Halloween - at least the version we saw in theaters - was a damn good horror film. Not perfect. Not serious. Bud damned good. But I'm used to being in the minority on liking/disliking stuff. For chrissakes, I'm already committing sacrelige by saying Carpenter's was "unimpressive", might as well go for the whole enchilada.

Not all the rumors turned out to be unture: the first third of the film does depict Meyers' home life leading up to the murder of his sister (and in Rob's version some bonus murders as well), and what we see ain't pretty. His mother, played by the always lovely Sheri Moon Zombie, works as a stripper to support her two kids and alcoholic asshole second husband, played by William Forscythe who's just as apt a scumbag here as he was in Rejects. Lots of screaming, implied incestuous urges, dead animal and Sheri dancing to Love Hurts is to be found here, and anyone who isn't having a good time for it is just hung up on the original to take it as a new and lovingly fucked up entity. People don't just wake up one day and become serial killers, they become them through having shitty lives and major mental imbalances. Carpenter's Halloween ignored this fact and tried to ride on people's fear of the unknown, and the mere thought that a "normal" person could - for no reason at all - snap. Zombie takes the opposite route, and chooses to focus on the how and why of why a heartless and thankless monster could exist in the body of a man. Fans of the original are understandably upset that their once faceless and stone-cold antihero has been turned into the fourth member of Hanson with a cardboard mask, but frankly that combination is more effective than it ought to be. Particularly set to remixed pieces of Carpenter's now iconic score. The tone is set best when, after having already been stabbed, the young Michael pads after her slowly not because it looks dramatic, but because he doesn't need to run; from the word go, Michael's already won.

The style to the film is unique in that, despite appearing to open in the late 1970's (why else would little Mikey be wearing a KISS T-shirt?) the footage that takes place 18 years later could have been shot in the same stretch of time. In Rob's mid 1990's teenagers still drive around boss vans and have beards and have sex to Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper. This comes off as less a matter of Rob not knowing what kids do and more not giving a shit. I'll admit that seeing boobies flopping around to Only Women Bleed is a marked improvement to whatever Chumba Wumba song would have actually been playing on the radio, and the clothing style is generic enough that it could well have been shot in any period. But the entire film takes place just a few miles south of reality anyway: Meyers being allowed a paper machie mask, I can believe. That he walks around in tattered mental facility clothing is bullshit. That stuff is stitched canvas. I also love the thought that the facility wouldn't have an alarm, but that the lights would turn red. Realistic? No. But neither was Suspiria, which the film appears to be giving a polite nod to, and nobody bitched there. It's also uncanny how, having returned to the ruins of his childhood home, Meyers puts on the iconic rubber mask anew that hung around his face like a shapeless bag as a child, now hugs his head like a second skin. I know, I know, it was made specifically to fit the massive monster of a man that is Tyler Mane, ex-professional wrestler, but the effect is still one of great importance: Meyers isn't just home, he's complete. And Jason sliding that goofy hockey mask on his bubbling drowned noggin' never felt that way.

As far as Mane's performance - which easily could have made or broken the film itself - he does a fine job being a human wrecking ball. At 6'8, he's not exactly the everyman that Carpenter wanted, but he does make the scenes of throwing cops around like rag dolls and crushing people's faces open entirely believable. Unlike slasher movies, which typically used a single shot of gore and lovingly focused on a complex special effects shot, Rob's more down to earth method if several smashing blows with either a blunt object, or good old fashioned violence against the noggin, is far more uncomfortable and frightening than Meyers accomplished prior with a butcher's knife. Not to say he doesn't stab and slash his way through several victims - and even gets clever with a length of power cord, if I remember properly - but the drawn out sequences of him stabbing a topless girl only to leave her alive and sobbing as he goes off to finish her boyfriend is far more horrific than watching an anti-hero of a monster cut her tits off, as I honestly would have expected from a fan the likes of Rob's career suggests. There is no "gore" to speak of in the way we'd typically speak of it in the genre (even the mostly better-than-the-rest SAW franchise is guilty of "giving the people what they want"), there is only realistic and emotionless violence, protracted and ugly, apart from a single visual gag involving an animal that, if anything, is referencing the grand-daddy of the slasher movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and thus is something I can accept at face value. Meyers is, after all, a character with no emotion or feelings, despite us finally knowing the why. IGN missed this part, and thus can fucking eat me.

[Sorry for the OMG SPOILERZ!!!]

He killed his own fuzzy wuzzy pets for fucks sake, why should we expect to let Danny Trejo or his slutty sister live, even if he's done nothing but support Meyers? I'll say that I was impressed that Rob managed to make use of a toilet bowl in the process that was at first funny, but after the third time was just downright uncomfortable. Perhaps a throwback to Miike's City of Lost Souls? Hard to say. The point that so many people seem to not get is that while Rob's film has dissected and explained how Michael Meyers came to be, it does NOT make him human. Loomis' calls of "Anti-Christ" couldn't be more real not because he has unearthly powers, but merely because he doesn't give a damn. His endless love for his baby sister seems to come from the fact that, unlike the animals he could play God with, she was always happy to see him. Same with his mother - the first (human) murder we see is performed not because Michael was insulted, but because his momma' was. And you don't diss Sheri Moon Zombie. Somebody will kick your ass for it later.

I also want to cheer like a monkey on psychedelic drugs (feces throwing and all) that Malcom McDowell is eating again, since the last thing I can remember him being in was doing the voice for some god-awful cartoon on Nickelodeon (poor fucker - though a well read talking caterpillar was at least a better match for him than Ryuuken in Fist of the North Star). He was always a fine actor, and despite having been cast for the likes of A Clockwork Orange and Caligula, he proves here that he's perfectly capable of playing a serious role, even if the film isn't exactly suited for handing out Oscars. His Loomis is a paranoid, disillusioned, and fairly unlikable crazy son of a bitch - a far cry from the heroic and charming presence of Plesance in the original - but who's role of tailing Meyers hasn't changed in the least. The character is despised by the public for having written about his time with Michael, and he despises himself for being incompetent as a husband and a therapist. MOAR SPOILERZ!!! I'm also pleased as all fuck that his role in the film was essentially worthless: not a single life was saved by his doing, and that he met an end that reminded me of Cannibal Apocalypse (which in turn was used to better effect in 28 Days Later) was all good fun. Therapists think they can save the world if they can convince people to better their lives, but as McDowell proves they can't help those who refuse to help themselves.

While I'm spoiling shit left and right, I might as well add that I really like Michael Meyers: Demolition Services, the epic chase in which Laurie - who ends up having no clue that she's Mike's sister by the time the credits roll - is chased through their crumbling childhood home while Meyers, quite literally, brings down the house. Slasher stars have been doing that retarded "slow walking that catches up with the teenage bitch anyway" crap for 3 decades, and watching the lead pick up a 2 by 4 and decide that walls aren't going to stop him from accomplishing that one more time was fucking brilliant as far as I'm concerned.

There are a few logic lapses - why doesn't Loomis call in a SWAT team to recover Meyers without the risk of getting his head shoved up his ass? How does Mike recognize his sister almost 20 years later, and why does he love her so much? Where the fuck did Bill Mosley go? - but not only can most of them be explained with a little fucked-up psychology, there's absolutely nothing here that's any less logical to be expected from what is, fundamentally, a slasher film. And no, Carpenter's didn't make perfect sense either. Sorry John, I love you and all, but if any of your films have been overhyped Halloween is it.

Also... no sequel. Or at least if there is one, it'll be complete and utter bullshit, and Rob will most likely have zero to do with it. Naturally, having made it's $15 million budget back twice over and then some in the first week, it'll only be a matter of time before the Weinsteins find a way to milk the Halloween Cow next year. </SPOILING YOUR DINNER>

[Poison pen reviews can't stop this Superbeast from doing what he does best.]

Anyway, I've looked at a few reviews - with a 23% over at Rotten Tomatoes, critics are not taking kindly to this one - and can't for the life of me figure out where the problem is other than "it's remaking something that perfect to begin with" getting in the way of the bigger picture, which is that this is a finely crafted exploitation goldmine the likes of which I haven't seen come out in years. While I can relate to this concept - I did, after all, hate Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake like a bear trap to the testes - I think that Romero's Dawn is a classic worthy of adoration 30 years later. I just can't say the same for Carpenter's Halloween, and after once more seeing people defend it like Jesus I may revisit it to see if I was too harsh upon it so long ago, I dunno'. What I do know is that the theatrical version of Halloween is everything I was hoping it would be, and damn the haters out there.

So they're sick of torture porn, good for them. I'm not.

Oh yeah... a workprint (of sorts... it's a finished film, but without credits) leaked out roughly the day that Halloween hit theaters. I've only watched a little bit of it so far, but I have to say that this is the atrocity the likes of which Rob should be ashamed of, sleazy and deplorable as it may be. Depending on how busy I am with subtitles I may write-up a brief comparison of the two later on to show the world why I think Rob is a great man, and hope that my memory of the theatrical release is decent enough to have it mean something.

Anyway, hopefully I'll warn the world of PATHFINDER before that. No promises, though.

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