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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Remakes: Redux, Or Ridiculous? -- The Shape of Halloween

The one and only HALLOWEEN


The one and only Dr. Sam Loomis

I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply....evil.

The one and only Michael Myers, an icon of modern horror

***WARNING! This article contains foul language and nudity***

Ever since seeing the downloadable version and then, finally, the very different version in theaters, I was able to come to a definite conclusion regarding Rob Zombie's "reimagining" of Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN. If Zombie's film were toilet paper, I wouldn't wipe my ass with it. I despised that movie so much, I refused to buy the DVD upon its release. Apparently, I had a recent lapse in logic and did purchase the second film; Mainly because my girlfriend hadn't seen it and I figured I'd pick up a handful of newer releases as the old films do little for her at all. But before I get into the sequel to the remake, let's start at the beginning.

As per most horror remakes, fans were in an uproar when Robbie Z first announced he was helming a new HALLOWEEN picture. Or, more accurately, he stated "Halloween picked him". Whatever. Initially there was much hope that the man behind previous rowdy redneck sleaze, the horrible HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2000) and the slightly better DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005), would somehow deliver the goods here. Really?

One of numerous macabre moments from John Carpenter's classic horror film

First off, Carpenter's original movie is brilliance personified. It's one of a small few horror films that still gives me the creeps whenever I watch it. In that film, a young Michael Myers murders his sister on Halloween night with no explanation. The idea that a small boy from suburbia would suddenly commit murder with no cause, or reason is frightening enough in itself. That was what made the character so mysterious and creepy in the first place. Zombie's version totally dispenses with that notion. We don't need to know about Michael's homelife, or how he was treated by his parents to be scared of him.

One of the best and most intense moments seen in countless other films, but never as good as here

Instead of a focused remake of Carpenter's work, we get THE DEVIL'S REJECTS: THE BEGINNING. In Zombie's Haddonfield, most everyone speaks as if they're from some alternate universe where no one can utter a sentence without saying "Fuck", or spout sexual references. Do people really talk like this? I don't know anyone that does. Some close approximations, but nothing quite like what is seen and heard in his movies. In the Z man's flicks, whole scenes are dedicated to chicken pokin' and corpse fuckin' among other ridiculous "dialog exchanges". His HALLOWEEN two'fer is no different.

Speaking of dialog, the use of it can create suspense and tension without the use, or need of visual representation. One need only watch any number of scenes involving Dr. Loomis from the original HALLOWEEN (1978) where he attempts to explain the reasoning behind Michael's need to kill. These scenes (with the accompaniment of Carpenter's iconic music) still possess the power to unsettle. In Rob Zom's version, we get a half baked attempt by Malcolm McDowall (who seems embarrassed at times till he remembers the paycheck he's getting) in his interpretation of Sam Loomis. Speaking of that character, Mr. Z has some kind of fascination with vagrants as Loomis looks like he just left a soup kitchen during the first 40 (painful) minutes of "the new & improved" HALLOWEEN.

The unmemorable Myers--unmasked

Ditto for Myers in last years HALLOWEEN 2. In that film, Zombie opts to make his Frankenstein monster adorned in filthy clothes and looking like he's auditioning for a remake of EEGAH! (1962) as opposed to anything resembling what fans perceive as HALLOWEEN.

The finale of HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

Also, in Carpenter's movie (and particularly the first sequel), the script goes to great lengths to present the killer as being the embodiment of pure evil. The character of Myers is often times given an almost supernatural status by the mad ravings of Dr. Loomis. Not so in Z's version. There, Myers is relegated to a torturer of small animals who moves on to people just prior to growing up to be a giant. This presents the next problem which is also a problem with Rob Zombie's movies.

In the original movies, there was no mistaking that Michael Myers was death personified. In the newer HALLOWEEN film (as in most of his other pictures), there is an uncomfortable amount of sympathy geared towards the villain. Zombie first did this to a great degree in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. I don't wanna see these guys sharing ice cream, or on screen reminisces of their home movies just prior to the gang going out in a "blaze of glory". This sort of ill conceived reverie is usually relegated to heroes against the establishment, not bloodthirsty butchers.

HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)

Zombie does the same thing with his version of Myers. He tries to make the audience sympathize with his serial killer. This was less so in the theatrical version. It would seem the reshoots demanded that this be toned down. In the workprint version of the film (which I assume made it onto one or more of the DVD editions), there was an inordinate amount of humanizing the character to make him pitiable. There's one moment where this is somewhat successful. It's during a sequence wherein Loomis is explaining to Meyers that he's moving on and that there time together is over. The editing is quite good here and helps what little genuine pathos the film possesses.

Carpenter apparently shot additional violence to enable the film to compete with the emerging state of gore drenched horror of the time

Once Myers escapes the institution, the film immediately becomes a frustrating, one note clone of Carpenter's movie, albeit on a middle school level. The escape scene in the original was subtle, but handled by a director with some self control and the ability to create a spooky mood with the help of Pleasence and his spouting, "The evil has gone from here!"

For Robbie Z's go at this scene, he creates one of the most mind numbingly stupid sequences of recent memory. In the original Z version, two redneck orderlies decide they want to rape one of the inmates. Instead of finding another place to consummate this horrific act, the two genius' decide to violate this poor woman in the cell of Michael Myers! Are you kidding me?!?!?! This scene is incredibly offensive and totally out of place in a HALLOWEEN movie regardless of how different you want your direction to be. With scenes like this and what he has done prior, Mr. Z would be best suited for handling remakes of such exploitation cult trash favorites as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1979) and MOTHER'S DAY (1980), the latter of which already has a remake in production. The theatrical version omits this tortuous scene completely and replaces it with another where Michael escapes TERMINATOR style killing a number of armed guards. This is far better, but still infinitely stupid in execution.

Evil is born in suburbia, not a trailer park

If someone is truly going to undertake such a daring task as creating a backstory of an iconic horror figure, why not approach the subject respectfully and build the entire film around said character culminating with the emergence of the Michael Myers fans of the series are familiar with during the closing moments? Zombie attempts to cram his minimalist attempt within the first 40 minutes then simply rehash Carpenter's film (with far worse dialog) for the remainder of the movie.

One of many great suspense scenes showing Myers stalking Laurie Strode on HALLOWEEN

To be fair, I ran across an interview with Zombie where he stated he wanted the first one to be entirely about the character leading up to his escape from the sanitarium ending with his trip to Haddonfield. The second feature would carry on from there.

As has already been mentioned above, the dialog is atrocious. No one says anything of any importance or conviction. The bulk of the dialog comes off as the work of a beleaguered or lonely schoolboy enamored with dirty words and his dads magazines hidden away in the closet. This preponderance for ear splittingly painful exchanges of speech can be found in all of Zombie's movies. His latest, HALLOWEEN 2, is no different.

Go on...say it, you know you want to...

During the first ten minutes, we not only get a looong conversation between two coroners about necrophilia, but moments after crashing into a cow, one of them, seriously injured and spitting up blood says "Fuck!" for several minutes. Not just 'fuck', but different variations on Zombie's favorite expletive. There's "Fuck!" then "Fuuuck!" and also the attention getting, "FUCK!!" Later in the film, the main actress playing Laurie Strode has a similar instance of dramatic use of profanity by spouting a rapid fire exchange of "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" while driving down a highway. HALLOWEEN 2 most likely has set a record for the most times the 'F' word has been spoken, spit, spewed and spieled in a motion picture.

The level of violence in Carpenter's movie is minimal, but when it happens, it strikes a chord with the audience because tension has been created prior to the execution of the victim. In Zom's version, it's just lots of cartoonish violence with little left to the imagination. What's curious about his version is that the women get the brunt of the violence as opposed to the men. Myers seems to torture them more than the male victims. The violence lingers on the female fatalities. The women try to crawl away after being stabbed or beaten by the lumbering giant. He slowly follows before dragging them away to their doom. The male characters are disposed of rather quickly. For his second outing, the violence is extended to an alarming degree on both male and female casualties. It becomes both disturbing and comical at times. It's akin to those protracted moments on FAMILY GUY where a gag goes on seemingly forever.

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

The violence found in the original sequel to HALLOWEEN is likewise mean spirited, but never becomes cartoonish. It also never becomes so over the top that the viewer feels they have been bashed over the head with a sledgehammer. Director Rick Rosenthal (HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION) followed Carpenter's pattern very closely giving the impression that Carpenter may have directed the movie himself. Carpenter did shoot some additional gore scenes since the genre was steering in that direction during the early 80's. Even with the addition of gore to the original sequel, the overall tone is an eerily depressing one. A young trick r treater is killed in a freak car accident while another falls victim to an apple sheathing a razor blade. The lighting in the hospital is very dim and the long hallways are frequently empty. Carpenter's music here adds to the dread.

The new Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)

Zombie's music for both his HALLOWEEN movies is a mixed bag. We get both a traditional score and various songs that appeal to the director. Since I'm trying to completely forget the initial remake, I remember very little about its music. I found the score in his second feature to be quite good and aids in making the viewer feel uncomfortable during the moments that work. Also, Zombie seems to love Nazareth's 'Love Hurts' very much since he uses it in both his movies. For the second film, it's a cover version saved for the finale when Laurie has reached the afterlife confined to a surreal white room with an elongated hallway.

Rob Zombie also stated in interviews that he wasn't referencing the original HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) yet his version features a sequence wherein Laurie is stalked and attacked both inside and outside a darkly lit hospital. Whether it was intentional or not, it's still there and fans are going to make the connection. After just seeing Zombie's HALLOWEEN 2 a few nights ago, I must say that I enjoyed it far more than his first outing in Haddonfield. However, I didn't find it to be a very good movie. I feel the way I felt about THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. It was infinitely better than the film before it, but only possessed intermittent moments of brilliance that never turned said film into a compelling horror experience. The hospital scene is one of the best in the movie. Possibly the best sequence out of the whole picture is the attack on Annie and how its shot. I'd say it's probably the best thing Zombie has done out of his four completed movies.

Zombie gets all surreal with the white horses imagery in HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)

I realize I have a lot of negative things to say about Rob Zombie, the director, but this sequence really was well done and had the entire movie maintained this level of breath-taking horror (backed by a dissonant soundtrack), than he would have had a real monster-piece on his hands. Even still, it's difficult to take the man seriously. In interviews he constantly contradicts himself. In one he states his first 'stab' (sorry) at HALLOWEEN was his own creation done with complete autonomy. Later, while promoting his sequel, he states that he had lots of interference on his first go round and that the sequel is solely his beast. Well if that's the case, audiences showed major indifference towards his follow up.

The film only brought in a little over $33 million domestically and foreign tickets only accounted for an additional 5 million. The reviews were scathing with many people ripping the movie to shreds. Honestly, I thought there were enough good moments to lift this one above the abomination that came before it. That's not to say there aren't a handful of puzzlingly daft things going on in the sequel.

The Devil's Rejects unite

I guess the director should be commended for trying something different even if his approach is frustratingly erratic with little balance overall. Zombie tries to make his movie a character study rife with occasionally bizarre dream sequences involving the ominous presence of Zom's real life wife guiding a white horse(!) Zombie also generously peppers his picture with an incredible amount of violence and savagery. The film as a whole is very angry. The main cast mostly shouts and yells their dialog. Even Myers speaks (one word at the end). The appearance of Myers is also the cause of much contention between fans of the series. John Carpenter had created the face of pure evil. The product from the safe haven of American suburbia, this made the visage of the bringer of death one that could be anyone. Evil could grow from where you would least expect it. The notion of Myers as a supernatural force carries over into the other sequels as well (although part 4 gives Michael a Jason Voorhees level of psychotic sophistication). Rob Zombie's versions first show Michael as white trash personified, a pitiable Frankenstein's monster. The sequel comes along and transforms him into a homeless vagrant.

Zombie also stated that without the mask, it isn't a HALLOWEEN movie. Well, Myers is without his mask for a good chunk of the movie. His face is mostly obscured by his dirty parka, but you see him more than you would ever really want to. It destroys the image. Although you get a brief glimpse of Myers face in Carpenter's original, it never wreaks havoc with the what has transpired prior to the reveal. For Zombie's sequel, it just makes the character seem like an outsized serial killer looking for his next meal as opposed to the walking representation of death. There are lots of death in HALLOWEEN 2, though. It's easily one of the most bloody and violent horror movies in quite some time. I never saw it in the theater, but the directors cut contains much character development (as chaotic as it may be) married to an even more preponderance of viscous fluids splattering on screen.

Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif get the best, most stable roles in the movie

The characters are slightly better, but when the bulk of their dialog consists of "Fuck" and its many colorful variations, it's difficult to take these people seriously. The constant barrage of expletives becomes very annoying. Even the character of Loomis partakes in a profane exchange. HALLOWEEN 2 (2009) would be a great drinking game. For every cuss word, you must take a shot. Lesser drinkers would doubtless make it past the first 30 minutes.

Anyway, the character of Loomis has had some serious tinkering done with him. In Carpenter's movie and the succeeding sequels, Loomis was an assured doctor deeply upset that his patient was let loose on an unsuspecting world and there was little he could do about it. With each film, he became more and more obsessed with reaching out to Myers and later, his eventual destruction. The character later became a bit unhinged himself, feeling regret and remorse for all the lives lost up to that point. Loomis no doubt felt responsible for the bloodshed in the wake of the killers wrath.

For Zombies rendition, Loomis starts out as a hippie psychologist who later takes on the mantle set down by Pleasence's performance. McDowall to me never quite reaches the heights of Donald's role, but gives it his best with what Zombie has given him to work with. Watching him in the remake, I couldn't help but feel that McDowall was either confused, or embarrassed by his participation. With the sequel to the remake, McDowall has suddenly become an asshole.

In the brief time since the last film (one year in the theatrical and two years for the Directors cut), Loomis has transformed from a concerned doctor to a media whore hawking his new book on Myers the serial killer. What's odd about this is that Loomis suddenly changes his tune rather quickly by the end. One minute he's in the city witnessing the police surrounding a shack out in the woods housing Myers and Laurie as his hostage. Within the span of a few seconds, Loomis is suddenly out in the woods with them! It's the only time the character "participates" with the other characters in the movie. McDowall's portrayal of Loomis comes off just as villainous as Myers at times and yet he seems to be appearing in a totally different movie till the end.

The one and only Laurie Strode

The character of Laurie Strode is also quite different. The Laurie of Carpenter's film and others was obviously traumatized by her run in with death, but she still maintained her composure. Outside of reverting to alcoholism in HALLOWEEN: 20 YEARS LATER (1998), her character changed little.

Scout Taylor-Compton on the other hand, does a complete turnaround from her nonsensical dialog spouting, goofy teen role in the first remake to an expletive riddled headcase looking like a groupie for Zombie's band. Danielle Harris fares much better although she ends up the same way she did in the previous movie--naked and covered in blood, only here, she seemingly dies in another of the films few truly gripping moments. Cult fave, Brad Dourif fares much better this time around than he did previously. He also gets a good scene or two.

Whereas the first remake suffered from reshoots that played havoc with the already rocky narrative, the unevenness of the sequel hasn't that excuse to fall back on. What does Myers do for the two years he's been skulking around in some open field looking like Grizzly Adams and eating dogs? Why wait two years to resume his search for his sister? How was he able to disappear between the time he received that bullet to the face? Aside from the dream sequence that takes up the first 25 minutes, it's stated that Myers simply disappeared and his body was never recovered. Yet at the end of the first remake, you hear sirens around Laurie as the camera closes on her blood addled face. Apparently, the theatrical version of HALLOWEEN 2 has a 'One year later' title card while the Director's cut displays 'Two years later'.

The original HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) expanded on the mythology by making Laurie Strode Michael's other sister, a plot device created specifically for that film apparently to give Myers some additional motivation for killing Laurie and pretty much anyone that happens to get in the way. There's also more of a supernatural element added such as Loomis speaking of ancient Druidic rituals. It isn't quite as in your face as it would be in HALLOWEEN 6 (1993), but it adds an eerily subtle ambiance to the proceedings. One of the coolest aspects of Rosenthal's movie is that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) can be seen playing on various television screens during the first half of the movie. For Zombie's movie, he gives us more cameo's by familiar faces such as Margot Kidder (BLACK CHRISTMAS '74) and CAROLINE WILLIAMS (TEXAS CHAINSAW 2).

I will say that HALLOWEEN 2 (2009) has, outside of its scant few good points, some damn fine cinematography. The film has a very dark, dank and disheveled look about it. That's the one constant the film has in its favor. Some of the shots have an almost Bava like aura about them. It is here that Zombie does not disappoint at all. The man clearly has skills at creating an ominously sinister atmosphere, it's the writing and sloppy narratives that sink his pictures. Overall, HALLOWEEN 2 (2009) is on the right track, it just is a bit late reaching its destination.

With all the changes including an onslaught of extreme gore and language, does Rob Zombie's two go rounds at relaunching the Michael Myers character succeed on a comparable level to what came before it? In this reviewers opinion it's an emphatic, Hell No. Zombie's movies are too preoccupied with foul language and scuzzy characters saddled with infantile geek speech (and I mean geek as in the types that bite the heads off chickens at sleazy carnivals). Said characters are offensively over the top, or are simply not worth the time for audience investment. One should simply sit back and "enjoy" the slaughterhouse in front of them as that's all that his versions of HALLOWEEN can offer the viewer. The clumsy editing and frequent lack of cohesion do the films no favors.

The enticingly macabre cinematography is a highlight among very few others, but hopefully, Zombie will stay away from any further HALLOWEEN sequels. According to another recent interview, his time on part two was not pleasant, either, and he adamantly proclaimed he was done with the series. Reportedly, HALLOWEEN 3D is in the works. Currently, Rob Zombie is attached to another remake--THE BLOB(!!!) Considering this property has already had a hugely enjoyable remake done in 1988, it's puzzling that another would be in order. It will be interesting to see how Zombie weaves hillbilly horror into the framework of this title. Or he could do himself and everyone else a grand favor and try for something completely different.


Jayson Kennedy said...

Damn, I love reading well-reasoned takes on Zombie's sequel now that the DVD is out. With the "fucking" Paramedic, I assumed he was pinned in his seat by an unseen something that tore into his stomach from the crash. He's bleeding from his mouth and it seems as if he's holding his mid-section in but can't move.

Also I remember hearing about this months ago with those (supposedly) surviving sudden violent accidents saying they had similar dazed reactions. Not saying it isn't a bit funny watching it though...

Jayson Kennedy said...

Also even though used much better in the original Halloween 2, in Zombie's sequel Laurie wakes up to NOLD playing on her TV after her beginning hospital nightmare.

J. Astro said...

I pretty much loathe almost everything about the first HALLOWEEN remake, but somehow found this second attempt much more palatable. The elements here, while still not particularly in line with the original franchise (most of which I enjoyed, aside from the explicitly moronic RESURRECTION) at least recall enough of the vibes of Parts 4,5,& 6 to make me happy. Comparing this or the first remake to Carpenter's original is surely folly, and again, I still strongly dislike Zombie's first go at it, but this second one, -if taken in context with the meandering directions the later sequels were taking-, seemed to me like an interesting alternate extension of the mythos.

Upon leaving the theater this last summer, I was surprised that I enjoyed this one so much. And I am happy to see you point out and appreciate that yes, Brad Dourif's 'Sheriff Bracket' was a much more impressive presence this time around.

Cheers, pal.

Skeme Richards said...

Always a quality read from you Venom, just made my night!


venoms5 said...

Hey, Jayson. Thanks for stopping by! I just found it hilarious since Zombie has such a field day fitting in 'Fuck' as many times as humanely possible in his already crowded potty mouthed scripts.

I didn't pay much attention to it until yesterday while doing screen caps, but I thought that was NOTLD playing on the TV, but wasn't quite sure. Thanks for clarifying that.

venoms5 said...

Again, J, we seem to be on the same wavelength as I agree with you about Zombie's excursion into Carpenter territory. Maybe one day Robbie Z will direct a movie I like from start to finish.

@ Skeme: Thanks for hanging out and reading the post and leaving such kind words. Take care!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Excellent cross examination of the films V, I have H2 coming tomorrow or Tues so I will finally be able to get a feel for the film myself. What disappointed me more than anything else is how Zombie clearly stated that there was no reason to ever remake a classic film unless you were going to do something dramatically different with it, then he goes and makes a near-shot for shot remake (with the addition of 'shitty') after a mediocre backstory. Im hoping to find something I like in the sequel this week..

venoms5 said...

Hey, Carl! Well, maybe you will enjoy part two then as it's about as different from any HALLOWEEN movie as you're ever gonna get. Which one you got coming, the theatrical, or the directors cut?

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