Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Believing That It Was

In the interest of full disclosure: I haven’t seen the first two films that Rob Zombie has directed. I have, however seen John Carpenter’s 1978 original HALLOWEEN many, many times. However, I can’t look at HALLOWEEN as something that can’t be futzed with, mostly because it’s been futzed with through the course of numerous sequels already. Ask me what I think about messing with ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and you’ll hear the thoughts of an angry man but in the case of HALLOWEEN it’s a little late. For the record, my favorite sequel is Part 4—I haven’t seen it in years, but my memory has it as being a no-nonsense, straight-ahead slasher film. I also remember the immediate follow-up Part 5 as being the absolute worst, but it’s been so long that I could believe it would have some strong competition.

Which brings us to Rob Zombie’s reimagining of HALLOWEEN, a film that, since it comes only five years after the previous sequel one wonders if it really is ok with die hard fans that they chose to reboot the whole thing(for that matter, one wonders if the die hard fans asked for so many sequels anyway). I’ve never gotten to know HALLOWEEN as simply HALLOWEEN, a movie without sequels, a movie where the whole issue of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode being siblings was never a factor. Taken by itself, the movie is, and works as, a simple boogeyman story, “the night HE came home”, with no elaboration necessary. But the boogeyman doesn’t interest Rob Zombie, the idea of simply considering him “The Shape”, as he’s billed in the first film, is not part of his game plan. Clearly, he’s interested in the reality of the concept and where the evil of Michael Myers comes from.

I knew how different the movie was supposed to be but the honest truth, my gut response, is that I was sitting there at the Chinese watching the film, feeling perplexed by how much time it was spending on what was always minor plot points until I realized that much of the point of the film was obviously an exploration of the white-trash conceptualization of the character of Michael Myers. Who he is, how he got that way, what makes him tick. Which pretty much discards any notion of a simple boogeyman story. In watching this, it occurred to me that I really didn’t agree with this idea, but it also occurred to me that at least this was an idea. And those can be in short supply in these movies sometimes, whether I agree with them or not. I relaxed at this point and found myself watching HALLOWEEN in a near-detached state. I can’t quite say that I ever actually liked the movie or even that I ever cared what was happening but in some ways I was constantly curious about what it was going to do next.

It’s not a remake or a reimagining of HALLOWEEN, it’s a remix. It’s the Rob Zombie mix. And instead of the sparse, Panaglide, Argento-influenced color schemes of that original classic’s style, it’s a loud, abrasive, in-your-face, at-times improvisational, why-are-they-spending-time-on-this-minor-detail sort of approach. Elements that everyone remembers about the original are ignored but there are flashes of the occasional incidental line of dialogue, a familiar musical phrase, a pair of glasses worn by a key character. By the time we do get to Laurie Strode, her friends and Halloween night, the movie takes about ten minutes to get to what Carpenter took about fifty to do, robbing us of much of the build-up but it’s clearly not what Zombie cares about. The build-up, for him, is the exploration of the mind behind the Shape. Laurie Strode and the people around her take a back seat. There’s extreme gore, much more so than in Carpenter’s, with a particular interest in throat slashings. Occasionally there seems to be a few extra beats of character before extreme mayhem and brutality kick in as if to make it more real and painful. It’s a key difference between the two films—stylish spookiness of the original or extreme brutality of this version. Whether Carpenter’s film was what should be called “fun” is almost beside the point. It’s not part of this film’s agenda at all. When one character, who is very obvious dead meat, is found actually alive but stabbed and brutalized, it’s almost more disturbing than simply stumbling across yet another corpse with a blank stare. The question here would be how much we need a HALLOWEEN that is more disturbing. Was that ever really the point to the film in the first place?

Played by Malcom McDowell, Dr. Loomis is either terribly written or written as a terrible doctor. I’m still not sure but as McDowell plays him he exhibits little of the primal power of Donald Pleasance, even when he came off as a raving lunatic in the sequels. Much of the cast is played by familiar faces, making it a sort of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD HALLOWEEN. They include Danny Trejo, Brad Dourif, Dee Wallace, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Sybil Danning, Ken Foree, Micky Dolenz (Micky Dolenz?) and others. Danielle Harris plays Annie Brackett, Nancy Loomis’s role in the original. Harris of course played Jamie in 4 and 5 back in the 80s, was a college student nine years ago in URBAN LEGEND and plays a high school student here, which makes my eyes cross but she actually is perfectly believable in the part.

It’s entirely possible that Rob Zombie misunderstood what was so powerful about HALLOWEEN in the first place, but he whether he did or not it’s clear that he made the movie he wanted to make. I don’t know if I’d call it good, but at times it felt like there was something there. And, for whatever reason, I was always interested and never bored. This has been an honest admission.

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