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Monday, September 17, 2007


When looking at the international cinema of horror, from day one of film the viewer has been treated to whatever the culture that created any given movie finds scary, old creepiness dusted off from an indigenous base of rich myths and legends brought to moving, visceral life on the big screen; the Chinese have their hopping vampires, the Japanese roll out tales of tragic ghosts and hostile nature spirits, the Spanish give us lusty werewolves and the Catholic scares of the undead Knights Templar, Italy expresses a singularly gustatory horror with its epics of flesh-eating, Britain revels in the fairytale-like excesses of Hammer Studios' Gothic monster rallies, and so on. That's all a bit of a generalization, but the point I'm trying to make is that each of these cultures has been around for a loooooong time and have accumulated a deep and resonant bestiary of goblins, golems, vampires, and what have you, while America is still a relatively young country with a culture that mixes and matches its elements from the innumerable races, religions, and cultures that have settled here over the past couple of hundred years, and does not necessarily have the same kind of myth base that other lands possess. Our earliest horror icons, particularly the familiar monsters and miscreants found in the Universal horror cycle of the 1930's and 1940's, were mostly European in inspiration and setting — Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolfman being the most prominent examples — and the uniquely American flavor of horror didn't really surface until the advent of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO in 1960.

Seen by many as the true proto-slasher film, PSYCHO's crawly weirdness and intensely horrifying revelation of what deviant and homicidal behavior might lurk just beneath the placid, "aw, shucks" banality of the modern day America struck a chord, especially since it was inspired by the true-life case of infamous cannibal/necrophile/murderer Ed Gein. Gein's arrest in 1957 exposed the nation to an unspeakable horror that absolutely no one at the time was ready for, and thus were sown the seeds of a new, uniquely American bogeyman: the twisted killer who dwells among us, with us none the wiser until it's too late.

PSYCHO's success opened a floodgate of would-be copycat shockers, and as times changed and the country had its eyes opened — and to some extent desensitized — by the brutality of the Viet Nam conflict, the American horror audience accepted and in many ways embraced an escalating level of gore and gross-out theatrics that shocked minds who could see sights of mind-bending awfulness on the nightly news. The upped ante of mainstream shock reached its early-1970's apex with the religion-driven extremes of THE EXORCIST (1973), and once you've seen an apple-cheeked twelve-year-old girl cuss like a sailor, piss all over the living room carpet, vomit torrents of split pea soup, and — my favorite — rend her nether regions asunder with a bloody crucifix while screaming, "LET JESUS FUCK YOU!!!," where else can you really go after that?

John Carpenter provided an answer in 1978 with the original HALLOWEEN, a lean, taut tale of "the Boogeyman" that brought back genuine suspense and an overwhelming feeling of impending dread to the horror arena.

It was scary as a motherfucker and kept the gore to an absolute minimum, all the while providing the simplest of stories; in a nutshell it can be summed up as simply as "the Boogeyman comes to town on Halloween and kills a bunch of horny teenagers," but that paper-thin setup, in this instance anyway, was used to maximum effect, executed with artistry and intelligence, and has deservedly gone on to be a cinematic classic.

Then FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) ripped off the killer-and-kids scenario, only substituting graphic gore and violence for real scares and behind-the-camera competence, and in the process making a mint at the box office during a period dominated by teen coming-of-age dreck, post-disco musicals, and feeble STAR WARS ripoffs.

The unexpected success of FRIDAY THE 13TH did not go unnoticed and in no time the sequel machine got into gear, but since the killer in the first film was beyond all shadow of a doubt beheaded and therefore unrevivable, the creators had to come up with something new in the form of Jason Voorhees, a hydrocephalic drowning-victim whose story was told in the first flick. Jason went through the homicidal motions in the utterly perfunctory FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981), and gained a definitive look when he donned a hockey mask in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982), after which he joined Michael Meyers as a voiceless, personality-void horror icon that's more of a malevolent force of both nature and twisted, puritanical anti-sex "morality." These unstoppable juggernauts of supernatural carnage had no explanation per se, they simply existed to kill, and no matter how many times they were shot, stabbed, immolated, or, in one particularly memorable example, blown to pieces with a grenade launcher, these monsters kept right on coming. Literally, the spirit of serial murder writ large, Michael and Jason — and Freddy Krueger a bit later — were terrifying (despite piss poor scripts and incompetent filmmaking) not just because of their seemingly never-ending killing sprees, but because of their very lack of any reason for their rampages; they were as unknowable and merciless as a hurricane, and equally impossible to control, and therein lies their power. If you're looking for depth or pathos in your bogeymen, don't look to Michael or Jason because their sole purpose is to offer up the most simple, direct, and downright visceral scare possible, with no bullshit involved.

Which brings me, in a rather round-about way, to Rob Zombie's remake of HALLOWEEN.

The only legitimate reason for filmmakers to do a remake of a classic film is to in some way reinterpret or improve the source material for a contemporary generation. That said, Rob Zombie — the most ridiculous director's moniker of all time, and, yes, I know he's been known by it since his days as the frontman for White Zombie — has done neither, simultaneously desecrating the slasher genre's Rosetta Stone and churning out a faceless, soulless, by-the-numbers entry that is staggering in both predictability and listlessness.

Taking the basic template of John Carpenter's 1978 landmark, Zombie — I feel like an idiot simply writing that name — spends the first forty or so minutes of the flick showing us the squalid home life and day to day existence of the young Michael Meyers, a childhood anti-wonderland defined by trailer trash dysfunction, alcoholism, verbal and physical abuse, a mean and slutty older sister, adolescent animal-slayings, sadistic school bullies, and a mother whose career as a stripper is the only source of family income. Young Michael is also really into Halloween and spends a lot of time creating disturbing masks, facades that when donned allow Michael's inner rage to be expressed. Then Halloween rolls around and Michael begins his homicidal career by murdering one of his schoolyard tormentors in the woods, after which he's ready to go out trick-or-treating with his walking STD of a sister as his escort. But when his slutty sister decides she'd rather get fucked by a scurvy-looking swain and leaves Michael to fend for himself, the lad stews until he snaps, killing everyone in his family save for his mother and infant sister.

Locked up and placed under the psychiatric care of Dr. Loomis — played by Malcolm McDowell, my favorite actor, in another in a long line of utterly thankless roles that waste his immense talents — Michael soon stops talking and begins a fifteen year stint in the rubber room, his only outlet for expression being his mask-making hobby. Many years pass, and on one fateful night Michael escapes from the institution. He soon finds himself at a pestilent truck stop where he murders Ken Foree (the Black guy from the original DAWN OF THE DEAD) and steals his gas station attendant jumpsuit, after which he stops off at his long-abandoned boyhood home to retrieve his trademark William Shatner mask — yes, you read that right, the famous Michael Meyers pullover is the likeness of STAR TREK's Captain Kirk — and a butcher knife, and from that point on the movie is a beat-by-beat remake of the 1978 original.

I have to admit that the setup of Michael's evil had me interested during the family dysfunction bits, but then Zombie — damn it, man, your name is Robert Cummings! Use it, for fuck's sake!!! — shovels on layer after layer of his trademark cruelty, the same kind of shit that made both HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and the inexplicably well-touted THE DEVIL'S REJECTS so stunningly unpleasant, to say nothing of boring, and with that he lost me. But what do I know? It seems that the contemporary horror audience willingly forgoes actual scares, instead shelling out cash to see flicks like SAW and HOSTEL, both in the vanguard of the odious "torture-as-horror" sub-genre, so this version of HALLOWEEN may just be exactly what the contemporary fan wants to see, namely a series of pointless, gory killings that aren't hampered by anything so unnecessary as any hint of real suspense or an actual story getting in the way of the bloodletting and titties.

And, yes, I know I just described nearly every slasher film ever made, especially those unleashed in the wake of FRIDAY THE 13TH, but none of those films had any pretensions of being anything other than assembly line low-budget, cynical gore shows out to make a quick buck, whereas much of the current R-rated horror cinema tries to be perceived as "tapping into the dark corners of the modern zeitgeist and revealing ourselves to be the greatest horror" or some such shit, while casting garden variety sadists as the new bogeymen.

Zombie's HALLOWEEN reduces Michael Meyers' supernatural elements to nil, a castrating de-mystification that leaves him an all-too-understandable product of the havoc wrought by the horrors he endured as a child, even attempting to get the viewers to sympathize with him, which is one of the most ill-advised "re-imaginings" I've ever witnessed. Zombie apparently has some sort of affinity for serial killers and sadists, as was so cheerfully demonstrated in his two previous efforts, but while those films were not really meant to be taken seriously, HALLOWEEN strives to present real emotion and sadness, two things that Zombie is utterly incapable of providing. After a promising setup, Zombie pisses away everything he'd built by simply — and lazily — aping the original film, but those of us who've seen the template suffer all the more because we know just how good the source was, to say nothing of it actually being scary.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the point of horror movies to scare the audience, hence the name "horror movie?" Well lemme tell ya something, bunkie, Rob Zombie has succeeded in making a horror movie with absolutely no suspense whatsoever, and no trace of even one legitimate scare, instead seeking to get us not to notice his sheer lack of talent as a director by pouring on the gore. Once Michael's got his mask on the film cruises along on auto pilot; it's sort of like sitting through a dull refresher course on a subject that you long ago memorized and now must rehash in the pursuit of some form of certification. All that's onscreen is a monument to one man's hubris and buying into the undeserved critical and fan accolades based on two less-than-mediocre features that preceded it, and the wan restaging that unspools barely maintains one's interest, save for the task of morbidly stacking up the remake against its progenitor, a process of evaluation that leaves Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN standing exposed as a would-be porn star out to eclipse John Holmes as the biggest cock ever seen, yet pitifully wielding a two-inch dick like it was a baseball bat.

Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN is an almost total waste of time, and was also a make-or-break film for me; having absolutely hated HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, I was ready to write of Zombie's films for good, but when it was announced that he'd had the King Kong-sized balls to remake one of the greatest horror films ever made I just had to see for myself if he could actually do something worthwhile. Well, HALLOWEEN merely confirms that I should have followed my gut and given it a miss, and that Rob Zombie can barely direct a turd out of his own asshole, let alone a feature film. Some of you out there may still be intrigued after what I've just had to say, but I'm telling you flat-out that the film is a major disappointment, or would have been if I had ever liked any of the director's other work. It's just a big waste of time and isn't even worth sitting through when it hits cable.


1 comment:

John Bligh said...

I'm not surprised in the least this sucked. Kind of what I expected.

Rob Zombie's living proof that excelling in one artistic field doesn't necessarily translate to another. Some of his White Zombie and solo albums are damn entertaining (especially "La Sexorcisto"). For a while, it looked like White Zombie was going to be a (way) more successful, less catchy version of the Misfits.

Alas, it's obvious Zombie can't direct traffic, much less movies. No surprise he's failed to grasp what made the original Halloween a classic. John Carpenter might be the world's most up and down director but, not even having seen this remake, I'll bet even his worst movies are better than Zombie's best.

And Carpenter's made some asstastically shitty films over the years...