Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Halloween" -- 1/2*

Okay, I love John Carpenter's "Halloween." I think it's still a blast to watch, it's tremendously well-made, and it's fascinating to watch realizing that pretty much every slasher film to come along since took virtually all its cues from this one movie. I love it, but I am not what one would call a "purist." I've never been of the belief that certain things are too sacred or shouldn't be remade. Is it necessary to remake certain things (like "Halloween")? Well, maybe not, but it doesn't negate the existence of the original, and while the new version isn't expected to live up to the former's legacy, as long as it offers a fresh and/or interesting take on the material, I won't complain.

All that said, while Rob Zombie's white-trash version of "Halloween" functions horribly as a remake of John Carpenter's film, it fully and completely sucks as a movie on its own terms as well. If there had never even been a "Halloween" before this one, it would still be a wretched piece of shit. And I say this as a huge fan of Zombie's last film, "The Devil's Rejects," and as one of the thousands of saps who actually got excited when they heard Zombie was tackling this material. The movie isn't for one second scary, interesting or worst of all, fun. It has one disturbing moment (we'll get to that later), but aside from that, it's just loud, irritating and dull at the same time.

I'm saying it now, and will happily admit being wrong if that ends up being the case: "The Devil's Rejects" was a fluke. Of Zombie's three films, it's the only one where his style of filmmaking actually suited the content, and it's the only one that wasn't really supposed to be frightening, so the fact that it wasn't was not a problem.

As you may or may not have heard, Zombie's approach to his version is to tell the story of "Halloween" from the point of view of slasher Michael Myers. Alright, maybe not the way I'd go-- I think the fact that you don't really know what made Myers evil makes him a hundred times more terrifying-- but an interesting enough idea, let's see what you do with it, Rob.

Hm, introducing Michael in a scene of him as a 10-year-old cutting up his hamster with a scalpel, you're sort of losing me right off the bat but okay. Hm, showing us Michael comes from the dirtiest, loudest, foulest redneck household I've ever seen, seems a bit pat psychology 101 bullshit, but okay. Gahh, Michael gets picked on by bullies for having a whore sister, a stripper mom and being a "faggot," wild cliche and poorly-thought out, but okay. Ooooh, Michael snaps and kills the grown-up boy from "Spy Kids" with a tree branch in the first disturbing scene in the movie, nice! It was some rough going there at first, but you've finally got me hooked, Rob!

Uh-oh... Michael's starting to pout that his mom won't take him trick 'r' treating because she has to strip. That's really dumb, but that tree branch scene was very well done, so okay. Hm, Michael's killing another animal, this is going to be a recurring theme I guess, but okay. Whoa, whoa, whoa, Michael crying and sulking on his front porch because his sister won't take him trick 'r' treating either, while the cues of "Love Hurts" play over the soundtrack, that's it. I'm fucking done with this shit.

Zombie spends about 40 minutes on this "prologue" of Michael as a kid, not only coming up with the most awful dialogue you can imagine, but completely depleting and erasing anything that could possibly leave any mystery or scariness to Michael. This July's "Joshua," though flawed, delved into the terrifying question of, what do you do if you're a good parent, treat your kid right, give them a proper upbringing and they still end up being inexplicably evil? That would be far too creative an idea for Zombie-- here, evil must come out of poor parenting, bullying, being neglected and called a "faggot."

At the 40-minute mark, we flash forward to Michael as an adult (he somehow ascertained the muscle-bound body of a wrestler during his 15 years in a padded cell), still refusing to remove his homemade masks as he breaks out and finds out where his little sister Laurie-- all grown up now-- lives so he can reconnect with his beloved sibling. I'm not being facetious; he really just wants to be loved and get back in her life. After some lame escaping/searching shananigans, Zombie does a literal play-by-play recreation of the original "Halloween," all sped-up and squeezed into the final 30 minutes here.

Zombie lifts specific deaths, lines of dialogue and entire scenes from the original film, presumably under the impression that if diehard fans were angry at his deviations, this slavish faithfulness will reel them back in. It has the opposite effect instead; though awful and lazy, the first two-thirds were inarguably Zombie's own vision. This last third is a carbon copy and truly sinks the movie once and for all. The few deviations it does make in this third-- a well-liked character from the original film is inexplicably murdered, and Michael spends the bulk of his time pummeling through walls and destroying a house-- are simultaneously confounding and misguided.

It's best not to discuss the performances-- Malcolm McDowell sadly is the lowlight of the ensemble as Dr. Samuel Loomis-- but in terms of positives, I will say Sheri Moon Zombie (as Michael's mom) is merely bad, not her usual flagrantly awful self, and Danny Trejo (as an asylum guard) actually gives his first performance that could be defined as 'understated' and almost touching in an odd way. But that's it. The rest of the cast is amaeurish, over-the-top, and seems to have been cast for their willingness to be topless while covered in blood.

In the interest of full disclosure, I first saw Zombie's "Halloween" at a test screening in mid-June at Loews 34th Street theatre in NYC. The chief difference I noticed between that version and the version released nationally on Friday is Michael's escape scene. When I saw it in June, two guards are raping a retarded girl inmate and invite Michael to join in; he declines, and instead, kills them, and then escapes. I noticed at my screening that said scene did not go over well, and specifically remember the girl next to me writing it as her least favorite scene while filling out her post-screening form.

Unsurprisingly, the version I saw on Friday had that scene omitted, and instead replaced with an idiotic sequence of the guards deciding to transfer Michael to another facility on Halloween Eve, upon which he kills them and escapes. Days after my test screening, word broke that Zombie was going to be doing re-shoots, adding a new ending and six new deaths. A few weeks back, I read an interview with Zombie where he said these reports were wildly exaggerated, and he just reshot a scene or two. Now... I don't remember EXACTLY everything I saw two and a half months ago... but I could've sworn what I saw on Friday had six new deaths (I counted) and a new ending. Just putting that out there.

Though I've spoken to a handful of folks who liked what they saw, I really don't think you have a be a fan of "Halloween" to be angry at what Zombie has done here, just a fan of movies. It pains me to say this, as I think Zombie has some genuine talent, but what he's done here is made the worst horror film of this year, and probably the worst of all the "Halloween" movies. I don't really know who the audience is here, and even as undiscriminating as horror audiences can be, I can't imagine people being happy with this. It's already made $26.5 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period this weekend, but I'm predicting this thing is going to have utterly poisonous word-of-mouth and have the biggest drop of the year next weekend. I rarely plead, but I'm urging you with every fiber of my being not to see this, and if you must, buy a ticket for "Death Sentence" and sneak in.


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