Focus On : Rob Zombie’s Halloween
I can’t say that back when I heard the announcement that Rob Zombie would be helming a remake of John Carpenter‘s classic Halloween that I was thrilled, not because I’m one of those people who hold a film in such high reverence that I consider a remake to automatically be verboten (after all, Carpenter himself has proven with The Thing that it’s perfectly possible to take an old movie that has plenty going for it in and of itself – in this case Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World – and with a good, intelligent script and some classy direction you can create something that’s its own beast and able to stand on its own two cloven hooves), but because both of Zombie’s previous directorial efforts, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, had left me cold. So naturally, I wasn’t one of the people jumping up and down with excitement at his next project. 2007 arrived and on its back the promised behemoth, I bit the bullet and got in line at the cinema with everyone else to see Zombie’s take on the iconic Michael Myers…let’s just say I was less than impressed.
Fast forward to 2010 and I’m looking at the Blu-Ray sitting on my friend’s coffee table, accusation vivid in its baleful glare…well okay, so it was just sitting their innocuously, gathering a little dust, but you get my meaning. I’m often willing to give a movie I disliked a second chance, especially when time has passed between viewings, on the possibility that perhaps I missed something the first time around or that I just wasn’t in the mood for it, so my curiosity as to whether this would prove the case here was already setting the wheels in motion. What finally pushed it over the edge was the scrawl on the box which read “Unrated Director’s Cut”. I’d heard tell from various sources at the time that the theatrical version I’d seen had been horribly butchered and that a bootleg workprint of the film that was doing the rounds was vastly superior, and when this “Unrated Director’s Cut” hit the home media market it had restored many of these missing moments. So that was that, I was determined to go in with an open mind and give this movie another go-round.
It confirmed my suspicions: Rob Zombie should not be allowed near a camera for the rest of his natural life. Anyone who finds this irredeemable piece of shit even remotely entertaining has to have checked their standards at the door. Everything about this film is completely inept and puerile, from the script upwards. The whole “redneck/trailer trash/abusive family” backstory that is meant to give us some idea as to what turns the boy Michael into the brutal killer he becomes seems to have been sewn together out of every conceivable stereotypical anecdote going; if “Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel” from The Simpsons had wandered in at this point, he would easily have been the most three dimensional character on screen. This half-arsed notion was bad enough in the theatrical version, it reaches a whole new nadir in the “Unrated” cut with a scene that had been excised (and should have stayed that way) which provides an alternate method of the fully-grown Michael’s escape from the asylum and involves two hillbilly orderlies (whose dialogue and look makes you wonder if they walked off a remake of Deliverance) raping a patient. Oh, how cutting edge, how deviant of you, Rob, throwing a little casual rape in there for no good reason, other than shock value (at which, like the rest of your execrable movie fails miserably). Throw into that mix the laziest, most shallow pop psychology you can find and this is the supposed “depth” that is meant to be the foundation of not just Michael’s makeover but the reason the remake even exists.
The story from this point on, once Michael reaches adulthood and escapes from his imprisonment, pretty much follows and often is a direct lift of Carpenter’s film, the problem being that by packing this into the last half of the movie it has none of the build-up and pace that make Carpenter’s version an exercise in suspense, instead it feels rushed and as it goes from one scene to the next you feel neither shock, tension nor, failing these two, entertainment as any possible primitive glee a fan might derive from a particularly well done bit of violence or gore is absolutely ruined by camerawork that’s so shaky that it could have been filmed during an earthquake. The editing is so MTV-quick that it should come with an epilepsy warning, and naturally there’s that other culprit accompanying them, the overcranked sound effects which make everything THUD and BOOM at every given opportunity. None of this makes it in the least riveting or scary, it’s just plain annoying, and if it’s even possible to make it worse then it manages this feat by way of the grating soundtrack, which is intrusive and just so obvious in the choices of songs that it borders on the childish, it’s the music equivalent of a paint-by-numbers. By far the worst aural offender, though, is the complete misuse of the “Halloween theme” that Carpenter composed for the original film, a tune that’s instantly recognisable to genre fans and is a vital part of what makes Carpenter’s Halloween work in that it’s not merely “creepy background music”, it lives and breathes with the beats and scares of the movie, underscoring the mood of the piece rather than being in synch with on-screen character movement or overtly manipulating an audience’s emotional response to a scene. For a man whose background is in the music industry, Zombie’s lack of understanding as to how to make the theme work on any level is baffling, there are times when it’s clearly just there because someone thought to themselves that it should be because it’s a Halloween movie, without any appreciation for making it fit in with the rest of the picture’s style and as such when it does appear, it’s hamfisted and serves only to remind the viewer of just how effective it was in Carpenter’s flick, a comparison it could desperately do without.
Plot holes and contrivances abound, as reason is sacrificed on the altar of style, like the lamebrain way in which Michael’s iconic mask is re-introduced after he escapes incarceration – so, let me get this straight, the young Michael goes on a killing spree (I’m giving nothing away here, I’d hope) and then before the cops arrive he has the time, and not to mention the foresight, to hide a mask he’s going to conveniently want in the future, by not only pulling up but then replacing the floorboards perfectly so they look undisturbed? This dunderheaded contrivance has zero meaning, substance or internal logic, the sole purpose of this move is making sure there’s a reason why the mask has that aged, grungy look that Zombie had obviously set his heart on for the promo ads and to show just how “hardcore” his vision is meant to be, something which might impress the average twelve-year-old but nobody else. It all just adds to the overall ugliness of this vision – a grungy look and unpleasant characters that nobody cares for (only Brad Dourif as the Sheriff of Haddonfield comes through with anything approaching likeability, largely because it’s a cameo part – if it had been larger I’m quite sure someone would have written in a subplot about an incestuous relationship with his daughter and dropkicking puppies whilst crying “YEE-HAW!”). As for the acting, it’s largely dreadful, Malcolm McDowell hammily sleepwalks through the role and lets his hairpiece do most of the emoting, and Sheri Moon Zombie would never be allowed in front of a camera if it weren’t for nepotism and her husband being amazed by her skanky arse. Scout Taylor-Compton is uniformly irritating in the lead as Laurie Strode, giving a performance that’s one-note and overwrought – yes, we get that you’re scared, but if you keep yelling and whimpering every time so much as a floorboard creaks under your pursuer’s weight then he’s obviously going to find you and you have nobody to blame but yourself when he guts you, you silly bitch. Sheesh!
Every minute of this overlong turkey drags and feels like an age, muddled and careening with the delicacy and grace of a rugby player in a tutu from one boring, tensionless set-piece to the next, with Michael Myers becoming more and more like Jason Voorhees in full supercharged smash-through-walls zombie mode as it goes along. And at just shy of two hours, the anticlimactic ending can’t come soon enough – Christ, in 2001: A Space Odyssey it didn’t take Kubrick two hours to go from the origin of man to him exploring the cosmos and taking the next step of evolution 100,000 years (give or take) later!
Two skulls out of ten, and one of those is just because I appreciate how difficult it can be to get a movie made and into cinemas. Please, Rob, stick to music videos, full length movies are not your forte.
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