I’m glad Rob Zombie’s update of “Halloween” is doing so well at the box office. I generally like to see a good horror film, and really like being scared, but I’m afraid if they start doing poorly at the box office they’ll stop making them. I’m willing to sit through a few poor attempts to get to a gem. I’m sorry to say however that for all of it’s good intentions the new incarnation of Michael Meyers fails to scare or please or disturb or…
Rob Zombie is an interesting director. I love his meandering camera, falling in and out of focus it almost feels like it accidentally finds its subject making it more surprising for the audience when something shows up. In the original John Carpenter used empty space to unsettle it’s audience, Zombie rarely allows us to get our footing in the space the characters are in. What he’s going for is less glossy Freddy Kreuger and more low budget Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which when you consider it would be really cool. Unfortunately in trying to find that 70’s art house low budget slasher mojo he falls prey to some really bad cliches.
Why is Michael Meyers such an evil entity; the film sets out as an almost character study. Young Meyers is surrounded by that all too familiar family on the verge of falling apart: Mom’s a stripper who’s trying her hardest, check! White trash boyfriend who Lords over the place and mocks or hits on the kids, check! Sister who’s a young horny teenager, check! And a younger baby sister who does nothing but cry shrilly. Which leaves Michael to his own devices, killing small animals and being taunted by fellow school kids about his stripper mom. Can anyone not see where this is going? If you guessed that it leads to a mask infatuation for Young Michael, then you’re correct! In it’s blatant set up to give Michael all of the reasons to become a killer it doesn’t answer the question as to why exactly Michael becomes a killer. In his therapy sessions with Doctor Loomis, played with interesting appeal by Malcolm MacDowell, Michael doesn’t even remember killing his family; so after being given all of the reasons, none of the reasons matter. It wants to give us reasons but still wants to retain the creepy edge of the original in which Meyers had no reason to become what he became. So the first half of the film while an interesting exercise in film technique does little to satisfy our thirst for fear, the creation of evil and simple basic logic. Though there are a few moments of genuine creepiness, like when Young Michael dons the giant faced William Shatner mask you get that satisfying sense of dread or when he approaches one of his first victims and the shot specifically recalls the over the shoulder technique Carpenter brought to life. That dread is unfortunately drown out by buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of the worst looking karo syrup and red food dye mix I’ve ever seen. I remember using a lot of that to make my own student films “interesting”, and it actually makes it look very amateurish and fake, like a director is perhaps trying to hard…
It’s not until the second half of the film that we fall upon familiar territory. After several flash forwards, we finally jump 17 years into the future. Michael’s home is dilapidated, and his little baby sister has grown up to become Laurie, the heroine Jamie Lee Curtis made famous. Only now she’s less quiet book nerd and more super spastic book nerd. Because we only have 40 minutes to chug through the story of Halloween we’re treated to less girl talk and more teenage sex. Finally, what the youth audience has been waiting for. And Zombie doesn’t disappoint in this arena. Meyers escapes and goes on his killing rampage, only this time he has…motivation! He recognizes his little sister, as she looks like his older sister, and wants to be loved, I guess. This might have been interesting if the first half of the film had been interesting, but here it seems more like a distraction.
Meyers kills, but not everyone surprisingly. He kills brutally at times and at times almost too brutally. What I mean by this is that in the original Carpenter created a monster so that this young woman could find the strength in herself to stand up to the evil. All that Zombie seems to want to do is turn every female character into a victim. I don’t know if I could have stood one more female character crawling across the floor with stab wounds in them as Michael slowly walks down the hall behind them preparing to wield the final gash. It’s almost sick in the wrong way when the camera lingers on these moments. And Laurie instead of finding that strength to over come evil becomes one of those horror film heroines that can’t stop screaming shrilly and whimpering incessantly, it’s as if Zombie didn’t know what other character quirk to give the crying baby at the beginning. And in the end when we’re treated to that 70’s close up of a screaming victim, even though she’s beaten the baddie, we don’t feel the horror she feels, we just hear her scream.
In the end the few moments that work only show us how genius Carpenter’s original was since those moments deal with the Shatner mask and the incredible score.
In a film like this nothing can really be said about the performers except that the actors here play the characters with more believability than in any other slasher film I think I’ve seen and I hope they all find better venues for their talents next time. And I hope Zombie pulls himself back up and makes something worthy of his talent.