AUGUST 1, 2007
I had hope. I really really did. For all the backlash they get (some of which is deserved), I honestly don’t really mind remakes. I gave mostly good reviews of The Hitcher and Black Xmas on Bloody-Disgusting, a site with about 99% more readers than Horror Movie A Day. Clearly, I am not one to dislike or like a movie just because it’s expected of me.
But I had a sneaking suspicion that this might be a little different when three different people I don’t really even know that well, one of them a director himself (the other two are fellow movie enthusiasts/journalists), were specifically interested in what I’d think about Rob Zombie’s Halloween. I was a bit surprised/honored, but it makes sense: if I have ever spoken to someone for more than 12 seconds, I more than likely mentioned Halloween. It’s my favorite thing in the world, next to Bat out of Hell. In a way, those two things present a beautifully ironic dichotomy – one celebrates excess, the other is so sparse it can almost be considered plotless, and yet both inspire me in every creative thing I do.
Needless to say, this was no ordinary remake to me.
But I felt the same way about Dawn of the Dead (the original of which is probably my 3rd favorite horror movie, after Halloween and of course, Shocker), and I loved the remake. It was probably my favorite genre film of 2004. And while I wasn’t too big a fan of 1000 Corpses, I loved Devil’s Rejects, which in turn was my favorite genre film of 2005. So while I wasn’t expecting any sort of masterpiece, I felt confident that Rob could make a film that, if nothing else, would be better than the previous 3 entries, which were the worst in the series (and surprise – they were all from Dimension!)
I did not get my wish.
While better than Resurrection (so is being raped by an elephant), Rob Zombie’s Halloween is such a mess, such a massive disappointment, such a… clusterfuck, that I am almost convinced I didn’t even see the whole movie. I saw it on August 1st, but I went back again on the 21st to make sure they didn’t show us some sort of rough assembly or promo reel. Because even though I know for a fact that I stayed awake and saw every frame of the film (I guess I don’t blink?), it seriously felt like I was dozing off and missing entire chunks of story at times. But the 2nd time, while it improved, was the same. I didn’t miss anything. (NOTE – I have since seen the workprint and was not really surprised to learn that the film went through the usual Dimension re-edit after all. This review will not reflect the changes, but a separate piece will be written about my reaction to the workprint).
No, in reality, in one of the most curious creative decisions I think I have ever encountered in any film, not just a remake, Zombie apparently assumed everyone has seen the original, and thus had the right to stage the entire 2nd half of his film as a sort of greatest hits (or, as my friend referred to it, the “Terror In The Aisles” version) of Carpenter’s film. Nothing much really changes in this portion, but lots and lots of things are missing. For example, Annie’s first scene in the Wallace house is… her about to leave it, talking on the phone to Laurie about having her watch Lindsay. Now, we haven’t even really MET Lindsay yet, but that’s minor compared to the other massive storytelling holes that occur as a result of this decision. Michael is also apparently everywhere at once, as he is seen killing Laurie’s parents at their house, killing Lynda and Bob at his house, and killing Annie and Paul at what I THINK is the Wallace house (more on that later) practically back to back. And unlike the original, he doesn’t drive. How he manages to get around is never explained, nor why no one seems to notice a 7 foot tall man stalking the streets.
This also leads to another gigantic and almost-impossible-to- believe-they-didn’t-question-it plot hole. Much has been made about Zombie’s “explaining” why Michael kills, and to be honest I didn’t mind the idea. It couldn’t be dumber than Druids and cults and having Michael fuck his niece. But regardless of the why, his target this time is perfectly clear: Laurie. His sister. Now, you must remember, the “sister” angle was introduced in the sequels, NOT the original film. In the original, Michael had no rhyme or reason for stalking Laurie, other than maybe being really pissed that she dropped a key off on his porch while he was trying to eat a dog. That’s what made it so creepy. But here, the sister angle is front and center, and again, I have no problems with that per se, but it totally contradicts the actions Michael takes. If all he wants is Laurie, why does he kill Paul and Annie? They’re in another house, minding their own nudity. Bob and Lynda’s deaths are pointless too, but they are fooling around in his old house, so we can buy it (if not understand why he went back there in the first place – he was already seen out and about the town before this scene). One could say that Michael just wants to be the only person in Laurie’s life and thus kills everyone else she is close to, but for a movie that is painted with such broad strokes and has lines like “Bitch I will crawl over there and skullfuck the shit out of you!”, it’s not likely Zombie would suddenly turn subtle with his screenwriting when it concerns the actions taken by his primary character.
This theory almost has to be accepted in order to make any sense out of the scene where Michael kills Laurie’s parents, however, because otherwise the logic of it is beyond any comprehension a human can muster. In the scene, Michael watches as Laurie leaves to go baby-sit. He then goes inside the Strode home and kills her dad, attacks her mother and then shows her a picture of Laurie as a baby, as if to say “Where is she?” Well, you just saw her leave, asshole (how he knew she lived there in the first place is none of our business), why didn’t you follow her? Then, adding insult to stupidity, he somehow finds her anyway, even though he killed the mother before she said anything. The whole scene is so fucking pointless, you have to wonder if Zombie is just doing this stuff to see if anyone is paying attention. Well, I am, and it’s fucking insulting.
And again, seeing the original film is almost a requirement, because of the way Zombie plots the 2nd half of the film. We don’t meet Laurie and the other original characters until halfway through the film. Any audience member coming in blind will wonder why the fuck we are following these people all of a sudden, especially since the film doesn’t bother developing them (the only reason we even know that his baby sister “Boo” is in fact Laurie at all is from a throwaway line from Brackett). All of a sudden, we’re in their world, and given no reason (other than the fact that they are incredibly fucking cute) to care about them. If anything, they’re all a bit bitchy, even Laurie, who I almost expected to just stab poor Tommy to death, since she almost never says anything civil to the damn kid. Lines from the original, like “Ben Tramer likes you” or whatever, are thrown in for some reason as well, and again, have no real resonance since we don’t even know who Laurie is, let alone her unseen suitor. The lines are simply used to remind us of the original and mentally develop Laurie and her friends ourselves, based on what Carpenter did. It’s characterization by keywords.
I could go on some more about how dumb and idiotic and insulting the 2nd half of the film is (I haven’t even mentioned that it’s totally without suspense, though to be fair there are two decent jump scares), but I think I made my point. Let’s move on to the first half and how what goodwill it earns is totally invalidated by the 2nd half.
The film begins with Michael killing a rat. So for all the uproar about the film explaining why Michael is the way he is: it doesn’t. He’s clearly fucked from the start. We can assume that his redneck home life is what led him on this path, but since we never meet Michael as a normal kid, it doesn’t give us any reason to care about him or truly be shocked when he goes apeshit and kills a bully. So I guess we need a prequel to the prequel.
After the bully (a scene that’s actually somewhat disturbing, mostly thanks to the sound effects work), Michael goes home and carries out Zombie’s version of the opening scene of the original. Now, the first 5 minutes of the original Halloween is up there with the shower scene in Psycho, the dinner scene in Texas Chain Saw, and the TV show chase in Shocker as one of the pinnacles of cinematic achievement in horror films. In the original we didn’t know it was a kid until the end. That’s what made it shocking. Knowing perfectly well that the cat is out of the bag this time around, Zombie compensates by…. Doing the same thing he did with the bully 5 minutes before. Michael attacks by swinging a bat over and over, with LOUD SOUND EFFECTS. It worked for the bully, but by the time he actually gets to Judith, the effect is boring. Almost nothing from this point on in the film has any sort of suspense, terror, or even the shock value he was attempting to achieve, because he makes us numb to it by the 4th kill. And since everyone Michael has killed so far is just a degenerate or white trash loser, who the hell cares if he kills them anyway?
After this begins what is the best part of the film: The sanitarium section (this is what elevates it above Resurrection, which ironically had its own best scenes in a sanitarium). Michael is sent to Smith’s Grove, and we get a montage of Loomis trying to connect with Michael, as well as some surprisingly strong work from Sheri Moon Zombie as she visits him. This portion of the film is sadly only about 15 minutes long, and one wishes Zombie had just made this entire film. There’s a scene where Mrs. Myers finally realizes that her child is dead to her, and Sheri really pulls it off well. The scene is also presented without source audio, only the sound of an alarm. It’s a great fucking scene.
But this leads to the primary problem with the film. There are great scenes sprinkled throughout (even in the remake portion), so you know that Rob can write/direct. He has the ability. If the whole movie sucked, it would actually be less of a disappointment. Instead, we see glimpses of what could have been a worthy remake mixed in with other scenes that range from boring to downright awful. And worse, there is a giant disconnect with regards to passage of time, characters’ location in relation to one another, etc. The montage of Michael at the hospital could be two years or two weeks, it’s never quite clear.
There’s also a disturbingly high number of continuity errors. Michael slams a guy against a stall wall, which knocks the wall half over and breaks an ad on the other side of it. Then in the next shot (and for the rest of the scene) the wall is back up, the ad unbroken. Later, a character’s head is crushed, with blood running down from his eyes and mouth, only to appear simply knocked out (no blood or damage) in all subsequent shots of his body. Cops show up at a house different than the one they were asked to come to, and their car is shown in front of the house before they even arrive! To be fair, the original has its fair share of errors as well, but you know what? I saw the film a dozen times before I noticed them. Some I never noticed until I read about them on the IMDb and went back specifically looking for them. But here, I noticed things like this on the first time. If you’re drawn into a film, you won’t notice these things.
Rob also problems with the 180 rule. Primarily, he doesn’t seem to know about it. I spotted at least five occasions where characters are talking to each other from across a table or whatever and both shots have the characters looking screen left or right.
So it all comes down to the same question people asked from the beginning: Why bother? It’s clear that Rob had some really good ideas, but blending those with ones directly taken from Carpenter, the strange two act setup, and conflicting ideas behind Myers’ origin/methods just leave the film an as unfocused curiosity at best. Making his own film, or simply just doing a Van Sant-esque recreation of the original, albeit with his signature directing/editing style (other than the constant breaking of the 180 rule, the film is technically sound), would have probably turned out OK. But opting for trying to find a balance between the two has failed him, and in turn, us.
Better luck next time I guess.
(I just checked – longest review in HMAD history! Did you read it all in one sitting? I tried to and failed)
What say you?