I Eat Brains!
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Durant, Oklahoma
A brutal and offensive update for one of the genre's true classics.
by Todd Gilchrist
August 30, 2007 - Critics of genre films always seem to need the right kind of "credentials" for fans to take their reviews seriously. For what it's worth, when it comes to horror movies (and remakes in particular) here are mine: I loathed House of Wax, tolerated Psycho, kind of dug The Ring and its sequel, officially liked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (but not its abysmal prequel), and — finally — loved Dawn of the Dead. Whether this means my thoughts on the new Halloween qualify as more or less credible is obviously subjective, but having seen and loved John Carpenter's original for going-on 30 years, I can confirm that Rob Zombie's remake is not only unworthy but one of the very worst horror movies I have ever seen.
Slasher movies, including the superlative original Halloween, more or less all obey a single, simple formula: crazy person with a creative weapon dismembers anyone unlucky enough to cross his or her path. No further explanation is needed — crazy will generally suffice as motivation for the murders. But Zombie betrays this from frame one, instead offering a psychological breakdown that explains Michael Myers' insanity and in so doing eliminates virtually all of the mystique and terror that once elevated this movie monster from alliteratively-named villain to the once and future "The Shape."
In the film, Myers (Daeg Faerch as a kid, Tyler Mane as an adult) is brought up in a profane, violent world where his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) is an aging stripper, his sister (Hanna Hall) a callous nymphomaniac, and his father-figure (William Forsythe) an abusive drunk who regularly calls the boy "faggot." While the gratuitous profanity and general squalor of the Myers household would certainly be enough to drive poor Michael nuts, he's also taunted at school by his classmates and inexplicably driven to slaughter small animals and photograph their carcasses. On Halloween night, he heads out to solicit neighborhood candy, and upon returning home unceremoniously decides to carve up and kill his family.
Institutionalized, Michael has no recollection of the murders, but soon takes solace in the paper-mache masks he obsessively creates — much to the consternation of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), a psychologist who desperately tries to penetrate his homicidal veneer. Some 15 years later — on Halloween night, no less — Michael escapes from the insane asylum and begins a rampage of violence. Returning to his childhood neighborhood, where a young girl named Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) now lives, Michael is confronted once again with his tormented past — and decides to wash the slate clean with the blood of innocents.
As rampant (and questionably tolerable) misogyny is inherent in virtually all horror movies, it's fairly amazing how offensive Halloween nevertheless manages to be. In particular, "bitch" seems to be the pseudonym du jour for almost all of the film's female characters — even amongst themselves — but otherwise the roles are written so thinly that Michael's stripper mom enjoys the most complex characterization in the film. Meanwhile, writer-director Zombie scarcely pays a moment's notice to the male deaths, instead lavishing gratuitous attention to the dismemberment and murder of their female counterparts. The film's final moments are not merely an exercise in style or suspense, but endurance, as the audience watches Myers abuse one girl near to death — while topless, of course — and then chase another one higher and higher through a house as she suffers one merciless beating after another.
That Zombie preserves the original movie's nudity quotient is in fact a somewhat welcome change in today's generally sex-deficient cinema, but he expands moments like P.J. Soles' "see anything you like" into an exploitative set piece: He not only forces his actress to show off her breasts, but makes sure we actually see her die standing up, completely naked, in some orgiastic synthesis of sex and violence that proves about a tenth as clever as the director thinks it is. As if the film didn't feel creepy enough, even the pre-teen characters are sexualized, creating the sense that the real and only reason for anyone to exist in Halloween is to have sex and die — and in Zombie's world, not always in that order.
In terms of the storytelling, Zombie fatally miscalculates that audiences (much less Halloween fans) would possibly want an explanation, rational or otherwise, for Michael's behavior. Some 50 minutes of back-story set up the character's depravity and then the movie more or less directly acknowledges that Myers is just plain evil. The implausibility of psychotic behavior is less tolerable in a film that otherwise purports to chronicle a tangible reality, but we're talking about one where a 6'10", 280-pound killer stalks teenage girls, so who the hell cares? And moreover, how is this behemoth scarier because he's more human?
As if it weren't abundantly clear by now, Zombie's version completely misunderstands the appeal of the Carpenter film and makes every one of the same wrong decisions that the original's imitators did over the past three decades. There are few, if any, concrete logical flaws in the construction of Carpenter's Halloween; Loomis, for example, knows where Michael is going — namely his childhood home — and goes there to find him. But in Zombie's update, the adult characters — even the guy who studied Myers for 15-plus years — are complete idiots, neither sending police to patrol nor going themselves to his old abode, and predictably enough always wandering off alone or otherwise turning their back on what has repeatedly proven to be an unstoppable deadly force.
Ultimately, Zombie's Halloween feels more like a product of the gritty, gratuitously violent horror movies that have lately chilled audiences than any sort of classic cinematic text, which Carpenter's film indeed is. Poorly shot and edited, there is no sense (and certainly no continuity) of character or storytelling rhythm, only the hackwork of a filmmaker determined to reduce the original's classically-rendered tension to its most graphic and unintelligible. But hey, there are naked tits, and they're covered with blood.
Halloween is one of the most brutal and offensive movies I have ever seen, and certainly the worst thus far of 2007. Mind you, there are plenty of truly tough genre films that I have enjoyed, notably both Hostel films. But then again, there is a notable if not always obvious difference between Eli Roth's movies and the rest of the so-called (and oft-inaccurately dismissed) "torture porn" subgenre, into which Zombie's movies definitely fall: his are neither relentlessly explicit nor purposelessly sadistic. Halloween is about graphic brutality and absolutely nothing more.