Thursday, May 13, 2010

In Defense of Rob Zombie's Remake of Halloween.

So what did reviewers say about Rob Zombie's remake of the John Carpenter classic Halloween?

Variety said...
"a hectic, professionally assembled pic that just about cancels itself out on every level by the end."
The San Francisco Chronicle said...
"maybe 65 percent as sick and depraved as 'The Devil's Rejects,' but no less stylish."
The Onion A.V. Club said...
"Zombie's Halloween comes up short where it matters most—it just isn't that scary."
Dr. Gore's Movie Reviews said...
"Zombie needs to stop fantasizing over his drive-in double feature past and try to make something new. He explicitly understands the horror and exploitation movie trigger points and can crank out the blood and guts as well as anyone. But it’s time to let the 70’s go and move on."
Cinema Suicide said...
"Rob Zombie may have no ability to create any kind of suspense or atmosphere, but as a wet, splattery horror movie director, he’s turning out good movies."
Christian Spotlight on the Movies said...
"all this polish and talent seems wasted on a a flawed story with a dramatic message devoid of redemption, peace and hope."
Now, to be fair, it also got a number of positive reviews. But out of the few reviews sampled above, the one with which I find myself in most agreement is the one from Christian Spotlight on the Movies. Honestly, I think they were the closest to getting it.

Variety saw it as "canceling (itself) out", and I'm not even sure I know what they mean. The Chronicle lamented its lesser degree of depravity, but found it...stylish? Dr. Gore and Cinema Suicide wished Zombie would go back to blood and guts and wet, splattery horror instead of what he did here, and the A.V. Club didn't think it was scary. I watched it, and I found it effective and gripping. So what did he get right?

I guess it depends on what you mean by "scary." John Carpenter's original traded on suspense, a sense of cat-and-mouse. The violence would probably be considered tame by today's standards, but it gave us The Shape - Michael Myers as a hulking absence, only seen as a blank, white, implacable face. It's a dark movie, lots of shadows, and that face emerges out of them and you know that shit is about to get real. In that sense, it's stylized and clean, in a way.

Zombie's version is no less stylized, but it's grimy. Michael Myers isn't just a mysterious escapee from a mental hospital, he's the product of abuse, neglect, and poverty. There's a boy in there who never learned right and wrong, or why he should care about what they are. His mother is a stripper, his stepfather's picture can be found in the dictionary next to the entry for "skeevy", and although the time period isn't really specified, he appears to be a child of the 70s, a product of an unhygenic period in history. The scenes of young Michael's home life leave your eyeballs needing a shower. Contrast this to the clean white of the mental hospital, which ends up not so much suggesting cleanliness and purity as a blank canvas against which Myers' and his handcrafted masks are placed as shocks of color. There's just as much violence here as there is at home, and over the years, his youthful pleas to go home are replaced by silence. He isn't in a better place, just a different one. When he escapes, he paints the white walls red. As an adult, he's just as much a hulking shape as the original, but a dirty, grimy one. Even the mask he eventually adopts is dirty. This dirtiness carries over to the events of the movie.

This is an actively hostile movie. It aims to make you uncomfortable. This is a good thing. As the first "slasher" movie, Halloween gave us the unstoppable killing machine, and each successive iteration has trivialized the deaths that occur in their wake to the point that they are used as a quantitative measure of a movie's quality - how frequent, inventive, and spectacular are the "kills"?  Freddy Krueger - a child murderer - becomes a pop culture icon who dispatches teenagers with witty one-liners. Death becomes a punchline. Not here. Here, death is tangible, messy, unpleasant, and people suffer visibly as a result of Myers' actions. The death scenes in this movie remind me most of the crime scene photos from the Tate/LaBianca murders, awkward and horrible. People attacked by Myers attempt to crawl away, covered in blood, screaming and begging for help. Myers sobs at his mothers' abandonment, at not knowing why he cannot go home. The last survivor, covered with blood, ends the film screaming as something inside of them breaks, dies a little at what they have survived, at what others did not, at what they had to become to survive.

Everyone suffers in this movie, physically or emotionally. The fake-out ending of the original is replaced by a less-supernatural alternative - Michael may not vanish at the end, but given what he has done, his continued existence isn't necessary. Which brings me back to the Christian Spotlight review - this is a movie devoid of redemption, peace, and hope. It isn't tense, and it isn't suspenseful, but those would be the wrong notes to strike. Its mood is one of dread, of crushing inevitability. Everything is oppressive, dirty, and claustrophobic. No light, no hope, nothing clean, nothing pure - the best we can hope for is blankness. Michael's abusive home life twists him into something empty and monstrous. In response, Michael destroys everything in his path. Those not left dead are left broken. Life begins in ugliness and ends in ugliness. It trades depravity for despair, atmosphere for suffocation, cancellation for negation. If this isn't horrifying, what is?

IMDB entry
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Available on Netflix

1 comment:

  1. After reading your review, I can finally admit to really liking Zombie's Halloween. I loved it the first time I saw it. While Carpenter's Halloween will always hold a special place in my and all horror fans' hearts, Zombie brought it back to the real world; he gave us a reason behind the madness. Carpenter didn't need the reasons to make a scary film, but this isn't the 70's. Today, with how modern psychology has micro-analyzed children from the moment they can talk, it is scary to think how the fucked up environment someone comes from can create an even more fucked up individual. Yes, Zombie kind of went too far with Halloween 2, but he did an amazing job "re-imagining" a classic for today's audiences.