Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review of "Halloween (1978)"

Halloween (1978)

30th Anniversary and counting.

As I mentioned previously, John Carpenter's 1978 classic is one of the first two movies I can remember seeing and being heavily influenced by (the other being the classic Conan the Barbarian). It so truly scared me that the only monster under my bed was Michael Meyers, whom I eventually befriended (imaginary friend) to keep him from killing me in my sleep. Now that is terror for a 10 year old.

It is a horror classic and I am sure my modest review will not do it the justice it deserves. The most surprising thing of all is that the movie still works, perhaps not in the guttural reaction but more of a cognitive possibility or immediate subconscious. This all could happen. It isn't in the realm of impossibility or located in a foreign country (as most modern horror is, i.e. Hostel, Touristas, Cry Wolf, Saw,etc). At times it is graphic while the rest is relegated to our imaginations. I believe it is this element that keeps people terrified or at the very least wary of going outside at night with the signature soundtrack still vivid in their head. It still works because we can substitute implied or tertiary killing with anything more terrifying that our mind can create. So we ourselves are contributing to our own fears and anxiety.

Carpenter weaves a simple story about an everyday, middle class, suburban and relatively benign child who snaps on Halloween and kills his sister. He then spends the next 15 years in an institution (which we thankfully do not experience) only to escape and return to his hometown, the infamous Haddonfield. On his way he kills and kills. The child's name is Michael Meyers, though he is not a person. John Carpenter uses Michael Meyers as a metaphor against the implied safety of middle class suburbia. In the bastion of American safety and security, chaos can still strike.

Michael ceased to be a person once he killed. He is not a serial killer, human being or psychopath. He is as unstoppable force. The generic overalls, bleached-white Shatner mask, and lack of any dialog other then some breathing, helps to dehumanize and complete Michael's generification. This is the source of all his power. He is faceless, speechless and unremarkable in any way other than as a source of unrelenting chaos. This is helped by the cinematography (post card effect), a lack of information/motivation/explanation and the veteran narrative experience of Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis). His over the top performance and uneasiness sells "the Shape". This is also the first film performance by Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the innocent girl who deters chaos in the face of overwhelming odds (at least for a little bit).

Though this isn't the first movie of this new niche of horror films (Black Christmas came out 4 years earlier), it is the most successful and does not diminish upon reviewing. If you haven't been scared by horror movies in a long time (like me), this will probably make the hairs on the back of your head tingle at the first chords of the signature soundtrack. I highly recommend this movie as a must see horror movie and as one of the pinnacles of John Carpenter's career.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review of "Halloween (2007)"

Halloween (2007)

Can Zombie do more than redneck chic?

John Carpenter's 1978 classic is one of the first two movies I can remember seeing and being heavily influenced by (the other being the classic Conan the Barbarian). To prepare for this re-interpretation I decided to watch the original, for a competent comparison. Too bad there is very little to compare. After seeing Rob Zombie's previous films (which were heavily stylized and derivative, but enjoyably distracting), I could see sparks of potential. This movie makes me question those sparks of creativity. An aftertaste of redneck dis-functionality and a mild burning & itching sensation is all that remains.

The first half of this movie is an origin story. The origin of Michael Meyers prior to and after the killing of his sister. Zombie attempts to fill in the gaps of the original; Michael's turning into the killer and the years in the institute before he escapes and how he escapes. Where John Carpenter used Michael Meyers as a metaphor of the dysfunction that can occur in middle class America and the suburbs (places that are considered safe), Zombie almost justifies the creation of Michael Meyers as probable and even sympathetic. His first kill isn't a sudden urge to kill his sister on Halloween night, but rather a progressive transition from animals, to classmates, to his sister and then his father. It is this first 20 minutes that although not in the spirit of Carpenter's "Shape" is actually quite graphic and made me quite uneasy(not since I saw Jesus Camp). This 20 minutes is the only good segment of the movie.

Zombie's Meyers isn't a faceless, person-less killing "Shape", but rather is an abused prototypical serial killer. His parents and sibling are "suburb rednecks" who do nothing but pick on him (obnoxious and despicable members of his family, unemployed, working as a stripper and whoring). Is this really what a typical American middle class, suburban family looks like to Zombie or is he deriving from his own experiences? He doesn't kill for no reason, he very clearly snaps. By showing us his face in the early minutes of the movie, Zombie shows us that there is a human being behind the mask. A goofy looking child. In and of itself this is not necessarily bad. When taken in the context of the second half of the movie is where the problem develops. If Zombie continued on his initial re-imaging, this would have been a graphic and watch-ably average movie. It wouldn't be great but infinitely better than this reject.

Unfortunately, Zombie feels the need to re-shoot (almost scene for scene) the 2nd half of the movie exactly as Carpenter's "Shape". It just doesn't work. Meyers cannot be a "Shape" when you spent the first half of the moving turning him into a textbook serial killer. You spend the first half of the movie almost sympathizing with Meyers. The second half just ruins everything. It's almost as if Zombie didn't know what to do or how to finish what he had started, so he just defers to Carpenter. The second half just becomes a series of forgettable massacres. Where the original had little gore and worked the inclusion of a bloodbath desensitizes any thrill. Thankfully I cannot remember any of it.

This movie is a series of contrasts. I did like all the masks Michael creates to hide behind, almost as a different mask for every emotion he is burying. At the same time his killer mask is a worn, gray and cracked mask. It just looks dirty. It doesn't emote as well as a bleached white and faceless Shatner mask (original). I also felt the inclusion of the other-sister angle (brought up in the lesser sequel Halloween 2, which never really worked for me nor was directed by Carpenter) seemed even more rushed and random in this movie. His mother (Zombie's wife Sheri Moon) further cements just how bad of a mother she is and how mediocre an actress Sheri is. The bard of Carpenter's original, Dr. Loomis, is played by a hippie Malcolm McDowell (very reminiscent of his over-the-top Caligula performance, very hammy). Adult Michael is also no longer average but a brutishly gargantuan (played by X-Men's Sabertooth, Tyler Mane). He's become a caricature and not the kid-next-door turned faceless monster for no reason. Also not helping the movie is when you are sympathetic to the psychopath because the protagonists are so annoying.

The movie should just start with a montage of people's faces, of various shapes, colors and sex, whom all say "I am Michael Meyers". Zombie shows us how the right circumstances of genes and environment can turn one into a serial killer. Hard to be terrified by the explainable. The Unrated DVD does nothing more than add gore to an already dysfunctional and bad movie. If you must watch this, just watch the first half. A better solution is just to go back to the original.