Friday, August 31, 2007

I Miss John Carpenter


If "Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, and Halloween" was offered up as a clue on "Jeopardy", the answer, phrased as a question, would be: "What John Carpenter films have been disgracefully remade into substandard thrillers?" Ding! Ding!Ding!

The original Halloween, released in the late seventies, filmed on a shoestring and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance is still a major work in horror; it remains an icon of unrelenting suspense. Success, of course, brings imitation, and what followed were the
'stalk and slash' imitators, such as the "Friday The 13th" series, that confused the tension and style of the Carpenter's original with soft core porn and snuff film sensibilities.

Enter Rob Zombie.

Why anyone would want to remake this brilliant work of horror is astonishing to me. In one interview, Zombie claimed he wouldn't even touch the project if he didn't feel that he had a fresh and worthwhile approach to the material. Well, Mr. Zombie, I've seen the film and I'm still wondering what happened to all that worthwhile freshness.

Zombie has made a film without a protagonist. The film takes away the mystery and horror of the boogie man to instead give us an unbelievable sociopath created from an unbelievable home environment crafted of trailerpark cliches. Given what we see Michael is subjected to, he is almost made a sympathetic figure. Let me say that again. Michael Meyers. Sympathetic.

We get to watch him deteriorate in the mental hospital (of which he seems the only occupant). We watch him abandoned and dehumanized. Note to future film makers. Mental hospitals don't allow patients to engage in unhealthy behaviors. They don't let patients make creepy masks and wear them all day long. Not therapeutic.

With all the time spent on Michael and his gorefest, Zombie chose to minimize the character of Laurie Strode. Unfortunately, if the audience doesn't identify with and care about Laurie, the audience doesn't feel the horror of her predicament. We don't grip our popcorn boxes, urging her not to go across the street. We don't lean forward and hiss under our breath: "Run, Laurie..oh god..run."

Zombie has removed the elements of supernatural horror that made the original such a rush. He has abandoned characterization (at least for the supposed protagonists) in favor of one clumsy gore shot after another. As mentioned earlier, Zombie confuses character development with unbelievable stereotypes. He doesn't understand the word subtlety or nuance.

Strangely, there is a parade of familiar and unlikely faces throughout the film. Clint Howard (Clint Howard???!!! Ron's younger, rather quirky looking brother?), Dee Wallace (E.T.'s Mom), Brad Dourif (the voice of Chucky), Mickey Dolenz (Circus Boy and former drummer for the Monkees), Udo Kier (Andy Warhol's Dracula) Sybil Danning (Howling II and a multitude of bad exploitation films during the seventies). Wait...did I mention Mickey Dolenz?

I usually don't see films that do not allow critics access before release. I usually don't see films that come out toward the end of August or the beginning of September. It takes a film like Halloween to remind me why. Don't see this motion picture. Do yourself a favor and rent the original. But wait for late October, when you can run it as a double bill on your DVD player, along with the likes of Night of the Living Dead.

6 comments:

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Carpenter did indeed make some brilliant movies on a shoestring. The warped logic is that some people thing they will be even better when made with a lot of money. Wrong!

Carl V. said...

There seems to be a move right now to make these type of psycho villains more sympathetic. At least that is the theory I have based on your review and on the trailers for the latest Hannibal Lector movie. I don't mind sympathetic villians, but I don't have alot of sympathy for psycho killers.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Carl, for HALLOWEEN, it's a horrible approach. Michael Meyers was the Boogie Man. He was an unstoppable supernatural force, the manifestation of our nightmares. In Carpenter's version he came from a fairly normal home, which played into all parents' fears that with all the love and nurturing it was still possible to raise a monster.

Zombie has taken that icon and diminished it by trying to humanize it. But you are right..you can take your statement forward by pointing to the humanization of Jigsaw from the "Saw" series.

SQT said...

The most interesting thing about the "parental fear" aspect of the story is that these movies aren't usually marketed toward the parents.

I seriously doubt most teenagers care about the back-story of the bogeyman. In fact, not knowing makes him more terrifying.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Yeah, SQT, "Halloween" was certainly targeted toward teens, as is the majority of stuff Hollywood churns out. Children in this culture are indulged and have an amazing amount of their parents' disposable income.

Having Michael come out of a fairly normal or undefined home setting, it may not have been deliberate on Carpenter's part but rather a reflection of his own psyche. I think writers and filmmakers include in their work things which affect them.

I also think that while Carpenter was aware of his teen audience, there was more there for him. Considering the elements in Assault on Precinct 13, it was clear that at that point in his career that Carpenter was looking to create something more than a simple exploitative film that we see in Eli Roth's snuff porn "Hostel".

What a sad view of the world Zombie must have.

S.M.D. said...

Guess I won't be seeing this. I was really hopeful they were just going to take the old story and make it a little new and more in-depth, but it sounds like they just took the old story, threw it in a well, and then created something else from molded cheese and ten gallons of fake blood.
Shame on you Hollywood. Make something good for once...sheesh.