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Friday, August 31, 2007

Halloween

When I first read that Rob Zombie was going to remake or, excuse me, re-imagine the original film of the Halloween franchise I was filled with mixed emotions. It was like watching your rotten ex-husband steal your brand new Mercedes and then drive off a cliff in it. I knew if anyone was capable of keeping director John Carpenter’s menacing tone and relentless tension going it would be Zombie, who proved he could do that quite capably in his own films like The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses, but, and this is a big BUT, the question that immediately came to mind was: Why? Why remake the 1978 Halloween at all? The first one is a classic of horror, and it doesn’t need to be “fixed.” Oh sure, the cars and scenery and maybe the costumes seem dated for a hip 21st century crowd, but it isn’t about the style of the costumes and sets. It’s about one thing only ~ Michael Myers, and he is timeless. He doesn’t need a make-over.

I’ll confess I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart (and I mean the one in my chest, not the one in my refrigerator) for Michael Myers. Perhaps it is because he reminds me a bit too much of most of my Uncle Henry’s side of the family. I used to tell people that my family made the Hewitts of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like the Cleavers from “Leave It to Beaver.”

Speaking of cleavers, for instance, Uncle Henry’s second wife Carlotta (the tramp) brought a teenaged daughter to their marriage that was, shall we say, experienced in the juvenile detention system. Janelle (from Hell) as she was called, had a pet duck named Donald, a sly indication of her immense creativity. Anyway, as you might imagine from a girl named Janelle (from Hell), Donald was inevitably ignored and spent most of his days in the walled backyard of her parents’ home, squawking endlessly at Carlotta (the tramp)’s ugly little pug, Randy, and sniffing at the dog’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of recycled Alpo piles left everywhere.

Eventually Janelle (from Hell) went away to college after graduating the twelfth grade on her fourth try and when she returned at Christmas of her Freshman year Mommie Queerest invited the entire clan over for dinner to welcome her scurrilous daughter home. What Carlotta (the tramp) didn’t tell everyone was that the main course was going to be quite the surprise it turned out to be. As we all sat around the festively decorated holiday table Maniac Mama brings out the entrée on a silver platter, a beautifully prepared duck l’orange on a bed of fresh parsley with a cheerful blue sailor’s cap tipped rakishly askew on its crispy amber head. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that our would-be dinner was obviously a formerly feathered member of the immediate family.

Needless to say, it was hard to find an open McDonald’s or Burger King on Christmas Day, but the screaming and hollering (not to mention knife-wielding threats) put a damper on the rest of the tribe staying for vittles at Chez Henry. I don’t think too many have ventured back since, as a matter of fact, and that was twenty years ago.

Of course, I should add, there was a bit more to the story that may have something to do the decision by most of us to steer clear of invitations to dine with Uncle Henry and family since that fateful holiday evening. Three or four days after what has come to be known as “the Donald Duck disaster”, Janelle (from Hell) spent the day alone while her mother and step-father had gone skiing. When they returned home late that evening they found a big pot of ragout warming on the stove waiting for them along with two bottles of red wine on the already-set table. After they were well into the wine and had finished off their bowls of stew, Janelle (from Hell) appeared from upstairs all smiles. She made the usual chit-chat for a moment or two then asked if they enjoyed their ragout. Assured by both her slightly sloshed parental units that they did, indeed, find it unusual and spicy, she asked if it was making them feel a bit randy? Actually, I think she meant “Randy” in the proper noun sense, but it took the a few moments to catch on. Well, you get the idea. Revenge may be sweet, but getting vomit stains, especially with red wine, brown gravy, and curry powdered pug, out of white carpeting is an expensive proposition and causes bitter feelings. Not to mention a stay in the local mental health hospital for several months.

You are probably asking yourself what this has to do with
Halloween. Well, in some ways it has great similarities. Besides the fact that I grew up in a family of sickos, serial killers, dog slaughters, rapists, and devout Roman Catholics, this story might give you a glimpse into what to expect in the new Halloween.

Unlike the 1978 Halloween, this new Halloween spends its first hour doing something akin to an "A&E Biography" on Michael Myers, the early years. The story unfolds almost glacially as we see ten year old Michael (Daeg Faerch; Rattle Basket) at home and at school, facing a non-stop assault of insults and abuse from his step-father (William Forsythe; Hack!), his snotty older sister Judith (Hanna Hall; White Picket Fence), and one particularly crude bully named Wesley Rhoades (Daryl Sabara; Normal Adolescent Behavior). Like we don’t already know where this is headed, and by the time Michael snaps and offs the people who are driving him meshuggeneh, it feels like we’ve been waiting forever for the kid to kill somebody. I know that sounds bad, but you know the reason you come to a Halloween movie in the first place is to see Michael Myers slice and dice his victims. It’s not about the foreplay. Leave that crap to Jason Voorhees.

Next thing you know, we get a half hour of Michael growing up at the
mental institution in Smith Grove, which fans of the original will remember is where we first really got to see him in 1978. This time around though we get to experience his psychotherapy. Here his shrink is played by Malcolm McDowell (The List) since the definitive Dr. Loomis, Donald Pleasance, died in real life in 1995 (after appearing in 1978’s Halloween, then Halloween 2, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and finally Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers). This Dr. Loomis is kind of a yawn except for his hair, which is just downright scary as it roams like greasy snakes on a plane looking for a place to rest. He asks Michael the usual insipid questions like “How did you feel when you carved your sister into an Arby’s thin sliced deli meat sandwich?” and Michael just sits there and practices being sullen for his coming teen years. It moves really s-l-o-w-l-y for way too long before this 2007 cinematic time eventually reconciles with the 1978 cinematic timeframe and the movie meets that *magical* point where, in the original, Michael makes his escape from the hospital, dons his William Shatner mask (how many of you out there knew that the original prop mask was just that, pained white?) and goes on his October 31st nostalgic Slaughter Haddonfield tour.

At this point and until the last fifteen minutes or so, the movie becomes an almost scene-by-scene Reader’s Digest Condensed Books replay of Carpenter’s movie, complete with the same music and all the same characters. It is only in the end that Zombie deviates from Carpenter’s path and adds a bit more “oomph” to his “number one victim” Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton; An American Crime) and to Dr. Loomis himself just to up the ante.

I can’t say I didn’t like this
Halloween, but I was let down in the way people usually are when they meet up with an old beau again after 30 years or so of not seeing one another. You may have fantasized over the “what if” and “what would it have been like” questions in your mind during daydreams now and again, but when you actually meet up with that “special” person in the here and now you find that today’s dreamboat is more of a rust bucket than you could ever have predicted. Don’t get me wrong, Michael is still a bad ass that would put Freddie Krueger to shame in a Benihana showdown. It’s just that after seven movies before this one (I’m not including Halloween 3 since it didn’t feature Michael), and with all of them on cable in a boundless vortex of horror, I find the humanization of Michael in this film a fundamentally bad idea. We want our monsters monstrous, and by making Michael an understandable, sympathetic and even tragic figure, we steal away the evil that makes him inherently fearful. I don’t want my Michael to be vulnerable. I want him 100% cruel. I want to know he’d serve up Martha Stewart duck l’orange with a silly little hat and be really nasty. He’d even burn the damned bottom of the bird and salt the stuffing way too much, or, better yet, he’d invite Rachael Ray over and then rile her up with a cockapoo stew with a little ca ca poo mixed in too. I want my cinematic Michael to at least be scarier than members of my own family, for crikey sake! I expected that from Rob Zombie at least.

For people who’ve never seen the first incarnation of Michael Myers circa 1978 this
Halloween will serve up some thrills and a few moments of dread, but for purists it is going to taste a lot like warmed over leftovers.

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