(We’ll be posting our entire archives of past columns here. We’re starting off with the ones we did for Fear Zone from 2007 to 2009. This is the very first one we did for them. First published on Fear Zone on 9/15/07.)
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN (2007)
(FADE IN: LL SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are standing in front of a dilapidated house as autumn leaves fall to the ground. Somewhere an owl hoots. LL SOARES is dressed as a clown and laughing.)
MA: It’s good to be back bringing you Cinema Knife Fight again. I’m Michael Arruda, and this is L.L. Soares, dressed as a— who are you supposed to be?
LS: (waving an empty pillow case) Why, isn’t it obvious, my boy? Heh heh. I’m Captain Spaulding. Happy Halloween!
MA: It’s not Halloween, it’s Labor Day. I think you’re a little confused. We’re supposed to be reviewing the movie HALLOWEEN.
LS: Er…I knew that.
MA: Sure you did.
LS: (looks disappointed) Does this mean we can’t go trick or treating?
MA: I’m afraid not. Nobody’s going to give you candy in September.
LS: Sumbitch! I got all dressed up for nothin’.
MA: Of course, when a movie called HALLOWEEN is released on Labor Day weekend, there’s reason for confusion. Anyway, why don’t you tell the folks a little bit about the movie.
LS: Okay. Well, as everyone must know by now, the new movie HALLOWEEN, directed by Rob Zombie, is a remake of the 1978 classic by John Carpenter. It basically tells the story of Michael Myers, who becomes a killer as a child and, while spending time in a mental institution, becomes something much scarier. Years later, when he escapes, he has become “The Shape,” a supernatural entity who is something more than human and who lives to kill. Myers goes back to his hometown of Haddonfield to pick up where he left off.
I guess I should start by saying that I was really looking forward to this film. On the whole, I usually hate remakes, and there aren’t many I can think of that were worth the celluloid they were filmed on.
MA: Don’t forget Hammer Films. Their best movies were remakes.
LS: (clears throat) Yeah, yeah. Hammer Films aside, John Carpenter’s THE THING comes to mind, as that rare sequel that’s even better than the original, and, to a lesser degree, I thought Alexandre Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s HILLS HAVE EYES was decent. Otherwise, remakes range from passable to just plain awful, with most of them falling into the latter category.
However, I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie’s work as a director. His first film, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES was a lot of fun and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale horror movie market at the time. His second film, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, is easily one of my favorite movies in the last 10 years. So I figured, if anyone could remake HALLOWEEN and do the material justice, it was Rob Z.
Coming out of the theater after seeing Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, however, I had a really mixed reaction. I liked that he tried to flesh out the Michael Myers’s character a bit more, giving us a closer look at his childhood, as well as his mask-fixation. But we still come no closer to understanding how he transformed from a child serial killer to a supernatural being. And where Carpenter’s original film built suspense and had really good pacing, Zombie’s version pretty much loses any sense of suspense by the second half. In the remake, Myers isn’t so much a boogeyman come to life, as he is a variation on The Terminator, which has its appeal, but doesn’t leave much room for suspense. As played by former wrestler Tyler Mane, it’s believable that this Michael Myers can easily smash through doors and walls, but he’s just not as interesting as the original version. Since the new Michael Myers is a hulking, unstoppable force, he seems almost more of a machine than a person. His mask looks a lot cooler this time around, though.
MA: I agree with you about the fleshing out of the Michael Myers character. Rob Zombie’s attempt to give meaning to Michael Myers’ behavior, to show how such a monster could be created, really worked for me. For the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie, I’m thinking this is going to be good, but then things go downhill after that.
The scenes with Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis and young Michael in the mental hospital, for example, were very interesting, but at the same time, it was at this point where I started checking my watch, not because the material was boring, but like you said, the pacing was painfully slow. While Carpenter’s original moved like knife jabs, this version is slower than Michael Myers walking down a staircase.
The original also was scary. It contained many well-crafted shock scenes and built a sense of suspense that had audiences squirming and screaming. This version the audience was silent. Not one scream.
While I’ll admit this was a creative re-thinking of John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN, it was also too depressing for my liking. It reminded me of PSYCHO IV (1990)— well done, but do I really want to know how Norman Bates, and in this case Michael Myers, became such screw-ups? Do I really need to see them suffer to understand them?
In this case, I wanted to understand Michael Myers, and when the film began, I grew excited. I wondered, with this new knowledge of Michael, where the journey might lead. Sadly, it led nowhere we haven’t been before.
And you’re right, they don’t explain how Michael makes the jump from maniac to supernatural killer. Had they done this, it would have been a much better movie.
I did enjoy some of the little touches, like showing clips of the original version of THE THING (1951) on TV, which Carpenter did in the original. And while I was glad Zombie included “Don’t Fear The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, which Carpenter used in his original, did he have to use it so often?
LS: Did you notice how effective Carpenter’s original theme for HALLOWEEN was? It was the one piece of music in the movie that, the first time it comes on, I felt shivers up my spine.
MA: That’s because the rest of the score was so forgettable. I was also a bit confused by the time element in this film. People dressed and acted the same in both segments, even though 15 years supposedly had passed.
LS: I thought the cast was pretty good for the most part. Sherri Moon does a fine job as Michael’s stripper mother. Although it was odd to see a stripper who doesn’t get naked.
MA: That’s okay. Everyone else gets naked.
LS: The great Malcolm McDowell (he was Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, after all) is good as Dr. Loomis (although Donald Pleasance still owns the role), and I thought it was interesting that McDowells’ Loomis isn’t completely likeable – since he did cash in on Michael’s notoriety by writing a book about his patient.
MA: Luckily, Malcolm McDowell didn’t get naked!
LS: Daeg Faerch is interesting as the young Michael. He does a good job alternating between being intense and being vulnerable (in the scenes with his mother), and I liked the scene where the bully gets his comeuppance. And Scout Taylor-Compton is okay as Laurie Strode, but she’s no Jamie Lee Curtis, who turned in her best performance in Carpenter’s original film.
MJA: I thought Daeg Faerch was the best part of the movie. His performance as the young Michael stole the film. You really feel how horrible it is to be him. And I thought Scout Taylor-Compton was actually pretty bad as Laurie. Didn’t you find the dialogue in the scenes with Laurie and her friends awful? I thought so.
LS: (shrugs) Two stand-out performances for me were in more minor roles. William Forsythe (Sheriff Wydell from THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), as Michael’s verbally abusive stepfather, was a real hoot and I wish he’d been onscreen more. And the scene where the great Ken Foree (he was Peter in the original DAWN OF THE DEAD) plays “Big Joe Grizzley” in those big mutton-chop sideburns is so funny I was laughing out loud.
Other great actors in small roles include: Brad Dourif, Danny Trejo (“MACHETE” himself), Bill Moseley, Tom Towles, Richard Lynch, Sybil Danning, Sid Haig, Udo Kier, Clint Howard and even former MONKEE Micky Dolenz as a gun salesman. See how many you can find.
MA: Yes, these cameos were fun. So was seeing Bela Lugosi in his scenes from WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) which was also on TV in a key scene.
LS: (pops up wearing a Michael Myers mask and waving a big knife) Look at me, I’m William Shatner!
MA: You know, I was actually hoping that somewhere in the film there’d be a William Shatner reference, some off-the-cuff remark, like “that mask looks like William Shatner!” Now, will you take that off! I told you we can’t go trick or treating.
LS: (removes mask) Like I said, I’m a big Rob Zombie fan, but I think of the three films he’s directed so far, HALLOWEEN is the weakest. Partly because the material is too familiar to have the same intensity it once had, and partly because the original film is such a classic that anyone’s remake would probably come up short. But I can appreciate Zombie’s ambition in trying to put his own spin on the material, and that he didn’t do a scene-for-scene rehash of the original. Although he did bring back the gag with the guy wearing the sheet and the glasses from the original, which was fun.
I just hope that, if this film does as well as expected, Zombie doesn’t get sucked into directing more HALLOWEEN films. I’d much prefer to see more of his original ideas put onscreen. He’s too talented a filmmaker to keep rehashing other people’s ideas.
MA: Well, I’m not a Rob Zombie fan, nor am I fan of this movie. John Carpenter’s 1978 HALLOWEEN was stylish and scary. The 2007 remake is brutal and heavy handed, and it grows more and more shallow as it goes along, working its way to an ending that would have been better if the scenes leading up to it had more meat to them instead of blood and gore.
LS: I think I liked it more than you, but it had a lot of flaws. I was expecting something a lot more powerful. It’s really too bad that Rob Zombie didn’t hit this one out of the park.
MA (chuckling): A baseball reference from you, the sports hater? That’s funny.
LS: (raises an aluminum baseball bat) Not as funny as what I’m gonna do to you to now that our review is over.
MA: It ain’t over till it’s over.
LS: Don’t start with the baseball clichés!
MA: It’s not over till the fat lady sings.
LS: Enough! Shut up!
MA: (singing): Take me out to the ball game—.
(LS swings bat at MA)
(FADE TO BLACK)
© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares