Monday, October 6, 2008

hateful halloween redux redux (also everything sucks)...

This week is getting off to a genuinely awful start. Just once it'd be nice to not have everything stop working at the same time, or to have, like, experiences that don't make like feel like a lonely, shameful chore. Y'know? Anyway, well, fuck it, I'm having a hard time posting because nothing is working, both internet and hardware-wise.

Anyway, before the machine I'm working at explodes in my face and blinds me or something, I wanted to write about two flick I watched last night. I don't really have the energy though, or the dedication to write what I wanted to write in the first place, which wasn't going to be that great to begin with. So, fuck, sigh, I dunno, let's take a minute to regroup...

About a year ago, I was invited to contribute some media criticism to a blog that a friend of mine was trying to start. There were really no limitations or guidelines placed on what on write, but I got the impression that the general tone of the overall thing was basically "indie rock," though perhaps from a media perspective, media that "indie rock" people like, or dislike? Which means that when asked to write about media, video, for the thing, I should have been thinking more in terms of, I dunno, something with some hipster cred or established art legitimacy. Cassavettes, Stan Brakhage...or some contemporary equivalent. For some reason, though, I decided to write a piece about how much I hated Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween." It's not that I don't have exposure to those other things (although I admittedly really dislike Stan Brakhage, I've certainly seen a lot of his films- I even own an original super-8 print of one of them, somewhere, but that's another story), but at the time I think I was just sort of starting to feel like I was gaining momentum on this blog, writing cranky yet subtly brilliant diatribes on low budget horror and exploitation films, and how terrible and offensive everything made after 1989 etc. Also, I think I felt insecure in writing something more serious, academic, whatever. It's kind of silly, I do have some academic cred, master's degree, spoke of conferences, published, taught etc. But there's this sense, always, even now, of being confronted with one thing, of rushing towards the opposite. Like, if I'm in an art gallery, I feel like a philistine. If I'm at the multiplex watching some kind of stupid fart comedy, I feel like a highbrow snob. Life is pain.

So anyway, I should have written something different back then. That website never went anywhere anyway, for which I entirely blame myself. Well, fuck it. Last night, I re-watched the Rob Zombie remake of "Halloween" to see if it had gotten any better in the year sense, and with the thought of writing about it where writing like that belongs, in the ghetto of "Negative Pleasure."

Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween" is, a year later, still fucking horrible. First off, it's made by a grown-ass man who calls himself "Rob Zombie" and is white but has dreadlocks. Second, it's a remake of a film that's perfectly great in and of itself and never needed to be remade (and already had about three sequels too many). Third, everything that works about the original is seemingly reversed here- subtlety becomes obviousness, suspense becomes overkill, style becomes kitsch, atmosphere becomes awkwardness...

Although Zombie is older than I am, I can't help but feel like a large part of the failing is generational- media-generational. The original John Carpenter film leaves significant parts of the story up to the viewer's imagination. The exact reason for Michael Meyer's murderousness is never given, he is simply a force of violent, unstoppable malevolence ("the return of the repressed" in the words of critic-theorist Robin Wood)- the collective rage-filled backlash of thirty years of adolescent permisiveness, the oncoming rise of the Republican right/moral majority with the election of Reagan a couple of years later, the re-rise of the American military industrial complex in the face of the counterculture hippie peace movement, or just a general social sickness. The Son of Sam was apprehended the year Halloween came out, as was Ted Bundy, and Richard Chase, the "Vampire of Sacramento," the Hillside Strangler case was going on and Rev. Jim Jones and his cult committed mass suicide in Guyana. Which is to say, if there was a point in American history where the idea that there was a tangible kind of evil that might randomly emerge from the fabric of our culture and lash out at us violently, that was such a time...

Jump forward 30 years (actually 29, they couldn't wait a year for the 30th anniversary?). In the remake, every little point about the killer's background and motivation is spelled out in the most trite and stereotypical detail imaginable. Actually, "imagination" has nothing to do with this. Zombies robs his killer of all mystery. Instead of a boogeyman springing randomly from the idyll of middle class suburbia, the 21st century Michael Meyers is a semi-retarded redneck from a white trash family. Mom is a stripper, (step) dad is a (verbally) abusive alcoholic. Young Michael is bullied at school. Zombie goes so far as to have his nascient serial killer slaughtering small animals. Why? Because that's what killers do, of course! Instead of the relatively brief introduction of the original film, Zombie spends more than 30 minutes in the remake establishing a character who acts almost exactly like he does in the original, only with more backstory.

This comes mainly at the expense of the time, relished by Carpenter in the original, of establishing the film's actual protagonists (Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles and Nancy Loomis) and giving us a reason to care about what happens to them once the bloodshed starts, which we do. Here, the actresses (Scout Taylor-Compton, Kristina Klebe and Danielle Harris, who as a child starred in Halloween 4 and 5) are good but they're given nothing to do (Klebe and Harris are mainly present to get naked and die immediately afterwards), plus they're competing for screen time with an endless parade of cult-icon cameos and supporting roles- Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Richard Lynch, Danny Trejo, Bill Moseley, Tom Towles, Ken Foree, Dee Wallace, Sybil Danning, Micky Dolenz, Sid Haig...it'd be overkill at half as many, but in a film that really only focuses on three characters (the killer, the victim- played by Compton, and the doctor- played by McDowell), it's mainly just padding, short scenes of "hey, lookit how clever I am!" that amount to nothing. It doesn't help that Zombie's notion of clever characterization is having his characters spew torrents of hateful profanity at one another. Obviously, I have nothing against profanity in and of itself, but I'd prefer to see it serve some kind of purpose, or at least be cleverly written, but most of the exchanges in this film ammount to," Hey, lemme check out that fuckin' fuck?" "No fucking way, motherucker." "Then fuck you, limpdick!" Seriously, I've just written the climactic dialogue scene for Zombie's next piece-of-shit movie.

All of this is directly contrary to what John Carpenter was doing in the 1970s. Though his style has changed over the years, Carpenter's early films (Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, the Fog, Escape from New York, the Thing and even Starman) are paragons of narrative economy. Alot has been written on the influence of Howard Hawks and John Ford of Carpenter's films. Add to that list Budd Boetticher ("The Tall T") and Anthony Mann- makers of "psychological westerns" and film noir, who, in the grand tradition of, y'know, the very nature of cinema, might avoid spelling everything about a film out with dialogue when the same message might be conveyed visually, or through good acting.

This isn't just a matter of "old good" and "new bad," but a representation of a significant shift in the way we view art, media and ourselves, from subtlety to obviousness. From simple economy (and in a sense, a certain elegance) to gaudy everything and the kitchen sink showing-offishness. The original "Halloween," in its way, springs from the tradition of Kafka and existentialism, that at any point the world might turn against you for no apparent reason, that you might not have control over everything, or anything, that the boogeyman might be coming to kill you, like Ted Bundy, or sell out the values of a nation, like Richard Nixon. Today, our values are long since sold out, so the only question is- how am I getting MINE. The new Halloween is part of the contemporary "me" movement in which everyone (or, in this case, the filmmaker and the killer, who seems to be the filmmaker-substitute here) has to be constantly validated and individuated (usually at my expense).

And, really, if you're going to give an enigmatic some enigma-defying definition, couldn't you come up with something better than "momma was a stripper (by the way, if you're going to make one of the main characters in your film a stripper, and show them dancing, then show them naked. that's what strippers do, they take of their clothes. if you don't want to show them naked, give the character another job. there are plenty of other degrading or unpleasant jobs done by women in this country. this nudity thing goes double if you're trying to be all "gritty" and harsh, as in this film), stepdad was a drunk, sister was a slut." What a way to make me not give a fuck. I mean, generally speaking, I don't identify with the killer in films like this, especially not one who never speaks, wears a blank mask and kills people who help as well as hinder him- this isn't "Henry- Portrait of a Serial Killer," "Targets," "Psycho" or even "Sleepaway Camp." No, this is just some trite, boring-ass bullshit. And you know what's worse? Buried in the middle of it is an absolutely wonderful performance by Malcolm McDowell, in the role played by Donald Pleasence in the original. Seriously, he's fucking brilliant. And that's a fucking shame, because this flick doesn't deserve it (much of the cast is far better than the material they're given).

Anyway, fuck Rob Zombie, fuck remakes, fuck Mondays, fuck me and fuck you! I'm go crawl under the covers and cry for a while, and if technology is any less punishing in a couple of hours, put up some comics or something. Whatever.

Stay negative...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was an awesome review! Couldn't agree more!

Dane said...

I think I have had the exact same kind of day as you. I've got another one on deck tomorrow.

Micky Dolenz and Brad Dourif, really? God, I love them but they're such whores.

harris smith said...

thanks & thanks! sorry to hear you've been suffering through the same. dolenz and dourif (and most of the other character actors in the film) are great, and they're great in 'halloween,' that's kind of the worst part, there's so much talent floating around in this thing, but it's just a self-indulgent mess...

Shawn Robare said...

Every time I think I need to give this film a shot I read another review like this. I actually dig Zombie's 2 previous films, though I can see a ton of flaws. I think I just need to give up on this one. Besides, I don't need to see the girl from Halloween 4&5 naked, I've already had films with actresses like Drew Barrymore and Christina Ricci spoiled for me on repeat viewing because of this...

harris smith said...

It helps knowing that Danielle Harris is basically the same age as me, even if I know her mostly as a child actress. It doesn't help that she's supposed to be playing a teenager, or that her brief sex scene is followed by a long, LONG murder scene with her getting stabbed repeatedly, screaming loudly, also getting saved, then getting stabbed some more. It seems almost specifically designed as an attack on viewers who might have some affection for her from the previous films.
Good looking girl, though, and not a bad actress at all...And I think even if you're a fan of the other Zombie films this one is just kind of a mess. That kind of anarchic abandon in the other two feels tired here. I think Zombie's kind of a one trick pony, cinematically...