Saturday, September 22, 2007

No, Laurie, it's not the Boogeyman

Sometimes you don’t even want to give something the satisfaction of hating it.

I’ve always thought that the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it was instantly forgettable - that you didn’t care enough about it to even have an opinion. If I had made a movie and the studio came to me with a pile of comment cards that were split 50/50 with people who either loved or hated it, I would go home and sleep quite well that night. Provided the same holds true for Rob Zombie, I’d wager that he’s been sleeping extraordinarily well for the past few years. As a musician, Zombie flew either above, under, or around my radar; I have always regarded ‘metal’ music in much the same way I do the homeless, I certainly don’t hate them but I do my best to ignore them. When he decided to become a film director, well, now you’re eating in my kitchen, Rob. I was expecting some vile, artless straight to video piece of garbage that would cater to his perceived fanbase of God-knows-what. Imagine my surprise to find that I actually enjoyed House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – and imagine my even greater surprise to learn that the Zombie & I share similar cinema sensibilities! Both films deal with the exploits of the murderous Firefly family, with House being more of a straight ahead horror picture with the ubiquitous group o’ teens happening upon the family, who has apparently turned the torture and killing of passers by into a vocation, and Rejects, which follows the same family in their flight from the law. Both pictures are set in the 70s and are steeped in the indi-horror aesthetic of the period, and are literally overflowing with visual references from films like Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972). It really appears that Zombie is having a ball, and that fun is infectious. It also helps that the casts of both are filled with terrific genre character actors who traditionally have trouble working outside the Chiller Convention. Both are also graphically violent. Now a bit of blood (or even a bucket) is not going to shock this reviewer, but there’s a geek show quality to the ghastliness on display that can easily overwhelm the films other pleasures, and helped birth the largely meaningless term “torture porn”. Rejects was a better film than House; and with the welcome retirement of the Firefly family, I was looking forward to where he’d go next.

Unfortunately, he went to Haddonfield. October 31st. Halloween.

Sitting through Rob Zombie’s Halloween is like watching a favorite movie on television, only to have an annoying big brother change the channel to PPV wrestling. It shows, not only a complete failure to understand what made the original special, but also an estrangement from the way human beings communicate and relate to each other. Zombie’s universe is made up almost exclusively with despicable white trash stereotypes, livened up with the occasional serial killer in waiting. Our mercifully brief time spent with the Myers family introduces us to the pole dancing mom, wheelchair-ridden dad (who also dabbles in pedophilic incest based on his breakfast table chat), older sister (who’s Halloween night boyfriend is the closest approximation to a Wookie found outside of a Star Wars film). There’s also a new baby - who’s conception is the one horror spared us - and, of course, young Michael. Victimized by all save Mom, Michael moves in quick succession from killing animals (Pictures!) to school bullies, to Dad and Sis. While institutionalized, he comes under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, probably thinking how much better the food was on Caligula), but Michael seals himself off from the world, sitting in his room making Mardi Gras masks and taking massive amounts of steroids until he turns into a creature more befitting a tale from Homer. During a transfer (one wonders if the asylum will close after he leaves, since he is apparently the only patient) he escapes and heads to his hometown of Haddonfield to find his little sister.

Up until this point, Zombie’s film has at least been somewhat original. Although every bit of new backstory adds nothing but pop-psychoanalytical hooey (abusive parents – check, kills animals – check) and takes away the character’s mystery and power, he at least fulfills his promise to bring something new to the story. But just before the halfway mark in the 2hr feature, it turns into a hurried retread of the original film’s plotline, replacing suspense with bloodshed, and characterization with lowest-denominator pandering. Even Loomis, Carpenter’s Van Helsing stand-in, is made to look like a posturing opportunist, having just written a tell-all paperback about the Myers case.

As much as Zombie attempts to urinate on the memory, it exists too many heads and shoulders above it to get a clear shot. Many right-minded internet critics have been trying to help, writing numerous articles in the “Rob Zombie raped my childhood” vein. But trying to sell the original to the MTV demographic (you know, the only one) is an exercise in futility, and tearing into the remake only serves to make it more “controversial”. One thing you can do is give your money to a little film called Hatchet, currently in limited theatrical release. It’s a refreshingly non-ironic, non post-modernistic slasher, one written by people with measurable wit who understand that genre conventions don’t have to always be laughed at or turned upside down. Support horror-comedies that actually work, folks; they’re as rare and lovely as a Faberge Egg and not nearly as expensive.