Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Halloween (2007)

I was a huge John Carpenter fan growing up. Halloween, Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, Prince Of Darkness, Starman, these were all seminal works for my movie-addicted brain. I had the posters for his films on my bedroom wall, along with a signed photo of the man I wrote away for and was thrilled to get back. I even recorded the whole of Assault off of the TV and on to cassette (this being the days before home video), then listened it over and over again until I memorised the entire script. But then, something tragic happened, a John Carpenter film wasn’t an event anymore, and as disappointment followed disappointment, I began to pine for the good old days when I could claim him as my favourite director. [I’m actually not sure what’s bothered me more, the dodgy remakes of Carpenter classics (The Fog, Assault) or the dodgy originals (Ghosts Of Mars, Vampires, Escape From LA.]

When it was first announced that Rob Zombie was remaking Halloween my heart sank. The original remains a sublime piece of filmmaking, pitch perfect and hugely influential, with, perhaps, the greatest theme of the last 30 years. There seemed no reasons to mess with it, besides the obvious financial motives. Then, reading script reviews that started popping up on the web and hearing of Zombie’s take, his desire to explore the background and childhood of Michael Meyers, I really wasn’t sure. After all, finding out what made him evil didn’t work for Hannibal Lecter. Now, having seen Zombie’s Halloween, it doesn’t work here either.

Strangely, the best section of this remake is actually the first 30/40 minutes detailing Michael’s white-trash upbringing, his dysfunctional family, his stripper mom, his drunken, abusive stepfather, his slutty sister. Not because it represents a side of Meyers that necessarily needed telling, but because it’s here that Zombie seems wholly in charge of his material, his characters, their white-trash world, their bile and invective. But this could be poor kid’s story. I was happy with Michael being simply The Boogeyman. The physical embodiment of pure evil. I don’t want him humanised. I want to sympathise with him. I don’t want to know he killed rats and cats as a kid and had a malicious stepdad. Making him human doesn’t make him any more scary; the opposite in fact.

That said, right through until Michael kills his family, the film is grim, nasty, and suitably creepy, and I liked the thing Zombie does when he shakes the frame. Thereafter, with Michael first in the nut house, making masks, then escaping, the weakness of the character and the script shows itself. And so by the time Michael finally arrives in Haddonfield, and concerns himself with Laurie Strode and her gal pals, Annie and Lynda, Zombie has nowhere to go except a condensed carbon copy of Carpenter’s film. Except we don’t know these girls like we did before, and so we don’t care what happens to them. While Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie was smart and resourceful, the prototypical scream queen, Scout Taylor-Compton’s doesn’t make much of an impression. Moreover, Zombie doesn’t have Carpenter’s subtlety, nor his grasp of tension and tease. This Halloween is happy to bludgeon the audience into submission, mainly so we don’t ask the obvious questions: how come Michael transformed from such a scrawny kid into the Hulk, and how come he knows about his sister’s new identity in the first place (this issue, an inane consequence of Halloween II, always struck me as nonsense).

It’s certainly not the worst remake I’ve ever seen and there are a few nice moments (having Lynda and her bloke make out in the old Meyers house being one of them) but every time Zombie uses Carpenter’s original music I couldn’t help but wish I was watching his Halloween instead…

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