Trick or Treat…Mostly Trick

From Raspberry World – Volume 2, Issue 3 (October/November 2007) This whole business of remaking a movie – feh. My general philosophy is, if a movie’s good enough to make again, then it’s good enough to leave it the hell alone. I forget who said it (possibly Hemingway), but someone once observed that there are no new stories under the sun, and the only reason to write was to try to tell the story better than those who came before.

To put it another way, the only reason to remake a movie is to take it places the original couldn’t go but needed to, could or should have, being held back by the technological or social/cultural limitations of its day. Because that’s really the only reason to try to top a work of genius. Not money, not public demand. Back in 1983, they tried to make a TV movie out of Casablanca, setting it up for a series (starring David Soul of all people!), and it barely made it to the end credits.

Bearing all this in mind, a couple weeks back, I went to see the new remake of the John Carpenter classic, Halloween. I wanted it to be terrific, but I couldn’t imagine what Rob Zombie (whose film work I have always tried to support) could have accomplished with the material that Carpenter didn’t or couldn’t. I just couldn’t think of anything the film needed that Zombie (or anyone else, for that matter) could supply.

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Take that remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance – dreadful. The idea seems to be, in remaking horror films, that modern audiences will find the story more accessible if film makers throw more blood, gore, violence, cruelty, sex and/or flat out weirdness at them. And this just isn’t so. The original succeeded because, though it came out of left field, it came slowly, by degrees, until a sunny afternoon visit to the old family farm descended somehow into a waking nightmare, so subtly that one looks up and tries to remember where exactly things went so horribly wrong – and what makes it such a nightmare is that you really can’t put your finger on the one place where things went awry. “We stopped for gas, and now all my friends are dead and I’m tied to a chair, being forced to eat human barbecue while they gibber in my face and waiting for them to kill me, which I can’t decide is a bad thing or not, under the circumstances…” You’d think that there would be at least one red flag moment in there that stood out, but I’ll be shot if I can find it. In the Halloween remake, you know the moment R. Lee Ermey shows up that things are about to go off the rails and there are damned few genuine surprises from there on.

It was a bad movie and made me angry that anyone could possibly think it could in any way supersede the original. But that was nothing – nothing! – besides the vile idiocy of the remake (and here I use the term so loosely it almost falls from my grasp) of House of Wax. (A juvenile insult that made me want the films running time of my life back.) I think that’s the main point here – making a lousy movie is one thing, but doing a lousy remake of a classic involves the insult of not only telling one’s betters that they can do better, but demonstrating it by unveiling the load of sh*t they happen to think is superior.

I do want to say, however, that I didn’t think Rob Zombie’s take on Halloween is a load of sh*t. It’s disappointing, but mostly so in the context of it being a remake. In a discussion, someone pointed out the likelihood that, if the movie had been released with no connection to the John Carpenter masterpiece, then most fans of that sort of movie would be, to borrow a line from Groucho Marx, dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parks.

My trouble with the remake is that, first and foremost, the more you reveal about some characters, the less fearsome they become. Zombie, when he took the gig, announced that he wanted to go “inside the mind of Michael Myers” and show what made him the death-machine he became. And that’s fine. But doing that, you reduce such a character to mundane humanity. Furthermore, I know people who went through the same or worse as young Michael, and oddly, they did not kill everyone in the house or come back for more 17 years later; then again, I’ve known a few who had considerably less to deal with and they did some very naughty things (and died for it). So here, in Rob Zombie’s vision, Michael Myers is a relentless powerhouse of destruction, but ultimately, just a guy in a mask – he can be (and is, finally) put down. In the original, we never know why the boy went after his sister with a carving knife, or why he came home – we have no idea what moves or motivates him. We know only that he moves on the very shadows, as silent and unstoppable as death itself. It’s that mystery, less than his actions that make him terrifying.

Then there’s the actor himself, Tyler Mane. I have no problem with him as an actor – but the man is nearly seven fecking feet tall! The adult character is a disgusting wooly behemoth, feral, extremely intimidating. In short, you know exactly what to look forward to, when you see him. This won’t do. Michael Myers should be, as he is in the original, an innocuous figure, average in every way, physically, and in the mask and coveralls, almost a non-person. This contributes to the mystery.

Finally, though I’m skipping some things, there’s the fact that I didn’t really give much of a damn about any of the characters. It’s generally a pleasure to see bullies get their comeuppance, and it isn’t really an exception in this case – it just isn’t very rewarding, because you don’t care much about the kid who’s delivering it. Where Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis recognized Michael as a force of nature who needed to be stopped at any cost, Malcolm McDowell, in the same role, turns in a rubber-stamp performance that just doesn’t seem to “get” his patient. The only character we really feel anything for is Danny Trejo as Ishmael Cruz, a janitor who makes it his business to be a friend to Michael and over the years eventually gets promoted to guard. Michael’s betrayal and murder of him doesn’t exactly get you behind the character.

Really, this was never a vehicle suited to Rob Zombie’s style of film making. Halloween is, at its core, a suspense story, and doesn’t lend itself to Zombie’s gonzo, off-the-rails, kill-‘em-all-and-let-God-sort-‘em-out approach. The original is an excellent example of a perfect film – and neither Rob Zombie nor anyone else can make it “perfecter”. I had misgivings going in and felt conflicted during and after seeing it.

And ya know what? Rob Zombie told me in an email that he felt the same way the entire time he was making it. So I have to wonder why he did. Why anyone would.

 

– K.C. Locke

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