Halloween (2007)

October 28, 2008

This is one of those remakes that, when it was announced, everyone groaned. “Halloween doesn’t need to be remade,” they said. And they were right. The original Halloween is as classic as a slasher film can be. The haunting score, the cat-and-mouse game in which John Carpenter wisely keeps his killer in the shadows, both literally and, when it comes to motivation, figuratively. We don’t know until the sequel that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Michael Myers’ sister. All we know is that an insane killer is loose on the streets, stalking an innocent young girl.

 

In his revamp, re-imagining, or whatever you want to call it, Rob Zombie brings Michael Myers out of the shadows in the first frame of film. Within minutes we see that the young boy is deeply troubled (he takes to his pet rat with a knife), and we see at least part of the reason why: he’s growing up in a white trash hellhole, a sharp contrast to the quiet suburban upbringing we glimpse in Carpenter’s original. He’s bullied at school, verbally (and maybe physically) abused at home, and the only hint of compassion he shows is toward his mom and baby sister. For them, he desperately wants to be a good, normal little boy.

 

It’s not to be, however. In one of the biggest miss-steps of the film, it’s suggested that the pain of being ditched on Halloween night by his older sister, who prefers treats with her boyfriend over trick-or-treating with her weird little brother, is what finally sends him over the edge. Michael goes on a brutal rampage, slaughtering his stepfather, sister and the hapless boyfriend while his mom is working a late shift at the neighborhood strip joint. He spares the baby and his mom, but faces a lifetime of institutionalization for his actions.

 

We get a little more young Michael story, including his final tip into the abyss, before jumping ahead 15 years. Michael’s alone at this point – Dr. Loomis has given up on him, his mom checked out – and he’s grown into the silent, hulking menace who spends his days in his room making masks. It’s not long until he breaks out, and Zombie moves into familiar territory with the actual “remake” portion of this Halloween.

 

As good at Zombie is at capturing the white trash aesthetic, he still lacks some skill in building suspense. Zombie is at his best when he’s staging all-out assaults, such as the quick scene in which Michael takes out Laurie’s parents (or, as we all now know, her adoptive parents). Unfortunately, that’s not what Halloween is all about. If Zombie had made a movie about an original serial killer, this approach would have been fine. The problem is, we all associate Michael Myers with the deliberate, patient and emotionless approach Carpenter introduced him with. Zombie’s Myers is fast and angry, and while it makes for some jarring scenes, it just isn’t Halloween.

 

While the characterization of Michael Myers may have been a calculated approach Zombie took in order to put his own stamp on the character, I can’t imagine the same can be said for his version of Laurie Strode. Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis gave us a heroine who was strong and courageous; someone who loved her friends even though she was light-years ahead of them in maturity. Zombie’s Strode may be smarter than the average high schooler, but she seems content to hide her intellect and take on the giggling, foul-mouthed personas of her unlikeable friends. To me, this was the biggest disappointment of Zombie’s film – there was no one there to root for.

 

If you can cut loose the baggage that the name Halloween brings with it, there’s some enjoyment to be found in this “re-imagining.” Zombie makes a good-looking horror movie with a few effective scares scattered throughout. While it will never replace the original, it’s an okay companion piece. And, unlike all the sequels, they at least got the mask right.


Friday the 13th: The Remake

October 24, 2008

The trailer for the shiny new Friday the 13th remake was released today. While I’ve always enjoyed the F13 series, I don’t mind that it’s being remade – there is definitely room for improvement. If nothing else, we know this version – shot by Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake helmer Marcus Nispel – will be nice to look at. It opens up in February ’09 – on Friday the 13th, if I’m not mistaken.


Poltergeist

October 21, 2008

The impact and influence of Poltergeist, the 1982 ghost story co-written and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, reaches far beyond that of most early-‘80s genre movies. Between the catchphrases (“They’re here!” and “They’re back!”), the “Poltergeist Curse” (actresses Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne both died tragically after their involvement with the movie), and the controversy over who “really” directed it, Poltergeist has lived on in ways its makers probably never dreamed of.

The story is well known: the Freelings are a typical suburban family thrust into very atypical circumstances when ghosts begin communicating with their young daughter Carol Anne. When Carol Anne disappears during a horrific storm, only to be heard speaking through the static of the family’s television set, the Freelings are forced to confront their own beliefs and greatest fears in order to save her. What follows is a visit by a team of parapsychologists, a diminutive clairvoyant, and some extremely unhappy spirits.

Watching the recent Blu-ray release, it struck me that the reason this movie has always resonated with me is that it has more heart than most horror movies. The Freelings feel like a real family, and their home feels like a real home. It makes the invasion and threat all the more impactful. These people aren’t just fodder set up for some wisecracking villain to cut down in creatively gory fashion; they are everyday people thrust into otherworldy circumstances, and we the viewers just want everything to turn out alright.

It’s that feeling that I believe fuels the “who really directed it?” controversy to this day. Poltergiest has Spielberg’s stamp all over it. This could easily be the suburban home that E.T. took refuge in, and it could not be further from the ramshackle slaughterhouse of Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. If Spielberg didn’t outright direct it then he had a very heavy hand in the production. Personally, I think it’s telling that none of Hooper’s work after Poltergeist has come close to being this good.

I was a little worried that Blu-ray perfection was going to make the effects show their age, but for the most part things hold up well. The regurgitating steak, the disintegrating man, the demon at the door – yes, the seams are showing, but they still look better than some effects produced in 2008. There is one spot where an effect is cringeworthy, and that’s the “tornado” that swirls above the Freeling house during the storm. It didn’t look good in ’82, and it looks worse now – like a child with a black crayon scribbled directly on the film. Otherwise, the effects are, well, effective – a checkmark in my book to the power of practical effects over computer generated.

There are lots of great scenes tucked away here and there, and that damn clown still scares the bejeesus out of me. If all you know about Poltergeist comes from a Direct TV ad, grab up the new Blu-ray and give it a look.


The Brood

October 16, 2008

Transformation has always been a favorite theme of David Cronenberg, and The Brood is no exception. The film, first released in 1979, centers on a young family (Frank, Nola and their young daughter, Candace) that is going through a period of change. Frank and Nola are newly divorced, and Nola is undergoing a controversial, experimental treatment program under the care of a mysterious doctor essayed by Oliver Reed. When Candace returns to her father covered in scratches and bruises after visiting Nola, Frank begins to dig a little deeper into his ex-wife’s therapy. Complicating matters greatly is a series of murders, beginning with Nola’s mother, that seem directed at anyone who has crossed Nola in the past; murders that only Candace is a witness to.

The murders are carried out by small, dwarflike creatures that, at first glance, resemble deformed children. They are, in fact, the product of Nola’s therapy – a physical manifestation of her rage. Reed is keeping these children locked away at his compound for further study, but it appears that he needs some better locks – the children keep escaping, and people keep dying.

The Brood is more complex and thought provoking than most genre fare, but it maintains a solid pace that, while a bit slow, is never dull. The murders are shocking, particularly the death of a teacher that happens in the midst of many of her young students. (I can only imagine what the parents of those young actors must have thought when they got their first call sheet.) And it features one of the most gruesome birth scenes I’ve ever seen – not surprising if you’ve seen a lot of Cronenberg movies, but I can’t help but wonder how this played early in his career. It’s truly unsettling and, although it’s a quick scene, it’s difficult to watch.

This is one of those movies that lends itself to lots of critical examination, and for those interested in that sort of thing, there’s plenty available via Google. I’m going to keep this on a surface level, though. The Brood is sometimes ponderous, but the ideas are engaging enough to tide you over until the second act kicks in. Once it gets going, it’s a very effective chiller. Recommended.


Horror Library Vol. 3

October 13, 2008

Cutting Block Press is expecting to release their new anthology Horror Library Vol. 3 in the next few weeks. Below is the full table of contents:

Lávese las Manos – R.J Cavender & Boyd E. Harris
Them – Sunil Sadanand
Ashes of the Dead – Kurt Dinan
The Orange Mammoth – Matthew Lee Bain
The River Child – R. Michael Burns
The Station – Bentley Little
Short Stacked – Rodney J. Smith
After – Kealan Patrick Burke
Consumed – Michael Louis Calvillo
Under the Bridge Downtown – Gary A. Braunbeck & Matthew Warner
Being Supreme – Mark Justice
Clover – Gina Ranalli
Guarded – Michael A. Arnzen
The Review – Rick Moore
Teeth – A.C. Wise
When the Skies Toss Down Rain Heavy – Eric Grizzle
Obsidian Sea – Kurt Kirchmeier
Masks and Shadows – Cullen Bunn
Extra Innings – John Peters
The Living World – C. Michael Cook
Fish Bait – John Everson
Toll – Blu Gilliand
The Steel Church – Charles Colyott
The Apocalypse Ain’t So Bad – Jeff Strand
The Rhythm Method – Mikal Trimm
Her Dead Oceans – Lorne Dixon
Golden Eyes – Lisa Morton
The Haven – John Palisano
The Birdie – Stephen Couch
Blink the Blood Away – R.M. Ridley

I’m really proud to be part of a lineup that includes heavy hitters like Bentley Little, Kealan Patrick Burke, Gary Braunbeck and Matthew Warner. And speaking of the last two, they’ve posted a free reading of their collaboration. Check it out, and then head over to Cutting Block Press, where they’ll soon be posting preorder information.


Tombs of the Blind Dead

October 12, 2008

Despite a paper-thin plot, an abundance of cliches, and some terribly wooden acting, Tombs of the Blind Dead proved to be one of the most effective horror films I’ve seen so far this month. Two keys to the film’s success: the crumbling ruins where the Blind Dead reside, and the Blind Dead themselves.

Somehow, the crude makeup used to depict these former Satan-worshipping Knights is extremely effective. Perhaps it’s because we don’t get very many good, clear looks at them; there’s just enough peeking out of their decaying robes and hoods to give us the creeps. Perhaps it’s the unrelenting, Romero-like way they advance on their prey; perhaps its the unearthly patience they show as they pause and wait for their victims to make a sound, any sound, that will lead them to their death.

I don’t know what it is, but these guys were genuinely off-putting. Coupled with the incredible village set (which, for all I know, may have been actual ruins the filmmakers made use of), with its moonlit graveyard, crumbling towers and gothic spires, what Blind Dead lacks in, well, almost everything, it makes up for in sheer atmosphere. Seeing this at last has me chomping at the bit to see the other entries in the series.


Phantasm IV: Oblivion

October 10, 2008

Going into this, I’d heard how even die-hard fans of the Phantasm series couldn’t make heads or tails of this one. Not being a die-hard fan myself (I’d seen the first and third movies, but I hadn’t exactly studied them), I knew I wasn’t in for a riveting story. So, I resolved just to enjoy the sheer surreal-ness of the film, something which has been a hallmark of all the Phantasms I’ve seen.

 So I can’t really tell you what happens, story-wise, here. But here are some images that stuck with me:

– Silver spheres burrowing into – and out of – people’s skulls

– Jawas from Star Wars, if the Jawas had been horribly burned and showed their faces

 – An unkillable cop puking runny yellow pus into a guy’s mouth

– A Civil War battle scene, just out of nowhere

– A crop of giant tuning forks growing in the desert

– Time travel or inter-dimensional travel or some weird hybrid of both

Unfortunately, none of this ever really strings together as a coherent story, even with the copious amounts of flashback footage from the earlier Phantasm movies. The movie keeps you off-balance by bringing characters back, changing them into other forms, and then making them disappear on a whim. We shoot back and forth in time with no rhyme or reason. The only real point I can see here is the ill-advised attempt to explain who the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, who’s always been the heart and blackened soul of the series) really is. To me, the fact that we never really knew his motivation, or even who (or what) he was, was one of the things that worked about the Phantasm series. Now that’s gone and, frankly, there’s not much left to keep me interested.

 This is worth seeing if all you ask of a horror movie is some bizarre imagery and a little gore. Otherwise, spend your 90 minutes elsewhere.