Sunday, September 02, 2007

Halloween 2007: What's Behind the Mask?

The film begins with the now-clichéd point-of-view shot from the killer as he looks in on his victims. He stalks them. We are forced into his perspective, forcing us off balance and putting us into an uncomfortable position of identifying with the killer’s thrill of power through looking.

The twist comes when it’s revealed that the killer is the six year old Michael Myers. That’s just the beginning of John Carpenter’s seminal thriller, HALLOWEEN (1978). A pre-pubescent psychopath is just one of the many things in his film that went against the fast-forming conventions of the nascent slasher genre.

We don’t learn how Myers became the monster with his “blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes; the devil’s eyes.” There was no rhyme or reason and that’s what made him truly frightening. He never spoke a word and simply had a murderous bent. Once institutionalize he became “inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off.”

In John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, the initial murder and subsequent escape of Michael Myers from his institution takes only a matter of minutes. In Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake, we’re given a painfully-paced introduction to Myers and his dysfunctional family. It takes almost an hour before Myers returns to his home town of Haddonfield. We see the early days of young Myers killing animals and family members before an extended sequence of his time in a psych ward. All of this attention to Myers shifts the film from being about Lorie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the Carpenter version to Myers (Daeg Faerch / Tyler Mane) being the protagonist of the Zombie film.

Zombie’s HALLOWEEN fetishizes Myers. Not only do we see his terrible childhood but the audience is also made privy to the origin of his love of masks, his William Shatner mask in particular. Once Myers dons his infamous facewear, HALLOWEEN goes from a tired examination of criminal origins to a pale imitation of the beloved Carpenter classic. It’s a by-the-numbers game of “kill the teenager” that feels particularly vapid partially due to self-reflexive fair such as Wes Craven’s SCREAM (“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.”) and Zombie’s over-reliance on celebrity cameos.

Once death has come to the little town of Haddonfield, the movie feels like “Halloween’s Greatest Hits” with all the murder scenes we remember and even a few paraphrased lines of dialogue. There are certainly more bear breasts in Zombie’s HALLOWEEN and the violence has been cranked up a few notches but it’s missing the fine pacing and style of the original. A testament to the lasting power of Carpenter's work is the presence of his original score through most of the film (at least in the 5/18/07 print leaked online -- which seems to be nearly finished as it bears opening credits).

One of the scariest things about Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN was seeing Michael Myers in the daylight. He was more than just a boogieman of the shadows. This made him more real and more scary. Another wonderful twist was that Jamie Lee Curtis was not only attractive but she wasn’t just another nerdy virgin. While Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty, she’s placed in glasses, recalling the voyeuristic/nosy female characters of old who ultimately suffered for their observations.

I imagine that Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN will be enjoyed by teenagers hungry for carnage but anyone either familiar with the original film or looking for solid entertainment will be sorely disappointed.

"What's behind the mask? Sorry I even asked." - The Cramps

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