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Thursday, Apr 12, 2007


Buckle up, brave cinematic souls, it’s going to be a bumpy weekend ride. On the premium pay channels alone we have a brazen battle of extremes – the graceful vs. the graceless, the timely vs. the tacky. The shift between the offerings on HBO and Cinemax alone are enough to cause anyone permanent aesthetic whiplash. Still, at least there are recommendable offerings this time around. Some Fridays it’s near impossible finding something worth suggesting. The pickings are a little slimmer in the Independent and Outsider arena. Once you get past SE&L‘s top choices, the alternates are shaky at best. Still, secure yourself in your home theater saddle and prepare to traverse at least a couple of these movies all the way to beyond the blue horizon – or at least to the end of their running time. And if you wander over to any of the other titles talked about for 14 April – well, at least you were warned:


Premiere Pick
United 93


Some still consider it the best film of 2006 – all lack of Oscar love excluded – a sparse and very authentic recreation of the doomed September 11th flight. Others argue that it remains a difficult if not next to impossible movie to enjoy, an experience that so readily places you in the situations playing out on that fateful day that something akin to “entertainment” can’t be found. But there is no denying the artistic impact this movie has had on the cinematic depiction of this American tragedy. Paul Greengrass set the benchmark for all films to follow, and as Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center proved, it’s a hard standard to fulfill. Whether or not the small screen will lessen any of the narrative’s impact remains to be seen, but one thing is definitely for certain. United 93 will stand in motion picture history as one of the most honest, truest, and most touching films ever made about a horrible act of terrorism. (14 April, HBO, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Big Momma’s House 2


Groan…it’s Martin Lawrence doing the cash grab thing again, and audiences are wise to his ruse. There is nothing more outwardly disturbing than an African American comedian, copying another of his ethnic counterparts – in this case, Eddie Murphy – in making fun of their own race. Women of color – especially LARGE women of color – should find these scrawny screw-ups and kick their asses – immediately. (14 April, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Keeping Up with the Steins


Consider it a Jewish My Super Sweet 16 as the title family creates the kind of over the top bar mitzvah that is all too common nowadays. Of course, director Scott Marshall (son of filmmaker Gary) can’t leave well enough alone, having to impart his good natured comedy with as much pathos and pap as possible. He even manages to get his elderly dad to drop trou for the camera. Talk about your unnecessary rites of passage. (14 April, Starz, 9PM EST)


Capote


This is the movie that finally won Phillip Seymour Hoffman his long overdue Oscar. That’s good. It’s also the film that so completely overwhelmed the In Cold Blood zeitgeist that the equally wonderful Infamous got swept under the theatrical table. That’s bad. Offering a sensational chance to compare and contrast, this subtle Oscar bait of an effort is first up on the premium pay cable channels. (14 April, Showtime, 9PM EST)

Indie Pick
The Coffin Joe Trilogy


Jose Mojica Marins is one of the most misunderstood filmmakers in his native Brazil. A deeply religious country, many find his affronts toward the church and God to be outright blasphemy, and he has spent more time defending his work than creating more of it. Thanks to DVD, and a long growing cult of international horror fans, we have a chance to experience what the South American populace finds so scandalous. And indeed, Marins is a man courting controversy every step of the way. The three films being offered here – At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse, and Awakening of the Beast  - are considered by many to be the best of the director’s early works. They definitely do a fascinating job of establishing his onscreen alter ego – the power mad Prince of Darkness Coffin Joe. So grab a bowl of popcorn, dim all the lights, and be prepared to have this Brazilian wonder completely mesmerize you. (19 April, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Leaving Normal


Christine Laiti and Meg Tilly play less brash versions of Thelma and Louise in this girl power road pic directed by future epic helmer Edward Zwick. In fact, comparisons between the two films probably killed Normal‘s chances at the box office. Of course, the clunky script (by broad comedy scribe Ed “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” Solomon) didn’t help. Instead of compelling, this films goes cockeyed, crazy, and then cloying. (14 April, Sundance, 12PM EST)

Leaving Las Vegas


Many in his current fanbase may not know that Nicholas Cage was once a serious actor. A decade or so lost in action hero la-la land will create such artistic amnesia. Right before he sold-out for the sake of a paycheck, he provided this devastating turn as an alcoholic, self-destructive man. Planning on drinking himself to death, he brings Elizabeth Shue’s prostitute along on his depressing, downward spiral. The result is acting aces. (15 April, IFC, 10:45PM EST)

Pray


It starts out like your typical kidnapping story – a desperate couple swipes a child and contacts the parents looking for ransom. That’s when they get the shattering news – said hostage has been dead for over a year! Guess its time to bring on the unsettled spirits and ghost gals covered in black stringy, spook show hair. But thanks to some psychological tension, and a nice helping of gore, we survive the stereotyping. (16 April, Sundance, 12AM EST)

Outsider Option
Coffy/Foxy Brown


It needs to be said so let’s just come right out and say it – Pam Grier is FINE! Even today, as she enters a more ‘mature’ phase of life, the lady is a looker in all the right ways. But back when she was the queen of the blaxploitation scene, she was scalding sex incarnate. Not only that, but she could kick some major bad guy booty as well. Featuring two of her most infamous roles, Turner Classic Movie’s Underground series (with or without host Rob Zombie – who knows anymore) will give modern audiences a chance to experience this first lady of fisticuffs, though it will be interesting to see what they do with the whole violence/language/nudity thing. There is a great deal of all in both. Cutting these films would be a crime, especially since their taboo-busting elements were what made them so special in the first place.  (13 April, Turner Movie Classics, 2AM EST)

Additional Choices
Phantasm II


With Anchor Bay celebrating Don Coscarelli’s life behind the camera in DVD form, here is one movie that won’t be making it onto the digital domain anytime soon – at least, in Region 1. Thanks to rights issues with Universal, this superior sequel to the director’s definitive fright flick remains MIA. And that’s too bad, since it’s a sensationally sick revisit to the world of Reggie and Mike – and that maniacal monster The Tall Man. (14 April, ThrillerMax, 11:50PM EST)

Electra Glide in Blue


Hail Canada! Thanks to their quirky b-movie channel, this amazing Robert Blake vehicle from 1973 is getting another North American release. Playing a motorcycle cop whose desperate to make the Homicide division, we wind up with a taut thriller couched in the old ‘be careful what you wish for’ conceit. Though many know him today as an accused killer, Blake was an amazing actor, and this able actioner more than proves it. (17 April, Drive In Classics, Canada, 11PM EST)

84 Charing Cross Road


Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins are long distance pen pals in this ersatz romance from British filmmaker David Hugh Jones. Based on a true story, this charming case of Trans Atlantic correspondence (between a NY script reader and a UK book shop owner) grows into a real primer of friendship, love and life. Those looking for a sensational “sleeper” will definitely enjoy this effort. (19 April, Indieplex, 7:15PM EST)

 


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Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007


Grindhouse is not a return to the sordid salad days of drive-in b-movies. It is not a careful or accurate recreation of the original raincoat crowd experience. The name is a gimmick, a throwaway cinematic stunt purposely poised to draw in the curious as well as the converted. Sadly, it seems that both will wind up only slightly disappointed. What Grindhouse is, however, is a slam bam smash ‘em up celebration of the freedom given film by the exploitation industry. While the mainstream was sitting back, letting community standards and self-appointed censors determine what could and could not be shown on the nation’s theater screens, producers like those in the notorious business brotherhood, ‘The 40 Thieves’, were blurring the boundaries between the taboo and the marketable. If it weren’t for them, and the outrageous movies they made, the modern film works would be languishing in Eisenhower era conservatism.


You can see the adoration that these filmmakers have for the genre’s expansion of the language of cinema within every frame of this far out double feature. Since directors Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino understand that no one can recapture the actual feel of these fascinating entertainment relics, the next best thing in their mind is to make sure any tribute is terrific. For his infected human holocaust known as Planet Terror, Rodriguez reimagines the zombie film as a combination gorefest and chick flick. We spend so much time with put upon go-go gal Cherry Darling and equally tormented Dr. Dakota Block that the plentiful grue tends to trip up the ample emotional undercurrent. The same thing applies to Quentin Tarantino’s car crash thriller Death Proof. Here, we’re dealing with non-erotic female bonding, with sensational scenes of female empowerment breaking up the otherwise astounding action sequences.


It’s interesting to note that both films feature female heroines and mostly male villains. In the case of Planet Terror, cameos from Bruce Willis and QT himself bring a decidedly paternalist pall over the entire proceedings. Even with Freddy Rodriguez’s machismo man turn as Wray, it’s the girls dealing most of the death blows. Tarantino treads a little more lightly in his film, giving the ladies room to gossip and cruise before turning them against their tormentor. Perhaps even more startling, Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike is a wonderful contradiction in testosterone terms. When he’s able to torment his prey, forcing them to realize the fate that awaits them, he’s all chest-puffing bluster. But the minute he gets injured – or perhaps, a better way to say it is the second someone gets a physical advantage over him – he whines and cries like a sissified stuck pig.


It’s an interesting dynamic to explore, one you’re not used to seeing on the big screen. But this is what Grindhouse is all about – challenging convention, disrupting the status quo and pushing the envelope of acceptable cinematic content. There is a lot of gore here – more than perhaps any dozen so called horror fests could ever hope to achieve. Rodriguez especially loves to pour on the arterial spray, and there are times when torrents of red stuff shoot off across the frame in ridiculous rivers of rot. Credit has to go to all the F/X technicians and stunt people who worked on this project. Tarantino’s first act car wreck has got to be one of the most disturbing destructive images ever captured on film. You feel like you’re looking at one of those driver’s education shockers, the ones that warned you via real dead bodies posed post-catastrophe.


Even more interesting are the performances. Though many critics would have you believe that the cast of both Planet Terror and Death Proof are putting on their purposeful schlock shoes to imitate bad camp acting from the past, this is definitely not the case. Indeed, all throughout Mr. Pulp Fiction‘s flick, we are treated to some of the liveliest work any actress has offered onscreen this year. Rosario Dawson, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito are fine in their sly supporting turns. Equally effective are Zöe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double for Kill Bill), Tracie Thomas, and a fierce Sydney Poitier as the main obsession of Russell’s clever creation, Stuntman Mike. From Rodriguez’s end of the spectrum, everyone in his company is banging on ballistic cylinders. It’s great to see Michael Biehn back, as well as Jeff Fahey in a barbequing badass role. But the movie really belongs to Rose McGowen and Marley Shelton as Cherry and Dakota, respectively. They’re the yin and yang of the narrative, the pro and con of a crazy crackpot horror homage.


In fact, the filmmaking here is so stellar that it’s hard to continue referring to these films as Grindhouse features. The exploitation movie had no real artistic aspirations. It didn’t want to be a provider of great action or a bringer of substantial scare. Their movies were all about the bottom line – carefully creating a project and making sure that, even with limited returns realized, a profit would be more or less guaranteed. Here, Rodriguez wants to give you his take on the entire living dead/sci-fi shock genre, while Tarantino is remaking Vanishing Point with vixens. QT is on fire during his film, both his car chases and his conversations crackling with energy and movement. Our Sin City savant is equally adapt at creating onscreen mayhem. The attack on the hospital, and the stand-off at The Bone Shack are astounding (and let’s not even get into the splatter spectacle of the last act helicopter sequence).


And then there are the fake trailers – four in all – and each one is a hilarious joy to behold. First up is the Danny Trejo treasure Machete, a magnificent combination of Charles Bronson badness and Mexicali menace. The shot of our tattooed hero getting hot and heavy with a couple of naked babes is worth the price of admission alone. Then we’ve got Rob Zombie’s ridiculously perfect Werewolf Women of the SS. It’s so much like watching a collection of Ilsa outtakes that it’s frightening. Shaun of the Dead‘s Edgar Wright delivers his brilliant Hammer/Amicus amalgamation, Don’t, and Eli Roth revisits the ‘80s slasher film with the decidedly sick Thanksgiving. Each one of these mini-movies is magnificent, played perfectly by actors perfectly in sync with what the cinematic category demands. With the possibility of a Machete movie going direct to DVD, it appears there will be more to Grindhouse‘s legacy than a pair of amazingly entertaining movies by a couple of maverick filmmakers.


All of which begs the question – why isn’t this superior entertainment more successful? Are people really put off by all the violence? Did the Weinstein’s (the main men behind the movie) make a fatal error in not marketing the movie beyond the film geek demo? Have gals avoided what is probably the most potent girl power proclamation since The Bride battled Bill for reclamation of her life, simply because they think this is some silly slice of jock rock? Whatever the reason, individuals interested in spending three hours under the spell of some significant cinematic art would be well advised to queue up for this masterwork. Unlike the films it fancies, this Grindhouse may have a shorter theatrical engagement than anyone involved initially imaged. The reason for such a showing remains a mystery. But one things for certain – this is a resplendent reminder of why movies are magic – and the forbidden zone trooping talents that created the original pathways to said illusions. 


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Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007


Director Michel Gondry has long made a career of re-hashing his particular brand of French surrealism. He’s given us a number of mildly interesting music videos (from such cutting edge acts as The White Stripes and Bjork), as well as the intriguingly dreamlike features Human Nature (which is sorely underrated), and the surprisingly popular Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for which Gondry somehow managed to take home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay). The biggest problem with being a whimsical man-child (which Gondry clearly identifies with through his work) is that it permeates everything you create: every precious maneuver becomes repetitive, every fantastical sequence becomes obnoxious.


Perhaps Gondry needs to perhaps step back and re-evaluate his stock style as his current offering, The Science of Sleep, is merely another regurgitation of his boyhood dreams and fears. The director is searching for explanations that connect reality and dream life, but only offers us his own point of view (which is more akin to a 13 year-old girl’s romantic sense of love and starry graphics—I half expected a parade of glittery unicorns to spring from someone’s imagination and begin a chorus line). Unfortunately, it’s the same point of view we have been “treated” to for years.


Centering in on Stéphane (a multi-lingual, appealing Gael Garcia Bernal), The Science of Sleep wants to detail the tribulations of an artist’s turbulent mind, but actually plays out more like the fantasies of a petulant little boy (this point is driven home by the fact that Stéphane actually sleeps in his boyhood bedroom—something I found singularly irritating and cutesy). In the world of Stéphane, spending so much time alone is detrimental, and everyday objects begin to animate themselves as shadows creep around ominously. As he says “dreams are very tiring”.


He watches everything from “Stéphane TV”, the control room inside his chaotic brain that produces a cadre of bizarre images: the imaginarily heroic Stéphane sprouts gigantic hands to fight his “evil” co-workers, while in another scene, he battles an electric shaver that gives his boss long hair and a beard instead of cleaning him up. In true Freudian fashion, the filmmaker brings up a recurring dialogue with his mother (French icon Miou-Miou) that always seems to arrive at inappropriate time, much to his chagrin. In his head, Stéphane is a dynamo; in reality he is swallowed up by issues with women (notably his mother), his jealousy (professional and personal), and his own narcissistic ego.


Stéphane is given a job doing typesetting for a calendar company, a job which his mother arranged from him. The whiny young man is shocked to learn that he will not be performing creative tasks, but instead will be doing formulaic work that could be done by a machine.


As he becomes disenchanted with his job, surrealism begins to show in everything. It’s in Stéphane’s dreams (which is the only place where he realizes his artistic potential), his waking life (where he is essentially awkward), and all places in between. Perhaps what Gondry is trying to say with his audaciously colorful mise-en-scene is that the surreal isn’t all that significant; that we all experience such wildness in our dreams and in our reality all the time. It’s really no big deal. Everybody daydreams, so in this respect surrealism and dreams are quite mundane—they are perhaps vivid when happening, but they are also quite commonplace. 


That the film takes place in Paris is a grand homage to pioneering surrealist films such as Rene Clair’s Entr’acte and the concept of Dadaism. Stéphane and his new friend/paramour Stephanie (the amazing Charlotte Gainsbourg—the sole force that saves the movie from complete disgrace), actually at one point ride a giant, animated “hobby horse”, an image that pounds it’s message home like a hammer to the brain. The pair is practically engulfed in ineptly obvious bizarre imagery.


Stephanie implores Stéphane to “stop acting like a child” (an additional bit of sound advice for the unstable young man might be to also get some Prozac, ASAP), but she is really no authority on the subject: Stephanie is equally plagued by whimsy, and by the looks of it, she enjoys letting go of control over her actions every bit as much as Stéphane. She is generally reserved and quiet, but something in Stéphane brings out her dormant, girlish feelings. And the next time someone decides to cast Gainsbourg as a piano-playing singer/songwriter, they should have the good sense to incorporate her lovely compositions into the story. That was an unforgivable foible on Gondry’s part.


The inane parade of images from a film such as Entr’acte (which was fairly cutting-edge, given it was made in 1924), from the weirdly-angled shots of a ballerina twirling to the little black dolls with expanding, balloon-esque heads, are all intrinsic to Gondry’s overall purview: his body of work seems to solely rely on these sorts of silly, almost repetitive images and concepts. It’s as though the director wants the viewers of The Science of Sleep to think they are engulfed in dada, that everything happening is totally random. The opposite is true of his finished product: everything is so meticulously scripted, so neatly-packaged, and so ably tied together that the concept of happily not making any sense is thrown out the window for the banality of extreme, rigid logic.


It would be refreshing if Gondry could completely escape this stale style so deeply ingrained in his own conventions and tackle his next filmic subject with fresh eyes and more detached focus. For a director that people believe to be so cutting edge, Gondry is really just another imposter - borrowing (or should we call it stealing shamelessly?) from his predecessors. We get it; your childhood was filled with bizarre, artsy French magic and you have mommy issues. Can we finally move on to something a little more original that fulfills some of your artistic promise?


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Monday, Apr 9, 2007


OOOO – it’s a bad week for DVDs. One of the worst in recent memory. It’s hard to figure out where the problem lies. There is lots of product sitting around, big title films from 2006 and recently released underachievers that could easily overpower the marketplace this week. It’s merely a matter of tweaking the turnaround time. Similarly, a holiday like Easter should have no effect on the sell-through strategy of your typical Tinsel Town tyrant. All manner of horror, science fiction and gratuitous genre offerings swamp the equally religious Christmas season year in and year out. Maybe it’s the commercial calm before the substantial shilling storm. Whatever the case, be prepared to be massively disappointed when you head to your favorite B&M this week. Aside from a couple of compelling titles – including the solid SE&L pick – there is nothing but double dips and drek on board for 10 April:


Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut


One of the beauties of DVD – among its many technical joys – is the concept of artistic appreciation. Unlike VHS, which couldn’t find a way to include the perspective with its product, or laserdisc which lost its battle for cinematic celebration thanks to limited appeal, the tiny aluminum disc has revolutionized the way films are featured and/or frozen in time. Take this unusual reissue. Back in 1999, with his career taking a necessary downturn, manic Mel Gibson decided to get good and gritty with this taut little thriller. Paramount, unhappy with the way things turned out, booted Oscar winning writer/director Brian Helgeland off the project, re-edited and rescored the film (with Gibson’s input), and released it to minor box office success. Now, the original man behind the lens gets a chance to air out his version of the movie for interested fans. The buzz has been unbelievably positive, and argues for DVD’s place as the perfect preservationist medium. Even with limited audience interest, certain films can still find fans and flourish. This is clearly the case here.

Other Titles of Interest


Bobby


Unlike JFK, which took the unsettling reality of the assassination of President Kennedy and turned it into a surreal social litmus test, Emilio Estevez’s Altman-esque approach to the death of candidate RFK is not so confrontational. Instead, it’s a reactive effort, with the events of the day reflected within its multi-character conceit. A clear critical “love it or hate it” project, there is still a brilliant movie to be made of this undeniable tragedy. Sadly, Estevez misses it by a couple of well-meaning miles.

My Father, the Genius


While it sounds like the standard indie film fodder – neglected child makes a movie about the eccentric father who failed to love her long ago – the best thing about this ditzy documentary is how balanced it is. Lucy Small is not out to vilify her dad, just understand him. And she takes us along for the revelatory ride. The result is an inside look at famed architect Glen Howard Small and the many parenting pitfalls he left behind.

Phantasm/ Phantasm III


Instead of going the Region 2 route, and offering a collection of all the Phantasm films, newly remastered and presented in a signature silver orb, Anchor Bay is applying a piecemeal approach. First up is Don Coscarelli’s initial classic, fully dressed with an anamorphic image and excellent extras. The third installment is no so lucky. It gets a packaging polish, but little else. While less than definitive, the old DVD saying of Region 1 beggars not being choosers apparently applies.


Slaughter Night (Sl8N8)


When it comes to international horror, no one is looking to the Netherlands for their genre jones. But with Slachtnacht (translation: Slaughter Night) a nation noted for its liberal policies toward drugs and sex can now safely secure a place in the pantheon of the paranormal. While not everything is original about this subterranean slasher film (it takes place in an abandoned mine) fright fans will still have a very good – and gory – time.

Survival Quest


Along with the Phantasm films, Anchor Bay continues to celebrate the directing efforts of Don Coscarelli with this little seen survivalist thriller. Starring b-movie legend Lance Henriksen as a Outward Bound-like instructor who must push his city slicking students into learning to co-existence with nature, this collision with a group of mindless militia types has some nice characterization, and a great deal of Coscarelli’s signature invention and wit.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Video Violence 1 & 2


Every once in a while, SE&L steps up and offers a motion picture PSA, a stern cinematic warning to be heeded at all creative costs. In this case, a company called Camp Motion Pictures is giving DVD a decidedly black eye. It’s releasing what can best be described as bottom of the barrel, direct to video dung circa the mid-‘80s on an unsuspecting genre fanbase. These filmic flim flam artists would have you believe that this pair of titles, nothing more than Super VHS gore goofiness from the Greed Decade, represents some manner of MIA motion picture macabre masterworks. In reality, these efforts are repugnant, the kind of amateur atrocity that the readily available 21st century technology is supposed to destroy. Don’t get caught up in the horror hype, or think that, somehow, independent director Gary Cohen has managed to create some kind of camp or kitsch classics. Instead, these awful offerings will test the terror tolerance levels of even the most devoted fan of off-title trash.

 


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Sunday, Apr 8, 2007


It’s been three days since it arrived on the web and yet the verdict is still out on Rob Zombie’s “reimagining” of John Carpenter’s classic slasher film Halloween. The new ‘teaser’ trailer, providing only the slightest glimpses of lead villain Michael Myers and the concerned psychiatrist chasing after him (the desperate Dr. Loomis is played this time around by Brit legend Malcolm McDowell), promises a lot – and Zombie himself instills a similar feeling of anticipation. After all, this was the man (rocker turned director) who delivered one of 2005’s best films, the excellent exploitation retread The Devil’s Rejects. Similarly, he’s a very serious student of the horror genre, as his flawed if still fascinating debut feature, House of 1000 Corpses, confirms.


But taking on a legend like Halloween doesn’t seem like the smartest move for this fledgling auteur. Unlike Marcus Nispel’s work in the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Zach Synder’s efforts to bring Dawn of the Dead up to date, Zombie already has an established style. Call it schlock shock sensationalizing or Grand Guignol grindhouse, but he’s not the unknown quantity of say, Alexandra Aja or Christophe Gans. Here’s a man steeped in the creature feature concepts of the past, a person who’d fit in perfectly among classic TV horror hosts, the monster spook show spectacular, and as a standing member of the legendary 40 Thieves of exploitation. So why take on Carpenter’s signature film? Why bring so much potential criticism down on your recently revised reputation?


The answer appears to be twofold. First, it’s an obvious case of paycheck payback. Zombie’s Corpses was a trouble production from the very beginning, a full blown work of motion picture macabre in an era as yet unprepared to embrace same. For his tireless efforts, his release dates were endlessly bumped around, his vision eviscerated by mandated studio and MPAA cuts, and actual ownership of the title was tossed from distributor to distributor. That anyone got to see the final film is amazing in and of itself. But then Zombie played on that cinematic sob story, parlaying his problems into a gig creating an Evil Dead II style sequel. Unlike Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects had a clear intent – to mimic the drive-in grime and slime of the ‘70s slick sick flicks. As usual, success bred options, and taking a stack of greenbacks from MGM and Dimension for this remake was obviously something Zombie wanted – or needed.


The second response is far more compelling. A study of this new teaser trailer indicated a less stylized, more aggressive approach to the Michael Myers story. Carpenter, clearly a student of old school suspense and masters like Alfred Hitchcock, wasn’t aiming to dissect or probe the disturbed psychopathic mind. Instead, he wanted to manipulate the language of film to create the ultimate edge of your seat entertainment. He also wasn’t out to start the slasher fad (which, unfortunately, he did) nor did he think his initial effort would begat a continuing scare series. In essence, Halloween was a one shot deal that de-evolved into a callous cash grab. Any substance sustained from the way Carpenter imagined the story has long since disappeared into a ridiculous realm of repetitive revamps.


But Zombie’s concepts appear more honest, draped in reality and stripped of the first film’s slayer as superhuman characteristics. Delving deeper into Michael Myers backstory (the trailer offers fleeting glimpses of animal abuse and youthful violence – standard serial killer profile stuff) and envisioning his holiday night of terror in more everyday small town terms (another amazing shot comes near the end as a seemingly silent house reveals a death struggle at its doorstep), Zombie is apparently looking to bring Halloween into the vaguely voyeuristic 21 century.


Back when Carpenter created the story, there was a sense of neighborhood nonchalance in his tone, an acknowledgement that friends and family were beginning to close themselves off from one another over a palpable feeling of distrust. Gone were the days when front doors remained unlocked and homes were warm and inviting. In the nasty new world, undeniable dread was just a turn of the latch away, and Carpenter made grand use of such startling social designs. Zombie has no such logistical luxury. The present world is one in complete sync with suspicion and fear, a place where panic has unseated common sense as the overriding interpersonal emotion. Thanks to years of media fear mongering, and the government’s desire to use alarm as politics, he faces a populace already antsy and ready to react.


The teaser seems to tap into this idea in ways both obvious and indirect. We see a shot of Michael Myers entering a home, butcher knife poised to do some decidedly deadly damage. Quickly the camera pans over to a shocked girl sitting motionless in a stairwell, her defeated screams and lack of action indicating a repugnant resolve. It’s as if she’s already given up on life before our villain has a chance to take it from her. Similarly, there is a moment when our fiend is featured full faced (behind his shoddy Shatner mask, as always), Zombie’s lens focusing directly on the killer’s cold, empty eyes. In the background, McDowell is narrating, making his case for Michael as monster. But the two concepts don’t quite match. The words are alarmist, but we’ve actually seen that vacant look before. It’s a blankness that’s paraded out before us everyday during endless crime updates on the 24 hour news channels.


Still, the biggest hurdle Zombie faces here is making an idea that once seemed so novel – the unhinged spree killer – into something fresh and inventive. Thanks to endless Dateline ‘documentaries” and other fictionalized versions of the mass murderer’s mentality, we know this kind of character well. In fact, it’s become a thriller cliché; the mindless maniac with the singular desire to slay. From what we can decipher in the trailer, Zombie hopes to combat this by bringing clear-cut authenticity and realism to the narrative. By keeping the surroundings as recognizable and mundane as possible, while inserting within this scenario a shockingly non-supernatural “boogie man”, he hopes to bridge the gap between one trick pony and real onscreen terror.


It remains an uphill battle. Messageboards have been aflutter with negative views of this project ever since a copy of the supposed script was “leaked” onto the web. Those who revere the original have argued over every artistic choice Zombie has made, from dealing with Michael Myers as a young boy to jerryrigging some of the narrative’s most memorable shock elements. And since he proved at least twice before that he can handle original takes on horror and violence within the genre, many find it hard to dismiss the substantive stench of ‘sell-out’ clouding this entire enterprise. Following this fledgling filmmaker over the last decade or so, ever since Beavis and Butthead made his band a hilarious household name, it’s hard to imagine that Rob Zombie is only doing it for the dosh. Until August, when we get a more complete glimpse of his Halloween vision, we’ll be left wondering just how this entire nightmare scenario will play out. The odds, unfortunately, are in its favor, no matter the promise temporarily ‘teasing’ us.


View the Halloween (2007) Teaser Trailer Here


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