Reviews

Halloween

In Carpenter's film, evil shows up right where you think you'd be safe. No one imagines he's safe in whitetrashland -- especially the section inhabited by a heavily inked up William Forsythe.


Halloween

Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Daeg Faerch, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Dimension Films
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-08-31 (General release)
Website

Rob Zombie told a television interviewer that he chose to open Halloween, a plainly October-holiday-themed film, at the end of August. Perhaps this is true. But the claim flies in the face of logic: first, filmmakers don't generally decide when their films open; that would be the work of distributors and studios. Second, no one chooses to open at this time, whether or not Halloween costumes for pets are available in stores (Zombie's stated rationale), because only the worst, least promising, most abandoned films open then. Still, the decision, whoever made it, was strategic. In the dreggiest days of summer, Halloween set a record at the box office.

Money is a primary motivator in this business, yes, so we might be happy for Zombie and company, as well as the fans who made a point of seeing and loving the movie. Still, we might also wonder about the need for a remake of a much-beloved film, one that has been so homaged and so celebrated for so many years, one that rather ingeniously rethought the boogeyman into a form simultaneously contemporary and abstract, immediate and unsettling. It's not that Carpenter's version is perfect or even timeless. But it is iconic.

The Zombie version is not. The filmmaker fashions a white trash background for his boogeyman, which fits into his own oeuvre, certainly, but also grounds Michael Meyers in unnecessarily specific abjection. Yes, the Illinois burbs he ravages in both films are generally recognizable, but that's the cultural point of Carpenter's film: evil shows up where you think you'd be safe. No one imagines he's safe in whitetrashland -- especially the section inhabited by a heavily inked up William Forsythe.

Here he plays Ronnie, bad-bad drunk-and-sleazy boyfriend of Michael's mom, who is a stripper played by Sheri Moon-Zombie, more or less reprising her one-note performance from The Devil's Rejects, with the addition of a pole dance set to that most unoriginal choice of sad anthem, "Love Hurts." Ten-year-old Michael (Daeg Faerch) is suitably miserable living with these miscreants, in addition to his sister Judith (Hanna Hall), who leaves him alone on Halloween night so she can have sex with her scummy boyfriend. Watching the boy sit on the stoop, his clown costume so bright and his mask so bedraggled, you might almost feel sorry for him. Except that by this point in the remake, his evil is all spelled out already. You've seen evidence that Michael's been killing puppies and keeping photos of the bloody corpses, and that he carries a dead cat in his backpack. Not to mention that school bully (Daryl Sabara) he murders with strangely deft glee.

The kid, in other words, is not scary. He's part pathetic and part sociopathic, with too much motivation. When the school shrink, a convenient reinvention of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), opines that the dead animals "are often an early warning sign of a much deeper and bigger problem," s John Carpenter's super-ooky piano motif as young Michael runs from the school to the woods. Then she might have been worried enough to stay home that Halloween night instead of going to work at the club and leaving her boy in the care of Judith and Ronnie. When they end up dead (he duct-taped to a chair with his throat cut, she a pulp of multiple stab wounds), mom is shocked, shocked, that she could have made such a monster. She wails in the night and the camera pulls out from the cop's cruiser window, as pale Mikey stares listlessly.

Making Michael a plausible product of this nasty environment undermines Loomis' blustering about empty-eyed evil. Still, even if McDowell can't hope to match the fabulous Donald Pleasence, he does the best he can in a brief series of scenes that set up his failed efforts to "get through" to Michael. Unfathomably grown up -- "15 years later" -- to be a mammoth creature (played by former professional wrestler Taylor Mane), Michael stops speaking to the doctor after he grows tired of the inane line of questioning:" So, you don't remember anything about the... killings?" I suppose the lack of communication explains how Loomis conjures his own version of the patient, going so far as to write an apparently profitable book about him and so deserving to have all kinds of bloody violence wreaked upon him.

Other victims are more and less deserving, and they're also familiar. Once the explanatory backstory undoes Michael's eeriness, he's just another psycho, less exemplary or even cautionary than he is relentless. Seemingly the only inmate at the asylum, Michael lives in a cell, making masks and not washing his hair (he must work out somewhere though, judging by the grandiose physique). The janitor Ismael (the wasted and still excellent Danny Trejo) tries to cheer the kid up, whispering through the bars, "You can't let these walls get you down, you gotta look beyond the walls. You gotta live inside your head." Would that Michael -- or the movie -- had taken such advice. Instead, he and his story follow along inside the lines laid out for them: he escapes during an ill-advised transfer process, he leaves lots of bodies, and he heads to Haddonfield, where he means to find his baby sister, left alive during his 10-year-old spree and now grown up to be a babysitter.

But of course. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is still a good girl, still helps her less good friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe) find time with their essentially faceless boyfriends, and still looks after some cute kids who are totally freaked out by the boogeyman in the white mask. For a moment you might imagine some campy fun is brewing when Annie's sheriff dad turns out to be Brad Dourif, and Laurie's own adoptive mom is none other than Dee Wallace Stone. But their alive time is brief, because the movie has to hurry on to more bloody mayhem and at last, a retread of the original's basic final scenes sequencing: Laurie on the sidewalk, Laurie up the stairs, Laurie in the closet. Dark and gloomy, with less focus on poor Laurie's ingenuity and small-sized escape artistry than on her agonized face (a shot of her in the foreground with her utterly menacing and uninteresting brother some distance off, looming, is well-composed, at least).

Given all the gore and hacking, you might imagine the remake would be chilling, or at least disturbing. But mostly it's boring. When Loomis remakes his last minute reappearance, you know Laurie's going to ask him about the boogeyman. You also know, even if you're wishing it weren't so, that his answer won't be nearly so chilling as it was the first time you heard it.

2

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image