Malcolm McDowell: The CFQ Interview

Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Practically omnipresent and infinitely versatile, Malcolm McDowell has played, among others, a rebellious private school student, a futuristic sociopath, a degenerate emperor, Michael Myer’s nemesis, and the killer of Captain Kirk. He has worked with directors that have included Stanley Kubrick, Paul Schrader and Rob Zombie. He’s pretty much done it all, including a brief appearance as a mastermind in corporate espionage in this weekend’s environmental biography, A GREEN STORY. And, oh, has he stories.
We were able to spend some time with Malcolm, delving into the full range of his career, including his work with the iconoclastic director Lindsay Anderson and how he faced the challenge of filming a high-speed orgy for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Click on the player to hear the show.

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OBLIVION & THE LORDS OF SALEM: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:16

Tom Cruise confronts the unknown in OBLIVION.
Tom Cruise confronts the unknown in OBLIVION.

OBLIVION is a fun, state-of-the-art, big-studio science fiction adventurer, action-packed and, under the direction of Joseph Kosinski, quite beautiful. That, in its telling the tale of post-apocalyptic caretaker Tom Cruise discovering his alien-war-ravaged Earth suffered its wounds for reasons other than he was told (with Morgan Freeman doing for the Morpheus role what he previously did for penguins), the film isn’t much more than an assemblage of well-established science fiction tropes shouldn’t be an impediment to enjoyment — at a time when studio films seem to have a problem getting a basic story across, coming across a corking-good adventure is not something to sneeze at. Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they debate the pluses and minuses of the film, and once again pledge their troth to Stanley Kubrick.
Also: Steve and Dan discuss Rob Zombie’s moody, new horror film, THE LORDS OF SALEM. Plus: Nothing coming to theaters next week.

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Rob Zombie & Sheri Moon Zombie: The CFQ Interview

Sheri Moon Zombie gets put through changes in THE LORDS OF SALEM.
Sheri Moon Zombie gets put through changes in Rob Zombie's THE LORDS OF SALEM.

Musician, moviemaker, iconoclastic fan, Rob Zombie has built a formidable rep for himself by taking the horror genre and turning it to his own, unique vision. Now, after such wild rides as THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and HALLOWEEN, he ventures into new territory, telling a more nuanced tale of a New England DJ facing a hellish future when an accursed record introduces her to THE LORDS OF SALEM.
Dan Persons sits down with Rob and wife/star Sheri Moon Zombie, and the result is an energetic, off-the-cuff conversation incorporating, but not limited to, Rob’s views about reaching back to the roots of horror for his own work, the challenges of steering a low-budget project to a successful conclusion, and why there can be very little difference between actors stepping onto a set and high noon in Dodge City.

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John Barry remembered; Pet Sematary reopened; Jeff Bridges, exorcist: Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast 2:6

cfq round table copy
Yes, once again it’s time for a weekly round-up of news, events, and home video releases brought to you by the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast. With host Dan Persons missing in action, Steve Biodrowski steps into the driver’s seat, joined by regular contributor Lawrence French and by Arbogast, proprietor of the Arbogast on Film blog. This week’s topics of discussion include the death of Bond composer John Barry; the casting of Jeff Bridges as an exorcist in THE SEVENTH SON; the potential casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis in the proposed DARK SHADOWS remake; and the announcement of Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM; and Paramount Pictures’ plans to re-open the PET SEMATARY franchise. Also on the menu: the upcoming week’s theatrical and home video releases.

Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights 2010- review

Jason1_grindstone5x7 copyKnott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt pioneered the concept of basing walk-through haunted attractions on movies, usually tied in with some new release (THE GRUDGE 2, BEOWULF, QUARANTINE), but over the last few years Universal Studios Hollywood has taken the idea to its ultimate degree, building haunts around hit horror franchises for its  Halloween Horror Nights presentation. Thus we saw mazes built around A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 2007 and 2008. Last year’s horrors were based on SAW, HALLOWEEN, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE. 2010 sees the return of the SAW maze, along with new mazes based on the remakes of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH.
Unfortunately, in aping horror film franchises, Halloween Horror Nights has become a little bit like one, churching out sequels and remakes that convey that “been there, done that” feel. Universal continues to succeed at its intended  goal, which is to bring horror movies to life, turning them into amazingly detailed walk-through mazes that immerse fans in the worlds of their favorite movie monsters. Unfortunately, focusing on individual films (such as the recent Freddy and Jason remakes) leads to a certain monotony. In each maze, Jason/Freddy jumps out at you in the first room, then the second room, then the third room, etc – and it’s always the same character with the same appearance. (The previous Elm Street and Friday mazes benefited from being based on franchises with lots of sequels, which offered some variety when it came to depicting the characters: for example, Jason could appear with a bag over his head, as in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II, instead of the familiar hockey mask.)
Here is a rundown of the horror-movie-inspired thrills and chils at Halloween Horror Nights’ 2010:
FRIDAY THE 13TH: KILL, JASON, KILL. Jason’s back, but this maze is remarkably different from the ones seen in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, Jason isn’t really given enough room to show off the difference between his current incarnation and the versions seen during previous Halloweens. The new Jason is supposed to take his cue from the performance by Derek Mears in the remake, who made the character more of an Olympic athelete, rather than the slow and steady menace that he was when played, most famously, by Kane Hodder in the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels VII through X (it was Hodder’s performances that set the style for Universal’s previous “Friday the 13th” mazes). Setting that aside, the new “Friday the 13th” maze does justify bringing the character back, by showing him in new settings and situations, with lots of new gore gags.
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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. Like the “Friday the 13th” maze, this one lives up to the promise of offering something new, this time a grim Freddy based on the 2010 remake. Unfortunately, the attempt fares less well. The remake’s new Freddy makeup is not that impressive when translated into the live medium – it looks like putty smooshed around the face. And by focusing on a single film, the maze looses the variety made possible by pulling the best bits and pieces from several sequels. The result loses the “Nightmare” on Elm Street: it’s fairly generic, with burlap tunnels and tight corridors that force you to walk past windows and doors from which Freddy can make his expectedly unexpected appearances. There area  few nice touches, fortunately: solid walls that disappear, revealing Freddy behind them, or that stretch as if pressed from behind (recreating a memorable image from the original film that was botched in the remake thanks to cartoony CGI).
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SAW: GAME ON. Against our expectations, “Saw: Game Over”turned out to be the highlight of 2009’s Halloween Horror Nights, so we are not complaining when we saw that this year’s incarnation is a virtual duplicate. There are a few nice gruesome bits included, such as the “rack-crucifix,” which neatly – well, not so neatly – twists off its victim’s arms. (We are not gore fans, but this one effect is almost worth the price of admission -although flashing lights and screams may distract you from seeing what’s happening.) The interesting point here is that most of Universal’s mazes try to feature the villain as much as possible, but “Saw: Game On” maintains Jigsaw as an off-screen voice, focusing attention on the mechanical traps and torture devices. Our only disappointment was with a recreation of a scene from the original SAW, in which one victim must dig a key out of the body of another victim in order to unlock a device before it kills her; for some reason, the actress playing the role was camping it up, simply flopping her fingers through bloody guts as if playing a game, not engaged in a life-or-death race against the clock.
VAMPYRE MAZE
VAMPYRE: CASTLE OF THE UNDEAD. This is set in Universal Studios year-round walk-through attraction, thes House of Horrors, which was designed to provide a sort of tour through the history of the horror genre, starting with old-fashioned classic horror movies like DRACULA and moving through the decades to include PSYCHO, CHILD’S PLAY, etc. For the last couple years, Universal Studios Hollywood has taken to re-branding the attraction for Halloween: last year it was “Chucky’s Funhouse”; this year it is “Vampyre: Castle of the Undead.” The layout and sets remain much the same – this is a fixed location – the main difference is that the walk-through is haunted by a bunch of ugly vampires based on a comic-book tie-in. The inspiration here seems to be to go anti-TWILIGHT, which is fine with us, but that will take you only so far. The vampyres need something of their own to make them memorable, beyond the fact that they are not like Edward Cullen; what we get are fairly generic, if effective at hissing and scaring in the dark. There is also a problem with the setting: House of Horrors is designed to feature several different environments: in some the vampyres seem appropriate (like Dracula’s Castle); in some they do not (like Chucky’s toy story or Frankenstein’s laboratory). There is corridor of mirrors that we do not remember from years past – creating some visual distraction that allows the vampires to make effective surprise appearances from concealed doors, and there is a very effective bit at the very end, with a headless corpse that turns out to be alive.
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ROB ZOMBIE’S HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES: IN 3D ZOMBIEVISION
It may be Zombievision, but it’s barely 3D. The flimsy cardboard spectacles create some color separation that makes certain highlighted objects stand out, but for the most part the techniques does not yield particularly memorable results. The walk through the various ghoulish scenes is creepy enough to be worthwhile, but the characters have not truly achieved the cult status that makes them ideal choices for a Halloween maze. Rob Zombie’s fans will probably feel differently – and have a great time – but the average Halloween enthusiast will be less sanguine.
TERROR TRAM BACK LOT TERROR TRAM: CHUCKY’S REVENGE is another awkward attempt to insert the killer doll into a location where he does not fit: last year it was in the House of Horrors; this year it is on the backlot. It’s starting to feel like a pay-or-play situation, with an actor under contract who gets slotted into some movie just because the studio has already paid his salary and wants to get something back for its investment rather than letting him collect his check for doing nothing. The problem here is that, in spite of numerous sequels, the CHILD’S PLAY films were always a second-rate franchise, and although talking dolls are always creepy and unnerving, the tiny tike is just not credible as a serial killer.
To some extent, Halloween Horror Nights acknowledges this by not featuring Chucky very much on the walking part of the tour (I saw one small actor in a mask and costume, a stationary doll or two, and some pint-sized silhouettes). Instead, most of the monsters are storm-troopers with de rigueur chainsaws. There are also some nicely camouflaged “plant” monsters, who blend in with the vegetation on the dark hillside.
Chucky is truly featured only on the video played on monitors aboard the tram, and truth be told, this footage is amusing – a parody of true-life documentaries charting the fading careers of celebrity has-beens. Chucky is seen in a montage of clips and still that portray him descending into drink as the career opportunities fade. In a gambit that borders on bad taste – but is pretty funny – we are told that the official explanation for the devastating 2008 fire on Universal’s back lot was a cover story; the real culprit was a vengeful Chucky, angry at the way the studio had abandoned him.
The facades and scenery are more or less the same as in previous years, but retroffited to accommodate Chucky (i.e., it’s dolls hanging from the tree, not Jason’s victims). Also, the path has been altered in some cases to give you a slightly different view as you pass from the Bates Motel to the Psycho House, where you can see more “Mothers” (i.e., Norman Bates in drag) than you can shake a stick at. The effect is more campy than frightening.
The airplane crash site is just as awesome as ever, but the storm troopers do not do much to enhance it. In past year’s, this area worked best when used to convey a sense of apocalyptic horror, in which the world seemed to be in total chaos, with zombies feeding on helpless victims in the yards of nearby homes. If Universal really wants to do something interesting with this area next year, they should fashion it into something based on LOST – now that would be interesting.

CONCLUSIONS

Halloween Horror Nights would be better if it made greater use of its own classic movie monster movie legacy. It is certainly a shame that, on the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchock’s PSYCHO, Universal Studios could not have found some way to feature the famous franchise. Yes, one could argue that Norman Bates is dated, but so is Chucky. Canning the killer doll in favor of Norman – or just about any other Universal monster – would be an easy improvement (and it would tie in nicely with the back story for this year’s Terror Tram).
Bottom Line: If you have not been to Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights, you really owe it to yourself to make the effort. However, if you have attended on previous occasions, there may not be enough new and novel frights to make a return trip an absolute necessity. If you have not already seen King Kong 360 3-D and the Simpsons motion-simulation ride, this is certainly a good opportunity to do so.
By the way, if Universal was going to bring back both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for Halloween Horror Nights 2010, would it have really killed them to stage a Freddy vs. Jason fight somewhere on theme park’s lot?
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The Score: All This and Halloween II – Interview with composer Tyler Bates

In his last few scores, composer Tyler Bates has watched the WATCHMEN and observed THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, spent a DAY OF THE DEAD and survived DOOMSDAY, but as potent – and as diverse – as those scores were, it’s been his work for Rob Zombie that continue to be his edgiest, evincing the most severe sound design and the most potently frightening musical attitudes. Currently, this aggressive approach is audible in HALLOWEEN II, which opens nationwide today.

Bates first hooked up with the head-banging rocker-cum-director in 2005, when he scored Zombie’s second feature, The Devil’s Rejects, a follow-up to 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses, which Zombie had scored himself along with producer Scott Humphrey. Bates’ had scored a little more than two dozen films since moving to Los Angeles from Chicago, where he had grown up writing, recording, and playing in local rock bands. Most of his soundtrack work was TV-movie fare, a couple of forgettable sci-fi- spoofs like Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) and Roger Corman’s Alien Avengers (1996), but when his powerful score for Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) came out of the blue like a furious, rampaging dead thing, Rod Zombie took notice. He brought Bates in to score Devil’s Rejects, asking for music that reflected “bleakness.” Bates provided just that, with an array of ambient sounds and layered sonic textures that gave the film a clear sense of malformed naturalness.

“I wanted it to feel like you were underneath a car muffler, because you feel so dirty when you watch the film, because of the visuals,” Bates said. “I wanted the music to reflect some of that.”

Bates continued to provide music macabre for movies malevolent, scoring Slither for James Gunn and See No Evil for Gregory Dark (both 2006), not to mention rejoining Zach Snyder for his epic incarnation of Frank Miller’s 300 (2006), and then found himself in Rod Zombie territory once again. First, he scored the Zombie-directed fake trailer, Werewolf Women of the SS, included in the Tarantino-Rodriguez double feature, Grindhouse, and then he scored Zombie’s pointed remake of John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher film, Halloween.

In revisiting Halloween and its unique piano-and-synth score, which Carpenter had composed and performed himself for the original film (and many of its sequels, later assisted by synthesist Alan Howarth), Bates paid tribute to the original by arranging a version of the Carpenther theme in the darker aesthetic in which Zombie had crafted his remake.

“We would definitely respect John Carpenter’s original score,” Bates said as he was embarking on his score for Halloween. “I’m not really too interested of making it orchestral, but I would imagine you could expect a similar graininess to that of Devil’s Rejects, but a different timbre, ultimately. I create sounds for each movie, besides the few synths that I have. I like to make as many of the sounds from abstract sources as possible for each specific movie. We’ll see where it goes, but it’s definitely going to be kind of grimy and organic. I think that going back and trying to maybe [rework] it in a unique way that’s still within the same parameters John Carpenter had at the time are what makes that music work. He didn’t have all the bells and whistles available to him, and probably not all the skills of today’s film composers, so I think getting as much into that mindset is going to be necessary to make the music pay off, and give people the intense experience that they had when they saw first film.”

Bates’ music for Zombie’s Halloween, released in 2007, was a potent mix of organic and synthetic musical disturbia, effectively washing the film in an undertone of continual unease.

“It was difficult trying to adapt the classic John Carpenter themes into the context of Rob’s filmmaking style,” said Bates. “The nature of those classic themes works really well with an inhuman and sometimes robotic ‘bogeyman’ type character, but in Rob’s films Michael Myers is humanized, which calls for a broader musical palate than the design of the original film. I reworked John Carpenter’s classic theme for Rob’s initial presentation to the studio when he decided to do the first of the two movies, which came together pretty naturally, but when I actually began scoring to picture, the two did not coexist very naturally.”

Tyler Bates’s latest score finds him joining forces with both Rob Zombie and Michael Myers again, on the director’s re-imagining of Halloween II. The film picks up where Zombie’s Halloween left off, and focuses on the struggles of Laurie Strode (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) and killer Michael Myers (played by Tyler Mane). Bates’ score gives due cognizance to the classic John Carpenter theme from the original film, but quickly dispenses with it and delves headlong into even darker and very distressing musical landscapes.

“In the new film we decided to do more of our own thing instead of being reliant on the classic themes as much as the first film. This enabled me to really expand the sonic and melodic scope of the film. I think the end result is a movie that really feels like a Rob Zombie film through and through.”

The new score is thick with dissonance and disharmony, occupying a territory of unusual percussive electronic effects, heavy chords of synth and horn, and multiple processed effects that wash the film in nightmarish tonality that is thoroughly disquieting.

“Like each of my projects, I try to expand the sonic palate on each of Rob’s films,” said Bates. “In this case, my primary goal was to create new ways of sonically unsettling an audience. I approached this score with the knowledge that we would be more reliant on original motifs as opposed to the classic Halloween themes, so it freed me up melodically, and also provided the opportunity to implement different rhythms that aren’t particularly characteristic of the classic themes we all associate with Michael Myers.”

The Halloween II score is viciously bleak, with barely a respite existing within its omnipresent relentlessness. Bates characterized Michael Myers and his unstoppable presence through that aggressive, driving ruthlessness.

“Rob really wanted to imbue this movie with an underlying emotional current,” he said. “There is quite of bit of ‘head space’ music in this film, which is where the emphasis on emotion is most apparent.”

In working with Rob Zombie on this film, Bates was brought in earlier than usual and actually began scoring immediately when footage was available during filming.

“Rob and I had a lengthy discussion about the movie before production began,” said Bates. “The music process started with working up the new version of ‘Love Hurts,’ which is in the end credits crawl. It served as an inspiration piece for Rob. The editor Glenn Garland, sent cut footage to me during principal photography, and I wrote music for every scene that came my way.”

By the time Rob was done filming, the new music served as the temp score for the entire film, said Bates.

“From there, Rob experimented with placing various cues in different spots of the film, then sending me a new cut of the movie to show me exactly how the music worked in the context of scenes I had not scene to that point. This was an unusual process for us, but Rob wanted to edit the film on the east coast for a change of scenery. I continued to work on music as the film took shape, then Rob and I finally got together to finalize the cues in the film.”

In crafting his sound design, Bates has put together an interesting array of textures, sound fragments, percussive tonalities (indeed), and grating sonic intensity. The score is completely captivating in its method of crafting scary music and upping the ante of fear in the film.

“The most challenging aspect for me is to do better than the last one,” said Bates. “I don’t think that is a challenge necessary to overcome. Some degree of dissatisfaction with your previous projects is a healthy motivational tool for doing your best work.”

Halloween II soundtrack by Tyler Bates
Unlike the Hip-O records soundtrack CD currently for sale, the digitally distributed Abattoir album (above) consists entirely of music by Tyler Bates

Bates’ first Halloween score was never released as a soundtrack album (two cues, including his reworking of the Carpenter theme, were included on the Hip-O records soundtrack album). The currently available soundtrack CDs for Halloween II feature only one cut by Bates (the rest of the tracks being pre-existing songs); fortunately, an entire album of his music marks the debut of his new label imprint, Abattoir Recordings, which is digitally distributed by E1 Music. A physical CD release with previously unreleased music will follow later with the DVD release of the film.

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Halloween (2007)

It was with a certain trepidation that I attended an advance screening of Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN in Hollywood last night (“advance” being a relative term – the film opened in the theatre at midnight). The charm of John Carpenter’s original 1978 film mostly eludes me, and there is little about Zombie’s career that would have led me to think he could do anything interesting with the subject. Still, hope springs eternal, so I went to check it out.
To pump up the already eager fans in the audience, Tyler Mane – the new Michael Myers – put in a pre-show appearance, autographing posters from the film. Then radio DJ Leon Quinones (who hosts something called “The Film Freak Show” on 97.1 FM) took the microphone and conducted a brief interview, during which we learned.

  • No one from the original HALLOWEEN was involved with the remake.
  • The film would be filled with “buckets of blood.”
  • Tyler Mane’s children would not be allowed to see the film “for a very long time.”
  •  Mane is getting married this weekend (“although I don’t know who the hell would want to marry Michael Myers!”).

Throughout this exchange, Quinones indulged in a stream of rabble rousing, dropping names (“Rob Zombie personally told me…”), promising that the film would terrify viewers (even though he had not seen it yet), and announcing several times, “Fuck the critics – this is for fans!” He exhorted the crowd to text message all their friends immediately after the film, recommending that they see it. By the time the lights finally went down, one couldn’t help wondering why everyone was so desperate to drum up excitement – where they afraid the film itself couldn’t do it on its own?
Once the film started, it immediately became apparent why there might be concern. For reasons best known to himself, Zombie opted to turn the first part of his remake into “The Origin of Michael Myers” – an unnecessarily lengthy section that takes the brief prologue from the original and expands it into an entire first act. Rather like Peter Jackson when remaking KING KONG, Zombie seems to have thought long and hard about everything he did not see in 1978, and he seems determined to put all those thoughts up on the screen, regardless of how tedious.



Zombie loves to wallow in white trash tawdriness, as if that will somehow explain why Michael Myers became the fearsome serial killer icon. We learn that his step-father was a drunken bum; his sister was a slut; kids beat him up at school; and his mother was a stripper (although, ironically, Sheri Moon Zombie, who plays the part, is one of the few actresses who does not have to expose her nipples – it pays to be close to the director). Later, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) will declare to a lecture audience that this background was the psychological equivalent of a “perfect storm” that led to homicidal madness, but what we see is more annoying than horrifying, and we suspect the most dire result would probably be growing up to become Marilyn Manson, not a monster.
When Michael finally blows his stack, the effect is less horror than relief – at last the movie is going to stop treading water and get moving. As if to pay back the audience for the lengthy build-up, Zombie stages what amounts to a massacre, but the effect is somewhat undermined by the fact that Daeg Faerch (who plays Michael as a ten-year-old) looks too small and weak to be an effective killing machine (and his blank-faced non-expression, meant to convey psychopathic evil, is simply a blank-faced non-expression).  By the time the whole thing is over, you’re starting to feel as if you have sat through an entire movie, and you’re wondering what’s left to fill up the rest of the running time. The answer: not much.
We get to see Michael in therapy with Dr. Loomis,  receiving weekly visits from his mom, who eventually blows her brains out after seeing her son stab a nurse to death. (This is one of those dim-bulb movies where mental health care professionals are naive morons treating the mass-murdering Michael as if he were merely a mildly troubled youth. In what is clearly a sop to the hardcore horror hounds in the audience, the nurse turns her back on Michael for no other reason than to give him an opportunity to kill her.)
Flashing forward to Halloween night fifteen years later, Michael escapes from the mental asylum in a none-too-convincingly staged scene. (Zombie relies on shakey camera angles and jagged editing to hide the fact that he cannot come up with a credible way for Michael to overpower his guards.) After killing a trucker in a restroom (DAWN OF THE DEAD’s Ken Foree), Michael steals his clothes and heads back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, and Zombie finally – finally – catches up with Carpenter, who covered the same territory in a few minutes.
From this point on, the remake more or less parallels the original (in highly condensed form), and the familiar situations do generate a reasonable amount of suspense, but the effect is muted by our over-familiarity with the masked killer. The weakness of Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN was that Michael was supposed to be an incarnation of evil – literally the Boogeyman – but we knew he was just a crazy guy in a William Shatner mask. The film might have been better off if we had not known Michael at all, but at least he was mysterious enough so that viewers could set aside their awareness of him as a person and accept him as the unkillable “Shape” (as he was listed in the credits). Zombie has compounded the problem, turning Michael pretty much into a pathetic freak who would probably spend his days locked in his room (or his cell), jerking off to splatter movies; we never believe this pudgy kid could grow up to become Tyler Mane, let alone a near-supernatural force (who is likened at one point to the Anti-Christ).
Michael Myers, up to the same old tricksUnable (or unwilling) to imbue a sense of the uncanny into Michael, Zombie opts for portraying him as a human tank who can easily smash through doors and walls. He comes across less like the Boogeyman and more like a brutal killing machine; in effect, he is much closer to Jason Voorhees than the old Michael Myers, and the overall aesthetic of this HALLOWEEN is a new-millennium update of FRIDAY THE 13TH splatter-horror.
The result is monotonous and repetitious. The first act is almost an overture that establishes the themes and motifs, but Zombie hasn’t the skill to develop them; he just repeats them with a bigger, older Michael. Perhaps this is meant to convey a ritualistic aspect to Michael, who apparently likes his victims to die painfully slow deaths, but it comes across like a lack of directorial imagination, with the same kind of action shown over and over again. (On at least three separate occasions, Michael stabs/bludgeons/beats a victim, who is then allowed to crawl slowly away while bleeding all over the floor – before Michael bothers to catch up and deliver the coup de grace.)
And boy, those death blows are a long time coming.  Like his on-screen serial killer, Zombie doesn’t want the violence to end too soon. He refuses to build a scene to a climax and move on; over and over again, long after he has reached a point where he can hit the audience with a shock and then cut away, Zombie extends the death scenes with extra blows, extra stabbings, extra everything. In a demented way, HALLOWEEN starts to feel like a musical, wherein the story stops at regular intervals for another song-and-dance routine; unfortunately, the choreogrpahy here is too limited to justify the copious screentime. Editing in five more whacks with a blunt instrument does not make the scene scarier; it simply dulls the shock past the point where it ceases to be scary.
Fortunately, there is a break in the monotony when Michael finally sets his sights on Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). We don’t particularly care what happens to her or really identify with her as the film’s protagonist, because, in truth, Michael is the film’s real protagonist – the evil anti-hero whose antics are the sole draw. No, the only thing Laurie has going for her is that, because she is the “final girl,” Michael cannot simply kill her and move on; there has to be an extended cat-and-mouse game, which adds a badly needed change of pace to the movie’s otherwise mechanical rhythms.
To justify Michael’s focus on Laurie, the script utilizes an element that was introduced not in HALLOWEEN but in the first sequel HALLOWEEN II: Laurie is Michael’s baby sister. We’re not supposed to wonder how he recognizes her as a young adult or tracks her down since she has been adopted, under a new family name. We’re also not supposed to ask why, if she is his real target, he wastes time killing so many others, instead of going after her directly. (There is just a trace of a hint that Michael uses the wounded Annie Brackett [Danielle Harris] as bait to lure Laurie to him, but such a subtle tactic seems out of character for someone whose standard operating procedure is to jump up out of nowhere and start stabbing.)
Rather like the ending of HALLOWEEN H20, the film has a brief moment of Michael trying to generate a little family feeling with his sibling, but the effort goes again unrewarded. This time, Laurie merely stabs him instead of cutting off his head, thus allowing the confrontation to go on for another ten or fifteen minutes. By the time the film does finally wind down, it has pretty much run out of climaxes; rather than a triumphant crescendo, it fades out, with the heroine’s final screams covering the lack of any screaming from the audience.
Giving the devil his due, Zombie does manage to make HALLOWEEN grimly effective at times. Tyler Mane cuts an imposing figure as Michael Myers, and we do live in dread of the next time he will pop up and slice another victim. Zombie’s constant use of long lenses, close-ups, and rapid-fire editing are crude attempts to jack up action that is not staged particularly well, but combination of bloody violence and trashy sex (with lots of T&A) captures the old grindhouse vibe much more than GRINDHOUSE (to which Zombie contributed a faux trailer, WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S.).
This approach to horror is too blunt to warrant much attention, but there are moments when it strikes a nerve, even if accidentally. Probably the film’s most disturbing sequence involves the brutalization of Danielle Harris’ character, but the effect has little to do with the on-screen drama. Rather, it’s strange to contemplate that the cute little girl from HALLOWEEN 4 and 5 is now old enough to be treated like typical fodder for a slasher film, stripped to the waist and beaten bloody so that we can see lovely rivers of blood coursing between her naked breasts. Yeah, you’ve come a long way, baby!
Occasionally, something like an idea floats briefly across the screen even if they are not developed (during a lecture, Dr. Loomis raves on about the eyes of evil – meaning Michael – while the camera focuses on Loomis’ eyes, implying that his words are more self-revalatory than he realizes, but it’s a one-shot moment, introduced and then dropped). There is also an occasional flash of humor (among the films the characters watch on television, is WHITE ZOMBIE with Bela Lugosi, which inspired the name for Zombie’s old rock group).
The new cast is a mixed bag. The high school girls are generic, and Compton’s characterization seems almost deliberately crafted to be bland without turning her into the archetype that Jamie Lee Curtis became in the original. It’s fun to see familiar genre faces like Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Brad Dourif, Dee Wallace, and many others walking on screen for a few moments (although all of them deserve better). Best of all is Danny Trejo, who inspired the best line heard in the theatre last night – unfortunately, not on the soundtrack: When he meets his fate at the hands of Michael, someone in the audience shouted, “You can’t kill Machete!” (a reference to Trejo’s appearance as the titular character in the faux trailer at the beginning of GRINDHOUSE).
Malcolm McDowell as Dr. LoomisMalcolm McDowell almost makes something out of the Loomis character (who was more or less just a mouthpiece in the original, raving unconvincingly about “evil”). In a nice touch, Loomis actually looks better after fifteen years have passed, having abandoned his long hair and casual attire (which suggested a man trying – and failing – to look young) for a more dignified, scholarly demeanor. Unlike Donald Pleasence, McDowell conveys a continued concern for Michael and a sense of regret at having failed him (although it’s hard to imagine any sense in which Loomis “failed”). In a film that has little higher aspiration beyond providing a body count, he almost becomes a tragic character, and his fate is treated in an atypically discrete manner, suggesting that someone, somewhere realized it might not be too much fun watching something horrible happen to someone you like.
Even more than the 1978 version (which was conceived under the title “The Baby Sitter Murders” and tossed in Halloween as an afterthought), Zombie’s remake fails to live up to its title. The holiday barely registers: it provides little in the way of spooky atmosphere, and it does not seem particularly crucial to the Michael psychology (he likes wearing masks all year round anyway). By focusing on Michael – in effect, making the film his life story – Zombie strays even further away from the Halloween ambience, and one suspects he would have been more happy had the film been titled “Michael Myers – The Devil’s Ultimate Reject.”
In any case, the primed and eager Hollywood audience sat through the film mostly in silence, seldom screaming – although there were occasional whispers of “Nice!’ over particularly brutal moments. At the end, they awarded the film with a big round of applause, and several were eager to wax enthusiastically for the guy taking a survey in the lobby. What – if any – lesson to draw from this, I’m not sure. The new HALLOWEEN has little to recommend it on its own terms. It’s a bit like hearing a recording artist cover a familiar tune; it doesn’t replace the original, but you’re curious to hear what the new guy did with the standard classic. In this case, the reinterpretation consists mostly of pumping up the volume of the percussion as loud as possible in order to cover the off-key singing. Little or nothing has been done to reach the ears of an audience not pre-disposed to like the film. The theory here seems to be that success as an artist is not a matter of honing your craft or having something new and interesting to say; it’s just a matter of finding an audience that wants to listen to you, no matter what. Personally, I think it’s a bloody shame that this film is getting national distribution, while Adam Green’s far superior, far scarier HATCHET is doomed to a limited platform release on its way to home video.
HALLOWEEN (Dimension, 2007). Written and directed by Rob Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Bill Moseley, Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, Sybil Danning. Mickey Dolenz, Sid Haig.

Halloween Hypocrisy?

We all owe a good laugh to Final Girl for digging up this quote from Rob Zombie:

Q: How do you feel about big budget remakes of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?
Zombie: I feel it’s the worst thing any filmmaker can do. I actually got a call from my agent and they asked me if I wanted to be involved with the remake of Chain Saw. I said no fucking way! Those movies are perfect- you’re only going to make yourself look like an asshole by remaking them. Go remake something that’s a piece of shit and make it good. Like with my movie (House of 1000 Corpses) I have elements of Chain Saw in it because I love that movie so much, but I wouldn’t dare want to “remake” it. It’s like a band trying to be another band. You can sound like The Beatles, but you can’t be The Beatles.