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Moriarty Pulls A Knife On Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN And Talks About HATCHET And POUGHKEEPSIE And S&MAN And More!

Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. First of all, yes, I know now that Ford Fairlane’s review was, indeed, for the workprint. Oops. Total mea culpa, and especially after I’ve been so good this week about not printing workprint reviews. Honestly, I saw who this was from and trusted him to have actually seen it at a screening. My bad. Here’s the note I got from him when I got home tonight:
“Hey Mori, I have to be honest. I went to [someplace] the other night and watched what we were told was the "final version" of the film. I called it a screening, because as you know, I didn't want anyone to possibly know where I saw it and get anyone in trouble. I am already reading however that the version I reviewed was NOT the final version. Apparently a couple scenes are different. The version we watched was dated just three weeks ago on the coding at the beginning of the DVD and let's just say it belonged to someone who would HAVE the final version and I'd like to only say that. But if my version is not the final version, I am completely fine with you removing my review from the site or whatever needs to be done. I stand by my review, but if it's not the final film (which I was told that it was), then I don't feel that my review is fair. I'm sorry that this was a screw up on my part. I hope you know that I've never done this in the past, and will MAKE SURE not to do this in the future. I'm sorry for this. Ford Fairlane”
So while you guys were going apeshit in the talkback for that article... and rightfully so, based on my introduction... I was out seeing HALLOWEEN at the 12:01 show at the Topanga Canyon AMC 16, the closest place to my house where it was playing tonight. When I got home and saw what happened, I realized I’d need to address this, so I called a buddy of mine who I know had the workprint, and I asked him if he would come over with it so I could see the differences for myself. My review is for the theatrical cut of Zombie’s film, because that’s the only version that really matters, but at the end of this piece, I’ll address the differences for those of you who have seen the workprint. I’d also like to talk a bit about where we are with horror films in general, because I think this movie says a lot about the business in general right now. ROB ZOMBIE’S JOHN CARPENTER’S HALLOWEEN is creatively bankrupt from the start. It is a fairly awful, leaden film, regardless of whether it’s a remake or a sequel or an original. It’s got huge structural problems, and there are stretches of the film that play like self-parody by Zombie, a real problem considering he’s only three movies into his career. When you start falling into bad habits that turn even your most serious scenes funny this early in a filmography, you could end up making hollow echoes of your work, trapped and unhappy as an artist. I think Zombie’s already in danger of that, and there’s a fine line between having a style that is your signature and being straightjacketed into a style that is an empty pose and nothing more. What has become apparent over the course of his three films is that Rob Zombie prefers his monsters to his people. He is what is commonly known as a “monster kid.” I’ve met many of this in this industry... guys who grew up totally crazy about the monsters. I’ll bet you Rob Zombie had a subscription to Forry Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS at some point. I’ll bet you he had all those Aurora monster model kits, lovingly detailed. I know a lot of guys who grew up the same way, and some of them (like Daniel Roebuck) even appear in Zombie’s HALLOWEEN. When he talks about horror, he says all the right things. I don’t think he’s just pretending to like the genre... I just think that Rob’s particular fetishes cloud his judgment as a storyteller, and in this case, it works against the film. Michael Myers is not a character I sympathize with. He’s not a character I want to sympathize with. He’s not misunderstood. He’s not just someone in need of some love. The Michael Myers that has become a horror icon is, quite simply, a soulless killing machine. A shark. And by structuring his film the way he did, Zombie made a specific choice... he wants to make this the story of Michael Myers, with him as the hero of the movie. Laurie Strode is the main character in Carpenter’s original film. Here, she’s a footnote at best, a plot device. I think it’s quite telling that Laurie is “the good girl,” and she is easily the worst-written character in the film. It’s not even that the writing for her is bad; it’s just indifferent. Rob couldn’t care less about Laurie Strode. She doesn’t register as a person. Here, it’s the victims that are faceless blanks, and Michael Myers is this complex, multi-faceted character who has hopes and dreams and ambitions. Does this seem sort of batshit insane to anyone else? There’s a great track on the new album by Patton Oswalt that’s all about his disappointments with the STAR WARS prequels, and I think it’s one of the most succinct explanations I’ve ever heard anyone offer. He doesn’t wail about his raped childhood or anything else like that... instead, he imagines a conversation with George Lucas circa mid-1990s, as he’s gearing up to write the stories. “You say you’re a STAR WARS fan. Do you like Darth Vader?” “I fucking love Darth Vader, man. The helmet and the cape… with the sword. That’s great, man! Is he in the first movie?” “Uh, yeah. In the first movie, you get to see him as a little kid.” Patton tries to take it in stride, but Lucas continues, telling him about the second film a bit. “Well, hey, don’t worry, cause guess who shows up in the second movie. Boba Fett.” “Very fucking cool! Boba Fett! Yes! With the helmet, and he’s a bounty hunter! That is so cool!” “Yeah, and in the second movie, you get to see him as a little kid.” You can sense Patton’s growing exasperation. “I do not give a shit about that. I could not care less.” “Well, in the third movie, guess what shows up? The Death Star.” “Oh, that’s... what is it doing, George?” “They’re just building it.” And that does it. Patton just finally snaps, ramping up to the realization that pulls it all into focus for me. “I don’t give a shit where the stuff I love comes from! I just love the stuff I love!” Ding. That’s it exactly. This insane need to overexplain everything with prequels and requels and remakes and reimaginings... it’s bad in a general artistic sense. But with horror films, there’s an extra level to the way it complicates things. See, I think the moment you start making horror films with 2 and 3 and 4 after the title, you’re not really making horror films anymore. Horror films, by definition, are about scaring you, and the least frightening thing in the world is the familiar. The longer a movie monster hangs around, the less frightening it is. And I think Rob Zombie knew that Michael Myers is fairly worthless as an icon of fright at this point, so he decided he was going to try and make him scary by making him real. But “real” in what way? Real in the sense that now he’s pretty much just a textbook definition psychopath, the victim of a bad home life and no clear male role models? Real in the sense that he escalates from small animals to people in the pattern that many serial killers follow? Real in the sense that he’s big enough in this film to be a credible physical threat to anyone he encounters? If it was Rob’s intention to make this the “real” Michael Myers, he certainly gave it a shot. He tries, and he makes some very distinct choices that make this his movie, no question about it. This is not just a retread of Carpenter’s movie. And, look, it’s sort of a no-win situation. If it was a beat-for-beat retread, Rob would get hammered for it. This sort of wholesale reimagining doesn’t work, either, though. By working so hard to make Michael real, he’s made him less interesting. Rob ties himself in narrative knots to introduce certain iconography and try to make it all mean something, but it’s like Patton said... too much explanation. I think it’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous to lay that much groundwork to why he’s wearing THAT specific mask and using THAT specific knife. It makes no real sense, and by trying to turn the white-faced Shatner mask into something so particular for Michael, it just points out how pointless the choice is. And dragging in the stuff about Laurie Strode being Michael’s sister not only makes it all a little bit of a yawn, it introduces the film’s biggest narrative hole. I always hated the retrofitting that started as soon as HALLOWEEN II, trying to fit Laurie and Michael together in some larger sense, but here, after Rob goes to such pains to set up that Michael is just an ordinary person, suddenly he gains some sort of super-psycho-sonar sense that allows him to track down his infant sister without hesitation, when even the people who adopted her don’t realize who she is. It’s a bizarre choice, and Zombie doesn’t even try to justify it. There’s no explanation offered at all. But let’s step back... away from the minutiae of all this, away from comparisons to the infinitely superior original, away from even thinking of this as part of a series. I think the biggest mistake Rob made is something that became clear when watching this with a fairly packed theater tonight. That crowd showed up ready to love this movie. They were pumped. They wanted to have a good time and cheer and laugh and hoot at the crazy stuff. That ain’t the film Rob made. I’m sure he thinks it’s subversive to have made a really ugly, unpleasant film as far as the violence is concerned, and you certainly can’t accuse of him of making it all seem “cool” or “glamorous.” But people don’t come to a HALLOWEEN film to be confronted with the ugly stinking reality of death and contemplate how fragile life is, Rob. By staging each death in this film as an exercise in brutality, you certainly have established that you have an aesthetic you’re going to carry from film to film now. The murders in this film belong firmly in the same cinematic universe as those in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. And that’s where it goes most wrong. Because the audience tonight wanted to have fun. And the one time they seemed to really engage and get what they wanted from one of the kills in the film was the one kill that Rob directly lifts from Carpenter’s original, almost shot-for-shot. Bob getting stuck to the door. Worked like crazy tonight. If you’re the sort of undiscriminating fan who finds yourself arguing continuity points about HALLOWEEN 6 and HALLOWEEN H:20 and who considers everything to be ongoing canon, then I’m guessing you’ll find things to enjoy about this film. Just seeing Michael march around killing people will probably be enough for you. And honestly, on a sliding scale, this is probably tied for third place out of the entire series. It’s just that the original HALLOWEEN is so far beyond anything else in the series that a comparison is unfair, and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH is great whacko fun because it dared to reject the Myers story completely and just work as a creepy Carpenter-flavored paranoid thriller. I’d say this works about as well as HALLOWEEN II, and it suffers from many of the same problems as that film. It’s a little too sleazy, something that came as a shock after the cool elegance of the original, and it starts to give Michael Myers too much backstory, tying him into Laurie more concretely. And if all you want is another HALLOWEEN II, an excuse to see the character, then have at it. Frankly, I’m depressed by the entire thing. I’m depressed by the months of coverage. I’m depressed by watching Rob Zombie spin his wheels at a time when he should have been working on something original. I’m depressed that this is the sort of fare that gets greenlit in favor of taking a chance on something new. And I have to ask... because it’s killing me now... but at what point do executives in this industry regrow their fucking balls and actually start doing their motherfucking jobs again? If you are a development executive, your job is not just to regurgitate the easiest answer over and over and over, pilfering the shelves of whatever studio you’ve got a deal with and remaking everything while you mark time until you go do what you “really” want to do. Your job is to develop material, to develop voices, to find stories worth telling and people who can do them justice. The only reason you fucking monkeys have films to remake is because someone before you... people who actually had the stones to make original material... did their jobs right and allowed these original stories to get made. We are in danger of creating an entire generation of movies that are simply retellings of someone else’s work. Is that really what we want to leave behind as the sum total of this decade of film? There’s a very, very tiny movie that’s getting a limited release starting this weekend, and although I wasn’t a huge fan of it, comparing it to HALLOWEEN has suddenly caused my affection for it to skyrocket. Adam Green’s HATCHET is a no-apologies slasher film that Harry dearly loved last year. I admire the film for the simple reason that Green took a chance. He created his own iconic movie monster and he rolled the dice that people will be able to enjoy his film even if they don’t already know the killer. The reason the SAW films have been so big, in my opinion, is because they introduced a new movie monster into the pop consciousness, and now, love him or hate him, Jigsaw exists side-by-side with earlier fright icons like Freddy or Jason. If Rob Zombie had chosen to tell this exact same film story, but he had used his own character instead of Michael Myers, I’d still have some pretty big problems with the film, but I would respect it more. As it is, it’s like he sold out his own voice, and he has nothing to show for it. This isn’t going to be the monster runaway hit Rob needs to get the sort of freedom he craves. It’ll have a big weekend, and then it’s over. He made the worst thing any filmmaker can make: an insignificant film. This movie doesn’t matter. It won’t make 1/100th the impression on pop culture that the original made, and five years from now, it’ll be just another crappy HALLOWEEN film on a shelf, one of many. Neither fish nor fowl, it’s not entertaining enough to be fun for parties or gatherings. I can imagine a bunch of horror fans throwing on HATCHET to watch together, cheering at every bit of red meat, laughing at the way the film tweaks the genre but enjoying the sincerity of the whole endeavor. I can’t imagine horror fans getting together to watch this one. It’s just too dour. Everyone in the movie talks like one of the Devil’s Rejects. Note to Rob: it’s not good character work if every single person in your films motherfucking talks like Sid motherfucking Haig, constantly motherfucking saying the craziest cocksucking shit they can fucking motherfucking say. Rob’s got a tin ear for dialogue in this one, and you can feel him straining to make the white trash patter work in the scenes with Michael as a kid. I think Ken Foree got a laugh out of me, and that’s about it. William Forsythe is the most egregious of the over-actors in this one, and Shari Moon Zombie is also pretty bad. Her only effective moments are her quiet ones, but even there, Rob betrays her. His choice to score one particular scene to the ‘70s standard “Love Hurts” is laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s really, really not supposed to be. There are films out there now that effectively explore some of the ideas that I can feel Zombie straining for in this one. JT Petty’s S&MAN is a documentary about the people who shoot fake snuff, and you can tell that everyone in that film understands all the backstory detail that Zombie heaped on Michael in this film, and they take all that knowledge of what leads to broken people and what they want and need and crave and they pour it into these disturbing underground videos that can only be described as art. It’s nothing I want to spend time watching, but there’s something about it that is undeniably cathartic for certain types. And if you want to see a great film about the pathology of a madman that never once asks us to sympathize as it attempts to make us understand, then check out THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES when MGM releases it next year. A mockumentary that leans heavily on the 2000-plus videotapes made by a serial killer over the course of his “career,” it is a chilling look at what a truly broken mind can accomplish over time. Both of these films are terrifying because they are set in the real world, with none of the rules of the slasher genre to hold them back. If that’s the direction Rob Zombie wanted to go, then it’s a shame he felt the need to use one of the icons of the slasher subgenre to do it. The funny thing is, not only did Rob Zombie not release the best HALLOWEEN remake that anyone could have made, he didn’t even release the best HALLOWEEN remake that HE could have made. Looking at the workprint, and the specific scenes that he reshot, he ruined his movie. It was never going to be great, but the ending he had on it originally at least made thematic sense, and the escape from the asylum may have leaned on rape as a device (one of the laziest tools in the cinematic language of the scumbag), but at least it made more sense than the bizarre middle-of-the-night prison transfer in the final film. Letting Dimension push him to make these awful choices just cements the idea for me that Zombie was cashing in with this one. He should have fought for his ending. He should have stuck with his impulses. Instead, he made a monster, but it’s not the one he meant to make. He was hired to breathe new life into Michael Myers, but what he’s left with is a Frankenstein monster, stitched together, dead, misshapen, and he never found the key to bring it to life. What a shame. What a sad, ugly shame.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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