Friday, August 31, 2007

Halloween

He's just a victim, guys!

Rob Zombie created something of a stir awhile back when he revealed he was going to remake the John Carpenter's horror masterpiece Halloween, making most of the American public sigh with a resounding "why?" After all, when something was done perfect the first time, what exactly is there to improve upon? The Carpenter film had it all: a compelling leading girl, chilling atmosphere, haunting soundtrack, and a villain that was made all the more frightening by his silent, masked, psychopathic brutality. We didn't know why Michael Myers was such a monster, but suffice to say that his presence was enough to make us quiver in fear. The skillful filmmaker managed to make the audience not only witness the terror, but live through it, and it is that very thing that has made the film endure for nearly 30 years. Knowing this, was the creator of shock-horror flicks like The Devil's Rejects and House of a Thousand Corpses able to do John Carpenter proud?

This fledgling critic must give a resounding "No!"

It isn't too hard to pin down what was wrong with the Zombie picture. For one, he changed the nature of the Myers mythology. In this modern age, it isn't enough to simply accept that there is a psychopathic killer on the loose who foils the not-so-innocent endeavors of lusty teenagers. The public demands, in this age of rampant psychological diagnosis and treatment, to know why people are so evil. So Zombie started at the beginning -- in Michael Myers' childhood, where we learn that he was the product of a stripper mother and an abusive stepfather (the perfect formula for brewing a serial killer, as we all know). He also had a penchant for killing small animals. You can see where this is going. After Michael spends several years spiraling down into a silent (but deadly) stupor after killing most of his family, he manages to escape the mental institution with a bloodlust unsullied by years spent jacked up on Thorazine.

First and foremost, Zombie's picture violated what is perhaps the cardinal rule in scaring people: he unmasked the villain and killed the suspense. What the Carpenter film did so well was staging the action through the eyes of the victims that Myers stalked during his murderous rampage. The white mask lurked mostly as a still figure in the background, or in short, striking shots in the foreground. Michael Myers was originally billed in the Carpenter script as "The Shape," and that was exactly what he was. Certainly, the original Halloween was violent by that day's standards, and could be viewed as understated by today's, but that wasn't the source of its scares. What this film attempted to do was show us Michael's trek from the psych ward back to suburbia through his eyes, effectively removing the audience from the picture and turning us into witnesses of senseless, over-the-top violence.

Forget that the film had some visual appeal. Forget that there were some amusing one-liners, and that Michael MacDowell made a very competent Dr. Loomis in the absence of the legendary Donald Pleasance. What we are left with is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, joyless, nauseating slasher flick on about the same level as the Texas Chainsaw remakes, if not a notch down. This is yet another film that continues to foster the ADD mentality of the average moviegoer, where mindless bloodletting has taken the place of actual storytelling. If you get your kicks by sheer blood spatter, this may be your film. If you want to be genuinely frightened, and feel what it's like to have the heat slowly turned up beneath your seat, pop in the 1978 DVD and let one of the masters of real horror rock your socks Hitchcock-style.

Rob Zombie, you might have a way with a camera, but John Carpenter you ain't.

Gouda's Final Grade: D-

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hot Rod

Go get 'em, Rod!

In my attempt to not spend most of my vacation behind the blog, I must bring to you a quick, poorly-written assessment of the new film Hot Rod, starring SNL's Andy Samberg as a stuntman hopeful in the vein of Evel Kinevel, only with a moped.

Rod's stunts are always failures in the most absurd, hilarious proportions, but he is never swayed in his determination to become world-renowned, mostly because he is driven by the memory of his late stuntman father. At home, he is equally determined to become an equal with his stepfather (Ian McShane) and the two engage in cringe-inducing, yet humorous fights in a way to work out their rivalry, while the mother (Sissy Spacek) looks on with a straight-faced nonchalance that is almost as funny as the fights themselves. When the stepfather becomes ill and is in need of a heart transplant, Rod is determined to raise the money for the operation so that his stepfather can become well enough again to engage Rod in combat. The way to do it: Stage a huge event in which he will jump fifteen school buses on his moped (which would break Kinevel's record of fourteen). But in order to even do that, he has to raise the money to secure the venue.

The fundraising opportunities are gut-busting. Rod sets himself on fire at children's birthday parties. He stands in the direct path of a swinging clothes dryer. He allows himself to become a human pinata. His crew supports him all along the way, sharing his vision with the same innocent naivete that makes the characters pitiful, yet likeable.

Samberg and his co-stars are the writers and creaters behind the SNL Digital Short videos that have become immensely popular thanks to the internet. "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box" should ring a bell. This film showcases their unique style of humor that will have you laughing from start to finish, although it does borrow in many instances from the Napoleon Dynamite school of off-kilter, understated humor that you will either get or be left bewildered by. Dynamite is still the superior film, as its pacing is more consistent, but Hot Rod makes up for it by being over the top and being stupid while not holding its characters in contempt.

There are many reasons to see "Hot Rod." It's quotable, stupid, and downright hilarious, but the most memorable moment in the film comes when Rod goes to his "quiet place."

You'll get it when you see it.

Gouda's Final Grade: A-