Friday, August 31, 2007

Halloween is Good, But Just Misses Greatness!

With Rob Zombie's freshmen effort, "House of 1,000 Corpses," he showed a certain amount of potential, and a great amount of talent even if the film itself had a great deal of shortcomings. However, by the time he gets to "Devil's Rejects" he has fully arrived as a filmmaker; the film is damn close to perfection. Through Zombie's dialogue, shot selection and overall storytelling he creates a horrible, nasty, disgusting, smelly, beautiful film. As a result, I couldn't help but hold "Halloween" to this same measuring stick.

During this year's San Diego Comic-Con I heard Zombie make the comment that if Carpenter's original film were a short story, then his version was the novel. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that comment at first; was he backhandedly complimenting Carpenter? Upon seeing the film, I get it, but I'm still not fully settled. Carpenter's masterpiece sets you up on Halloween night, shows you the perspective of young Michael and then puts him behind that clown mask, gives us that great shot of killing his sister with our perspective through the mask, and only shows the innocence of Michael's face after the crimes have been committed. Flash forward to the fact that Michael Myers has escaped and is heading home.

Zombie's opening act takes much longer, and is what he means by being the novel. However, it is really only his first act that strays much from the heart and soul of the original, and it is this first act that I have problems with. The film spends a great deal of time exploring the family life of young Michael, and it's not sweet suburbia as depicted in the original film, but they seem to be, rather, the redneck, white trash neighbors living in sweet suburbia. This seemed too much to me like Zombie inserting the direction that he likes. When Myers comes back home, we're back in sweet suburbia, with no signs of any white trash element. In that, Zombie seemed heavy handed in that opening act. Add to it, a scene of Michael killing a classmate, long before he goes on a rampage killing nearly everyone in his house. The clown mask is present here, though, and it works nicely as an homage to Carpenter. I do have a problem with the introduction of the Michael Myers mask and the fact that it's not a mask of anything, but just sort of shows up.

We then spend another 20 minutes or so of Michael going to therapy with Dr. Loomis. And Michael speaks, sweet and innocent, but hides something behind his masks, which he seems to be obsessed with, making them out of papier-mache inside of his cell. Of course, if a young, disturbed murderer says that the masks hide his ugliness, and he ceases to speak over 15 years, never taking the mask off, one might think that the psychologist isn't doing his job. Sorry son, we're trying to help. No masks. And this is a glaring flaw to me, but there it sits because Zombie's novel needs to include backstory.

I don't think that the backstory of this young innocent child who claims to not remember the murders when he's sitting there after first being incarcerated, and not wearing a mask, jives with the supernatural killer who can be shot and stabbed and still get up, that we see depicted in the third act. The third act is amazing, though. Hell, the second act is pretty damn fun and really feels quite a lot like the original. The setup is the same, talk of the boogie man, babysitting, running between houses. It's all there, but feels rushed due to all of that backstory.

The moment in which Michael begins putting his costume together is fun, has a nice death scene with Ken Foree, and at this point we know Rob's getting somewhere good. And he does. The third act is lit very dark, but is brilliant. It feels scary, and the darkness aids the effect of Michael moving silently through the backgrounds. "Halloween" is shot very well. Zombie is becoming an auteur to be certain, and it is nice to see all of his usual suspects show up in Bill Mosely, Leslie Easterbrook, Sid Haig, William Forsythe, Tom Towles. It was a nice family reunion. In fact, as would be expected, Zombie gets amazing performances from his actors. Scout Taylor-Compton gives a great performance as Laurie Strode, and Malcolm McDowell is a nice addition as Dr. Loomis, even if he looks ridiculous in the first act with his dutch boy haircut. And one of the biggest surprises was seeing Brad Douriff show up as Sherriff Lee Brackett. After all, why wouldn't Chucky be in a Halloween movie?

While I did enjoy the film quite a bit by the time it kicked into gear, I felt like I was watching the map that Leslie Vernon draws for us in "Behind the Mask" unfold before our very eyes. I couldn't help but wonder how Michael was able to get his cardio workout while in jail, I sort of laughed now that the Boogieman's home was the party house where kids would go to have sex on the anniversary of the grisly murders. I was scared due to that lighting, and scared for Laurie as she enters the "birth canal," sliding her way into the wall to hide from Michael. And I loved the final showdown between our killer and our survivor girl. Watching "Halloween" really made me want to watch "Behind the Mask" again, and yet, I didn't feel that working in that framework cheapened the film, it all works as the classic slasher films worked, but deep down it's missing something. Wait, let me take that back, it's not missing something per se, as so much is given in backstory, rather, it misses greatness due to that which it is not missing. I enjoyed it as a film, found it entertaining, but can't help but wonder if the best film Zombie had in him was "Devil's Rejects." In the end, I want to give this film a 3 out of 4 stars, but it didn't really earn it, however it also doesn't need to wallow with the 2s, instead I want to give it a 2.85 stars, as a motivator to work harder next time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tales From the Crypt: Season 6 Still Delivers

As a kid I was always a big fan of horror and anything that required me sneaking into the living room to watch late night HBO. Tales From the Crypt fit that bill. Granted, by the time TFtC hit the airwaves I was 13 and didn't have to do much sneaking, it was still on late enough that I didn't want to wake the old people in the house. Now Warner Bros. is releasing them on DVD. Season six just hit the shelves recently, and while the show only lasted a total of eight seasons, and didn't pack the same punch in those later years, it was always fun!

Season Six features 15 classic episodes from 1994, featuring many stars of the silver screen, as well as some future stars waiting for their big break, including Benicio Del Toro, Sherilynn Fenn, Isabella Rosellini, Bruce Davison, Isaac Hayes, Corey Feldman and many others. In The Assassin, Corey Feldman and Jonathan Banks play Hitmen out to kill one of their own who has gone into hiding; capturing his wife just might bring him out of hiding, but how far has this hitman gone to hide his identity? The story has all of the fun and camp that you remember from both the EC Comics' title, as well this great HBO gem.

In "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," Catherine O'Hara stars as an ambulance chasing lawyer who just might have met her match in a town that has a low tolerance for crime. It harkens back to the old Twilight Zone episodes as it builds some nice suspense with a fun conclusion. Catherine O'Hara gives a fun performance in an episode that has a nice twisty ending as you would expect from TFtC.

These episodes are fun, but not as scary as I wanted to remember. Of course, I seem to remember the early seasons having more scares, but that could just be one of those charished memories that don't live into adulthood. However, scary or not, the show still packs some really nice suspense, and fun twists. As always, the Crypt Keeper is our highly entertaining and ghoulish host. Most of the bits framing each episode in this season use pop culture references, such as dressing as Forest Gump, or playing games with William Sadler's Death (Yes, the very same Death from the highly underrated Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey). In fact, the appearance of Death was a highlight for me, like that missing piece of Bill and Ted lore.

Sure, there are a couple of episodes that feature some gore, however, it's 13-year-old gore and not quite what it used to be. On the other hand, any viewer interested in this set should already know that. It was ahead of its time, at the time, but time was starting to catch up by 1994. Overall, this set is certainly worth getting and watching on those late nights, with the lights out and some popcorn at the ready!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pathfinder Loses Its Way!

The Unrated Pathfinder DVD came out last week, and I've had a chance to give it a once over. At first I thought it was an unfortunate happenstance that this film came out at roughly the same time as 300. Both are based on comic books published by Dark Horse, and both have an extremely stylized vision. Unfortunately Pathfinder's vision is like a blind man in the dark.

For something that I expected to be mildly entertaining, I was fighting the urge to turn it off. The tale in itself should have been one to hold my interest as my own heritage includes both Vikings (My family tree on my Father's side can be traced back to Leif Erricson) as well as Native American's, being 1/16 Blackfoot on my mother's side. A tale of Viking conquest in the new world should have been right up my alley, but it was not.

The meat of the story is that a Native American woman finds a Scandinavian boy alone and scared on an abandoned Viking warship. She takes this boy in and raises him as her own child. We flash forward to the boy as a young man, still not fully accepted by his tribe. Then, a second wave of Vikings invades and a battle ensues.

Unfortunately, the battle is rather uninteresting. Not to mention the fact that the Vikings are given subtitles while the natives speak English in a story that precedes the English arriving in the new world. Why not subtitle everyone, or perhaps subtitle no one? In this it begins its sloppiness. Add in CG blood that is the only real color in the film and it's not even interesting to look at. The film has a blue-grey color palette, but doesn't work with fake blood. The blood should match the rest of the style and it does not.

Clancy Brown gives a decent performance, but that's about all this film has to offer. The action is quick and looks choreographed, and most of the performances are bland. And so, not having seen the theatrical cut, it is tough to say what might make it Unrated. And if this is edgier, I now understand why there was such a minor media push for this film theatrically ... it just never gets to where it needs to be. The costumes are great, the color palette looks interesting, but these are all distractions from the fact that the film has so little going for it in terms of story and filmmaking. With a tale such as this, I would like to see the action, but the camera moves around it all so quickly that much of it is a stylized blur. Rent it if you must, but don't say I didn't warn you.
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