Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Double Feature Weekend: Remakes! Halloween and Dawn of the Dead

 It’s Double Feature theme weekends this year! I’ve done Creature Features the last two years on one of the weekends, but this year I decided to expand. For the first Double Feature I decided to go with remakes. I’ve already seen John Carpenter’s The Thing for a previous 31 Days, so that was out. I then decided to narrow it even further to ‘remakes of films I’ve already seen for 31 Days.’ I’d been hoping to watch the remakes of Evil Dead and Halloween, as the originals were the bookends for my first year doing this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a copy of Evil Dead in time, so I ended up watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead instead.

Halloween (2007)

"Whoa.. Mikey! What're you doing out of your room?"

I didn’t realize, but I haven’t actually seen any of Rob Zombie's other movies. None of the trailers for House of 1000 Corpses or The Devil’s Rejects grabbed me, and I guess I just never got around to watching them on video.
From this film he appears to be a decent filmmaker with an interesting visual aesthetic and a decent grasp of what makes a good horror movie work.

Unfortunately, I hated this movie.

It has more to do with my appreciation for the original and what I liked about that film, more than it does about the quality of the film on its own.

What it boils down to – and this applies to my dislike of the sequels as well – is that this movie humanizes Michael. Makes him almost sympathetic. Oh, hell, it DOES make him sympathetic. And I can see where, given the expanded universe that the sequels built, how doing that seems to make sense. That whole screwed-up family dynamic is given center place and the whole first two thirds of the film is essentially a ‘how Michael became The Shape.’

But I liked it better when Michael was a faceless force of nature. When he was unexplained and unexplainable. I liked it when there was no rhyme or reason to his rampage. That’s what made him scary, to me. That you couldn’t predict or comprehend his actions.

The sequels kinda ruined all that, and this movie continues undermining the whole concept of ‘evil in the shape of a man.’ He’s an emotionless psychopath that loves his mom and baby sis and gets pushed too far only he forgets what he did and hides behind masks so people won’t look at him. And that’s how little the back story holds together.

You know, the acting is great – I particularly like the choice of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. Tyler Mane has a great physical presence as the adult Michael, looming over everybody and managing to convey menace in the turn of his head. The scares and gore are well handled and I like the way the film is shot and the set direction. All the bits in Haddonfield in the latter parts of the film – the actual remake section – are really good, though I still think Carpenter handled them better and with more finesse.

I dunno – maybe I’m just holding on to the original too much. It’s NOT a bad film – it just seems to undermine everything that made the original great, and for me that ends up making it a failure.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

"It's nice to see that you've all bonded through this disaster."

And then there’s this movie that, despite dumping a lot of the social commentary and humor that made the original such a classic, is a film I like a lot.

The first ten minutes of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead are some of the most intense and horrifying of any film. I remember watching it in the theater and thinking - as the titles queued up some kickass Johnny Cash – that if the whole movie kept up this intensity that I was in for something special.

And of course it doesn’t, unfortunately. It goes from something amazing to something merely good, but it’s still an enjoyable zombie movie.

Snyder, to me, is an uneven filmmaker whose focus on spectacle undermines his interest in telling a good story. He strikes me as someone who WANTS to give you a movie that has things to say about people and society, but he keeps getting distracted by just how damn COOL all this stuff is.

In this film the mall and the survivor’s reactions to it have nothing to do with consumer culture and a desire to hold onto normality in the face of impending apocalypse, instead it’s just a safe place for supplies. The minor efforts at character building – the confessional dinner, the montage of ‘what are people doing now,’ the celebrity sniper hunt – serve only to sketch in personalities: here’s the slut, here’s the asshole, here’s the innocent. There’s nothing more than a nod at depth. Hell, I think I know more about Andy, the gun shop survivor, than I really do about the leads.

It probably sounds like I’m running the movie down a lot, and I guess I am, but that’s only because when it’s good it’s really good. The opening sequence, the zombie birth, the confrontation over killing a guy who’s been bit. The set pieces in the parking garage and the escape in their A-Teamed vehicles (that shot of the explosion with the zombies falling away – that’s awesome).

As I was watching it I kept asking myself why I was giving this film more of a pass as a remake when I was so hard on Halloween. I guess it comes down to two things:

1) DotD makes some changes to the underpinnings – fast zombies, for instance – but they actually add to the experience. I love traditional Romero zombies, but as Barbara says in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, “They’re so slow. We could walk right past them.” Fast zombies ratchet up the fear and consequences. It makes things scarier. The backstory of Michael in the Halloween remake does nothing to make him scarier and actually reduces him in some ways.

2) DotD is actually FUN. It has some scary moments, there are bits of character interactions that are heavy, but in general it’s a roller coaster of gore and action. Halloween is slow and ponderous to begin with and the remake turns that from a good thing – the slow buildup – to a bad, with the whole first part just dragging on and doing little to make the experience enjoyable.

So yeah. Dawn of the Dead isn’t a better movie than the original, but it’s still fun and has some cool set pieces. I’ve seen it a few times now and I’m always able to enjoy it. I don’t think I’ll ever watch the remake of Halloween again.

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