Joe’s Blog

Archive for February, 2009

Halloween (2007)… spoilers abound

February 23, 2009 6:49 am

halloween header

Doctor Wynn: … For God’s sake. He can’t even drive a car!

Doctor Loomis: Well he was doing very well LAST NIGHT!

With that exchange of dialogue, John Carpenter probably best explains his motives with the superlative Halloween. Logic is so far out the window that it’s on the next train to Glasgow. It doesn’t matter how Michael Myers, locked up in an institution for 15 years, knows how to drive a car; it doesn’t matter why he’s killing people; it doesn’t matter why he fixates upon young Laurie Strode.  It’s almost as if the attitude is “If you’re asking too many questions, you probably shouldn’t be watching these kind of movies”.

Unfortunately these brazen tactics are completely ignored by Rob Zombie’s remake (from hereonin my reviews will ONLY refer to films like these as ‘remakes’… terms such as reboot, re-imagining, revision, and herefore banned).

In my remakes rant post last week I, rather foolishly suggested that Halloween 2007 had some redeeming features without actually having seen it. This is not a mistake I shall repeat, as what follows is going to make me look a little foolish.

Now, I love Halloween. Ever since I saw it as an impressionable 11 year old, right through film-studies-wank adolesence, right up to genre-hugging adulthood, it has always retained it’s place in my affections as the Citizen Kane of horror films. It’s just so well constructed and executed (pun intended) that the only thing that fades its gloss slightly is the fact that it led, indirectly, to a slew of sewage for which it is always blamed.

With this in mind, I did try (REALLY try) to be objective about Halloween 2007, and, to be fair, it’s not a complete and utter abortion of a movie. Just mostly.

I like Rob Zombie. I was a passing fan of his music for a while, and whilst his films leave me cold, I can appreciate his craft. He’s an extremely hands-on director which means everything in his films meet his desired vision. All his films so far have this wonderfully scuzzy 70s look to them, not seen since the days of Last House on the Left (remake on the way… joy!)and I Spit on Your Grave. I think it would have been great to have let him loose on Grindhouse with more than just a spoof trailer (Death Proof would certainly have been more entertaining with him behind the camera).

Having said that though, I find his films an ordeal. Exploitation horror, no matter how grim, should still be watchable, and I find that isn’t the case with his films, especially the Devil’s Rejects, which assaults the viewer with one uncomfortable scenario after another. Maybe that’s the point and I’m missing it. But it’s not my cup of tea.

So, it’s a strange combination to have a sleek, professional machine like Halloween turned over to a man who prefers his movies dipped in mud, bleached in the sun, and run through a combine harvester before they hit a screen near you.

It’s taken me 18 months to get round to watching Halloween 2007. Two of my objections were thusly: we get a Michael Myers backstory, and it’s revealed Laurie is Michael’s sister. Both are bad ideas for different reasons.

Firstly, Michael doesn’t NEED a backstory, let alone one that takes up half the running time of a film about a man killing people on Halloween. Michael is just evil. Isn’t that enough? And then having taken this route they then decide NOT to tell us why he stops talking to people. he’s quite a chatty young man when he first murders his family (save mum and baby sister) and a school bully. After a year in an asylum he just shuts up and no-one can get a word from him.

He then kills a nurse for no reason. Then nothing for fifteen years.

I really struggled to work out what was going on here. If you go to all the trouble of inventing an entirely new backstory for a character, why then introduce such random events seemingly only to tie him into the futrue incarnation of said character that the public is familiar with? It’s a bit like writing the Star Wars prequels with Ben Kenobi as a dwarf and Yoda as a giant, then half way through Revenge of the Sith they suddenly revert to their familiar appearance.

After this seemingly endless first act, Michael finally arrives home and we’re into more traditional remake territory: dialogue is lifted word-for-word, scenes are replicated shot-for-shot, and, perhaps most annoying of all, characters are cast (and dressed) to look exactly like their 1978 counterparts (namely Tommy Doyle, and the ill-fated Bob). This appears to be done simply to throw the audience off course for some cheap scares, which is a dirty and nasty trick played so often when the last one occurs you wish Michael would turn around and start hunting the man behind the camera rather than those in front of it.

So some scenes are retained, others are re-jigged, and other new ones are introduced. If you’ve never seen Halloween (shame on you) the scenes repeated from the original are the ones with no blood whatsoever. If there’s blood (and there’s plenty of it) it’s a new scene.

So what’s Michael up to? Well, he’s looking for his baby sister he hasn’t seen since she was in nappies. “What, what, what? That wasn’t in Halloween!” I hear you cry before the fanboy’s jump on me and tell me that “It was introduced in the sequel and is therefore valid”. Well, guess what? It’s fucking not, cos John Carpenter says so!

Yes, Carpenter wrote the script for H2, where it was revealed that Laurie had been adopted by another family after her (and Michael’s) parents died. But Carpenter also regretted doing it. So there.

This ‘twist’ results in a very tiresome climax that goes on for about fifteen minutes longer than it needs to, and an ending closer in spirit to Texas Chainsaw than Halloween. In fact watching this I couldn’t help but think how much better TCM 2003 would have been if Zombie had directed it.

I said it’s not all bad. The opening half is actually very engaging, mainly because it’s not aping anything we know. It’s mostly all new. Forget the film is called Halloween and the opening half hour (up until the first murders, yes, it takes that long) is very good. Another advantage for freaks like me, is almost every supporting character is played by someone who’s made their name in horror films. We’re not talking horror legends, more exploitation legends like Sybil Danning, Ken Foree and Mickey Dolenz (!) .

The stunt casting goes a little too far, casting 29 year old Danielle Harris and one of Laurie’s pals. Harris played Michael’s neice in the original cycle’s parts 4 and 5.

Malcolm McDowell is, however, excellent, as as fine a replacement for Donald Pleasance as we could have hoped for, mainly because, for once, he plays down.

It was always going to take something special to top Carpenter’s original vision of ‘movie as a ghost train’, simply designed to go”Boo!”.

Zombie’s movie only says “Boo!” once, and it’s one of the best moments. It prefers to stand in the open shaking a knife at you and asking “Well, are you scared? Come on, I haven’t got all day!”

I’m all for Zombie making his own vision, that’s fine, but it’s so completely incompatible with Carpenter’s it’s like a child trying to build a dolls house using a combination of Lego and Sticklebricks: they just don’t fit together. I would have been willing to accept Zombie’s vision if that’s what we’d been given. Instead we’re handed two movies welded together, with far too much post-modern sprinkles to sweeten it up for the fanboys.

Well, this fanboy found the whole thing a little nauseating. And as with most of the current rash of remakes (in fact those stretching back over the past decade) it just makes me want to go back and watch the original. In fact, I’d rather watch any of the sequels over this. OK, apart from Ressurection. And Curse (Pleasance’s last film, fact fans!). No, actually this is worse than Curse

 Oh, and what do you know… H2 is heading our way this year. For fuck sake!

Remakes rant…

February 13, 2009 8:13 am

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Hooray! It’s Friday the 13th and that can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s the most pointless horror remake since… er… the last one, as Friday the 13th Redux hits screens to a chorus of shrugs from anyone over the age of 15.

This particular remake has irked me more than I thought it would. Whilst Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imagining’ of Halloween was completely futile, at least he cast Malcolm McDowell as Loomis (as fine a stand-in for Donald Pleasance as you could wish for), and at least Zombie knows his horror movies, even if I don’t particularly like what he does.

Friday the 13th Redux, by comparison, is pure studio money-grabbing bullshit. We know this because Paramount Pictures are having a piece of the pie. For those who don’t know, the studio giant sold most of its interest in Jason Vorhees following the less-than-stellar box office for F13 Part 8: Jason Takes Vancouver… sorry, Manhattan.

But when a ‘re-envisioning’ (where do they get these fucked up phrases from?) was mooted, suddenly Paramount want back in. And history shows us the studios only touch this kind of kind if they think there’s a fast buck in it.

Saying you hate remakes it a dangerous business. Some smartarse will always point out several brilliant films that you like that are remakes. I have fallen into this trap many times as John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time faves. Factor in Cronenberg’s The Fly, Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (or for that matter North By NorthWest) and the list starts to look quite formidable. Christ, even the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon was a remake.

So I think the issue isn’t remakes, per se, more the motives behind them. If a craftsman like Carpenter or Hitchcock takes on a project, they are doing it because they love the project and want to do justice to it (we’ll here ignore the Cohen Brothers’ Ladykillers, or Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man… please god, let me ignore that).

But what’s happening now is, seemingly, every horror film of the 70s and early 80s is being dredged up and handed over to anyone who’s directed a music video.

Did the world really need a new version of Prom Night? They completly re-wrote the plot, so why call it Prom Night? (The same observation could be made of The Italian Job, a fairly entertaining film in its own right, so why saddle it with a title garaunteed to make any right thinking Brit want to kick Paramount Pictures in the teeth?)

Black Christmas was particularly irksome. Barely known outside horror circles, this 1974 classic was probably as important in the conception of the slasher film as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. The remake rewrote the story… but kept, almost shot-for-shot, the trademark murder scenes!

What most of the recent remakes seem to get wrong is in understanding what made these films popular in the first place. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not popular because of it’s gore (because their wasn’t any), it was popular because of it’s mood. The remake, whilst as grim, had none of the icky feeling of the original. It substituted atmosphere for severed limbs… a bit like the ill-fated original sequel (if that makes sense…!).

And that’s another thing. We’re now at the stage where we have competeing franchises of the same thing! Night of the Living Dead was always George Romero’s baby. Now his own sequels have to compete with sequels of the remake, which was released a decade before the current invasion of orror remakes. We had the confusing, for the average movie-goer, situation a few years back where within the space of a couple of weeks there was Land of the Dead (Romero’s official fourth ‘Dead’ film), the Dawn of the Dead remake and the wonderful Shaun of the Dead, which many Americans before its release, dismissed as a cheap knock off spoof of the Dawn of the Dead remake. A spoof of a remake… what fresh lunacy is this? Well, that’s happening too thanks to those ‘hilarious’ “Movie” movies (Epic Movie, Superhero Movie etc which I’m not even going to link to as I don’t want to give them anymore oxygen than they have already).

And so to Friday the 13th Redux, at last.

I’m going to assume if you’ve got this far that you’ve seen at least one F13 film (and if you only see one, make it part 2 or 4, and save yourself a lot of hassle), so I’ll probably be in full spoiler mode.

Friday the 13th Redux features Jason as the killer, he has a hockey mask, and he’s a grown man. None of these things happen in F13. The writers claim to have condensed the stories of the first three films (they have stories?) into a new re-imagining of the series. They haven’t. They’ve written a fucking sequel, that changes the origin story.

What’s wrong with making a sequel? Why not make this F13 part 12? Probably because that would sound ridiculous.

Well, guess what? Remaking F13 and changing the story is even more fucking ridiculous!

Think this is bad enough.

Rumours abound about The Evil Dead (which could lead to competing franchises again), The Thing, Driller Killer, Suspiria (please god no) and even Cannibal Holocaust(!).

All of these will be dreadful and worse than the original (except possibly Driller Killer which is extremely dull).

Baftas 2009

February 9, 2009 7:44 am

If there’s one thing the British Film Industry is fantastic at, it’s toadying up to Hollywood. There’s very few actors writers or directors, who won’t bugger off to Los Angeles at the first sniff of blockbuster supporting role, or the chance to have their dream project re-shaped beyond all recognition to fit a demographic whilst pocketing a huge wodge (I make an exception for craftspeople because they are paid a fraction of the cost of ‘the talent’ and by necessity have to go where the money is).

And last night saw the annual celebration of our ‘special relationship': The Baftas.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Baftas. Years ago I despised its insularity and refusal to recognise popular film, unless it was British. Now I despise it’s willingness to suck up to Hollywood’s great and good in an attempt to feel important, which, quite frankly, it isn’t. It’s a rather sad exercise in pretending it’s part of the Hollywood machine, whilst desperately trying to retain it’s own identity. And as a result it ends up falling between two stools and looking rather foolish.

Until a few years back the Baftas were a little bit awkward. It operated very strict rules regarding which films could qualify, insisting on a ‘proper’ release and a cut off point of release of December 31st.

This led to the, seemingly, embarrassing situation where Oscar would be awarding those films released in the month or two before the awards, whilst Bafta would invariably be bestowing honours on last years Oscar winners (or in the case of Silence of the Lambs, next years)

This made it very difficult for Bafta to attract top (Hollywood) stars, as they would be there promoting films that were anything up to a year old, and therefore, in business terms, no longer worthy of their attention.

In addition to this, the Baftas were usually scheduled a week or two AFTER the Oscars. Again, the stars, by this point would consider their ‘press-the-flesh duties finished until the awards season started up again in November. The point of attending award ceremonies is to get your face out there, promote the film and maybe take home a paperweight. By the time Bafta came around the films they were promoting were all but done at the box office, and they had no other awards to promote themselves for.

This led to a very bizarre ceremony a few years back, where Bafta hosted TWO shows simultaneously, one in London, for British winners, and one in LA for those American stars who deemed London unworthy of their time. It was dreadful.

The decision in 2000 to shift it forward in the calendar resulted in more Hollywood stars shipping over in a desperate bid to market themselves while the Oscar voting was still ongoing. It also, rather more controversially, set in motion a change in Bafta rules which led to the rather embarrassing situation last night, where all the Best Film nominees had only been released in the past five weeks.

But wait! Bafta rules state, to be eligible a film must have been released in the previous calendar year? I quote from Bafta’s website “Films that open between 1 January and 6 February 2009 inclusive may be ‘qualified’ by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Thursday 18 December 2008.”

So, the best film of 2008, is actually one which had one screening late in the year, but was only released to the public in 2009. This is ONLY there so that Bafta can be seen to be honouring the same films as its American counterpart, and to attract Hollywood A-listers who may be in town promoting their Oscar-baiting wares (this year, for instance, Brad Pitt was in town promoting Benjamin Button, which had been on release for a whole THREE DAYS before the ceremony at which it walked off with three awards, but was nowhere to be seen when the nominations were announced).

Quite simply, it makes us look ridiculous. The Oscars have always been ridiculous (as most award ceremonies are) because it’s never really been about the ‘Best’ movies or the ‘best’ performances. It’s always been about politics, public feeling (how else do you explain the feel-good Chicago taking home Best Picture at the first post 9-11 awards?) and celebrating itself.

The Baftas have become nothing more than yet another Oscar barometer, alongside the Golden Globes, and the various Screen Guilds seemingly in every major city in the USA.

No other international film awards chase Hollywood acceptance as much as we do.

Maybe the case for the defence is we need American dollars at Pinewood/Shepperton (bestowed an award last night) to keep out industry going. But the French and Germans don’t have the facilities and craftspeople that we do (sor so we are constantly told) but their film industries are very healthy, and in fact actively repel American colonialism in their cinemas (there’s an interesting article here, which argues that this is a bad thing, but it’s a fascinating read).

Bafta needs to grow some balls, frankly. It needs to reinstate the 31st December deadline, and insist on a minimum number of screens to qualify as a ‘release'; it needs to stop trying to anticipate what Uncle Oscar is going to do, and give awards to those it genuinely believes to be worthy winners; but by the same token it needs to be less back-slappingly pleased with itself. If it wants to reward British films, then make it a British films only awards, but if it wants to be seen as a fair and open awards, it needs to stop simply aping the Americans at their own game.

If Brad Pitt doesn’t want to come, then fuck him. What’s the point anyway? You only want him there because the BBC will give up the lucrative rights if there isn’t enough stars. And what do you do when they stars are there? You ask Sharon Stone and Goldie Hawn to give out awards!

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

February 6, 2009 6:18 am

 Wayhay! There’s just a week to go until the most pointless horror remake since… er… the last one, so in honour of Friday the 13th‘s place in horror movie lore, it’s time to assess one of the many films which appeared in its blood-soaked wake.

Sleepaway Camp was not the first film to attempt to cash in Friday the 13th‘s success. That particular award, most probably, goes to the Weinstein’s The Burning. A great film for gore fans thanks to Tom Savini, but also overall utterly dreadful, despite early appearances by Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander (and, no, he didn’t have much hair then either).

And Sleepaway Camp appeared in 1983, around the same time that Friday the 13th was entering it’s 3rd film in the series. Yet, somehow, it managed to not only be successful, but also retain a rabid cult support that lasts to this day, including TWO competing ‘offical’ fan clubs.

In fairness, whilst Sleepaway Camp incorporates many familiar slasher film conventions, it also rejects just as many. We may get POV stalking shots, but we don’t get blood splattered all over the place. Only one murder is particularly gory. The others are very cleverly designed and directed to leave the worst excesses to your imagination, which is, of course, much worse.

Following a tragic boating accident in which her brother and father are killed, Angela is sent to live with her eccetric Aunt Martha. In the first of many bizarre scenes the introduction to Martha not only makes us think she’s a washed up soap actress, due to her exaggeratted acting style (she’s actually a doctor, suppossedly), but we also see she has the largest hands in the world.

Anyhoo, Angela and her cousin Ricky are packed off to summer camp for skinny dipping, volleyball and peadophile cooks. (I’m not making this up, I swear… they actually make a joke about the fact one of the cooks is a nonce! Ah, happy days.)

Angela is a tad shy, and upsets a lot of people by refusing to speak, or eat, until she takes a shine to Ricky’s friend Paul, a dead ringer for Doogie Howser.

Slowly eveyone who upsets Angela is put to the sword, or rather the boiling pan of water, the sea snakes and, of course, that hunting knife confiscated by the camp counselors, before we get to the end (I won’t give away the ending but will get back to it in a bit).

This is all played out against the now very familiar backdrop of hormonal teenagers, but everything here seems slightly off, compared to Friday the 13th or The Burning.

On top of the lack of obvious gore, the other classic element of the slasher film, gratuitous nudity, is also missing. In the one scene where nudity, gratuitous or otherwise, would normally have been included (the inevitable shower scene), the camera stays resolutely just above the nipples. Even the skinny dipping scene only results in some spotty looking men’s bums.

This may be a result of the fact that unlike its predecessors, Sleepaway Camp, focusses on the KIDS, rather than the camp’s almost-adult staff. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which is which, such as the dickhead jock who hits Angela with a waterbomb. he was a guest apparently, but looks at least 20 years old.

What it does have is some of the finest kids swearing ever committed to film. In the waterbomb scene alone, Ricky manages at least two each of ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker’ as well as various ‘pricks’ and ‘fucks’ throughout the duration. And he’s suppossed to be about 13. Good work, fella!

But does a lack of gore and T&A make for a bad movie? Not when the fashions on display are probably the most terrifying thing in the movie. Now, I may have only been a kid in 1983, but I certainly don’t remember wearing shorts as tight as the ones on display here. These things look like they could cause serious damage to the male anatomy. Not to mention the camp chief’s golf trousers, or his knee-high black socks with shorts and sandals combo.

So, seemingly, lacking in all the ingredients neccessary for a hit, how has Sleepaway Camp retained such affection? Two words… The Ending.

Watching it for the first time, and knowing how it ends, I could easily spot the hints dropped throughout. But if you are a Sleepaway virgin, it may genuinely shock you. And that’s all I’m saying.

Sleepaway Camp is great fun. As with just about every slasher from the era, you know pretty much what you’re going to get from frame one, but it does have the ability to surprise you once or twice. It’s murders are positioned like clockwork throughout the running time and it’s certainly never dull.

If I had one complaint it would be the decision to shoot the last half an hour in almost total darkness (though this could be due to me still trying to find the right settings on my TV).

If you like your horror cheesy, with a pair of tight shorts, you could do far worse. Like watching the F13 remake, probably.