Friday, August 28, 2009

NASCARs and (Robert) Zombies: The Final 3D Halloween Requel

Posted By and on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 12:07 PM

click to enlarge The Final Destination and Halloween II

Hey, it’s Blockbluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart throw their art house inhibitions at the camera in 3D and find out during what sort of movies regular people all over the country are eating popcorn. This week they are barred from reaching their final summer destinations: screenings of The Final Destination and Halloween II, but review them anyway.

Halloween II

So, Ben, the end of the summer nears, which means Hollywood’s dumping its last horror movies into theaters; this week we have Halloween II and The Final Destination [IV]. (Why not wait for October with that first one?) It would have been nice to review one or both for our dear readers, but the craven studios refused to screen either for critics (like us) in advance. Because even they know their movies are terrible; they don’t have confidence in their own product. Dishearteningly, there’s been a lot of that going around: next week’s Gamer won’t be screened, and the recent G.I. Joe was shown only to sympathetic bloggers—the reliable fanboys.

But really, why let a little thing like that get in our way, Sutton? Do we even need to see such predictable fare in order to review it? Readers, Ben and I would like to strike back at the studios and review these movies anyway—speculatively, in the hopes that maybe next time they’ll let us just see the damn things.

Surprise! Halloween II is a stinker, just like the Rob Zombie-directed remake that preceded it. After Mr. Zombie, still using that childish pseudonym from his rock n’ roll days (get a haircut!), released The Devil’s Rejects, some in the critical circles asked us to consider him a serious horror auteur. I had my reservations—his over-the-top tone, particularly in House of 1,000 Corpses, strikes me as grating—but I was willing to give him another movie or two.

Then came Halloween. Shit, Ben, did you see that? To sum up the arguments I made at the time: it wasn’t scary, it wasn’t smart, it was needlessly hypergory and, worst of all, it seemed to suggest that a namby pamby society, shaped by Kennedy liberalism, that treats criminals like people was responsible for Michael Myers and his murders. Monsters don’t choose to be monsters; they’re born that way, and need to be killed. Not coddled.

There’s less rightwing bullshit in the sequel, but so what? The only interesting thing about this movie (well, besides some fine supporting turns from Brad Dourif and Weird Al—as himself!) is that it’s a remake of John Carpenter’s original sequel: it picks up right where the first one left off, and follows harassed heroine Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) to the hospital. Myers, naturally, follows her as well. I can’t think of another rebooted horror franchise that didn’t use original stories for its sequels. And it’s probably for good reason: 1981’s Halloween II is a major disappointment compared to Carpenter’s original film, though it’s still serviceable slasher fare. Zombie can’t even handle that, though: his film is dull, super-bloody, and downright hokey. For someone who demands to be taken so Seriously, he doesn’t approach his own work with a modicum of maturity.

While I’m not about to contradict you and claim that Rob Zombie is some auteurist genius come up from his Goth dungeon to reinvent the horror genre, nor that he’s in tune with the times (although he’s starting to look like just any other bearded hipster celebrity, no?), he’s definitely following current trends: rebooting classic American horror movies (like the recent Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, his previous Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and, reaching back to a previous era of American monster movie, Zombie’s just-announced remake of The Blob) and casting his wife (like Judd Apatow!). Also, I’m pretty disappointed that you failed to mention Zombie’s clutch casting in two major roles: Dr. Loomis is played by Malcolm Gladwell (correction: McDowell) (Alex from A Clockwork Orange), and Tyler Mane (Sabertooth in the first X-Men film) refashions his beastly strut into Michael Myers’ rigid gait.

Resourceful casting and socially acceptable quantities of facial hair aside, I think what’s really going on here is a classic Freudian case of displacement not unlike the one that began this whole mess of an undying movie franchise 31 years ago. Rob Zombie is Mike Myers: as long as the one keeps coming back, the other keeps his contract. In this remake of a sequel (“requel”?), Myers tracks down his sister Deborah while a ghostly lady in white — the famed (m)other from feminist psychoanalysis, surely — informs her and us that it’s all about family. This also explains the eventual Texas Chainsaw-aping monstrous family reunion, which is code for another obligatory requel — Zombie getting the crew (family) back together for another romp whether they like it or not.

Now more than ever in the franchise’s three decade history, though, it’s time to cast aside the favored psychoanalytic approach and look at Halloween as a series fundamentally concerned with the death of the suburbs. What does Mike Myers symbolize if not the ultimate suburban nightmare on the one night of the year that is already loaded with dark portents for inhabitants of sidewalk-less sprawl? This new Mike Myers hates the suburbs: he bursts through McMansion doors, pushes cars off roads Incredible Hulk-style, looms eerily, wordlessly over a trick-or-treating kid and generally expresses his disapproval of our climate-changing, waste-generating, planet-killing, economy-sabotaging and city-disemboweling ways. Or does the fact that Halloween is set in a more extremely ex-urban 1979 dull the brutality of its pointed criticism of suburban decadence?

click to enlarge The Final Destination and Halloween II

The Final Destination

Presumably focus groups told testers that they were less likely to keep up with a franchise that had passed part three, which is why the “Four” was dropped from the end of this movie’s title. Even though the Saw series has the gall to just keep ‘em coming! I never saw any of the other Final Destinations, but they all seem exactly the same, this one not excepted: some kids cheat death and death course-corrects—in increasingly complex ways. It’s an intriguing premise, I guess—into which some have read a post-9/11 relevance—but none of the films rank very high up on the Tomatometer. Part Four really dredges the casting pool for talent (including the dude who played Bubba in Forrest Gump!) and pushes the limits of good taste: the series is known for its inventively gruesome death scenes, so this one features eleven of them. It’s a wonder they could fit that many into 82 minutes! Worst of all, though, was the 3D. As for now, Hollywood won’t employ RealD technology except in cartoons and horror movies. At least the some of the former—Coraline, Up—use it well, to create a vast yet subtle depth of field, but all horror directors can use it for is making things fly at you. Like the 2D version of the movie, it’s just a lot of cheap shocks.

The final Final, like Halloween, seems compatible with my commuter comeuppance reading, like many of the previous entries in the franchise. In the first, famously, a young woman is killed by a bus, and a young man by a train, clear retribution for their over-reliance on cars — the franchise’s first disaster also occurs on a plane, though air travel doesn’t jive with today’s climate of alternative transportation so much. Here we get the opening NASCAR racetrack crash, a woman nearly drowns in her SUV only to die more unpleasantly at the car wash, and a mall goes up in flames. Clearly the suburbs and the auto-dependent lifestyles they’ve spawned are fighting back, right?

Or is it that after psychoanalysis, environmental apocalypse (seen most explicitly in The Day After Tomorrow, WALL-E, and such) is the new universally applicable interpretive lens through which to view cultural artifacts? Like, who would have thought that Ice Age 3 was really about gated communities and drilling in Alaska? But there it is. In Final, Nick’s (Bobby Campo) premonitions, then, are like reports on climate change that he, like a good Democrat, heeds in order to keep himself and his friends alive, while the non-believers with their blinders on get it in the worst and most elaborate ways possible. Seen in the same light, Transformers is like Republican propaganda about how gas-guzzling American cars will save the world.

As for The Final Destination’s title, you seem to have missed the distinction that this fourth installment drops the number and adds a “The,” thereby implying that we’ve finally reached the one and only final destination and that preceding entries were simply travelogues from the road towards this climactic narrative location. In that respect the 3D seems all the more appropriate, since the creative kills that are the series’ greatest asset increasingly involve hyper-dynamic projectiles with improbable flight patterns. Also, there’s that scene midway through the film when several characters go to see a 3D movie — whoa, Henry, look out for all that meta-narrative flying straight at your dome! 3D simply heightens the impression that such delightful physics-defying feats like lobbed tires, launched stones, curving metal shards and the like could only be perpetrated by the vengeful hand of death catching up to the folks that got away from it the first time — you know, cosmic fate defeating individual agency. And really, Henry, that’s exactly what the Final Destination series is: a 21st century requel of The Seventh Seal.

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