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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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2007

Movie Review – Halloween (2007)

Movie Review – Halloween (2007)

Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party, and I didn’t even bring beer. It’s been nine years since the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), a “reimagining” of John Carpenter’s seminal classic – a film which many horror fans regard as the genre’s crowning achievement, and I certainly have a great respect for it. The original film is tightly executed and masterfully builds a Hitchcockian tension and it is the textbook standard for all the slasher-style films which it helped to spawn. Naturally, comparisons will be made between Zombie’s version and Carpenter’s creation, and rightly so. It’s therefore understandable that perhaps no film has been as divisive in the horror fandom in the past decade as Zombie’s Halloween, which garnered strong reactions upon its release. As the years have gone by, I have grown the impression that most adherents to the older film, especially those who grew up with it, have a distinct disdain for the new film, while younger audiences have mostly been receptive and praising of it. Having not seen it myself, I could only wonder if this was simply a matter of generational divide.

As I said above, I am an admirer of Carpenter’s Halloween, but I’m not the devout devotee that many others are. It’s a great film, but I don’t consider it a film that could not be improved upon. There are clear plot holes, thin characterizations, and elements that could certainly be expanded upon to further flesh out the story. Additionally, the franchise was in such abysmal straits after the vomitous Halloween: Resurrection (2002) that a rejuvenation of the Michael Myers brand was badly needed, and Rob Zombie certainly seemed like the kind of filmmaker who could do it. Whenever I sit down to watch a film, especially one I know I will be reviewing, I try to approach it with as open a mind as possible, and this was even more self-consciously so with this film.

So after finally watching it, what did I think?

Zombie does a lot right. 2007’s Halloween showcases clever cinematography and great lighting. Casting Tyler Mane as the adult Michael Myers adds a physical gravitas to role, and Mane’s attacks are brutal and animalistic. Similarly, having Danielle Harris, who played the child protagonist Jamie in Halloween 4 and 5, return to the franchise was a risk which pays off as her scenes are some of the best and her cries of desperation brutally realistic.

However, as much as I try to give respect where it’s due, as I watched I couldn’t help but be distracted by the film’s many problems. Zombie’s decision to explore Myers’s roots is ill conceived, poorly executed and ultimately needless, adding nothing to the tension of the second half of the film which is closer to Carpenter’s original and noticeably stronger as a result. The dialogue is poor – nobody in this film talks like a real person – and the acting, particularly in the beginning, is unable to overcome it. Even seasoned veterans like the amazing Dee Wallace come off as amateurish with this material. It is therefore unsurprising that the depiction and explanation of Michael Myers’s decent into homicide is unconvincing and not at all compelling. There’s too much style over substance and we get caricatures rather than real characters.

Throughout the film there is an unnecessary exploitation influence that keeps me from taking it seriously, such as all the women dying naked, over-the-top misogyny, a gratuitous rape scene, and a hackneyed abundance of foul language (fuck… see, I can say it too). The result is a lack of suspense or any real terror. Again to draw a comparison, Carpenter followed Hitchcock’s model of anticipation, letting the audience know that the danger is coming but letting it linger, never being fully confident quite when it will drop. Zombie instead just moves from kill to kill in a mechanical, assembly-line fashion.

Ultimately, Zombie shows too much where he should show restraint, and too little where further exploration would have been beneficial. Instead of centering on Myers’s background, it might have been more effective to give more back story on Laurie’s friends and family, adding something to Carpenter’s film that would have made the kills even more intense. Yet for all his explaining, he still does not justify Myers’s ability to keep moving unhindered when riddled with bullet holes or many other tropes that cannot be rooted in a difficult family life.

Yet perhaps the most egregious shortcoming is one that has certainly been said before by many other detractors. I had heard their criticism but waited until I saw the film myself before laying judgment. By dispelling the mystery of Myers it removes the one thing that made Myers an effective “shape” – now he’s just another “white trash” serial killer, and not even a very interesting one. His only distinguishing characteristic is that he gets to wear that iconic William Shatner mask. When Laurie says to Dr. Loomis in the 1976 film, “It was the boogeyman…” and he responds with, “As a matter of fact, it was,” those lines mean something. Myers worked best as a mystery – the blank mask allowed the audience to paint their own motives and emotions upon the character. The boogeyman is the indefinable embodiment of fear, and Carpenter’s Myers fit that perfectly. Zombie’s script plays lip-service to it, but when his Laurie asks, “Was that the boogeyman?” it no longer has meaning, and even sounds odd and inappropriate coming from her lips. It isn’t at all the point of Zombie’s film – his intention is to assault the audience rather than invite them into the experience so that they might place their own impressions upon it. His Myers is an attack dog, not a boogeyman, and to have Laurie still say those words makes me question just how much Zombie was aware of this.

Zombie’s Halloween is a decent slasher film, but not a very good Halloween one. Of course, most are not very good as the franchise isn’t known for an abundance of quality entries, and this is certainly not the worst or weakest among them. However, as a reimagining of the classic original it, like Myers’s mask, pales in comparison. I can see why many would enjoy this film, but the shortcomings are too glaring for me to take any real satisfaction in watching it.

Grade: C

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Movie Review – Teeth (2007)

Movie Review – Teeth (2007)

(Oh-oh here she comes)

Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up!

(Oh-oh here she comes)

She’s a maneater!

 – “Maneater” (1982) by Hall & Oates

Vagina dentata – this Latin expression for “toothed vagina” is found in myths across the globe and is generally thought to stem from a fear of sexual intercourse, whether as a man entering an alien place where a piece of himself is left, or as a woman fearful of injury or rape. Female biology, for the vast majority of human history and unfortunately in some communities still today, was a source of mystery. As we all know, the woman’s sexual organs are on the inside, not exposed like a man’s. Therefore people asked: What could she be hiding? Why does she bleed each month? What mysteries are at the root of her ability to create and pass life through her body? Lack of scientific knowledge, coupled with age-old superstition, is at the root of the idea that a woman can house teeth in her vagina, ready to devour any man’s denim bulge who might be seduced into her hungry fly trap.

While female biology is little mystery to most modern Americans, or should be, there are still conservative segments who believe such knowledge is damaging to maturing teens, leading to temptation and spiritual corruption. They champion abstinence-only education and such puerile gimmicks as purity rings, despite a wealth of evidence that suggests such an approach is not only less effective in preventing unwanted results such as teen pregnancy, but may in fact help contribute to it.

Such a person is the central character to 2007’s Teeth. Dawn O’Keefe (appropriate last name), played by Jess Weixler, is a Christian creationist teen who is committed to saving her virginity for marriage and who champions purity rings at church youth groups. Her own body is an enigma and when she’s raped by a trusted love interest she finds that she possesses a special biological adaptation that quickly puts the forced entry to a mangled end. Such a situation is repeated throughout the film, giving the viewer many shots – mostly darkly humorous – of severed penises and shocked males holding their bloody, emasculated stumps.

As a male viewer this is horrifying stuff, but the film is filled to the brim with guys who want to take advantage of her so there’s no end to the justification for her castrations. Dawn goes from naïve innocent to feminist vigilante, embracing evolution and her own sexual prowess along the way. The depiction of men is decidedly negative – I half-expected her step-father, the only half-way decent guy in the film, to try to molest her, so prevalent was the male misogyny – and the film might have been better served to at least have one sympathetic young male to relate to, or a positive male sexual role model to at least let the audience know that they exist. Certain characters were arguably not entirely deserving of the level of malice she bit into them, though they were not at all sympathetic.

Despite this quibble, Teeth is elevated by a strong performance from its lead. Weixler plays the role just right, from perky good-girl teen to horrified man-eater to confident man-devourer.

teeth still

Writer and director Mitchell Lichtenstein smartly infuses his movie with black comedy and symbolism. Of the latter, there are the many references to serpents, which represent not only Satan’s temptation of Eve (“the serpent beguiled me and I ate”), signifying her drift from Christianity, but also Medusa, as Dawn herself becomes something that can be considered gorgonesque. As a visual metaphor, the cave opening in which she first discovers her power is dripping with toothy stalactites. An environmental message seems to also be at play. We repeatedly see two huge breast-like smoke stacks continually spewing smoke into the air. We can surmise that this is the source of Dawn’s mother’s cancer, and perhaps the cause of her mutation as well.

There were some choices made by the filmmaker that had me scratching my head. The cinematography is sometimes grainy, as though scenes were lightened significantly in post-production. Also, we see a lot of chewed man-meat, but despite the film partly addressing society’s fear in even acknowledging basic female biology (such as the anatomy textbooks having stickers covering the vagina), her weapon is never brought into the light. I am not saying this is a bad choice, but it is perhaps an odd one that undermines at least one of the film’s messages. Nevertheless, Teeth is a smart, funny, and entertaining film that will likely resonate with most women, but is a movie that guys should be sure to see too.

Grade: B-

Movie Review – Frontier(s) (2007)

Movie Review – Frontier(s) (2007)

Writer-director Xavier Gens’s Frontier(s) (2007) is a French amalgam of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Hostel (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes remake (2006). It is another European offering in the extreme gore subset, and though it is not a subgenre I generally gravitate toward, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was originally meant to be a part of 2007’s Horrorfest but was pulled due to receiving an NC-17 rating from the MPAA for its graphic violence.

Set in the future of a right-wing takeover amidst civil unrest, four outlaws try to flee the country – the main character, Yasmina, doing so mainly to receive an abortion so her child will not be born into “this type of world.” This setting may at first seem rather unnecessary and contrived until the nature of the murderous family they encounter is revealed, in their deadly splendor, as Nazis. To make sense of this, one must take into account France’s history as well as the destructive riots that occurred in Paris back in 2005, which resulted from high youth unemployment and the failure of French society to integrate its immigrant population. One of our protagonists is a Muslim, which is certainly significant. The movie stakes itself as a morbid morality tale about the dangers of fascism and intolerance, with the murderous Von Geisler family serving as the horrifying culmination of both. Whether this metaphor succeeds or not is debatable. Nevertheless, it does offer an interesting layer to ample amounts of blood that splatter seemingly every frame in the second half of the film.

Maud Forget and Karina Testa in Frontier(s).
Maud Forget and Karina Testa in Frontier(s).

Yasmina and her friends are subjected to unspeakable torture via eugenics and cannibalism. This is not merely a torture flick, however, it is also a revenge one, and the best gore is reserved for the dispensing of the Nazis. A scene with a table saw, though predictable, is nonetheless incredibly satisfying.

Truly, if one were to simply read the script the film would sound awfully hokey, but a talented and well-chosen cast brings the characters and dialogue to life. The deformed daughter and mother to the subterranean mine children, especially, is a presence that captures one’s attention and sympathy. Despite some poor cinematography, the film succeeds. In the wrong hands, Frontier(s) could indeed have easily been terrible, but it manages to be an entertaining ride despite some of its narrative shortcomings.

Grade: B-

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