Wednesday, June 07, 2006


It was announced this week that yet another pointless re make (sorry, the preferred term these days is "reinvention") of a 1970s horror movie is on the way, in this case of John Carpenter's Halloween.

Handling the writing and directing chores this time around will be Rob Zombie, auteur of House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, both of which were among my mother's favorite movies, so I'll refrain from saying anything negative about Mr. Zombie or his intentions.

But seriously, Rob: Why bother? Last year alone we had to endure two soporific remakes of Carpenter movies, Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog. In both cases, the budgets were much higher than the originals and the levels of imagination, characterization, surprise and style were considerably lower. Zombie may bring more to the party than the creators of these films did, but is it worth it?

To me, the seventies and early eighties were the last great flowering of the horror film. It was a time when young directors, often working with non-existant budgets, created bold new visions, terrifying not just for their blood and thunder, but for what they were about. These movies, under genre disguises, reflected the anxieties of their times. Consider David Cronenberg's Shivers and Rabid, about the unexpected costs of sexual freedom, or George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, which neatly touches on race, class and the hollow values of America's consumer-driven society, or Joe Dante's satire of pop psychology, The Howling, or Carpenter's own The Thing, an unsettling meditation on isolation and despair.

Even movies with no particular thoughts in their heads could deliver the goods, like Don Coscarelli's goofy, exuberant Phantasm or Tobe Hooper's relentless Texas Hainsaw Massacre. These movies were all absolutely unpredictable--their were no rules, no test screenings, no consideration of marketing. They weren't being made for the masses, they were going to be playing at drive-ins and grindhouses. Since they were considered junk, their directors were free to do anything.

Obviously, we don't have drive-ins and grindhouses anymore. Most "independant" films are actually made by subsidiaries of corporations, and either in or out of the horror genre, its getting hard to find movies that seem to truly reflect the singular vision of an inspired director. The careers of Lucky McKee and Larry Fessenden, two contemporary directors who seemed to promise bold new visions in the horror world, seem to have stalled in endless development deals. The great filmmakers of the sevnties don't work as often as they should, though at least recent efforts from Romero and Dante proved they remain as politically aware as ever.

So these days, horror movies (like almost all movies) seem to be aimed exclusively at teenagers, scary on the surface but with nothing underneath, nothing to disturb their sleep or stir their subconscious. Big-budget remakes of Dawn Of The Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are technically proficient but utterly without purpose, except to make money.

And as for Rob Zombie, his movies and music show a real appreciation for seventies horror, and I admit Halloween is probably John Carpenter's least interesting film. Maybe he'll be able to make something of it. But is it too much to ask for something new? Aren't their stories that haven't been told?