Monday, August 31, 2009

Five Ways To Save Halloween

With the latest exploits of Michael Myers coming in a disappointing third at the box office this weekend behind the second week of Inglourious Basterds and the debut of competing horror franchise Final Destination's latest installment (in 3-D!), it should be a time for the Weinstein Co. to reassess where one of horror's most enduring series now stands in the cultural zeitgeist.

However, that hoped-for period of reflection isn't going to happen as its already been announced that Halloween 3-D is on deck for an August 2010 release! Still, as August is a year away and - other than the fact that it's going to be in 3-D - we have no inkling as to the direction of this new Halloween, I'm going to toss out a few helpful suggestions. Of course, my frankly awesome plan for Halloween II already fell on deaf ears but as a fan I still feel duty-bound to put my two cents in on the future of Halloween. If these five issues are addressed, the next Halloween might not be so painful to endure.

5) No More 'Name' Writer/Directors

The problem with hiring someone who's a superstar in their own right like Rob Zombie is that it becomes about selling their name and their brand, not the series itself. Whether you liked Zombie's take on Halloween or not, I think it ultimately was a bad move to let Zombie reinvent the franchise. It reminds me of when Marvel Comics was in a desperate situation in the late '90s and they licenced out some of their most iconic titles, like Fantastic Four and Captain America, to the founders of Image Comics in the hopes that guys like Rob Liefeld would revive interest in these characters and bring in a big haul of cash. In the short term that worked on a financial level, but the actual product was poor and putting flashy 'name' creators on these books did more harm than good. With their next choice of a Halloween director, I hope the Weinsteins will go with someone who's just a solid director. I'd love to have, say, Wrong Turn's Rob Schmidt tackle this. Or My Bloody Valentine 3-D's Patrick Lussier. Those are the kind of directors who would do a bang-up job with Halloween, I think.

4) Reboot Everything

Seeing the series pick up from where Zombie left off is a dismal proposition. He painted the series into a corner that's not going to be easy or fun to get out of. You don't have to call the next film a remake and you don't have to do an origin story again but pretending that the two Zombie films didn't happen is going to be the best move, I think. I mean, Zombie didn't even set up an interesting mythology to carry on from. What was up with the hallucinations and visions and the psychic link between Laurie and Michael? As terrible as it was, I'd rather see the Cult of the Thorn brought back.

3) Recast Everything

Whoever takes on this next installment might as well reboot everything because they're sure as hell going to have to recast everything. I'm sure that Zombie's cast isn't going to be eager to carry on without him so no Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie, no Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett, no Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis (if that character can even be brought back). While some might balk at this, I think the majority of fans and movie-goers will be glad for a chance to start over and not question how it's accomplished. The idea of rebooting Halloween from square one wasn't bad in itself, it just needed to be handled with more reverence to the original series.

2) Bring Back The Suspense

If Halloween is known for one thing, it's for its classic suspense. Now, no one besides Carpenter has worked that angle as well but the better entries in the series - the original Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and Halloween: H20 - did well by trying to follow in his footsteps. I know that some people think that brutality is where it's at with horror now but I disagree. That works for some films but I think Halloween should stick to a more classic style. Brutal isn't scary - is there a single person who found Zombie's Halloween II to be the least bit frightening? Anyone? I doubt it. A return to stalk n' slash suspense where we have real build-ups to the kills (the depth of vision that 3-D provides would be perfect for the kind of visuals that Carpenter had in the original where you'd have a character in the foreground and Michael looming in the distance behind them), real jump scares, and real terror is what's going to work for Halloween. Look at how well The Strangers (2008) did and that film was a complete Halloween homage. Come to think of it - get Strangers writer/director Bryan Bertino to do the new Halloween. That'd be perfect!

1) Bring Back The Boogeyman

Turning Michael Myers into a kid from a dysfunctional home was a losing move from the get-go, making him into just a dime-a-dozen psycho. The next Halloween needs to reestablish Michael Myers as The Boogeyman. Bring that implacable sense of mystery back to the character. And his look needs to be repaired, too. Get that decaying shit off Michael's face and get him back in the white mask, for crying out loud, and not looking like a hobo that slept in a dumpster. That smooth, white, emotionless mask is what's classic about Michael. If you're not going to go with that, why bother?

Zombie's reinvention of Michael reminds me of the long development process the Superman movie suffered in the '90s. You'd keep hearing that the producers were questioning why Superman needed a cape, why the costume had to be red and blue, why he needed to fly, why have an 'S' on his chest, and so on - all that kind of bullshit. Then there's the Godzilla remake from '98 where suddenly the iconic look of that character that the fans loved for decades and that everyone around the world recognized was shit-canned because some geniuses thought they had a better idea. Studios should learn that when they have a classic character, they need to embrace the fact that these characters have their following for a reason. When you whittle away what the fans love about these characters, you've got nothing left.

Some might say "oh, come on - we've seen it so many times, what's new about it?" But the whole point of sequels is that audiences want to revisit characters that they love (or formulas that they love - witness the ongoing success of the Final Destination films). When I went to see a new Dirty Harry movie in the '80s like Sudden Impact or The Dead Pool, it was never about - "Man, I wonder how Harry's going to react to crime this time around?" No, you're going for that familiarity - that's why sequels work. And even with the new Batman films, Nolan and co. have succeeded by embracing the core elements of that character - portraying Batman as the Dark Knight - not getting away from them. The same with the new Bond films, which have returned to the tougher Bond of the novels and the Sean Connery films. Getting back to basics works and it can work for Halloween, too.

Will any of these things come to pass in the new Halloween? I hope so. While the series is a little long in the tooth, I don't think that it's played out. It just needs to be handled with more care. Halloween is a classic brand that audiences want to support. The Weinstein Co. just needs to realize that on Halloween, everyone deserves one good scare. And if you give it to them, they'll keep coming back for more.


Cheap Beer said...

I'd love to see a "Halloween III:Season of the Witch" remake combined with some Myers action in the next outing and judging from the good reviews about the upcoming "Trick r Treat", have Mike Dougherty direct. It sounds like he knows how to make a real Halloween flick.

Wings1295 said...

Max, you make so many great points there, anything I say would just be echoing you.

I really, really, REALLY hope that they decide to just do a fresh, free from Zombie-lore, Michael Myers/Halloween tale. They don't HAVE to come right out and say it follows any other film. Just lose so much of the gore and in your face shit and move back to the shadows and mystery.

We can hope, right?

Great post!

CRwM said...

I would add:

0. Cast more rap stars

-1. Two words: "In space . . . "

-2. Guest appearance by the Leprechaun

-3. Remake Mike Myers as sassy African American woman with a snappy catch phrase - "I don't think so, sugar" - she says every time she kills somebody

-4. Expand the potential audience by going for a PG13 rating

-5. Emphasize the really great and completely sensible supernatural elements that were introduced later in the series

Any of these should do it.

All joking aside, perhaps the big picture here is that Halloween is really a dud as a franchise. You listed off 4 "good" Halloween flicks, but there's been 9 of them (not counting the off-continuity number 3). That means less than half the pictures in the series have actually been good.

The lesson here may be that, statistically, you're already working with the odds against you when you work with this franchise. Why continue to throw good effort after bad prolonging the life of a franchise that hits less than half the time? Just do something new.

Jeff Allard said...

CB, a Season of the Witch remake would be sweet! And while that won't happen anytime soon, Mike Doughtery probably would be a good candidate to helm a Halloween movie. However, I suspect that he has more of a feel for fantasy material than slasher stuff. Just a hunch.

Wings, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that they ditch the over-the-top violence of Zombie's take. Also, feel free to call me Jeff!

And CRwM, 'just do something new' is a great idea but as long as studios see a source of revenue in properties like Halloween, that ain't gonna happen. Studios like making money! That said, they can learn to manage these franchises with a little more care.

I doubt if we'll ever see a new Halloween movie as strong as, say, Casino Royale is to the Bond films but then again, if the right talent got involved there isn't any reason why there couldn't be.

Wings1295 said...

Doh! And I knew your name was Jeff, too, yet Max is what I wrote.

Need. More. Coffee.

Jeff Allard said...

No problem, Wings!

kindertrauma said...

How's this for a reboot Jeff?...

You start with the ending of RZ's H2 then you pull back and you see a lone girl sitting in a movie theater and watching it. She gets up and walks out. You see a shadowy man following her. She tries to run but somehow he catches up to her and grabs her arm. He says "Mrs Strode, How did you like the movie?" She says "It's bullshit all of it. " Then you cut to a diner all decorated for Halloween and she is sitting across from the man. He has a pen and pencil in his hand taking notes. She says to him, "If you must know, this is what really happened..." cue theme!


If you must keep the same cast...

You start with the end of RZ's Halloween 2 again and then Scout as Laurie wakes up in bed in the hospital. The nurse (sheri Moon) is sitting next to her. She says "Dr. Loomis, she's delusional she keeps saying that her attacker is her brother!" Malcolm McDowell as Loomis shakes his head in disbelief. Later we find Mcdowell and scout in a room having a therapy session. Dr Loomis says "lets try this again Laurie but no more nonsense about Michael Myers being your brother or me writing a book about him. I especially don't want to hear about your friend Annie's death again, she visits you every day!" Scout looks up at him and says "O.k. I'm ready to tell you what really happened....cue halloween theme!

Sure, both are sort of Bobby Ewing shower moments that will drive the fans crazy but at least they'd be original start off points!

Anonymous said...

Very well thought out and argued point of view. I agree the bogeyman and the suspense must come back. And an excellent point made about familiarity with a character and why you should not tamper with that familiarity.

Jeff Allard said...

Unk, I dig your ideas! I think that no matter what, the series is going to have to work around RZ's movies. Which isn't anything new for Halloween - they already forgot about three whole movies when they did H2O! I do think that RZ's cast has left the building with this one so it looks like some kind of fresh start will be in order. The news that Steve Miner may be up for the gig isn't terrible but not too encouraging either. We'll see what happens.

Zombo, thanks! I'm all for filmmakers taking creative risks but I think when working with a franchise, a different set of skills is important. It's like when Jon Favreau took on Iron Man - he listened to the fans, he worked to best service the characters and the mythology - he didn't free feel to go off on a tangent. I know there's been comic books published recently telling new stories within the Halloween universe that I've heard do a good job of hewing to the spirit of the original films - so why can't a movie do the same?

Unknown said...

the cult of thorn? ahhhhhhh! I hope not! lol. Great article, I agree with your thoughts. I truly believe that the Zombie films existed only to make the Halloween films cool again. And it actually worked...F1309 came out and NMOES is fast approaching. Zombie's Halloween beat them all to the punch. I think us fans will be able to once again settle back into that late '70s creepy horror mode as we saw in Carpenter's original. Hopefully Dimension reads your post!

Unknown said...

and you're right...the over the top brutality is not scary. The only thing scary about it is that it may inspire any kids who are thinking of chopping up their family and neighbors to do it with Michael Myers incessant, hardcore, knife jabbing style.

Jeff Allard said...

Hey Jay, believe me - I'm not really looking for a return of the Cult of the Thorn! But even though that storyline was mishandled, at least it had a pulpy appeal at heart (you can't go too wrong with creepy cults) as opposed to whatever randomness RZ was tossing out. You're probably right, though, in noting that RZ's reboot gave Halloween a renewed appeal with the teen audience of today - we'll see where the series goes from here!