Monday, September 7, 2009

Dimension's Dark Decline

Being completely outside the world of film, when it comes to the business of Hollywood, I only know what I read in the entertainment press. However, while I'm no inside authority, the news that Bob and Harvey Weinstein's Dimension Films - along with the entirety of The Weinstein Company - is facing grim times (as reported by Deadline Hollywood) has me thinking of the often-exasperating history of what began as a genre label of Miramax Films. In the early '90s, when I first started noticing the Dimension logo on films like Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (both 1992), even though the movies themselves weren't stellar, it was still encouraging to see a dedicated new provider of horror movies at a time when studios were reluctant to embrace the genre. At the time I thought, hey, give 'em a chance - these guys are bound to start putting out better films.

And from time to time, those better films did come along. Thanks to Dimension, I got to see at least one Stuart Gordon movie in the theaters (Fortress, 1993). And in 1994, they released The Crow which was pretty sweet. In the mid-'90s, they were on kind of a roll with The Prophecy (1995), Scream (1996), and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and in recent years, there's been favorites bearing their imprint like The Others (2001), Grindhouse (2007) and The Mist (2008). However, over the course of all these years, the ratio of quality to shit in Dimension's catalog has been impossible to ignore. And their handling of franchises like Children of the Corn, The Crow, Highlander, Hellraiser, and (in particular) Halloween has often been infuriating.

But history may show that the Weinstein's all-time fuck-up move was to roll the dice on Rob Zombie a second time with Halloween II. While the Weinsteins had some success with Zombie's 2007 reboot of Halloween, that film had the novelty of being the restart of the franchise - an event that was going to bring in a flock of curious fans regardless. And by telling the origin of Michael Myers, Halloween '07 also had the semblance of a story to it. But Halloween II is a disaster on nearly every level and the Weinsteins have only themselves to blame for letting it happen. Was the negative reaction to Zombie's first Halloween (not a universally negative reaction but more than enough to be a cause for concern) something they thought they could completely discount? I can't blame Rob Zombie for making Halloween II his way but I can't believe that this project ever looked to the Weinsteins like anything but a death-knell.

Maybe the debacle of Halloween II just at the moment when their company needed a big success is karma for the Weinstein's long-running abuse of the Halloween franchise (1998's Halloween: H20 being the rare Halloween under their stewardship to respect the series' history and gild its legacy rather than trash it) but regardless, making a Halloween that was only appealing to the Rob Zombie faithful looks a lot like suicide. And to put Halloween II in a game of box office chicken with The Final Destination when they could've easily moved to a more advantageous release date was just begging to lose and to lose hard.

While Zombie's sequel has found some admirers, I think most paying customers feel that Zombie fucked them in the ass and to quote The Big Lebowski (1997), "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!" What's galling about both of Zombie's Halloween movies - but II especially - is the contempt that it shows for anyone who is so conventional-minded as to actually come to the theater hoping to see a Halloween film that is suspenseful and scary. I mean, there hasn't been much luck on that front in awhile but for Zombie to at least have tried would've been sporting of him. And personally, I don't see anything in Halloween II that makes me think he did. It's not a bad film because it's not Carpenter's vision of these characters, it's bad because Zombie is a capable visual stylist who has a poor aptitude for writing.

Zombie has said that he wanted to make Laurie and Annie come off as traumatized by their previous run-in with Michael Myers but apparently the entire population of Haddonfield was also attacked by a serial killer as there's nothing to differentiate Laurie and Annie from the rest of the town. Everyone looks and talks exactly the same (and I defy anyone to tell me how the squalid living quarters of Sheriff Brackett's house looks any different from the squalid apartment of Laurie's friends, the dishevelled record store that she works at, or the trashy interior of the Rabbit In Red Lounge). If Zombie really wanted to show how Laurie and Annie have been drastically altered by their ordeal, he needed to show how their lives now contrast against the 'straight' world. To have Laurie and Annie attending college classes or working jobs side-by-side with peers who are optimistic about their lives and their futures, oblivious to the darkness that Laurie and Annie carry with them could've set up a poignant portrayal of both girls (as would the introduction of new romantic relationships, hampered by the girl's emotional baggage). But if anything, it looks as though Laurie and Annie (particularly Laurie) have finally found their niche in the world thanks to their lives taking a dark turn. It makes one wonder how these girls ever fit into the Haddonfield social scene before.

Zombie's done with Halloween now (well, at least it looks that way - remember that he swore up and down after the release of Halloween that he wouldn't do a second film) but rather than hiring Zombie and letting the chips fall where they may, I think Dimension should've shown more concern from the start towards rebooting the Halloween franchise the right way. I know some believe that Zombie should be commended for doing something different but I think his revisionist approach only put the series into a worse corner than it already was (and it didn't result in very good films, either - even if assessed strictly on their own terms). There's no reason why a venerable horror series like Halloween couldn't be relaunched with the same quality control that James Bond and Batman were shown with Casino Royale and Batman Begins (I can imagine directors like The Stepfather's Joseph Ruben or The Strangers' Bryan Bertino doing well with Halloween) but as long as companies like Dimension don't care enough to match the right talent with the right franchise, it won't happen.

And to me, that just seems like bad business.


Wings1295 said...

Bad business, indeed. They really, REALLY need to dump Zombie's history and re-reboot the franchise for this upcoming 3D flick.

Pull together what made the original films fan favorites and lose the in-your-face-look-how-cool-we-are CRAP of the new flicks.

Anonymous said...

"apparently the entire population of Haddonfield was also attacked by a serial killer as there's nothing to differentiate Laurie and Annie from the rest of the town."

Exactly. Your paragraph sums up the breadth of Zombie's style. I don't think he can go beyond his cultural mooring, which anchors his films in a perpetual trailer park/white trash from hell viewscape.

Jeff Allard said...

Wings, I'll believe another Halloween movie is on the way when they actually start filming but if it does happen I hope they do just keep Zombie's films in their own pocket universe.

Zombo, Halloween II definitely shows RZ to be a one-trick pony. To say that Laurie is going to show the after effects of her experience, fine. But really, it seems to be all about Zombie needing to stick to his faux-edgy comfort zone.

CRwM said...

It seems to me that Halloween II is far from the worst disaster to beset Weinstein and Co.

While it's performance didn't match the first Zombie film, the movie still turned a profit on opening weekend. Despite fan reaction, Halloween II worked. Further, Zombie's remakes remain among the most profitable films of the franchise. Zombie's first remake is the single most profitable Halloween film ever and the sequel has already out done the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth films. It's on target to become the fourth most profitable film in the franchise, possibly the third.

The problem with the Weinstein's corporate holdings has little to do with Rob Zombie and everything to do with the $500 million dollar debt they racked up trying to build an overnight media empire. An empire that included woefully unprofitable ventures such as the Weinsteins' fashion line. (Never heard of it? That was the problem.)

Part of that plan was buy up loads of cheapie genre flicks, films that would be distributed through Weinstein's cable and DVD arms, that could serve as a steady stream of revenue for further growth. Unfortunately, unlike Halloween II, this library has mostly turned in to a millstone around the neck of the company. An expensive and useless wasteland of unwanted crap cinema. That's the source of the dilution of the Dimension brand.

As a 100% owned original, Halloween II was actually a different beast than the pick-up Dimension fodder that helped get them in trouble.

So, now, that $500 debt comes due in less than three years and the Weinsteins have been told by Miller Buckfire, a consulting company that specializes in overleveraged companies, to cut everything out but essential resources for core competencies.

Hence the lay-offs.

Is Halloween II a crap film? Maybe.

Would it help if the Weinstein's Halloween II had been better? Sure.

Is it why the Weinstein's are in a financial sinkhole? Not at all.

As an aside, it's traditional not to open two horror films in the same weekend for fear of cutting into one another's performance. (This is the real reason why "Saw owns Halloween": Nobody benefits from splitting the potential audience.) But the Weinstein's probably hurt themselves and Final Destination by opening at the same time. Dumb moves like that probably hurt them more than anything else.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for the great comment! Halloween II may not be the worst disaster to beset the Weinsteins but it is a creative catastrophe that could've been all too easily avoided. While RZ's Halloweens have turned a profit, I think the Weinstein's would've had better results with a less revisionist approach as I think RZ's take on the series ultimately alienated too much of the fanbase.

Had RZ's first Halloween been more popular (not just profitable but actually popular), his sequel wouldn't have had any problem beating the original's opening weekend (no matter what the competition) rather than coming in far short of that number. I think most people took a chance on the first film, in the hopes of seeing the series come back strong, didn't care for what they saw and didn't come back for the second. And many of those that did return are feeling even more burned by the sequel. The segment of the audience that liked RZ's take on Halloween is a pretty small percentage and any further installments of the series will have to essentially start from scratch - not exactly what you want to do after just rebooting a franchise.

Had they gotten off on the right foot to begin with, the new Halloween series ideally could've been still-thriving rather than already in need of a new direction after just two films.

Monster Mike said...

"I know some believe that Zombie should be commended for doing something different..."

In my opinion, I didn't see anything Zombie hasn't done before in his earlier films. The style, the mood and even the dialogue felt like it belonged in House of 1000 corpses. And would someone explain to me why he is so afraid of poor people?

Jeff Allard said...

Mike, I guess I should've clarified that a lot of people think that RZ should be commended for doing something different than what others have previously done with the Halloween films, not different from the style he had already developed. As for his attitude towards poor people, I'm not sure if he's actually afraid of them as I don't know how he'd have any characters in his movies without them!