Okay, technically it opened in August, but that just wasn’t as catchy. And it doesn’t change the fact that no sooner do I run a bit about the critical and financial woes of the brothers Weinstein than their very next pic opens at the top of the weekend box office with $31 million over four days from 3,472 theatres for a $9k average (shattering Transporter 2‘s Labor Day weekend record of $20 million). On top of which, their upcoming period drama Elizabeth: The Golden Age is getting some serious Oscar buzz, in spite of being a completely unnecessary sequel to director Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth.
Maybe Cuba Gooding Jr.’s in for a career up tick, too. He does have a part in American Gangster (although he’s nowhere to be found in the trailer). But back to Halloween. I was able to check it out this weekend (you’re not really surprised, are you?), and while it certainly doesn’t approach Carpenter’s original, writer/director Rob Zombie succeeds in putting his own stamp on it, and the film’s financial success bodes well for his future.
Gone, of course, is all of Carpenter’s subtlety and much of his ability to build suspense with those long, sustained takes of classic slasher Michael Myers just standing there in that eerily emotionless mask. Zombie’s version comes complete with a much more impressive body count, gallons more blood, and a visceral approach to the violence that both helps and hurts the film.
But his most unique move in brining this “re-imagining” to the screen is what he does with it structurally. The first two-thirds of the film focuses on Michael’s childhood, where we find him raised not by the two straight-laced yuppies seen at the end of the original’s prologue, but rather by a stripper mother (Zombie’s wife, Sherri), an abusive and lecherous step-father (William Forsythe), and a sluttish older sister.
And, of course, a baby sister who- as fans of the series already know- grows up to be the oft terrorized Laurie Strode.
When considered with his previous pics, House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, not to mention his work as a musician, Zombie has a twisted, funhouse-mirror version of Americana that makes this section of the movie very much his own. To Carpenter, what was scary was the Myers came from a normal, Leave It to Beaver-type home. Zombie re-imagines that as a home we’re more likely to associate with a serial killer, but what’s scary is that he seems to feel such environments are far more common than we’d like to admit, and I for one think he may have a point.
Which may be why the film loses so much steam when switching gears so radically so far into the movie. The last third is basically a compressed version of the original Halloween, and Zombie has no choice but to spend a little time unconvincingly portraying Lorie’s idyllic home life with two loving parents, babysitting precocious kids, and generally waiting for her psychotic older brother to make things interesting again (in one of the few departures from the original, Zombie does have Myers pay a visit to Laurie’s parents, perhaps as a way of destroying that suburban cultural stereotype).
All of this is just to say that Halloween is an interesting film, though maybe not terribly good. Still, it’s financial success will keep the Weinsteins afloat for a bit longer, and hopefully give Rob Zombie time to deliver on his promise as a filmmaker (man, I never thought I’d be typing that ten years ago, but even in his pan, the NY Times’ Matt Zoller Seitz calls Zombie a “sociologist who happens to make horror movies: the John Cassavetes of splatter.”).
In second place was Sony’s late-summer sleeper Superbad with $15.6 million and a $92 million total. People have written just about everything there is to write about this one, but I would only add that star Michael Cera is getting more good buzz from Jason Reitman’s Juno, which is playing festivals right now, and may be the one to emerge from Superbad as a star. Opening in third was Balls of Fury with a lackluster but not dismal $13.8 million from 3,052 screens for a $4.5k average, giving it $16.7 million since its Wednesday opening. Not bad, but well below similar pics like Dodgeball. Studios seem to be scrambling for programmers these days, and I’m glad that audiences aren’t making it too easy on them.
The Bourne Ultimatum crossed the $200 million dollar mark by earning $13 million to land in fourth place and raising its total to $202 million (percentage drops are basically moot given the four day weekend, but Bourne continues to hold up well and will eclipse Supremacy as the biggest earner of the series worldwide). Mr. Bean’s Holiday certainly isn’t drawing in North American audiences the way it did overseas, but it still brought in $8 million in its second weekend and raised it’s total to $21 million.
The Nanny Diaries continues to disappoint for MGM and the Weinsteins, finishing seventh after earning $6 million and raising its total to $16 million. Star Scarlett Johansson is losing steam fast as well, and her predilection for period pieces is only going to make it worse (see her upcoming The Other Boleyn Girl, not to mention the title role in Mary, Queen of Scots, roles better left to the more gifted Keira Knightley).
Faring even worse, though, was Death Sentence, which opened in eighth place with just $5 million from 1,822 screens for a $2.8k average. And with that, director James Wan is done, folks. After bursting onto the scene with the original Saw, he followed it up with the dismal Dead Silence, which brought in a whopping $15 million, but still got a shot at a non-horror flick. After this opening (and equally withering reviews), he’ll never make anything other than horror flicks, and my guess is he won’t get more than two cracks at that before being relegated to the direct-to-video market. It’s too bad, as I thought he brought a certain visual panache to Saw, but as we say here at moviegasm, that’s the power of the box office.
War followed in ninth place with $5 million in its second week, bringing the total to a weak $17.9 million. That’s bad news for Lionsgate, who now has a lot riding on Saw IV, which is not a position I would like to be in. Finally, in tenth place, is the criminally mishandled Stardust, which was one of only two films to climb in the percentages (the other was Bourne; hey, I said they were basically moot). It brought in another $3.9 million, making its total $31 million after 4 weeks in the top ten. A note to studio heads: don’t hold this against Matthew Vaughn (or Neil Gaiman, for that matter); it was Paramount that botched this.
So that about wraps it up for this week. Tune in next week when The Brothers Solomon brings an end to Will Arnett’s short-lived feature film career, and to see who wins the real showdown between James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Michael Davis’s Shoot ‘Em Up. See you then.