Saturday, August 29, 2009

The weekend of problematic horror titles

Scared of the end of summer?

Hollywood is banking on the fact that you are, which is why two studios are releasing high-profile horror sequels this weekend, opposite each other.

What else do these movies have in common? They both have titles that should make you scratch your head, at least for a moment.

First let's take Halloween II. This is supposedly the film that "completes Rob Zombie's vision" for his Halloween remakes, the first of which was released on the same weekend two years ago. (As a personal aside, this is one of only a few movies I returned to the store unwatched. I rented it while my wife was out of town on business, knowing she didn't have much interest. It didn't get watched, and I couldn't be bothered to make the time to watch it after she got back, so I just returned it.)

Now, we all get the idea of rebooting a series, and then naming the new movie the same as the first movie in the original series. Other recent examples include Friday the 13th and The Hills Have Eyes.

But doesn't it get a little conceptually goofy when the sequel in the rebooted franchise has the same name as the sequel in the original series? Halloween II (1981), meet Halloween II (2009).

So in a sense, I guess you could consider this Halloween II ... II.

When the sequel to the new The Hills Have Eyes came out, at least they had the decency to give it a different name than the original sequel. Even if it was only slightly different: The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985) vs. The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007). (The word Part has fallen out of titular fashion these days, as understood as the missing o in the contract don't).

In theory, it shouldn't be that much harder to digest than having two movies called Halloween. IMDB will list the year in the parentheses, and you'll click on the appropriate link.

So I'm trying to analyze why it isn't sitting with me as well, this Halloween II. And I think it's because we're new enough into the rebooting/remaking game that a lot of series have had the original remade, but not yet the sequel. (The Hills Have Eyes and several other prominent examples not withstanding). We're okay in theory with a classic being updated, even keeping more or less the exact same story, with a few modern details to keep things fresh.

But I don't think we're that interested in seeing an entire series play out the same way. Halloween II calling itself Halloween II makes us think that there could then be a Halloween III, which would essentially be a remake of Halloween III, and then a Halloween IV, which would essentially be a remake of Halloween IV. Even though, as mentioned above, this "completes Rob Zombie's vision," the vision of the studio heads may not feel complete if this weekend's box office is good. Then again, those potential future titles would pretty much have to diverge, because the full title for Halloween III was Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and the full title for Halloween IV (they ditched the Roman numerals at this point) was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. I doubt we'd be quite so "surprised" by the return of Michael Myers this time around.

Of course, there were two more Halloween movies before we even got to the first attempt to reboot/revisit the series, Halloween: H20, which came out in 1998 on the 20th anniversary of the first. If I see Halloween: H20 II, or Halloween: H40, come out in 2018, I'll be really concerned.

Okay, let's move on to the second movie, about which I have considerably less to say.

It's The Final Destination, the fourth in the Final Destination series, making this series an infant compared to Halloween, which today offered up its (gasp) ninth.

The most obvious problem rests there in that definite article in the title.

We won't worry about confusing search engines, which sometimes drop the word "the," considering it a superfluous term that could get numerous false hits. (Just for fun, I googled the word "the" just now, and it returned 1.2 billion hits -- which suggests to me that's probably the most hits the algorithm can handle). In one sense, this is essentially the same trick that The Fast and the Furious pulled when it rebooted/produced the fourth in its series (the debate is still open) with Fast and Furious early this year. (Check here for a complete discussion).

Except that The actually could have a different function here. It could be a reboot, yeah -- an idea supported by that that they're returning IN 3-D! (Capitalization, italics and excess enthusiasm are mine).

But it could also mean that this is THE final destination -- the ultimate destination, the last in the series. All those other ones were final destinations, sort of -- but this is THE final destination.

Kind of robs the word "final" of some of its prior power, doesn't it?

Of course, it serves the producers of this movie to be ambiguous. Hey, they've got their minds on their summer homes just like the rest of us. (For most of us, on the theoretical summer homes we one day theoretically will have). "Vision" always gives way to the chance to make more money. Ambiguity prevents them from having to commit to this really being the last chapter. Pending this weekend's box office, of course.

So will I be adding to the box office of either this weekend?

Halloween II, possibly; The Final Destination, no, but I will be in a couple weekends.

Halloween II is one of the movies playing at the drive-in this weekend. We may or may not be there tomorrow night, depending on a number of complicating factors, not the least of which are the health of my car and the health of my own person. (I'm still trying to cough out the rest of the residual phlegm). There are eight movies playing, four double features, and we aren't planning to see Zombie's movie, but you never know how things will turn out at the drive-in -- one of its chief thrills.

In a weird kind of preparation for potentially seeing it, actually, I borrowed the original Halloween from the library, which my wife hasn't seen. We may watch it tonight. I figure if we end up seeing the sequel to the movie neither of us has seen, at least we'll both have seen the original, and in that sense will have some basis for understanding what we're seeing. (How much backstory you actually need in a horror movie is, of course, debatable).

As for TFD, I have a date to see it in a couple weekends with the same friend who saw at least the second in the series, and possibly the third, with me. I'm a sucker for that 3-D. (Except when, sometimes, I'm not).

Yeah, I can attack the semantics of these movies' titles with the best of them. But do I back it up by depriving them my money?


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