Sunday, September 09, 2007

I'm Big Joe Grizzley.

One of the most telling moments in the Rob Zombie canon is the scene in The Devil's Rejects where a grizzled, hypermasculine lawman threatens to beat the snot out of a geeky, trivia-spouting movie critic. Zombie invites us to laugh with the sheriff as he attacks the movie geek, even though he clearly identifies with the latter. This masochism is a trait shared by many die-hard horror fans - those of us who were more likely to spend a summer day reading the newest Fangoria than playing sports or whatever - and it also explains why Zombie prefers to make his monsters the protagonists of his films. Note, for instance, that the cast of Halloween, Zombie's remake of the John Carpenter classic, is filled with famous cinematic killers, as if they'd assembled to pay tribute to iconic slasher Michael Myers. Zombie portrays Myers as a pasty young metalhead who grows up to be a hulking, unstoppable killing machine. It's a huge departure from the original's conception of a blank embodiment of pure nothingness; the resulting tension accounts for the film's worst moments as well as its best ones, but Halloween is never less than fascinating.

The brief backstory Carpenter gave us fills the film's first half, as we're introduced to Michael Myers as a young boy quietly torturing animals in his bedroom as his pole-dancing mom (Sherri Moon Zombie) and bullying stepdad (William Forsythe, just a tad overstated) scream at each other downstairs. Before long, mom is talking to Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, having a blast) about Michael's puppy-killing activities, which Loomis warns are a sign of "much bigger problems." But it's too late - Michael soon kill half of his family, leaving mom and his beloved baby sister alive. These early scenes, and Michael's subsequent institutionalization under Loomis' care, are sleazily effective; while Zombie cites traditional characteristics of serial killers, the soundtrack, performances and excellent cinematography by Phil Parmet give the film a heightened reality, threatening to veer into camp before hitting us with some spookily well-realized moments of sudden, brutal violence.

In Halloween's most gleefully sick moment, Zombie cuts between mom at work and a dejected young Michael Myers sitting alone with nobody to take him trick-or-treating, scored to Nazareth's "Love Hurts" - it's not supposed to make us empathize with the killer so much as briefly occupy his deeply deranged state of mind. Zombie adapts an agnostic perspective where Carpenter is almost religious, yet both directors at the same conclusion, the idea of evil as something incomprehensible that we attempt to contain on Halloween (and with scary movies) by infantilizing our fears. While Zombie couldn't be more stylistically different from Carpenter, they share an innate understanding of the elements of the genre, namely a romantic concept of horror as a eulogy for all things lost (note the repeated menstrual imagery). In its own way, Zombie's Halloween is as much a postmodern exploration of its predecessor as Gus Van Sant's Psycho. So if you hated Psycho, take that as a warning. But I, for one, admire Zombie's attempt to make Michael Myers representative of more than action figures and cell phone ringtones, and as dramatically different as Halloween 2007 is, it ultimately honors the original far more than another generic retread.

Halloween does stumble in its second half, as Michael escapes from the institution (easily the film's worst scene, although it's redeemed minutes later by an awesome Ken Foree cameo) and stalks his now-grown baby sister and her friends on Halloween night. Here, Zombie mimics scenes and even borrows dialogue from the original, which only serves to remind us of what a perfect film the original is. I began to miss Carpenter's austere compositions and elegant tracking shots, his labyrinthine conception of suburbia. This wouldn't matter as much if Zombie had stuck with the tone and style established in the first half; instead, he can't seem to decide between paying homage or making the material his own. The rushed approach also shortchanges the characters; although Scout Tyler-Compton (in the role that made Jamie Lee Curtis famous) is cute as a button, she and her costars aren't give much of a chance to make an impression (although it's strange to watch the Shape kill a topless, bloodied Danielle Harris).

Ultimately, Halloween sort of falls apart in a series of blaring music cues, property destruction, and bizarre references to Blade Runner. Still, in incorporating the brother-sister twist from Halloween II with a resonance that even Carpenter wasn't able to pull off, Zombie does give his film an unexpected psychological resonance. Halloween 2007 isn't the travesty it's been made out to be - it's a fascinating experiment, not entirely sucessful, but one that takes its boogeyman very seriously. I can't guarantee that you won't hate it, but it's a hell of a lot better than Halloween 6.

You can find more Myers-related goodness over at Final Girl's Film Club.


Nigoki: said...

That poster looks rather familiar...

Anonymous said...

I didn't really like this movie: the backstory was rather cliche in my eyes, but yeah, I admire Rob for tryin something

Anonymous said...

I agree about it falling apart in the second half. Part of the problem seems to be that Zombie makes Michael out to be 100% human. That makes some of the later scenes less credible, including the obvious question of how he found his sister without some sort of built in demonic DNA sniffing GPS. It's too bad, because I really, really want to love this movie and I'm having a hard time even liking it. :(