Looking at Speculative Fiction from Another Dimension.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a Kick A$$ Remake!

*Filled with SPOILERS!  Proceed at your own risk.*

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“The Darkest souls are not those which choose to exist within the hell of the abyss, but those which choose to break free from the abyss and move silently among us.”

Excerpt from “The Devil’s Eyes – The Story of Michael Myers” by Dr. Samuel Loomis

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And so begins the script as well as the actual film of Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

In previous posts, I’ve done my best to talk about the whole “John Carpenter’s Halloween should never have been remade – but it has been remade so let’s get on with the discussion” sentiment already.  If you’re interested, you can read that whole argument over at “Rob Zombie’s Halloween: Saviour of Horror”.  Feel free to comment on it over at the IMDb or something, but in this discussion we’ve moved on.

In preparation for going to see Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I’ve been watching “Halloween: Hell and Horror In Haddonfield . . . The Whole Bloody Story of the Night HE Came Home!”  As perfect of a gem as John Carpenter’s Halloween is as a film – in a full on Geek comic book continuity kind of way – I really dig watching this amalgamated version of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Halloween:   The TV Cut, and Rick Rosenthal’s brutal sequel – Halloween II.  For those of you wondering – just to clarify – “Halloween: Hell and Horror In Haddonfield . . . The Whole Bloody Story of the Night HE Came Home!” is a fan preservation edit combining all possible versions of that one night in Haddonfield.  It encompassed the totality of two films as well as additional footage shot for television.  I am Geek – hear me roar – just keep your fingers away from my mouth.  Heh.

The outcry of the fan community over this remake of John Carpenter’s undeniable classic has reached new heights of absurdity.  Since day one – when the remake was announced – too many fans have been pissing and moaning over the loss of their favorite childhood horror film.  They’ve been lamenting as though there were only enough room in the universe for one Halloween film and all previous copies of John Carpenter’s slasher pioneer were going to disintegrate into the aether.  I’m here to thankfully report that is not the case!  Reports of Rob Zombie’s Halloween being made from anti-matter were entirely untrue!  You can still watch the original without fear of harm.  John Carpenter’s seminal dead teen movie is still out there – playing hard and strong and you can enjoy it any time you want.

The good news is that musician, writer, and director, Rob Zombie was given the golden ticket to update John Carpenter’s amazing film for the current generation.    Update it he did – but along the way he had to deal with an assortment of trials outside the normal range of complications that arise during the course of a film’s production.  External conflicts saw protesting fans burning him in effigy across the Internet.   If that wasn’t enough, there were reports of fans showing up at actual locations to protest during filming!  If this had happened on one of my sets, we would have picked up a few sharp instruments of destruction and the world would have been short a few moronic fans – and been much better off for it.

Adding insult to early injury, someone actually leaked a copy of the script onto the Internet.  No one had any idea which draft of the script this was – or if anything in it would even appear in the final film – but it was accepted by the horror community as the final shooting script.  Beyond that, this script, which upon seeing the movie and THEN reading the script I can only surmise must have been a very early draft, was used to review the unfinished and as yet unfilmed motion picture by proxy!  WTF, people?

As if all of the trials and tribulations that Zombie had endured up to this point were not quite enough – a mere five days before the film was scheduled to hit the theaters – a work print (IE:  unfinished) version of Halloween (2007) was leaked onto the Internet.  Hit the sign and cue the haters because now a new wave of reviews hit the Net – judging the final version of the film based on an unfinished work print.  I fear of getting into retread territory – but again – WTF people?  Be patient, watch the film in theaters and review it with an unclouded mind instead of predisposing oneself to hate the work by studying the blueprints that went into making it. Now, as fans, we all like to enjoy films differently – so I’m not saying that reading the script before seeing the movie is necessarily a bad thing – but when that personal satisfaction crosses into the realm of professional and artistic critiquing of an unfinished work – bad things happen.

All filmmakers know that a movie is made three times, first in the script, second in the film and lastly during the editing.  All three versions could be wildly different.  Sometimes lines in the script do not conform to the act of filmmaking as expected.  Sometimes entire scenes filmed and completed in editing have a detrimental effect on the film and despite being an entertaining scene – they have to be dropped for pacing reasons.  The script, the filming and the editing work in confluence to create a new entity in the form of the final version of the film.  It is premature to judge a film based on scripts or work-prints as we simply do not know what a film will feel like until we watch the final version.

All of the early reviews for Rob Zombie’s Halloween seem uniformly negative.  No matter which site you navigate to in search of early reviews for Rob Zombie’s Halloween, they all seem to dislike the film.  I’m glad that I got the chance to see the film at an advance screening on Thursday night.  I had already formed my own opinion based on viewing Rob Zombie’s new slasher opus – and I freaking loved it!!!  Yes, that called for three exclamation points.

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I’m going to quote a variety of reviews from the various horror sites around the Web.  We’ll hear  everything from Bloody Disgusting to Fangoria, Dread Central, to Shock Til You Drop.  I’ll also indirectly address many of the negative comments spreading across the horror message boards of the Internet like flies on a bowl of rotted rice.

http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/review/591

Reviews from Bloody Disgusting describe the film as “half “typical” remake, resulting in a film that could be described at best unfocused and at worst, pointless.”

http://www.dreadcentral.com/index.php?name=Reviews&req=showcontent&id=1608

According to Dread Central, they weren’t much more enamored of the film:

“Just about every theatrical, ham-fisted speech we hear from Malcolm McDowell’s Dr Loomis serves as a fair description of the new Halloween: It’s a hollow bastard child that fails to elicit any emotion whatsoever.”

Elaborating further Dread Central explains;

“If it sounds like I’m describing two different movies, then you’ve cut to the heart of Halloween’s problems. Not only do the halves suffer massive gaps in logic and tone, neither story gets enough time to have any real impact. ”

I’m not sure what these reviewers built their expectations upon – but I feel that I may have been looking at the film a bit differently.  Going in, I did my best to avoid the myriad of spoiler information across the Net.  I did see the preview in the theaters at one point and thought it looked pretty good – but didn’t see anything spectacular.  Beyond that, I had no further insight into the plot or themes.

Then, the poster was released.  It was seen everywhere at this year’s Horrorfind convention and it looked phenomenal!  From a distance, the hulking silhouette of Michael Myers lurks over the landscape.  Closer examination reveals the mask of Michael Myers hidden in the clouds around him.  Even closer examination reveals the mask as a montage of scenes from the new film.  The colors burned like a fire on the horizon.  Rob Zombie’s Halloween accomplished Step One of the movie going experience.  It gave us a kick azz poster to look at!  At the top of the poster – in clear white letters was the tagline;

“Evil has a destiny”

I used this tagline as the context for my Halloween viewing experience.  This film wasn’t about some kid named Michael Myers – it was about Evil.  We’re talking about pure unadulterated evil as a malefic entity that lives through all men (and women) in some form or another.

Now let’s see what this all means.

Evil is defined as “that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune.”

The “Evil” this tagline is referring to must be Michael Myers’ murderous actions.

Destiny is defined as “an event [or course of events] that will inevitably happen in the future.”

Clearly this tagline warns us that the events to come are unavoidable and will no doubt cause harm and misfortune to a  great many people.  Fans familiar with the classic film already know the event that will happen to Michael Myers is the event of one murderous Halloween night – as portrayed in John Carpenter’s seminal slasher film Halloween.

On the eighth page of the Halloween screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Dr. Loomis has a line; “it’s all right now.  He’s gone.  The evil is gone!”  John Carpenter established fairly early that his film is about Evil.  Rob Zombie seems to be on the right track by following Carpenter’s lead – into Evil territory.

The reviewers at the popular (although I prefer Bastards of Horror, Bloodtype Online, and Horror Bob’s Horror Review) horror review sites such as Dread Central and Bloody-Disgusting, state that the film is uneven ,unfocused, and void of emotional content.  As established by John Carpenter’s work upon which this film is clearly and dutifully based –  this film is focused on Evil.  The continuous rebirth of the Boogeyman is the dramatic thru-line of the film.  It is used to build an oppressive atmosphere of dread in preparation for the final series of murderous events on that fateful night in Haddonfield.  It says so – right on the poster.  That is Rob Zombie’s mission statement – to bring you John Carpenter’s Halloween through that same lens – the lens of Evil.

Rob Zombie all but tells us that he is paying full respect to John Carpenter’s Halloween.  We learn right away with the use of Carpenter’s original score to highlight several scenes.  This homage/respect continues right up until the Haddonfield finale when many shots from John Carpenter’s original film are recreated at a fevered pace.  This is all the work of a director that, at heart, is truly a fan and wants to remind everyone of how effective a horror film that John Carpenter’s Halloween really is.

Although people are citing that Zombie’s Halloween starts almost like a prequel to Carpenter’s film – and  rightly so it would seem – they do seem to overlook one crucial piece of information –  Rob Zombie decides to start his movie at the exact same point in Michael Myers’ life as did John Carpenter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prequel

From Wikipedia:

“A prequel is a work that portrays events which include the structure, conventions, and/or characters of a previously completed narrative, but occur at an earlier time. “

The designation “prequel” denotes that events start at an earlier time period than as depicted in prior films.  In the context of fitting into the existing continuity of prior works of cinematic fiction, the film generally starts a number of years before the events established in prior films.  By that definition, Rob Zombie’s film could not be classified as a prequel.  Zombie starts telling his story at the same point Carpenter did – he just stays with Myers through the years, whereas Carpenter cuts away to Haddonfield 15 years later.

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John Carpenter opens his movie with the long tracking shot through the Myers’ house culminating in a young Clown masked Michael Myers stabbing his sister to death and being discovered by his parents (?) in the drive way.  Rob Zombie’s film opens in the same time-frame using the opening events in Haddonfield to fill in the details of the night Michael killed his sister.

According to Fangoria, “Zombie’s mission statement with his HALLOWEEN has been to explore the background of silent stalker Michael Myers, and so the movie opens by plunking us down in the midst of his horrifically dysfunctional childhood. ”

I don’t know if I’ve read or heard Rob Zombie say that his mission was to explore the background of Michael Myers – rather I believe I heard him say he was exploring the background of the OS (that’s “Original Slasher” for those of you in the know) implying that only as a means to an end – not as an end unto itself.  The reason d’etre of these early background scenes is not to show you which posters Michael Myers had on his wall at age 10, (incidentally the kid’s posters include Bruce Lee – so he can’t be all that bad.) but to show us the ever elusive shape of Evil.  This isn’t about what Michael Myers got for Christmas in 1978 – this is about finding the form of The Shape.

The Shape as described in John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s screenplay, “Through a front window, we see Laurie bending over the welcome mat. Suddenly a dark shape, the outline of a man, leans forward, watching her. As she walks back to Tommy at the street the shape moves to watch them, then fades back into the interior of the house.”

When we first meet Michael Myers, his face is covered in a creepy clown MASK as he plays with his pet rat.  Rob Zombie’s script describes him as;

“MICHAEL MYERS (10), a blonder stringy haired AWKWARD kid dressed in dirty jeans and a faded BLACK SABBATH concert t-shirt.”

The film opens a bit differently as Michael’s face is already covered by the unflinching clown visage.  The MASK – as we will come to see – is a telling aspect as to identifying the thematic resonance of Michael Myers.  Said theme as the poster tells us – is Evil.

The film cuts away to show Myers’ Mother arguing with her live-in lover over breakfast in the kitchen.  They live in squalor as is apparent by their surroundings.  Judith Myers is the rebellious teen sister who brings the film quickly back to Michael Myers.  She begrudgingly goes to his room to inform Michael of breakfast – to find him locked in the bathroom.  His hands are covered in dark red blood and he scrubs them furiously in the sink.   One thing has not changed – his mask is still squarely in place – warning us of the true nature of Michael Myers.

During the short time we spent listening to his mother and Ronnie yelling, Michael violently killed his own pet – the same one we saw him lovingly caressing during his introduction.  It wasn’t clear to me by what means Michael had killed the creature – as it happened off-screen.  He might have slit it’s throat or possibly just twisted it’s head until it popped off.  The possibilities were varied.  Zombie was leaving the task of replaying the exact method of death  up to us as the viewers.  There are many explicit and graphic scenes of violence in this film – but there are also little moments like this where Zombie goes with the implied horror approach, allowing the viewer to recreate the unseen events in their minds. Zombie makes the viewer complicit with Myer’ actions from the beginning.

We see Michael Myers in his mask, but not much of him without a mask.  I think the MASK is the key to understanding the Evil that infects Michael Myers.

I saw the crux of the film in determining at which point in the film could the young Michael Myers have been saved from his life of Evil?  Michael only appears innocent when we first meet him – but it is soon revealed that he has been committing acts of murder and vivisection for quite some time.  We watch as Michael goes to school (without his mask) and is confronted by a bully.  We want to side with Michael against this bully.  He insults Michael and even brandishes a photo of Michael’s mother nude  in an advertisement for her job at the strip club.  We want to sympathize with Michael and believe that  if this bully had not pushed Michael that much closer to the edge that he could have been saved.  Perhaps by avoiding one single step towards darkness, Myers’ fate might have been averted.

With a few small changes, he could have rebuked a life of senseless killing and enjoyed the life a child was supposed to.  Then we remember the slaughtered pet from the opening minutes of the film.  We cannot sympathize with Myers even at this early stage.  Michael confronts the bully after school – ambushing him in the woods.  Michael appears brandishing a large tree limb wielded with violent precision – his face covered in the colored rictus of insanity that is the CLOWN MASK.  Michael was young – but he was not innocent – not now – and quite possibly had not been innocent for a very long time.  He was long gone into Evil by now and he was going to show us.  The MASK was back on his face and his true nature is revealed as he batters the crying, ultimately remorseful bully into a bloody pulp.

As in John Carpenter’s Halloween, Michael goes on to slaughter most of his family – leading to his incarceration at Smith’s Grove.  The events in-between his introduction and the murder of his family are not that important.  What is important is to note his psychological state at the time of the events.  We don’t have too much detective work to do in order to figure out Michael’s psychological state as it is on constant display in the form of his MASKS.  Some would say that the CLOWN MASK seems happy and cheerful – in direct opposition to the dark destructive nature of The Shape.  We’ll get into the significance of the CLOWN MASK later on.

It was important to note that Myers seemed to be spawned from the lowest working class of humanity – but the film makes no attempts to use that as an excuse.  Coming from a rather rural area of North Carolina, the dynamic of the Myers family is one that I have seen repeated on numerous occasions.  Trailer parks across the state re-enact these scenes on a regular basis.  His living situation is abusive, and dysfunctional but it is not entirely new.  Families like this litter the American landscape in the poorer sections of the country.  These unfortunate situations serve as fertile grounds for birthing potential serial killers.  It is a wonder that we are not dealing with a nation of Michael Myers.

In some ways, the dysfunctional Myers Family recalls the history of the Great American psychopath next door.  The torturing and maiming of animals immediately recalls the childhood tales of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  Some elements of Michael Myers’ life bear a resemblance to the early home life of notable American serial killer Ed Gein.  Like Myers, Gein lived in a house with an abusive father figure.  Like Myers, Gein went on to murder innocent victims.  Whereas Ed Gein would skin recently exhumed women and fashion masks of human skin – Michael Myers would find expression for the Evil through the various masks he used to cover his face.  The masks created by these serial killers are an external manifestation of the Evil within.  The Evil that Michael taps into is older than he or anyone else realizes.  It is ancient and it is primal – it is man’s propensity for violence and destruction.  The Evil is such an intrinsic part of humanity that it often finds avatars of pure expression to carry out their demands.  Sometimes these boogeymen of the purest Evil walk the earth leaving only fear and destruction in their wake.  We know them by many names: Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Adolph Hitler.  They know only Evil.  Michael Myers appears to be a Boogeyman of the highest order.

Wikipedia defines a serial killer as:

“A serial killer is someone who murders three or more people in three or more separate events over a period of time . [1] Many serial killers suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder and not psychosis, and thus appear to be quite normal and often even charming, a state of adaptation which Hervey Cleckley calls the “mask of sanity.”

“The Mask of Sanity is distinguished by its central thesis, that the psychopath exhibits normal function according to standard psychiatric criterion, yet privately engages in destructive behavior.”

In the script, Zombie has the young Michael engaging in various sexually frustrating situations – such as when his sister catches him masturbating.  In the script it seems much more apparent that the source of Michael’s perversions were sexually motivated.  The script involves further scenes of the young Myers with pornography.  The scene where he attacks his sister opens with him fondling her breasts.  Zombie wisely chose to fall back a bit from these obvious and literal interpretations of Michael’s sexual frustrations.  Zombie leaves just enough room for questions as to open the entire film up to the debate over Myers’ possible motivations.

Did Michael Myers go crazy because his mom was a stripper?  Did he go crazy because he saw his sister making out with her boyfriend?  Did he go crazy because his abusive step-father beat him?  Or did he start killing animals as soon as he could walk?  Was the Evil implanted and imprinted upon his person by his dysfunctional family?  Or was the Evil always hiding inside waiting for a chance to get out?  The discussions are there to be had.  If there’s one thing horror fans unanimously agree upon – it’s that they love to disagree with each other – so this film should provide fodder for discussion for years to come.

According to Cleckley, the serial killer would seem outwardly normal and perhaps even innocent – much like our cherubic young Michael Myers – but that level of outward interaction is merely a facade.  The true feelings of the psychopath remain hidden deep inside.  Rob Zombie chooses to have Myers bring those inner feelings to the forefront through the use of MASKS.    As is eventually actualized – the CLASSIC SHAPE MASK – as it is referred to in Zombie’s script – represents Myers’ eventual destiny.  More than portending the future, the CLASSIC SHAPE MASK informs the viewers of Michael Myers’ murderous intentions.

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The Dictionary of Symbolism by Hans Biedermann explains the symbolism of masks;

“In nonliterate as well as in highly civilized cultures, (masks serve as) expressions of the presence of supernatural entities.  The person wearingthe mask feels internally transformed and takes on temporarily the qualities of the god or demon represented by the mask.”

Like his spiritual ancestor, Ed Gein fashioning masks made of human flesh, Michael Myers’ masks all represent the same thing. . . Evil.

The first mask we see Michael wearing is a CLOWN MASK.  The clown has often been an image associated with terror.

From Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror:

“The great silent horror actor Lon Chaney Sr once said, “A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?”

“Robert Block, the author of Psycho, agreed with Chaney: “That, to me, is the essence of true horror – the clown at midnight.  Horror is something peculiar to the individual – a small child’s (and quite frequently an adult’s) fear of the dark . . . and most particularly the phantoms of the imagination that populate the dark.  The fear of a human being who doesn’t act, think or look like a human being.”

Doesn’t act, think or look like a human being?  That sounds an awful lot like The Shape.

There’s a point in the script, which at this point, I can only conclude is a very early version of the script as all the Smith’s Grove scenes in the actual film differ considerably from it, at which Dr. Loomis discusses Michael’s masks.

LUKE
“What’s with the mask?”

LOOMIS
(sighs)
The mask. . .  the mask.“

(takes a deep breath)
. . . well, by that point he was a mask.  There was no conventional form of communication left.  All there was were those fucking masks.

LUKE
“I don’t follow.  What’s the significance of the masks?”

LOOMIS
“Michael created hundreds of these masks.”

LUKE
“How so?”

LOOMIS
“Well, he’d wear one mask when he was hungry, one when he was tired, one when he had to shit, one when he was just staring off into space thinking. . .

(puts picture away)

…that boy was the great mystery slash failure of my career.”

This dialogue between Luke and Loomis was actually cut from the final film.  I wonder if it didn’t point a little too much to the nose.  I  personally believe that Zombie chose to keep the mask discussion at a more subtextual level as in his discussion about the color black.  In effect by not making a literal interpretation of Myers’ masks, Zombie leaves that open to interpretation by the viewer.  The mask of Michael Myers represents his manifestation as the Shape – while the masks themselves constantly changed appearance lending themselves to many variations – much like the multiplicity of incarnations  of The Shape itself – changing bodies throughout the centuries.

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The most important conversation in the film is a seemingly innocuous one from the middle of the film in the Smith’s Grove scenes.  Loomis and Michael talk about his mask.  The mask he is wearing at the time is a black amorphous block with thin tears in the paper for his eyes, and mouth.  The whole thing seems about three sizes too big for his face.  It is colored black with strong violent strokes from a crayon.  Dr. Loomis and young Michael discuss this mask.  McDowell’s Samuel Loomis explains to Michael, “Black is the absence of light.”  This is basically a discussion of Michael Myers as the Shadow archetype.  This scene reflexively discusses the Myers incarnation as the Shape.  The Shape serves as the Shadow archetype in the film’s psychological architecture.

The Shadow refers to Jungian archetypes.

From Wikipedia:

“Archetypes are innate universal pre-conscious psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic themes of human life emerge. Being universal and innate, their influence can be detected in the form of myths, symbols and psychic aptitudes of human beings the world over. The archetypes are components of the collective unconscious and serve to organize, direct and inform human thought and behaviour.”

From The Portable Jung edited by Joseph Campbell, “Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during the individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning.”

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort.  To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.”

Simply put – there is a reason that Bad Guys wear black all the world over.  Darth Vader. Krug Stillo.  Michael Myers.  The bad guy archetype of the Shadow manifests itself in every culture in many shapes and forms – but it is always recognizable as the face of Evil.

[url]http://www.fangoria.com/ghastly_review.php[/url]

In his review at Fangoria, Michael Gingold states, “Giving Michael (Myers) such a specifically human backstory renders all the discussion of “the bogeyman” superfluous, since he’s not a malefic specter of darkness, just a very strong guy with a very damaged mind and a very big knife.”

Daeg Faerch  was an interesting choice to play the young Michael Myers.  His face is so cherubic and innocent – that it reminds us that “there but for the grace of God go I.”  Myers’ angelic appearance disarms us in preparation for his reprehensible actions to come.  Myers tapped into something primal at a very young age.  At one point we can’t help but feel sympathy towards the young Micahel Myers as he sits alone on the streets Halloween night as Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” plays over the soundtrack.  His mother abandoned him for work and his sister was too busy making out with her boyfriend to be bothered with Michael’s whereabouts.  Was he born into it?  Perhaps?  Was he forced into it?  Perhaps.  Or was he going to choose all along to probe into it?

Mr. Gingold states that the human backstory renders the “boogeyman” aspects of Michael Myers superfluous.  I have demonstrated how the entire film acts as a discussion of the Boogeyman as the presence of the Shape is ever manifest in the form of those MASKS.  The Boogeyman may not have always been from Haddonfield, but Michael Myers has always been the Boogeyman.  If the entire film is a discussion of Myers as the Boogeyman as manifested silently through his masks and violently through his actions, then how is it possible to render the discussion of the Boogeyman superfluous?  The entire film is built around that premise.  It works towards one definable goal – to present Haddonfield with an Evil boogeyman that it cannot deny.

Here is another excerpt from the script:

LOOMIS
“Take a look at that face. . . I first met Michael seventeen year ago.  I saw a boy with nothing left, no conscience, no reason, no understanding, in even the most rudimentary sense . . . of life or death or right or wrong.”

BRACKETT
“You make him sound like a machine.”

LOOMIS
“He is. A perfect killing machine. . .
blank, cold emotionless and the eyes. . .”

BRACKETT
“The eyes?”

LOOMIS
“He had the blackest of eyes, the Devil’s eyes.  I spent ten years trying to reach him and another seven trying to keep him locked away when I realized what was living behind that boy’ eyes
was purely and simply . . .

BRACKETT
“What?”

LOOMIS
“Evil.”

Myers is beyond being a mere murderer, he passed into the realm of sororicide and fratricide.  That’s just a fancy way of saying he killed his sister and father.  Technically, Ronnie was not Michael’s father but he currently plays the role of the mean father.  Michael has passed down the mythic roads by murdering his family.  He joins the likes of Oedipus who also slew his own father.  He is beyond redemption – reviled by fate.  He is the walking, breathing embodiment of Evil.

The only survivors of his onslaught are his infant sister and his mother who only just returned from work after the events had taken place.  Just as with the opening scene in John Carpenter’s film, Myers is still covered by his mask – this time by the CLASSIC SHAPE MASK from the original Halloween film.

When Michael wore one of his many masks – only his eyes ever showed through them.  All his facial features and expressions were hidden – but his eyes turned black and cold like a shark’s eyes.

There is a line in the script which explains Loomis’ diagnosis for Michael Myers;

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“Those eyes don’t lie . . . those eyes have stopped living. . . the so-called windows to the soul are dead.”

I’m looking through the script now – and I don’t remember any of this dialogue in the movie.  All of the scenes with Myers and Loomis were altered drastically.  Their conversations were fairly short and concise in the film version.  Loomis asks Michael about his sister and the night she was killed.  Michael remarks that he doesn’t remember what happened that night.  That’s about as deep as their conversations seemingly go.

There seems to have arisen a rather apocryphal rumor on the Internet that Rob Zombie’s movie falls apart because it explains why Michael Myers becomes a killer.  I went into the film thinking about this as it was a common complaint throughout the months leading up to the film’s release.  I’m not trying to be funny by saying this – but I defy anyone to point out the exact moment in the film when Michael Myers explained why he became a killer.  You can cut and paste from the leaked script if you like – but it is not a final version and no such dialogue went into the final cut of the film.  Zombie’s film shows us the events of Myers’ childhood and shows us many possibilities and factors that went into his creation – but he leaves that moment of genesis entirely up to us.

Let’s look at the psychology and development of serial killers as described at Wikipedia for a specific explanation of the origin of serial killers,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_killers

“Serial killers are specifically motivated by a variety of psychological urges, primarily power and sexual compulsion. They often have feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, sometimes owing to humiliation and abuse in childhood and/or the pressures of poverty and low socioeconomic status in adulthood, and their crimes compensate for this and provide a sense of potency and often revenge, by giving them a feeling of power, both at the time of the actual killing and afterwards.”

So if we take this definition of the origins of serial killer-dom – then we can begin to see where Rob Zombie places the onus of creation.  Zombie shows us many factors that no doubt helped shape (forgive the spun) Michael Myers’ destiny – but at the same time – Zombie confirms nothing.  As in his avoidance of literal interpretation of Michael’s MASKS, Zombie’s silence regarding the inciting incident of his dark childhood leaves it open to a realm of interpretations.  The Shape is given form in Zombie’s film – but it is never tied down – allowing it to remain potent, mythological, and ever changing.

Some reviewers fall victim to thinking that Zombie built his scenes in early Haddonfield to create fear in the viewers by forcing them to contemplate the shocking actions of this young child.  Well that’s their first mistake, as this is not the story of Michael Myers – but the story of the Evil that comes to live in him sometimes called The Shape.

The journey of The Shape takes it to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.  Here he comes in contact with Dr. Samuel Loomis who seeks to reform young Michael Myers and help him re-enter society.    At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about McDowell’s portrayal of Loomis – but he won me over.

I suppose the “Samuel” part should have been a big clue that this Loomis would be different from the Donald Pleasence Loomis.  How could I think of anything but Donald Pleasence when I thought of Dr. Loomis?  His reading of the character was so strong that it basically established the mentor figure of the slasher sub-genre.  Loomis was the archetypal Wise Old Man who warns the travelers of the dangers in the area.  He was the Obi Wan Kenobi or Dr. Van Helsing, if you prefer, of the Halloween franchise.  His presence in the Halloween sequels kept the franchise boat afloat, always anchored by his solid performances.  If any actor could take over the role and establish his own strong reading of the Dr. Loomis character – it would be Malcolm McDowell!  Malcolm McDowell is well known for taking over the top and even operatic roles and making them completely believable.  The Loomis character is one that could easily veer into cheeseball territory – so it takes a strong thespian to wrangle it into verisimilitude.

John Carpenter’s Halloween used the Loomis character to expound upon Myers’ nature as a being of Evil.  Zombie follows his lead by hiding all references to Myers’ boogeyman status hidden within the subtext of Dr. Loomis’ speeches.  Sometimes the subtext floats to the top and flirts with camp.  In the Rob Zombie’s script there is an exchange between Loomis and Michael’s mother,

DEBORAH
Why does Michael just sit there staring at that picture?

LOOMIS
The infant you christened Michael is gone.  What you see before you is an illusion, a hollow shell of what was once your son.”

The scenes in the sanitarium show us the evolution of Dr. Loomis’ character.  We watch as he goes from optimistic psychologist to defeated realist cashing in on Michael’s notoriety to his eventual redemption as he vows to proect the world from the rampant killer.  McDowell did a very credible job recreating the Dr. Loomis role.  My only complaint was that there was not more of him in the film.  But this is not the film about Dr. Samuel Loomis – this is a study of Evil.  The Boogeyman keeps waiting in plain sight.  Waiting for his destiny.  Waiting for his return to Haddonfield.

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The third act of the film when Myers makes it to Haddonfield, comes across as a compressed version of John Carpenter’s Halloween.  He steps into Haddonfield and barely a minute passes without Myers in the corner of the screen or at the very least threatening to appear in the corner again.  We start following the girls of Halloween yet we have spent so much time getting to know the face of Evil that it permeates our mind at this point in the film.  You know what these girls have in store for them and you know it is not going to be good.  Zombie doesn’t take too much time playing “Getting To Know You” with these girls.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the names of the actual characters from John Carpenter’s Halloween – you are well familiar with their archetypal counterparts.  These are the Victims and the Final Girl/Survivor Girl.  They’ve been in every other horror film since Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Like Michael Myers and the Black Gloved Killers of old – these girls have gone beyond mere aesthetics and become part of the Collective Conscious of our very culture.  Cute promiscuous girls see a killer on the street corner.  We know what happens next.

Rob Zombie takes a big risk by building his film entirely around The Shape and Michael Myers.  By the time the movie reaches Haddonfield, we are almost an hour into the film and all of  a sudden we are introduced to new characters.  Introducing new characters into a film at the third act point is usually frowned upon in screenwriting circles.  Characters should be introduced during the early acts so as to build empathy with the audience.  At this point, most conventional films would have us securely behind a protagonist rooting them on through their trials.  With Rob Zombie’s Halloween, our central protagonist is also an unsympathetic, violent psychopath – so we’re not sure who we are supposed to sympathize with.  At sixty minutes into the film, Zombie doesn’t have much time to build the characters of Laurie, Annie, and Lynda.

In John Carpenter’s film – we are meant to sympathize with the group of friends Laurie, Annie and Lynda.  We spend a good deal of time with each one of them.  In Zombie’s film, he doesn’t have the time to do more than establish the other characters – his primary sympathetic lead at this point becomes Laurie Strode.  The majority of the time we spend getting to know the other characters of Haddonfield is with Laurie as our guide.  We watch her laughing with her parents, joking with her friends at school, and playfully babysitting the children, Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace.  We cannot sympathize with Michael Myers at this point in the film.  As Dr. Loomis will show up to remind us – he is long beyond saving and no longer human.  We aren’t given enough time to identify with the other girls of Haddonfield – so we have to settle in with Laurie Strode.

Myers makes his way to his old home and recovers that fateful altered William Shatner mask.  As soon as  he dons the CLASSIC SHAPE MASK – The Shape is reborn.  From this point onward, Michael Myers is gone – and The Shape is on a rampage of destruction.  It is doing what it was meant to do as a manifestation of pure Evil.  It is killing everything in sight.  There are some moments in the third act of the film that literally surprised me.  The film was a slow burn of sorts as it takes some time to get to Haddonfield.  Once it gets there – all bets are off.  The Shape is unleashed and no one is safe.  Rob Zombie truly succeeds in making The Shape scary again.

At this point, Zombie starts using exact re-creations of shots from John Carpenter’s Halloween – Myer’s stalking the girls, watching them at school, watching from down the street.  The exact flow of events from John Carpenter’s Halloween unfolds at an accelerated pace.  Zombie doesn’t attempt to use the languid poetic suspense of John Carpenter’s film – instead opting to set Michael Myers lose in the streets of Haddonfield like a bomb that can go off anywhere – at any time.  No one was safe with Myers in the streets.  The tension level goes up to the roof and stays there throughout the rest of the film.

This is the point in the film when the cinematography of Phil Parmet takes command.  I remember a scene in John Carpenter’s film when the Shape appears in from the darkness in the room behind Laurie Strode.  The effect was accomplished by slowly bringing the lights up on the darkened Myers.  This created the effect of his shimmering slightly as he faded in from the darkness.  It is a fantastic shot – and I think Phil Parmet used that scene as his template for the cinematography in Haddonfield.  The town is dark and blue at night.  Soft pockets of light glow in the streetlights – casting pockets of shadows across every lawn.  Michael Myers would float in the corners seemingly a disembodied head. The strength of the original costume design for Michael Myers shines through in these dark scenes as Myers’ MASK floats in the darkness like a faint ghost in the distance.

I’ve read some reviews complaining that these re-stagings of classic Carpenter scenes only serve to pull the viewer out of the film to “remind them of a far superior film”.  I have to disagree wholeheartedly as these scenes serve to create suspense  – with the added resonance of paying respects to the effectiveness of the original film.  Not every viewer will have a total recall of Carpenter’s classic Halloween so they will have no idea that these shots are anything more than what they see on the screen.  The shots serve to effectively build suspense and dread for new viewers and for long time Halloween fans they will have an added resonance as it recalls some of the great moments of John Carpenter’s work.

As far as the acting goes, performances were solid all the way around.  Scout Taylor-Compton was a particularly surprising standout!  She was entirely believable as the teenage babysitter and was likable enough for us to root for her survival during the finale.  An added plus is that she can scream her little a$$ off!  Wow!  I haven’t seen screaming like this since the glory days of Marylin Burns, Caroline Williams, and Scout’s precursor Jamie Lee Curtis.  Daeg Faerch was both innocent and creepy as the young Michael Myers.  Taylor Mane cast an imposing shadow.  His size makes him formidable and his agility makes him scary.  Mane exhibits a grace missing from the Myers role since Nick Castle played The Shape in Carpenter’s original.  Special mention must go to Danny Trejo for his portrayal of the kindly janitor.  I hate that Lew Temple’s rape scene was cut form the final version because I did want to see how it played in the context of the larger film.  Lew told us at the Horrorfind that it was an inciting incident leading to Myers’ escape from the Sanitarium.

Halloween

Super special MVP award has to go to Danielle Harris as Laurie’s friend Annie.  Danielle plays a big part in establishing The Shape as a dangerous and frightening slasher once again.  In most slasher films – the encounter with a victim and killer are fairly brief.  The killer often moves quickly to kill the victim leaving them instantly dead as though euthanised instantaneously by some magical death ray.  Annie as played by Danielle Harris is attacked by The Shape in Zombie’s film.  Instead of falling over dead in an instant – she suffers as Myers drags her into the adjacent room where she lays crying and bleeding on the floor.  The moment builds dread as we fear for her.  We can see the pain she is enduring.  Annie seems particularly vulnerable as she is still in a state of undress – her chest exposed to the world – now smeared with her own blood.  It is brutal, ugly and very powerful.  In a world of horror films with video game reactions – this moment helped remind us all that this is not a game and pain is not fun.  Killing is B-A-D, kids.  Kudos to Zombie and Harris for making that scene work.

An encyclopedia of Horror convention “Who’s Who” put in appearances ranging from Sid Haig to Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Tom Towles, Lew Temple, Sybil Danning, Clint Howard, Brad Dourif, Dee Wallace Stone, and the amazing Udo Kier.

Let me point out something from a purely fanboy point of view – but I love the fact that so much of this movie plays out as Horror Bob so aptly described it, as “Michael Myers vs The Devil’s Rejects”.  Myers kills over half the cast from Rob Zombie’s previous film.  Its freaking awesome.  I can’t determine which cameo/kill is the best – but I’m leaning toward Ken Foree as Big Joe Grizzley.  Foree’s encounter with Michael Myers was funny, cool, and a tad disturbing all at the same time.

As a funny side note, from time to time I like to imagine what Udo Kier would have brought to the role of Dr. Samuel Loomis, “Michael, when you were a little boy. . .did anyone touch you here?  Or here?  Not even the doctor?”  Ooh, the hilarities that would ensue.  Forgive me for putting that image in your mind, we’ll get back to the Malcolm McDowell version of Dr. Samuel Loomis.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween had people worried because they didn’t want their Boogeymen explained away.  Where John Carpenter’s film skipped the intervening years between the Myers’ murders, Rob Zombie chose to tell us the rest of the story of young Michael Myers.  I present to you that not only was the Boogeyman not explained away but that he basically hid in plain sight in every scene.  At no point is this the story of Michael Myers.  Michael Myers was lost to the abyss long before the events in the film started.  The Shape that walked around in Michael’s flesh was not a little boy in a KISS shirt – he was Evil incarnate.  Every scene reminds us of the potential for violence contained therein and shows us the Shape of Evil in a human form.  This is the story of the modern age Boogeyman.  Fans were worried because they didn’t want their boogeyman explained to them.  Rob Zombie spent the whole film explaining the Boogeyman to us – and what he tells us is that the Boogeyman cannot be explained.  The Boogeyman just IS.

“Evil has a destiny.  The night HE came home.”

Streebo gives Rob Zombie’s Halloween a 9 out of 10 screams on the Streebo-Scream-O-Meter!

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One comment

  1. Thanks for finally talking about >Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a Kick A$$ Remake!
    <Loved it!

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