Love Hurts: Rob Zombie and the Myth of the Remake

It€™s February . A season of candy hearts, winged babies and lonely nights alone remembering that time in the third grade when Kelly Kowalski forgot to give you a valentine and then she gave her Kool Aid to that jerk, Scott Preston. Like Scott Preston even drinks Kool Aid. His parents are so uptight, they only let their kids drink ovaltine or non-pasteurized apple juice. Everyone knows that, you heartless bitch! Whatever. Kelly€™s fat now and Scott€™s an alcoholic, so, who€™s the loser now? That€™s what I thought. So in honor of this joyous month of lovers entwined, hearts in time and, oh, those fabulous greeting cards (we mustn€™t ever forget the greeting cards. Buy more greeting cards. Consume, robot piggies, CONSUME!), let€™s talk about something morbid. Rob Zombie€™s 2007 re-imagining of John Carpenter€™s American horror classic Halloween stalked into cinemas worldwide to nit-picking €˜net-geek ire and franchise-record box office returns. It seems that rascally, tow-headed imp, Michael Audrey Myers, had captured more than a few hearts within the global film-going public €“ and not just the ones ripped savagely from the chests of hapless teenaged babysitters in suburban Illinois. More than still-beating hearts and great, heaping piles of cash, Mr. Zombie€™s wallet-swelling re-envisioning jammed a blood-stained stick straight up the collective pooper of that clammy-handed digital hornet€™s nest known as online fandom with such glee and reckless abandon, you€™d think he was Malcolm MacDowell slumming on a horror picture with a rakish rock-star director and minimal studio supervision. As soon as the screenplay hit the €˜tubes, fans cried foul. Their distaste rumbled across the web like Harry Knowles€™ stomach after second-lunch at Güero€™s Taco Bar. The plot of Carpenter€™s slasher original centered around a ten-year-old Michael Myers, the senseless murder of his elder sister on Halloween night, and his escape and the ensuing aftermath fifteen years later. Originally titled The Babysitter Murders, Carpenter€™s indie-blockbuster was a straight-forward exercise in suspense, a landmark film which laid the archetype one that would be most cleverly tweaked by suspense-master Wes Craven in the coming two decades with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, respectively. Myers himself representing true evil, pure and unstoppable. Heroine Laurie Strode, portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis, equally pure as the virginal €œgood girl€. The Town of Haddonfield, Illinois standing in for American suburbia. The true terror of Carpenter€™s original conception lay in the senselessness of Myers€™ crimes, and the idea that the Boogeyman could be right in your own backyard, waiting outside your window. With an unquenchable bloodlust that could be neither bargained nor reasoned with. An evil unknowable in the purity of its blackness. It is precisely this air of mystery that a great number of fans felt was violated by Zombie€™s re-envisioning. Indeed, the hard-rocking former White Zombie front man€™s approach to Carpenter€™s mythos opted to explore the origins of Myers€™ murderous madness, creating a tumultuous home-life for the young psychopath and embellishing on the nearly twenty years the boy spent in Smith€™s Grove Sanitarium before amping up the savage rampage of the Night He Came Home. Territory heretofore unexplored in Carpenter€™s original nor the staggering seven sequels that would follow. This turn of events, while a natural extension of Myers€™ time-worn legacy, would nonetheless prove controversial to legions of mewling traditionalists who would echo their dissatisfaction across Knowles€™ peanut gallery with disdainful of €œTake-a-shit Mask€ (a snarky jab at a Zombie device in which the youthful Myers would craft eerie masks while incarcerated to suit each of his moods), which would go on to become a message board tagline long before Spielberg €œNuked the Fridge€ with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Months before the picture had even seen release, these so-called fans were all ready declaring it a franchise-low. Seemingly forgetful of the series€™ previous entry, Halloween: Resurrection, in which their beloved sociopath was found suffering a roundhouse-kick of indignation by a Bruce Lee-emulating Busta Rhymes. (Although, one could hardly blame them for selectively-forgetting that dreadful cash-grab.) Yet it could be argued that Zombie€™s take on the Myers mythos breathed fresh, new life into the aging franchise. A claim that can be substantiated by the film€™s box office and the three DVD editions that followed. In fact, it is this writer€™s opinion that Zombie€™s two entries are among the best in the series, rivaled only by Carpenter€™s immortal progenitor. Rob Zombie is a consummate artist, one whose attention to detail and unflinching dedication to realism makes him one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge in the last decade. Whether tackling an acid-fueled surrealist aesthetic as in his spin on Tobe Hooper€™s Texas Chainsaw Massacre formula in House of 1,000 Corpses (the first and least of Zombie€™s oeuvre), or the Satanic nihilism of its vastly superior follow-up, The Devil€™s Rejects (not to mention the savage brutality of his Halloween pictures), Zombie€™s films are marked with strong characterization, memorable, yet gimmick-free dialogue, and an uncanny ability to infuse real humanity into even the most vile and despicable of characters. Indeed, Zombie€™s depictions of unthinkable violence never feel glamorous or exploitative, but are utterly unnerving in their grisly realism. Perhaps his biggest flaw as an auteur is that his point of view is so strong that it is simply not to everyone€™s taste. Zombie€™s knack for the macabre has a distinct way of slithering under the viewer€™s skull and right into their very souls, stirring up an unpleasant sensation that€™s akin to damnation itself. It is precisely that sense of gut-wrenching realism that makes Zombie€™s Halloween films far from franchise blasphemy. Despite shoe-horning most of Carpenter€™s original into his third act, Zombie presses the reset button on a saga bogged down with convoluted and largely mediocre sequels. Most thankfully returning to Michael Myers an ensemble of supporting characters mostly absent since 1978 (the legendary Donald Pleasence aside, who doubtlessly would€™ve reprised the role of Dr. Loomis were he still alive €“ his colleague, Malcolm MacDowell, wonderfully substitutes). Instead of demystifying him, moving Myers from the shadows into the narrative spotlight is a no-brainer for an iconic monster worthy of the literary pantheon of all-time nightmare-inducers (a modern fraternity joined only by Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees €“ sorry, Jigsaw, you didn€™t make the cut.) Zombie gives young Michael Myers a home-life as grisly and unsettling as any of his later crimes. For the first time, it becomes believable that that a child could be capable of committing such heinous evil. Rather than dragging his motivations into the harsh light of day, elaborating on Michael€™s years in the sanitarium serves to place a human being inside the mask of the unfathomable Shape. One of the strongest aspects of John Carpenter€™s ghoul was that he traveled in the guise of a man. He was neither a ghost or a zombie nor a voodoo-powered doll (although, an infusion of dollar signs could always bring him back from death, even when decapitated). When Myers dons his trademark mask and jumpsuit, the darkness of his evil becomes all-consuming. The loss of his humanity all the more chilling because it could happen to any of us. (With nary a €œTake-a-shit Mask€ to boot! €“ Geek mountains out of filmmaking molehills.) Performance-wise, Zombie€™s films are in a franchise class of their own. Tyler Mane is easily the most menacing performer to don the white Shatner mask. He imbues the Shape with an explosive physicality while still retaining the trademark haunting stillness of Nick Castle€™s original portrayal. Danielle Harris is particularly noteworthy as Annie Brackett. A franchise veteran (Harris began her film career with Halloween 4: the Return of Michael Myers at the age of ten), she takes her rightful place alongside Jamie Lee Curtis as series mainstays second only to the aforementioned Mr. Pleasence. A victim of stalking in real-life, Harris€™ near-death in the first film is utterly bone-chilling, proving her a brave and truly remarkable young actress. Her reprisal in its sequel blossoms with depth, her beauty deepening with age even beneath a tangle of scars. Having undoubtedly the biggest shoes to fill, Malcolm MacDowell fearlessly tackles the role of Dr. Samuel Loomis. Retaining the spirit of Pleasence€™s manic intensity, MacDowell is an absolute joy. Injecting the franchise€™s most enduring supporting character with a pep and a verve most evident in the second film, in which Dr. Loomis falls victim to capitalism rather than the Shape€™s blade. Exploiting his monster in poor taste and tactlessness to hilarious effect, returning to archetype when it all tragically blows up in his face. The ensemble is rounded out by a host of outstanding character actors. Brad Douriff delivers an eccentric Sheriff Brackett that is quirkily charming and tragically moving, transcending the expository utilitarian nature of the role. Equally memorable appearances are turned in by Ken Foree, Dee Wallace and Pat Skipper among countless others. But perhaps most significant is Scout Taylor-Compton as heroine Laurie Strode. Perpetually overlooked as a side-effect of her Piscean nature, Compton is a revelation. As the teenaged Strode in the first film, Compton is effortlessly likable. Slipping into the role with an ease and a subtlety that makes it easy to lose her in the chaos, she nonetheless leaves an indelible impression of the character that makes one easily forget that Jamie Lee Curtis ever played the part. Yet it isn€™t until the second picture that Scout truly makes the character her own. Curtis€™ Strode undeniably set the archetype for the modern American slasher heroine, derivative of the lone survivor arguably introduced to the genre with Marilyn Burns in Hooper€™s Massacre, and most recently explored in with the Scream trilogy€™s Sidney Prescott. But it has traditionally remained a two-dimensional one, veering from virginal innocence to blind terror with little in between. Halloween II introduces the notion that Strode shares her brother€™s madness (the revelation that Strode and Myers were siblings was an afterthought originating in Carpenter€™s screenplay to the original€™s 1981 sequel), unraveling over the course of the film under the influence of psychotic ethereal visions of her true family (a wonderful abstraction of insanity which only deepens the mystery of Myers€™ evil). Compton is pitch-perfect in tune with every aspect of her character, digging into the role with a tenacity and abandon that is electrifying, utterly decimating her original performance in the first film (it is unfortunate that her best moments were cut from the theatrical release. The real meat of her role can be found in the Director€™s Cut). Scout Taylor-Compton is the kind of actress that makes every other actor around her better, so present is she. The depth of her characterization only strengthened by the challenge offered up by her material. She throws herself fully into every role she takes, no matter if she is relegated to the status of human prop as seen in Sleepover (a movie no human being should ever watch. Ever. Seriously, keep it away from your children.), or striving admirably to create connections in a room full of vapid mannequins in the Butcher Brother€™s utterly abysmal €œremake€ of April Fools Day. It€™s easy to mistake Scout as just €œbeing there€ in any one movie. But if you watch closely, you just might notice that she€™s THERE, no matter how unfathomable the situation. Whether she€™s fallen into a pit of rotting corpses, her body shattered and strapped to a hospital gurney, or slowly becoming Evil in the Shape of a Man, Scout Taylor-Compton is living and breathing every moment. She is the genuine article, possessing something beyond talent that cannot be learned or taught. Something that simply happens. Make no mistake folks, she someone to watch, and she€™s headed for big things. That funny feeling in your chest is a tiny crack forming in your stony, blackened geek hearts. Don€™t fight it. Your cynicism can only sustain you for so long. Remind yourself that you love movies, and life is too short to spend it idly hating things. Remember that your favorite series and characters have only become great because they are all bigger than any one film or director or actor. They are immortal, and will outlive any cinema misfire anyone can heave at them. Sequels and remakes will be with us forever. They are a necessary evil, but aren€™t necessarily evil. The beautiful thing is that, no matter what happens, there€™s always a Christopher Nolan or J.J. Abrams or, yes, even a Rob Zombie waiting just around the corner. Love hurts. But only if you let it. Halloween II: Unrated Director€™s Cut and Halloween: 3-Disc Unrated Collector€™s Edition are on sale now. (The latter featuring a 4½ -hour documenting the entire production of the film, day by day €“ an absolute MUST-WATCH for any fan who€™s truly serious about filmmaking.) Scout Taylor-Compton can next be seen as guitar icon Lita Ford in The Runaways, landing stateside on March 19th.

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