Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Rob Zombie's Halloween is the Best Halloween

I rewatched Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween (now available in an unrated cut on DVD) and was once again stunned at what a gorgeous film it is. The first time I saw it, I thought it left too many things unanswered (why did this child who exploded in rage one day decide to suddenly stop speaking and stay silent for over a decade?). But I realized Zombie did go much further than any of the other films in the franchise in trying to offer at least some background on this compelling character, one of the scariest killers in horror cinema.

The film's casting is first rate, and the wonderful tongue-in-cheek choices of character actors who have played killers themselves (Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, etc.) is a touch of genius, and Zombie faves like William Forsythe, his wife Sheri Moon Zombie (wonderful as Michael's imperfect but loving mother) and Ken Foree add their considerable talents even to small roles. But perhaps the shining star here is young Daeg Faerch who plays Michael Myers at age 10. Cherubic and world-weary, he is entirely believable as a child whose abuse at the hands of bullies causes him to snap.

Perhaps Zombie's finest achievement in this film is in the moods it captures. The photography (by the excellent Phil Parmet, who Zombie also worked with on House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects) and art direction (by T. K. KIrkpatrick) create a suburban community in the grip of Halloween circa 1978 and the present. The small details are mundane but atmospheric: all the pumpkins, the autumn foliage, the middle class houses and ramshackle bungalows. When we see an affluent neighborhood that looks strangely deserted during the killing sprees, the total silence that immediately ensues behind heavy wooden doors slammed shut, we understand the safety of such neighborhoods is really just a form of isolation. The final sequence, when Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is scrambling deeper and deeper into the old house, trying to escape Michael Myers by squirming into holes and breaking through rotting walls, is terrifying and entirely plausible. Zombie is a thorough director who makes sense out of sequences of events, a skill lacking in much of modern horror direction.

Zombie succeeds as a director where earlier ones have failed; some of the previous versions (like Halloween 4) leave big chunks of narrative out, with characters going from being attacked to being outdoors, and talking about how they were "drugged"--huh? by whom? and ow long were you out? and what happened while you were unconscious? He follows character actions through to their logical conclusions. He also manages to fill in narrative information with effective visual shorthand (Michael's obsession with masks is particularly well handled). And if we are no closer to understanding why Michael Myers is an unrepentant killer, we are at least closer to understanding how the suburbs can easily produce monsters.

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