August 30, 2009

Superstition, Fear and Jealousy

No critics' screenings for Rob Zombie's Halloween II. Disappointing, of course, considering my long history with this series. But when I finally sat down and watched it yesterday afternoon, I just became outright desperate to get a discussion going.

I count Carpenter's
Halloween as one of my most important formative experiences, and now it's practically impossible not to know the cliches of this genre. But when things started to heat up in this (probably final) iteration of the same story, I was surprised to find that I was fearfully rejecting the classic movie-killer logic when told on Zombie's terms. "No, that's impossible. How could he have made his way back to the Bracketts' house that quickly? Why is he moving away from Laurie?" It was an odd feeling, after years of expecting and forgiving this form of cinematic teleportation, to be anxiously wondering how and why this monster was traveling his route. Zombie's first Halloween was strictly an intellectual exercise, but here, I think, he finally applied those ideas into a premise that turns the original series' goofiest ideas into something--well, not nearly as goofy. Terrifying, even. The psychic links and the hitherto-unspoken bloodlines have finally plugged into something about the confusion attendant to loss, identity, youth and trauma. I even thought I detected a little contempt in the prologue, which not only takes place in Rick Rosenthal's infamous hospital but also featured the film's most overt and excessive acts of violence. (And why does "Nights in White Satin" replace "Don't Fear the Reaper" as Michael's Manchurian trigger?) By the end of it, similar scenes were wrought with a kind of sad, senseless, impending doom that I don't think I've felt since the Shape popped out from the backseat of a car in Carpenter's most shocking, most "unfair" sequence. Why?

It's still not scary, exactly, but full of existential dread; giving the famously-skeletal Halloween a backstory finally bears some fruit by implying that the mere structural concept of a motive is enough to throw your entire world into disarray. Because Zombie gave us (and gives us) the impression of Oedipal issues with the spectral reappearance of Michael's long-dead mother, his indulgence in fragmented dream sequences becomes that much more disorienting--and the attempt to make some sense out of it somehow makes it worse. Truth be told that Michael Myers barely plays a role here, relegated to the role of a marauding mountain man--but, appropriately, the whole film is haunted by ghosts. The ghosts of history, the ghosts of failure, the ghosts of responsibility. This is the rare horror sequel that feels appropriate to the concept--the same characters back again, fully scuffed-up from their experiences, trying and failing to pick up the pieces. Everything that they inflict upon themselves seems infinitely worse than whatever bloody mayhem will follow.

Laurie Strode's response to discovering her family lineage is to fling herself headlong into a drunken stupor; Halloween II joins Adventureland as a film wracked with worry about kids too young to be throwing their lives away over regret and alcohol. And how do you explain the moment that finds Michael's angelic/phantasmic mother eventually demanding that she be loved by her offspring? Hell, even Pamela Voorhees took Junior's love for granted. Of course, the discussion about unhealed wounds can't get much more literal than it does with Danielle Harris' Annie Brackett--her lacerated face once again warped with sarcasm--but couple that with Brad Dourif's wonderful performance as Sheriff Brackett and you detect something sticky and abstract about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and the fear of disappointment that emanates from all sides. I'm still not entirely sure what this film is about, but it fascinates me to no end.

What do you think? Seen it yet? How about The Final Destination?

UPDATE - 9/3/09: Whoopsie! The rumor mill is already spinning on a third Halloween film without Zombie. The director supposedly taking his place? Why, Steve Miner, of course, the guy who made a career out of being a destitute man's John Carpenter. So, yeah, uh--will this theoretical third film go direct to video? Maybe. Will it be a disaster that has absolutely no bearing on Zombie's thematic vision? Pro'lly. Will it be a patchwork amalgam of imitation and re-imagining, plucked from random moments in the series' long history? Well, I'm curious, at least...

17 comments:

dubiouscombat said...

Saw it with the GalPal last night along with The Final Destination (no comment) and walked away with similarly conflicted feelings. My initial reaction was negative, but it was an intriguing sort of negative reaction, the film never registering while playing onscreen and leaving only an impression of silent images. It's the least visceral blockbuster of the year, and I doubt Zombie even intended it as a horror film, shooting the violence so dispassionately as if to flip the bird to the whole audience - ooh! Shades of that Devil Rejects Zombie I like! - but let's face it, the narrative doesn't make a lick of sense and I don't know what the horse means.

Alex Jackson said...

Wanted to see Halloween 2, but The Final Destination 3D was playing sooner. Thoughts? Somehow I couldn't believe the film's paternalistic attitude toward race. Don't they know it's 2009? The first to get killed by Death is a racist whose cross burning on a black security guard's lawn (I'm not making this up) goes awry. And another potential victim manages to buy herself some extra time by giving some spare change to a black homeless man. So it pays to be nice to black people, I guess.

The gore is so over-the-top that it becomes a gross-out joke and perhaps the filmmakers realized that they were making a comedy. A climax in a movie theater showing a 3D movie takes this gimmick to a whole new dimension of gimmickiness. This may be the moment where the Final Destination series OFFICIALLY devolves to self-parody. I thought that the last Final Destination film was a rather effective horror film. I don't like roller coasters or tanning beds. But this one has a Death scene in an automatic car wash. You'ld have to be a real ninny to get scared by any of this. It seems to have given up the pretense of doing so.

It's an OK time-waster, I guess. But there is so much good stuff playing and so much potentially good stuff playing (not only did I somehow pick this over Halloween 2, I picked it over Taking Woodstock and Ponyo. And seeing Inglorious Basterds a second time) that I don't think anyone should bother. It's not as good as Final Destination 3, it's not as good as director Ellis' Snakes on a Plane or Final Destination 2, and it's not as good as My Bloody Valentine 3D.

Bill C said...

Man, I am dying to see H2; I finally did see BASTERDS, though--man, Rosenbaum has become the worst kind of hippie: the fuddy-duddy kind. (His correlation of Tarantino and Sarah Palin trumps just about anything Armond has written this year for sheer incomprehensibility.)

But H2: the commercials excite me the way they did for the first film. The imagery of these two movies has a sadness to it that becomes highly concentrated in 30-second bursts.

rboyd4173 said...

Saw H2 last night; don't quit know what to think; I find it confusing, sad, annoying, and wonderful. It will take me a few days to really get my thoughts together on this one.

Lee said...

I found H2 to be a train wreck...sure some interesting ideas were there, but they barely feel executed. Instead, it comes off like he slapped a script together so he could start shooting as soon as possible. Like the first one, there are some wonderful and very haunting shots, but the violence is so needlessly brutal it becomes numbing and took me out of the movie. It felt to me like the excessive stabbing and Michael's loud grunting took center stage; by the time the movie reaches its conclusion, which tries to tie everything together, it is not earned. It all feels like a cheap gimmick. I had high hopes, and was colossally disappointed.

mr b said...

I thought it was pretty great. I don't have any such attachment to the Carpenter original, so the backlash doesn't get to me. I particularly liked the heavy breathing and the weight of every blow. Maybe that's why you rejected the typical movie-killer logic, Ian. Besides recovering from all those bullet-holes and lightning fast movement (admittedly, a big besides), Zombie tries to root Michael in reality. Spoiler. I anticipated the scene where golem Michael carries off Laurie, but it still hit home as the fractured family was forced back together. Very sticky movie indeed.

Anonymous said...

Saw "The Final Destination," and yes, it is the worst of the "Final Destination" series. However, I disagree with Alex about the burning cross scene; not that it isn't stupid and paternalistic, but I still enjoyed it simply because it's the funniest scene (the soundtrack is a hoot). I prefer the James Wong movies (1 and 3) to the David R. Ellis ones (2 and 4) by far simply because the Wong ones are both funny and scary, the Ellis ones are too jokey for me. The opening credits of Final Destination 3 are of spooky, off-kilter shots of the carnival, and the movie works accordingly on a strong current of dread; Final Destination 4's credits start after the opening death sequence, and only features X-ray shots of the previous films' death scenes, and is only interested in guts. The part inside the 3-d theater is such a half-assed stab at meta-ness, I don't even know, man.

Dan said...

Ooh! I finally get one of the blog's banner photos! It's Michael Mann's Manhunter. Huzzah! A prize? Or was it too easy?

Bill C said...

Yeah, I would say that was a 'gimme.'

Last month was KISSIN' COUSINS, by the way. Before that: REVENGE OF THE NERDS.

simonsays2 said...

FD4 is a must see for a fan of the series. Ellis' FD2 is the one that got me hooked. I fell asleep during RZ's first take on Halloween as it was 1 - boring and 2 - not scary. Boo! Boo! IMO essential elements in the thriller/horror genre. I may give it another chance for the all important Psycho Killer Quest Que Cest crud and wait in anticipation for H2 on DVD. Boo!

Anonymous said...

On the subject of horror, has anyone seen Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo? I'd love for people to weigh in with thoughts - what the fuck was that?

Jefferson Robbins said...

This I like.

Planning to see Ponyo this weekend. I will bring back my two-year-old's review.

Harosa said...

I dont know, I was sorely disappointed in this in that I actually liked Zombie's take on Halloween, despite what he said about it being restrictive to him creatively(hillbilly asylum rape aside) and looked forward to him letting loose with his ideas. This felt more House of 1,000 Corpses chaotic as opposed to Devil's Rejects focused. All i got out of it was Michael's brutal ass killings and grunting which I liked as showing him being human and frustrated, and I know Zombie doesn't want to go glamorous and funny on the killings but it becomes ridiculous when it looks like Myers is trying to stab the floor underneath the person he's stabbing. By the end I laughed at how Loomis seemed to teleport from watching the siege on tv to the sheriff's side. And Weird Al's cameo was hilarious.

corym said...

Here's a thread hijack, but the trailer for Bad Lieutenant is online.

http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/bad-lieutenant-port-of-new-orleans/trailer

Werner Herzog, Nicolas Cage, and Val Kilmer... consider me super-excited.

Wow Gold said...

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Wow Gold said...

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r4i said...

Hi there,
Really nice blog i want to say something about the Final destination 3 is There's nothing new, but in the case of the Final Destination films, new is not necessary.