Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here We Go Again

Well, August 28th is swiftly approaching, and that means Rob Zombie is about to unleash yet another remake of the "Last House on the Left"/"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" mashup that's been running on an endless loop in his brain since "House of 1000 Corpses." I'm referring, of course, to "Halloween II."

At first, I couldn't wait to see "Corpses." When Zombie battled with Universal over the rating, I thought it was really going to be outrageous. And when I attended a panel discussion at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Pasadena with Zombie, Sid Haig and Karen Black, my anticipation went off the charts.

Maybe I got too excited, because when Lion's Gate finally released it (with an R rating after all), I was profoundly disappointed by the incomprehensible plot, the "arty," grainy camerawork, and the nonstop Tarantino-esque blathering of the characters. What the film did capture well was the grittiness of the low-budget 1970s drive-in sleaze, but it was in the service of a really boring story—and a waste of Karen Black! For shame!

2005's "The Devil's Rejects" fared better. Graced with a solid soundtrack of vintage tunes and populated with welcome cameos from such cult favorites as P.J. Soles ("Halloween"), Tom Towles ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer") and Mary Woronov ("Rock 'n' Roll High School"), it also has some semblance of a plot. It's also extremely brutal and sadistic, plunging the viewer into a world of filth and blood that's not for everyone's tastes. But at least it had a structure!

2007 brought Zombie's "revisualization" of John Carpenter's 1978 lesson in shock-machine efficiency, "Halloween." Adding backstory baggage to the bare-bones plot, Zombie gives us a glimpse of young Michael's (Daeg Faerch) awful family: sleazy stripper Mom (the ubiquitous Shari Moon Zombie), her abusive boyfriend, Ronnie (William Forsythe), whorey older sister—and second victim—Judith (Hanna Hall) and baby sister Laurie. And unlike the clean, bright suburbia of Carpenter's Haddonfield, which made for such a nice juxtaposition to the darkness in Michael's soul, Zombie posits the scenario back into the familiar, filthy trailer parks and strip clubs he seems to love so much. How can you separate the murderous psychos from the regular psychos? Here, everyone is dangerous; everyone is threatening. Hell, Michael would have to wait in line!

One of the few interesting scenes shows the boy disinterestedly stuffing his face with Halloween candy before going out to the living room and cutting Ronnie's throat without a trace of emotion. But when Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowall in full-out hambone mode) arrives and Michael grows up into The Shape, it becomes a real snoozefest as the film shuffles toward its familiar stalk 'n' slash conclusion.

Now here comes "Halloween 2." Granted, the 1981 version was no classic by any stretch of the imagination.

How it came about what that the original, independently released "Halloween" made so much money that it drew the attention of Universal Pictures, who snatched up the franchise, hoping to start up a "Friday the 13th" cash cow of its own. Bland and undistinguished, "H2" was filmed in the studio's "house style" of the 1970s/early '80s, meaning it looked slightly more expensive than a TV movie. And by the time the Michael-less "Season of the Witch" bombed at the box office, Universal dumped the series.

Still, there's an unpleasant scene in "H2" that sticks in my memory: a mother is bringing her kid to the hospital where Laurie is recuperating. The boy had bitten into an apple with a razor blade in it, and the blade is still jammed vertically in his mouth. A nasty bit of business in an otherwise by-the-numbers sequel involving various medical personnel running up and down darkened hallways with Michael chasing them.

And so what is Zombie going to do? Have Michael chase Laurie through a sleazy inner-city hospital where junkies are mainlining in the hallways? He told "'Halloween II' is to 'Halloween' as 'Rejects' is to 'House of 1000 Corpses.' We shot the last film on 35mm, it was cleaner. This one, we went back to shoot a dirty, nasty movie on 16mm."

Maybe he's trying to say that this one will be an improvement on the original. Maybe I don't care.

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