Revisiting Rob Zombie’s Re-visioning: Halloween and Halloween II

Of course, Halloween is my favorite time of the year, so I’m already starting to get geared up for a month of horror! Recently I decided to revisit the Halloween franchise à la Zombie, and here’s some thoughts about both of these movies.

Movie poster for Halloween 2007Halloween

I really like the way that the setting is crafted in this movie. The music is something that I especially cued in on the first time I watched this, and I appreciate how the choices fit with everything else. (Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” is used especially effectively.) Carpenter’s version is pretty tame, but Zombie sets up Michael’s psychological issues as based in a problematic home. Seeing Michael Myers as a neglected child does something different. I don’t necessarily feel sympathy for him, and it doesn’t seem to make him less of a monster, but it clarifies the character somehow. In some ways, I think it actually makes hims more frightening, since we have this back story of his decline into his own inner world of fantasy. When Michael finally snaps, we saw it coming. I mean, we knew it was coming because we’ve seen this story before, but this time we saw the things that the parents and others involved were oblivious to. We saw Michael Myers being created.

Michael with baseball bat in Halloween 2007Michael is further forged by years in an insane asylum. I found it interesting to note how completely alone Michael seems at this point. There are, for the most part, no other patients apparent in this asylum — only his egomaniac psychiatrist and the people working there. These scenes of mostly empty rooms and areas just emphasize the isolation of this crazy little kid.

I think that one of the most disturbing scenes in this movie is our first look at Michael’s cell after being incarcerated for 15 years. The walls are completely covered with different masks, and he appears to continually work on creating these. An earlier scene has his mother telling him to take off his mask and he states that he needs it to cover his “ugly face.” This, as demonstrated in his original killing spree, is the face of the part of him that is so enraged and disturbed; the one that kills. His fascination with masks appears to be his way of escaping from himself, and finally he escapes completely into his own world of hatred and violence.

One thing that interested me in this movie is that once Michael has found Laurie and makes contact with her, there is a pause for a few short moments, where Zombie lets us ponder the question of what would have happened if she had accepted him. Of course, she can’t — he’s a crazed freak in a mask — but the idea is implied in their interaction, and it is also clarified that her rejection of him (in the form of attempting to kill him) is not one that she can take back. It seems like it’s at this moment that the switch inside Michael’s head completely flips and he becomes focused on killing her. But here, Zombie also provides us with some ideas as to why Michael is so focused on killing Laurie. He wants to bring his family, at least the members that he felt close to, back together.

Movie poster for Halloween II 2009Halloween II

I liked that there were similarities with this movie and Carpenter’s second. It also continues immediately from where the first left off. The ambulance delivering Michael’s body to the morgue hits a cow, and he escapes. It seemed like this second movie was more brutal and crazed than the first, and this first accident is an example of how Zombie doesn’t shy away from realistic brutality. The first thing I thought was, oh yeah, air bags weren’t so much a thing back then. This handling of physical injury is also reflected in the operating room scenes — glass and gaping skin — not pretty, but also likely close to what the end result of Michael’s level of violence would be, I’m guessing.

We also don’t see Laurie as someone who has somehow managed to adapt after such a traumatic experience. She is pretty much hanging on by a thread and the drugs that she can get from her shrink. I am thinking this end result is much more likely after being chased around and almost killed by a maniac. I also like the setting changes here. The girls’ rooms, the clothes Lauri wears, her car, and the music all move this part of the story forward providing a separation from the previous installment.

White horse and mother from Halloween II 2009

In this film, there is also a lot more done with visions and dissociative aspects for both Michael and Laurie, who are both seeing their mother and a white horse, which symbolizes “purity and the drive of the body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction.” It becomes a lot more clear that Michael is split between his monster self and the young boy he used to be, and Laurie is fighting against a psychic pull from him and his desire to reunite their family in what would appear to be a bloody death.

The killings in this movie are brutal and I found it interesting to note that most of them are head focused: sawing off, stomping, stabbing, bashing — there is lots of head brutality. This seemed to be connected to Michael’s own hatred of his face, his covering of his “ugly” face with a mask.

One of the things that I found interesting about both this movie and the first one is how frequently we actually see Michael’s face. In the original movies he was a faceless monster, always behind the mask. In these movies, the mask is removed several times — but the point is that it doesn’t matter. Seeing him as a human, seeing his face, does not reduce the fear. When looking into a human face, we would like to believe that there is an advantage, some kind of empathy for a like being. However, with Michael there is just emptiness, a shell of humanity covering something much darker.

I like that there is the possibility in this movie of a more definitive ending. I also like that Laurie doesn’t come out of this just fine and dandy, moving on with her life. The darker and more probable ending that Zombie presents in the film provides a haunting closure to the story. I will additionally say that the covered version of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” here adds an unbelievable amount of depth and a broken creepiness to the scene, and it provides a nice connection with the first film. I know that Zombie got a lot of flack for this movie, but my opinion is that this is really, really good, dark horror.

So, while I will always love the original Halloween franchise, I feel that Zombie’s take is a valid and darker re-imagining of this character. Feel free to chime in with your take on the two versions in the comments!

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Grimscribe’s Puppets: Stories Inspired by Thomas Ligotti

Cover of The Grimscribe's PuppetsIf you’ve read some of my previous posts, you may know that I am a big fan of Thomas Ligotti. So, I was super excited to hear about The Grimscribe’s Puppets, a collection of Ligotti themed stories edited by Joe S. Pulver. I was definitely not disappointed by this book and highly recommend it!

As indicated by the title, the theme of this collection has to do with puppetry — manipulations both real and existential — and this theme is approached from a variety of perspectives. The stories here are often from the point of view of the puppet or the puppet-master, but many times this aspect is explored at the larger, more terrifying level, such as who is out there and how are they controlling me? The collection has a well-selected mix of this overall idea presented in ways that are a tribute to both Ligotti’s themes and his atmospheric settings.

My favorite in what I might call the “puppet viewpoint” category was Cody Goodfellow’s “The Man Who Escaped This Story,” in which a man discusses various dreams, or fugue states, with his psychiatrist where he seems to be just a player in a drama put on by some force greater than himself. This idea of being captive to the whims of an unknowable godlike creature and used for their amusement over and over again is unsettling and will stick with me. In “Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, a young girl watches her town slowly eaten away by forces that she cannot understand, and it is only slowly that she comes to the realization of the role that she plays in a slow destruction of the world. Daniel Mills explores religious fervor with a twist in “The Lord Came at Twilight,” when a dangerous “revival” consisting of dark beliefs sweeps through a town. In “Diamond Dust” by Michael Griffin, a man slowly makes connections between strange occurrences and the odd art his girlfriend has been creating. And, Paul G. Tremblay’s “Where We All Will Be” explores the viewpoint of a single, clear-headed observer during a mass infiltration of human minds.

A few authors look at the topic from the viewpoint of the puppet-master, and the most clear-cut of these would be Jon Padgett’s “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism,” which provides some basic, and more advanced, how-to in puppet mastery. However, sometimes the role of puppet and puppet-master can dovetail, something that the puppet maker in Simon Strantzas “By Invisible Hands” comes to realize first-hand. And, Jeffrey Thomas’s “The Prosthesis” explores a situation in which the puppet created may have been a job done just a little too well.

I really enjoy some of the more grotesque elements of Ligotti, where we see characters that are either not quite human or so corrupted as to be verging on less than human. Two of the stories in this collection do this exceptionally well. Both involve female characters who struggle to survive, and who each somehow become both prey and predator. Kaaron Warren’s moth girl in “The Human Moth” has a hard time satisfying her basic needs, while Allyson Bird’s protagonist in “Gailestis” attempts to work out some more traditional methods for survival, but things don’t quite turn out as expected.

There are also some stories in which we see the familiar post-industrial landscapes from Ligotti’s work. Darrell Schweitzer’s protagonist in “No Signal” struggles to reach those he loves even as he watches his world change and fade. A young girl in Nicole Cushing’s “The Company Town” is uprooted by her father and moved to a strange new town where it seems that her future existence will be paid for on the installment plan. And, in “The Holiness of Desolation” Robert M. Price gives us the viewpoint of a man making his way through a strange, dystopian world where the end of humanity may be contained within the written word.

Possibly one of Ligotti’s most powerful areas of writing is that which combines a character’s alienation with loss of self, or someone close, in some existential or physical manner. My absolute favorite of these stories was the haunting contribution by Eddie M. Angerhuber,”The Blue Star,” in which a man takes us through his annual visit to a strange city where he lost his love to an alien force years ago. I also really enjoyed Gemma Files contribution, “Oubliette,” which used a variety of formats — diary entries, IMs,  emails, etc. — to tell the story of a suicide survivor haunted by cult member ghosts with a mission. John Langan’s “Into the Darkness, Fearlessly” puts a new twist on the idea of getting lost in a text, and Richard Gavin’s “After the Final” explores the inner workings of a fanatical and delusioned mind.

Some of these stories have some very dark, existential implications, such as “The Secrets of the Universe” by Michael Cisco, which relates a discussion on life, the universe, and everything between master and victim. “The Xenambulist: A Fable in Four Acts” by Robin Spriggs examines an increasingly strange and out of control world, one that the protagonist will not escape from. And, in “Eyes Exchange Bank,” by Scott Nicolay, a man on the verge of a breakdown over loss of love and a stagnant dissertation comes to the realization that there are darker things out there to fear. There are many dark things to fear in this book, many shadows. Michael Kelly’s character in “Pieces of Blackness” is haunted by a shadow from the past that won’t forgive or forget, and in “Basement Angels” Joel Lane’s character finds that his shadow is a much more important part of him than he ever realized.

The Grimscribe’s Puppets won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for Edited Anthology for good reason. Joe S. Pulver has selected some excellent authors and put together a significant contribution to the genre, which is packed full of stories that will challenge your assumptions and haunt you for years to come. Be sure not to miss this one!

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment