*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! For full disclosure, scroll to the end of this post!*
31 Horror Movies in 31 Days
One year ago to the day I started this blog with a post about John Carpenter’s Halloween. I drew Michael Myers’ in his clown costume in pencil and watercolor, and wrote a piece about how much I loved it, and horror, and October in general.
I started One Critical Bitch with horror movies on the brain. The genre of my heart, I could think of only one thing I could write about consecutively for 31 days. And here we are a year later, getting ready to do it again.
Are you with me? Let’s do this.
The New Normal – Horror Film Post-2000
This October, I’m focusing on horror films made in the new millennium. From The Ring to Pontypool to Antichrist to The Witch, we’ll cover something for everybody.
My definition of horror is looser than most. Sometimes a choice might surprise you; I’ll explain how it fits the mold. Other times I’ll keep to the classics; or the new classics, as it were.
16 years into the new century and I’m always asking myself, how far has horror come? How much has it stayed the same?
So let’s start from square one – again.
Halloween (2007) / Halloween II (2009)
Dir. Rob Zombie
I know what you’re thinking: “Bitch, you’re starting Halloween with a remake.” Am not.
Lest you doubt my respect for Michael Myers and his maker, remember I birthed this series last year with the original, unkillable John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Let me also remind you of something we chatted about not two days ago. Some stories just stay stories; Other stories become fairy tales.
When John Carpenter created Michael Myers in 1978, he could not possibly have known that what he was doing would shape the genre for the next four decades. Or that “The Shape” (Michael Myers’ credited name) would become a model for every slasher villain in his wake. That his girl-next-door character Laurie Strode would be the come the prototype Carol Clover based an entire theory on (The Final Girl), wrote a book about (Men, Women, and Chainsaws), and that we still talk about theoretically to this day.
So I posit: when the character and story you create so transcends a genre – when you’ve created a villain that is a literal shape, the absence of light, the embodiment of evil, the devil himself – is that idea simply a part of Halloween, the John Carpenter and Debra Hill story? Or is it now Michael Myers, The Slasher, The Boogeyman, contemporary fairy tale?
I’m going with the latter.
A New Halloween
What’s special about Zombie’s Halloween is that it is nearly incomparable to its source material. I place the two films (Halloween and Halloween II) here in tandem because I find them best watched together; neither is as good as it can be without the other in tow (frankly, the first on its own feels like a warm-up).
While ’78 remains a clear inspiration (Zombie is clearly a super fan paying homage), the intentions are skewed. Carpenter created The Shape as an “empty vessel,” whose sheer vacancy and lack of humanity made him unearthly and frightening. Zombie doesn’t redefine but provides definition that didn’t exist before: for Michael as a person, as a bully, as a budding psychopath, and as a kid with problems. Where horror once came from nothing, this Halloween‘s horror comes from a gradual dissolve of something. Zombie loves to give his villains something.
Sometimes this works (well). Sometimes it doesn’t*.
*If there’s a real cinematic problem with this Halloween, it’s the script. Dialogue is choppy, delivery can be tonally off-putting, and some scenes are just too damn long. But this is the work of a filmmaker, still in 2007 in the early stages of his career and working with material that belongs to someone else (to all of the genre, really). I think you’ll find that by part II, Zombie really elevates his screenwriting and his general comfort in making the material his own. I stand by it as really great work.
The Damning Details of Fate
In this 2007 version of Haddonfield, Illinois, there is no innocence. Sex is dirty. Teenagers are raunchy. Even Laurie – sweet, kind, privileged Laurie – is as crude as the next girl. Michael doesn’t arrive to punish this time, so much as he arrives to get what he wants.
And that’s always been Laurie.
If there’s anything Carpenter’s Halloween and this iteration have in common, it’s fate. In ’78, The Shape brought punishment to a generation of unwatched teenagers acting like wild, sexualized perverts who ought to be damned for their deviance. Laurie saves herself by remaining chaste, dressing with a modest masculinity, and being a model of responsibility her peers couldn’t live up to.
In Zombie’s Halloween, even Laurie can’t be saved. Michael murders her parents – an indirect and passive punishment for her abandonment of him. Takes her hostage and forces her to kill him (no spoilers needed, because we all know Michael Myers doesn’t die). Most puzzling (and terribly interesting) to me is that Annie – killed in ’78 for leaving her babysitting post to get laid – survives her Michael-attack this time around.
Halloween II, beginning promptly after the last scene of Halloween, reveals Annie to be deeply scarred (and hacked, hacked, hacked to near pieces), but awake and screaming. But her survival, like Laurie’s, isn’t salvation, but prolonged pain.
But that’s the thing about this fairy tale – you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s just fate.
Realism Imbued with Supernatural Paranoia
Halloween II takes a turn. Where Zombie’s Halloween delights in a brutal realism, two is decidedly more supernatural.
Michael sees ghosts, has visions in white light, and the landscape turns just a little bit meta, as the cool kids say. The lighting is darker, greener, sicker. Everyone is scared, suffering, and stumbling around like drunks at an unwanted after-party. If part one is an origin story that defies the original’s lack of detail, part two is the nightmare that restores the sense of magic, wonder, and of course, the unkillable monster of a man.
That magic comes largely in the form of Michael’s mother, transformed from living to living-dead. An all-white angelic vision with a lot of black eyeliner and a dead set desire to bring her son home, Deborah Myers’ ghost is what elevates Michael from serial killer to Shape. From human being to something else.
What Carpenter created stylistically in ’78 is still a wonder. Halloween gained a quick reputation for its violence and gore, despite having hardly any visible blood at all. Certainly no shots with actual penetration of a knife. Michael Myers was just a man in a washed out William Shatner mask and a jumpsuit. It was the height of realism, yet magical in a way. The Shape was seemingly around every corner, ready to pounce. Able to take six bullets, and simply disappear.
A lot of Michael’s magic in Zombie’s Halloween emanates from his sheer size. He was a big guy in ’78, but in 2007, Myers is a beastly seven feet tall. He’s always shot at an upward angle. He’s monstrous. He’s unreal.
The terror of Carpenter’s slow, deliberate, over the shoulder cinematography created a point of view experience that placed the viewer in the shoes of the stalker. We watched, uncomfortably, as Michael (or maybe it was us) killed his victims.
Now, replaced with Zombie’s brutal angles (not canted enough to drive me insane) and sharp jerks of the camera, we don’t identify as anything but the violence itself. We already know Michael’s pain. Our main point of terror now is the victim’s.
Case in point:
Revisiting my favorite kill scene from the ’78 version, Michael stabs teenage boyfriend Bob on the wall of the kitchen, hanging him up to dry with his butcher knife doing the heavy lifting. The shot holds in peripheral for a long while and Michael turns his head just to the side. Like a dog, trying to decide what exactly you’re trying to say. The moment is still, and life leaves Bob swiftly, his body a still, hanging ornament.
Zombie preserves that kill but moves it to the stairwell. With the same peripheral vision, we watch Michael plunge that knife into exactly the same spot. Only, in Zombie’s style of brisk filmmaking, there’s no hold. The camera switches to his feet. Bob doesn’t die a quick and silent death – the focus shifts from Michael’s attempt at understanding to Bob’s twitching feet, dying right in front of us. Michael understands just fine. It’s Bob who doesn’t.
There is no question of The Shape’s intent in Zombie’s Halloween. Instead, there’s now a question of our intent. Are people good? Carpenter’s Shape suggested an evil as all-powerful as God, punishing those humans who dare sin in his path. A good, decent, non-sinner, a salvageable person, must then exist.
Zombie’s Michael has a name, an origin, and an uncanny – but not unearned – power. His power comes from bullies, from hardship, and from abuse. He is simply paying it back ten-fold to those that fall in his path to reclaiming the only piece of goodness he can remember: his sister. His sister who is herself, a problematic person, a deviant, and like all of us, fallible.
The Fun Stuff
Genre obsessives will notice Danielle Harris as Annie, and remember her role in two of the best Halloween sequels (not a ton of competition), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5 (honestly, just called Halloween 5).
This is arguably what Zombie does best (and as he grows as a filmmaker, what makes his work stand out more and more: assemble a cast of genre mainstays.
From the likes of Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula, Suspiria) to Sid Haig (Spider Baby, Pit Stop), Zombie not only has an appreciation for classic B-movie horror, he employs their most important actors. Typically cast off by mainstream Hollywood, Zombie creates characters that celebrate that history, their commitment to the genre, their general strangeness. It’s clear how much this director is a fan of his actors’ work. I assume it’s why they keep coming back. And as each film arrives from Zombie, the troupe grows tighter, better, like a company of horror misfits making the perfect genre movie.
Get to know them. And get to know Zombie. I think he’s the future of the genre – seriously.
If You Like It, Watch:
Signs (Click for trailer)
Need to find a movie?
Here are all 31 in one place with pricing details and where to purchase, courtesy Maven.
*This post contains affiliate links – I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Of course, I stand by every film, dvd, or book I link you to, and hope you’re cool with this – if not, don’t click!*