Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A criticism/homage

I finally got around to watching Rob Zombie's Halloween "re-imagining" this weekend. Before I go further, I have two disclaimers...wait, three.

One is that I will watch nearly every horror movie, despite the fact that there are so few really good ones. I'm a fan of the genre, have been since I was 8 and I snuck out to the living room to watch Friday the 13th behind my babysitter's back.

The second is that I not only consider the original Halloween the best and most influential horror film of all time, but I believe it also belongs on any list of the best movies ever. C'mon, AFI, get on the ball.

The third is that I'm not sure it's possible to "spoil" a movie that's a remake, unless you haven't seen the original. If you haven't seen the first Halloween, then stop reading this column immediately and go rent it. Or don't. But I wouldn't read this without seeing it, because it will most likely bore you silly. At any rate, I don't think I'm going to give away anything that will "ruin" the new version for you, but I'm not going to go out of my way to omit details, either.

First, I did like a couple things about the Zombie version. It moved along quickly and was fairly entertaining, despite its two-hour running time. This was my first experience with Zombie direction, and I found it to be competent visually. Also, there was frequent use of the score from the original film, which is one of the most iconic arrangements ever, up there for me with all those awesome John Williams scores.

I also liked that Zombie didn't try to do what Gus Van Sant did with his remake of Psycho, which changed nothing but the actors. What was the point of that? Zombie made some changes and filled in some blanks. However, he did keep some of the exact same shots, like Michael Myers posing in the boyfriend's ghost costume with the glasses pulled over it, and the scene where Dr. Loomis goes to the cemetery and Judith Myers' gravestone is gone.

Zombie also predictably amps up the gore factor; the 70's Halloween is nearly bloodless. Let's just say this one is not.

He also gives his presumably young male core demographic what they want: lots and lots of female flesh. If you read my blog at all, you know this does not offend me. In fact, it's fair to say I encourage them. Boobies, that is. And I really liked the opening scene of a slutty-hot Judith Myers and her boyfriend, before Michael dices her up. And Linda's topless shot is longer and more revealing than in the original Halloween. Kudos there.

However, the third topless scene cancels out the other two and then some. You know Seinfeld's rap about "good naked" vs. "bad naked"? Well, Danielle Harris' scene as Annie starts off good and quickly veers into "cringe naked" territory. First of all, Harris is the actress who appeared as a child (and apparent Michael Myers protege') in Halloween IV and V. She was also Bruce Willis' daughter with braces in The Last Boy Scout. I couldn't decide if seeing her breasts was intriguing or sketchy. It quickly turns definitively to blasphemy when Myers grabs her still-topless, writhing, bloody, screaming body and drags her face down across the living room floor, bloody boobs scraping. She later lays face up, sobbing and moaning, with her plasma-smeared breasts bared for a long while.

I am no prude, but I've never been partial to the sex-mixed-with-violence mindset. I understand the purpose of something like that in a movie like The Accused or Casualties of War. But in a slasher flick that teens are going to see because it's a fun Friday night? That's sending some very dangerous messages.

But the part that disappointed me the most was Zombie's experimentation with "new" aspects of the story. He goes more into the "motivation" of Michael Myers as a young boy. We see young Mikey's home life in detail. He has an alcoholic, abusive, completely one-dimensional stepfather, a stripper for a mother (who keeps claiming right before Michael goes off on his killing spree that "tomorrow will be better," and we never find out what she meant by that), and an oversexed sister, which is the only connection to the original, as far as I can tell. We also see Michael's school life, where he's bullied for no good reason by an equally one-dimensional teen who later ends up on the wrong side of the tree branch Michael employs in his first homicide. Oh, and then there's the dead cat Michael brings to school in his backpack, and the pictures of dead dogs the principal finds in Michael's locker which he shows Mrs. Myers (remember, she's a stripper) during a parent-teacher conference.

It's all very subtle.

We also see plenty of Michael's face (although he has an affinity for masks) and hear him talk. They chose a petulant, pig-faced actor with long hair to play him. He comes off as a brat, but not especially terrifying. He engenders neither fear nor sympathy. He gradually becomes non-talkative and spends all his time in masks, before breaking out of his asylum in a Terminator 2-style scene. He continues to keep his hair long and unkempt, which Zombie evidently equates with scary, perhaps because that's how he wears his own, and he changed his name to "Zombie" because it's, you know...scary.

The problem is, it's not any more frightening than watching the nightly news, which I realize can be very frightening, but in a more pedestrian, soul-draining way. He gives us all these reasons why Michael became the way he did, and perhaps implies our society could be full of potential little Michaels. He also attempts to humanize Michael by showing a connection between he and his younger sister, Laurie. She's the only one he doesn't kill in the house that first Halloween night, and when he encounters her later as a young woman (after carving up all of her promiscuous friends), he holds up a childhood picture of the two together in some vague attempt at brotherly love.

All of this made me realize why I love the original so much, and why it's so frickin' scary. The kid in that one is from a "normal" family; his parents' only fault seems to be underestimating their daughter's sex drive when they leave Michael to her watch on Halloween night. For no apparent reason, other than the fact his sister opens her legs (a code that Halloween basically created), a six-year-old boy takes a large kitchen knife upstairs, walks into his sister's room, and stabs her over repeated protestations without saying a word. When his parents find him, bloody knife still in hand, and remove his mask, he's just standing there, staring blankly. They are astonished. What the hell happened here?

Cut to Dr. Loomis several years later, on Michael's 18th birthday. Unlike in the new version, Loomis doesn't want to be Michael's "friend." Get this chilling exchange:

[referring to a partially eaten dog]
Sheriff Leigh Brackett: A man wouldn't do that.

Dr. Sam Loomis: This isn't a man.

Dr. Sam Loomis: I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the *devil's* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... *evil*.

No reason. No logic. No long, straggly hair. Just evil.

He goes after his sister, who was an infant when he was sent away. Why? Doesn't matter. He does it with single-minded purpose. She's being stalked for reasons she (and we) don't comprehend. We just know she's terrified. And so are we.

After Loomis shoots Michael six times, driving him off a second floor balcony, a broken, petrified Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode tells Loomis (although it's delivered as a question, with a childlike need for assurance): "It was the boogeyman."

His response: "As a matter of fact, it was." His premise is confirmed when he looks to the lawn below and Michael is gone.

The last scene (and famous lines) is more or less repeated in the Zombie version, but it has much less resonance. After all, we know he's not the boogeyman. He's the product of a screwed-up home environment who wanted to reunite with his baby sister.

It occurs to me that Zombie's version could be seen as "liberal" while John Carpenter's represents a "conservative" outlook. If you've come this far, bear with me.

Liberals are known for trying to see the whole picture, grey areas and all. They want to figure out the "why" for actions, instead of just reacting. In real life, I agree with this philosophy.

But in horror movies, I want my good and evil clearly defined. I am much more disconcerted by the idea that a kid could come from a stable, upper-middle class environment in the suburbs and become a monster than that the superhuman beast is the son of white trash, a modern-day equivalent of Burris Ewell.

I want to think of Michael Myers the same way conservatives think of Osama Bin Laden- an malevolent force born to wreak havoc on average, hard-working people, not something created by societal deficiencies.

Wow. I had no idea I had this much to say or that we'd end up here (Osama Bin Laden...what the hell?). Thanks for reading, if you got this far. If anyone's seen the new movie or is a fan of the old one, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Would you vote for this man?

Comments from a recent interview with an aspiring politician:

"I'm going to be the governor in 2014. I just bought a house there. I can do some great things. America is divided between rich and poor, and the poor people don't stand a chance in this country. Poor people are born in bad neighborhoods and are going to go to bad schools. That's not right. You shouldn't have to be rich and famous to be successful."

Question: You've said you'll run as a Democrat. Didn't you used to be a Republican?

Answer: No. I didn't used to be a Republican. I said I was rich like a Republican, and I'm still rich like a Republican. There's no way in good conscience you can be a Republican right now. After what Bush and his cronies have done to America, there's no way you can honestly feel good about being a Republican. I mean that sincerely. Let's get something straight: The Democrats aren't much better. But I don't know how you can honestly say in good conscience that you are a Republican today in this country and not cringe.

Question: Would you consider bringing in Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson to help with your campaign?

Answer: No. I don't believe in them. They always play the race card, and you can't always play the race card. Sometimes the race card is needed but not in every situation. We have to hold blacks more accountable for their actions.

Question: Whom are you voting for in the presidential election?

Answer: I'm voting for Barack Obama. The reason I'm voting for him is he's a friend of mine. But I have to look at the big picture. We are so lost and confused in the black community right now. All our kids want to be rappers or entertainers. We need to let them know they can be intelligent and articulate. It's a bigger picture than him running for president, to be honest with you.

Question: Do you watch shows like The O'Reilly Factor?

Answer: No, because Bill O'Reilly is an asshole. And Lou Dobbs is an asshole. He's always hating on illegal immigrants. First of all, illegal immigrants do the work blacks and whites don't want to do. O'Reilly and Dobbs incite fear. On CNN, Dobbs is going in that direction because CNN is getting its butt kicked by Fox. He does a show every single night on illegal immigration. Seriously, if they want to stop illegal immigration it's very simple: All they have to do is penalize the rich people who hire illegal immigrants. They're not working for other poor people; they're working for rich people.

Question: How do you feel about the war in Iraq?

Answer: We have to bring those kids home. They should not be overseas. That's a no-win situation. We should not have gone there in the beginning, and now that it's a cluster fuck we should bring them home as soon as possible. It's never going to be safe there. Here's my analogy: If I come into your house and kick your ass and then stay, it's never going to be good. We're not going to get along. It's never going to happen. It will never be safe in Iraq. It's just stupid for us to be there.

Have you figured it out yet?

It's Charles Barkley. I know a lot of people say that athletes and entertainers should "know their place" and stay out of politics, but if they're making as much sense as Sir Charles does, why can't they speak out?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Hella Gay Posting...For Real

In light of the State Supreme Court's hearing on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage today, I conducted an extremely unscientific poll in all of my English classes. I asked them if they were for or against gay marriage and counted hands. I had a feeling that the majority would be for it (after all, this is the Bay Area), but even I was surprised by the results.

For: 109
Against: 8
Abstaining: 15

By any measure, that's a huge blowout. Interestingly, no females voted against, although some did abstain.

About half the comments I got from the boys who said they were against it was "it's nasty, unnatural" etc. The other half went with "it's against my religion." One went with: "If we normalize (my word, not his) gayness, then lots more people would be gay, and we wouldn't have enough people reproducing" while another went with an analogy to alcoholics making up about 10% of the population and not wanting to make that acceptable. I didn't really get it. At any rate, I doubt the lawyers politicking against gay marriages in court went with any of those arguments.

The thing is, there really aren't any arguments that do make sense, are there? Everyone who leads off in their stance against same-sex unions starts with, "I have nothing against gay people, but..." Then they explain their stance, but it really comes down to the fact that they feel homosexuality being more accepted would be worse for society. In other words, they have nothing against gay people as long as they don't want the same rights, etc. They gotta know their place, in other words. Sound familiar?

Then there's the stance of so-called supporters of gay rights like high-profile Dems Obama and Clinton, who say they're against gay marriage but very much for civil unions, which apparently are different only in name. It's a doctrine that used to be referred to as "separate but equal." That logic has a familiar ring to it, as well.

I've been reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my frosh, and every time I do, I'm struck by how much insight it has into the world of people's biases and bigotry, all told through the eyes of a child. In particular, the scene where Dill cries after watching the prosecuting attorney demean and belittle Tom Robinson on the stand strikes me as especially poignant. He is told by an adult (a man who pretends to be a drunk so that people will have a reason for his preference to live among blacks, with a black wife and mixed offspring) that when he grows up he won't cry anymore. But Dill hasn't been taught prejudice yet, and through his eyes, and Scout's, and Jem's, we see the injustice of the situation. Because it's pretty clear if you just see it for what it is, and wipe away all the jaded preconceptions that we pick up as we go along through life. They see a good black man who tried to help a pathetic white girl, and in turn is being made a victim of the jealousy and hatred of a white trash citizen who everyone knows to be despicable. Simple. Case closed.

I'm reminded of this when most of my kids gave their matter-of-fact reasons for being in favor of gay marriage: "What's the big deal?"..."Why does it affect straight people's marriages or their lives at all?" "Why shouldn't two people of the same sex who are in love and want to be together be allowed to do the same thing people of the opposite sex are?" Amazingly common sense ideas, and nothing like the hoops those anti-marriage lawyers had to jump through today in order to disguise what's at the root of all this outrage: Gays are evil. They're not normal. They're scary. They'll corrupt our children. They're promiscuous and immoral. Which are the same thoughts those people in the fictional jury box in Maycomb County have when they convict Tom Robinson. Stay in charge. The status quo is safer.

The problem for them: Progress marches inexorably forward. Young people gradually slough off the biases of the old. Those who stand opposing same-sex marriage now are tugging on the wrong end of history. They're George Wallace, standing in front of the school in Alabama, shouting about segregation forever.

There's still time for you haters out there. Let me put it into terms you can understand: ATONE FOR THINE SINS. ACCEPT HUMAN COMPASSION AND EQUALITY AS THY SAVIOR. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, EVEN IF HE WEARS EYELINER.