I think Rob Zombie fancies himself a bit of a Hollywood renegade, a genre auteur bravely recapturing a bygone true horror aesthetic. And maybe he is. His previous efforts, the ambitious but far too campy schlock-horror flick House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and the ultra-violent hillbilly torture/road trip flick The Devil's Rejects (2005), both tried to recapture the gritty and blood-soaked idioms of a pre-mainstream horror genre, the sub-culture that created films like The Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Zombie's filmography demonstrates both the heights and the pitfalls of being too obviously self-conscious: House of 1000 Corpses was a self-referential mess; The Devil's Rejects came close to macabre genius. Zombie obviously has talent and the amount of growth he demonstrated between his first and second films left me almost giddy with excitement.
Enter Halloween, Rob Zombie's third film and a remake of the John Carpenter slasher. Part grindhouse exploitation and part horror slasher, Halloween is unfortunately a very mixed bag. Why Zombie felt the need to update a classic instead of develop his own property is unclear, especially since he frustratingly dedicates himself whole-heartedly neither to the source material not to his own reinterpretation of it. What we get instead is a movie that sometimes feels like the cutting edge of modern horror, a la the so called "torture porn" sub-genre, and sometimes like a derivative and almost anachronistic rip-off. Halloween works best when Zombie ignore the source material and tries to make a movie that no longer resembles the original. Unfortunately, other an an almost too long prologue/first act which tries to explain the childhood factors that created the legendary slasher Michael Myers and other than an added plot element that clumsily explains Michael's motives after he escapes, Zombie does not alter the story all that much and ends up making a rather conflicted film that seems at odds with itself. Most of his "updates" are really just added brutality and sexuality. And let me tell you, Rob Zombie's Halloween is a very brutal and very uncomfortably sexualized film.
Not like this is anything new. The combination of death and sex has always meant that horror and exploitation films flirt with outright misogyny. Zombie, aware of what's preceded him, is I think trying to be sly and comment on this particular feature of the genre. Unfortunately, his use of horror conventions is not so much ironic as it is troublingly sincere. The men in the movie are dispatched efficiently but the girls, often naked or mostly so, dies in protracted and bloody fashion. If Zombie is winking at us, he is going so with the straightest of faces. If this is irony, it is exploitive and clumsy irony. Maybe Zombie should take notes from fellow splat-packer Eli Roth, who has a much more developed sense of irony, on how to properly kill girls in a movie without offending everyone in the theater.
But as far as most genre fans are concerned, blood and sex is all they want in a horror flick. Going into them, I can't say I have much hope for these films even though the genre fan in me demands that I see them anyway. In the end, Halloween will not make much of a splash and will probably disappear rather quickly, as it likely should. Hopefully, Rob Zombie himself will not turn out to have been a one hit wonder. Maybe his next flick will be better. Here's hoping. After all, it's so hard to be a self-respecting horror fan and we need as many good directors as we can get.
Experto crede: not recommended for anyone except those die-hard fans who, like me, never learn from their mistakes.