Semi-Raw Horror

Rob Zombie attempts to give Halloween a back story Friday Night Anytime

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Movie Guru

by LaRue Cook

You know you're watching a good, old-fashioned scary movie when the guy next to you in the theater starts yelling, â“Look the f*** out,â” as if the topless girl on screen is actually going to dodge the knife about to be lodged in her skull.

If you made it out for the opening weekend of Rob Zombie's remake of the 1978 John Carpenter classic, Halloween , then you know what I mean. Let's just say it's not a good mid-afternoon matinee.

I'm not generally a connoisseur of psychopathic slasher films. I respect the simplicity of the greats such as Halloween , Psycho , The Shining , and the like. It's when we get bogged down with subplots supposed to reveal some inner turmoil, the â“why it all went wrong,â” that I lose interest.

And unfortunately, Zombie, the cryptic-rocker-turned-cinephile, decides to ponder the whys of Michael Myers' mysterious past.

For those who somehow missed Carpenter's '70s sensation, Myers is mute, wears a mask, and terrorizes the town of Haddonfield, Ill., with a knife.

In the original, all we know is little Michael commits a brutal murder and is sent to the asylum. The psychiatrist basically dubs the kid evil incarnate and keeps him locked up for almost two decades... until one fateful Halloween night when Michael escapes and returns to Haddonfield for more mutilation. And that's all we really need to know.

But whereas Carpenter took only a half-hour to get us to the good stuff, Zombie uses the first hour of the film to paint an almost humanistic picture of the man behind the mask. Young Michael (played by the devilish Daeg Faerch) is the product of his stripper mom (Rob's wife Sheri), and he's forced to live in the same house with his slutty sister (Hanna Hall) and mom's pedophiliac boyfriend (William Forsythe).

It all comes to a head on Halloween after the principal finds pictures of dead animals in Michael's backpack and calls in his mom and psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

Michael brutally murders his sister, her boyfriend, and mom's beau, spilling enough blood to fill a MEDIC truck. He leaves his baby sister alive and mom is saved because she happens to be sliding down the pole that nightâ"to â“Love Hurts,â” no less. The dementia only worsens in the nut house, however, and Michael's mom eventually shoots herself after her son is committed for life.

Zombie is so disciplined in his reworking of the past that you wonder if maybe Michael isn't a real person. The writer/director treats the film like a biopic, as if it just as easily could be the story of Charles Manson or David Berkowitz. His style in the first half is as mute as Michael himself, which is why I assume he released this two months before Oct. 31, to keep us from writing it off as just another campy redux.

But when Zombie finally decides to let go of the case study and flex his movie-making muscle, you're reminded why the original was so downright scary. There's an art to making people jump, and Zombie has an uncanny handle on sharp-focus foregrounds and claustrophobic close-ups, knowing precisely when to keep us holding our breath and when to rack-focus so we piss our pants.

Although his first effortâ" House of 1000 Corpses â"should be regarded as a masturbatory gore-fest, his follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, was a well-executed film. From storyline to soundtrack, Zombie made calculated choices that lent credence to the genre, and he does the same with Halloween .

Although still a bit raw, his films are starting to develop an enjoyable hyperawareness (i.e. playing White Zombie , the film he named his band after, on all the TVs in Haddonfield). And I'd say it's about time for Zombie to stop piddling with his guitar and polish up his zoom lens, because he's obviously a filmmaker.

Movie Guru Rating:

Video a-Go-Go

While there's a lot of terrible crap on television, one could argue that we're also in something of a golden age where the good stuff is particularly good, with HBO and other cable nets offering original programming that opens up more competition for quality shows. Post- Friends NBC has had little luck launching new shows the past few years. Publicly, network execs now stress a â“be best, then be firstâ” approach, which is why the ratings-starved yet pitch-perfect Friday Night Lights is coming back for a second season and why TV fans should pick up the newly released season one on DVD.

FNL is happily a mostly subtle look at middle-class life in a rural Texas town that just happens to be crazed about its high-school football team (this is the third iteration of the FNL brand, after the best-selling nonfiction book and film of the same name). Sure, most of the cast is probably a little too pretty, but these are the sacrifices one makes to get a show on the air, and most of the kids can act. They're helped by an unconventional shooting style in which three cameras film at once, leaving the actors unhindered by having to hit marks and allowing light improvisation.

Adrianne Palicki shines as the girl who may or may not become the town slut in a few years, and her choices in the role are exceptional. Jesse Plemons, the closest thing to comic relief the show has, elevates all his scenes. But the absolute best part of this show is the amazingly nuanced relationship between leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as the local high-school coach and his wife. They disagree, they argue, they butt heads as absolute equals, and you never doubt that they love each other passionately. Britton and Chandler may have the best familial chemistry on the air today. â" Paul Lewis

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