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February 06, 2010

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Jaime

Glenn, I wrote about HALLOWEEN II at length for The House Next Door. Zombie is highly problematic as a director, to be sure, but...how to put this. He's got sand.

I tried to put together an accurate picture of Zombie's assets and liabilities - both of which are considerable, I think.

So if you have time to spare:

http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2009/11/you-the-horror-halloween-ii-2009/

Chuck Stephens

Forgive the cut-n-paste from Facebook, but:

"Whatever Zombie's talents and/or limitations as a filmmaker..." Sorry Glenn, but you're unlikely to discover those only by looking at his (admittedly highly personalized) works-for-hire. I'm with Nathan 100%, and I put HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES on my 10-best-of-the-decade list, and EL SUPERBEASTO on my best-of-09 lists, and that very reason. Expand your field of vision a bit and you might begin to see what the fuss is about.

As for this wholly retarded comment: "...and one suspects that Mr. Zombie learned most of what he knows about white trash from watching Spider Baby and such..." -- jesus, one hardly knows where to begin. How about: there's nothing remotely resembling any standard definition of "white trash' in Jack Hill's wholly underrated and every-frame-a-classic SPIDER BABY. And that "...and such..." totally gives your ignorance away: there are no other films like SPIDER BABY! Hill's masterpiece is so ahead of its time, and still so little understood that most folks might let you get away with this bullshit. I certainly won't. Try actually watching that film. Again. Then we'll discuss.

Allow me to rephrase on line above: I put HOUSE OF 1000 and SUPERBEASTO on my lists out of admiration for Zombie's (contemporarily) peerless filmmaking -- though I also agree with Nathan Lee's high marks for the HALLOWEENs in every respect.

Nathan Lee

I wrote about Zombie's first HALLOWEEN at some length in a piece I did last year (maybe the year before?) on horror remakes for FILM COMMENT. Worth a look.

Alexander Vladimirovich

" it is correct within the context of that the film demonstrates no actually compelling reason to exist."

Well, despite Chuck's nuanced appraisal I must agree with you Mr. Kenny. I think the biggest problem with Rob Zombie's filmmaking (and don't get one started on his musical career), and, yes, this does pertain to House of 1000 Corpses (his "personal" works as Chuck may have it), is quite simple: He knows his chops, he has clearly studied the horror genre and has an awareness of how it works technically (his films I would say are mired in their never-ending games of reference), but, simply stated, he just isn't that smart. There is an emptiness to much of his work beyond the references and knowledge of the genre (though I think his knowledge is more that of tropes and visual/audio techniques) he just isn't intelligent enough to have anything interesting to say.

Much of the original Haloween, despite being shot in California and it showing at times, is about the rhythms and realities of growing up in the suburbs. Perhaps the best moments of the film are those mid/late afternoon shots and sequences of walking around in the 'burbs.

bill

Ugh. Zombie has an eye, but so does Eli Roth, and I don't see where all this praise for Zombie is coming from. HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES is a hopeless movie, until the end which is weird enough, to no good end, to fool people into thinking Zombie has Lynch-like chops. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is effectively nasty at times, but so morally bankrupt by the end (William Forsythe was just as bad! Don't ask me how, he just was!) that I'd be tempted to give credit to Zombie for making a nice little joke, if so many people didn't swallow it whole. Which is maybe their problem, not Zombie's, but I have my doubts.

As for his HALLOWEENs....it's just more of the same. Zombie is a miserable writer, whose not-even-armchair psychoanalysis of Myers robs his film of any true dread, or mystery, which is an element of horror films that is sorely lacking these days. Why in the world would you want to explain Myers? And how could you think that giving him a drunk dad and stripper mom is somehow good enough? Biopic? That's the problem! Biopics are simpleton's genre, thinking cherry-picked moments describe and explain the whole of someone's life. To cherry-pick moments to describe and explain why someone becomes a hulking butcher of his fellow human beings is, well, simple.

Again, Zombie has an eye, and I would agree that it's best displayed in the HALLOWEEN films. But his good eye, which only works occasionally to begin with, never connects to anything worthwhile. As Glenn says, it indicates what could be, in Zombie were a much, much better filmmaker, which he's not.

I hestitate to say all this, lest Chuck Stephens call me retarded, but there it is.

Tom Russell

The missus and I were reasonably impressed with the first hour or so of Mr. Zombie's Halloween, though we almost turned it off somewhere between the impossible-to-wash-out-of-my-brain lines "I'm going to skull-fuck the shit out of you" and "Fuck you, sit on my pole right now". We agree that that white-trashy unpleasantness was a little thick, even if thick was what he was going for. And the second hour was mostly competent but nothing spectacular or, as you say, necessary.

And HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES is the most noxious piece of shit I'd seen in a long time, and I still haven't forgiven the friends who dragged me to it, or the minor siblings who I had deputized to take to it. That's right, I had to sit through it twice, and for me, it did not improve on a second viewing, though I'll admit that I'm probably not the right audience for it. I hear his second film is much better but never really felt compelled to take the dive after slogging through the first.

As far as Halloween films go, let me say that besides the first one, my favourite would have to be the fifth. Psychic-link mumbo-jumbo and the comedy-relief policemen aside, it has some very appealing characters, is loaded with atmosphere, and contains the single most frightening sequence in the franchise-- the little girl trapped in the laundry chute. That moment is intense and extremely cinematic.

Chuck Stephens

Chuck Stephens, Nuanced Retard -- get my business card printer on the horn!

The First Bill C

Did you view the DC or theatrical cuts of these movies? Very different animals, I discovered.

Personally, I'm in love with Zombie's HALLOWEEN II, if for no other reason than that the movie goes back to finish the job on survivors of the first film. In a year where I experienced the futile death of a friend, Myers' ultimate inexorability across two movies with the same characters cut to the bone of mortality much more profoundly for me than the antiseptic grief of the SUMMER HOURS bourgies. Between HII and ANTICHRIST, it was a great year for the depressed horror picture.

(I also love that Zombie shot HII in grungy 16mm. That's putting your money where your mouth is.)

Jaime

@ Alexander - I see where you're coming from - more than most, as THE DEVIL'S REJECTS made me unbelievably angry - but I'd be in trouble if I had to jettison films that I love based on whether or not they had "something to say." On the other hand, I've always tried to be on the side of looking at what the films ARE and what they DO. At the risk of putting myself across as a pure formalist (I ain't; too much pleasure would be excluded in that decision), two of the most important aspects of movies are also the two most frequently left out of the discussion: (1) what is the image, and (2) what does the cut do to it. Safer for reviewers to search for the ninety-nine-thousandth way to recount the plot with delight or derision.

Mr. Kenny described a handful of evocative images in H/H2. (I haven't read Mr. Lee's FC article, but I will if I find it.) Apart from those, I was also overwhelmed by an early close-up in H2, of the wounded passenger in the medical examiner's van (after the crash), bleeding, pale, and saying "fuck!" over and over and over and over again. I can't call H2 great film, but I don't negotiate with images in terms of "so bad it's good"... this was simply, to me, a great image.

I mentioned this in my essay for THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR. I also pointed out another cut - midway through the film - that probably nobody noticed because it's pure scene-setting. Zombie shows a wide shot of the Brackett home. Then he cuts to a wider shot. I don't know what this cut "says," but it galvanized the image for me. That's what it DID.

Something that occurred to me while watching H2, in terms of methodology: Zombie strikes me as a filmmaker who shoots miles and miles of footage for most scenes, giving the in-between-the-gore sequences a decided lack of forward momentum - i.e. those scenes are built vertically rather than horizontally. I'll bet you five dollars he shoots with two cameras, just like (supposedly) Ridley Scott. Contrast this with the Correct Method for Filming: wide/master shot, medium shot medium shot medium shot, close-ups because the stars' agents said we had to, repeat. Does Zombie's alternative a success? I think so.

The "money" scenes, as well as the "haunting" images, on the other hand, are handled with quite a bit more "one chance to get it right." I'm less inclined to think the images in those scenes - some of which Mr. Kenny has posted overhead - are the result of a guy who's not that smart.

@ Bill - I don't sense a groundswell of support for Zombie. A couple of writers - me included - are trying to come to grips with what he's doing. Folks who have written him off are not in short supply. And there's his dialogue, which I can't defend from any angle.

Alexander Vladimirovich

Jaime: Perhaps I went to far in castigating Mr. Zombie (when one uses the NY Times style-guide for his name it brings up all sorts of issues) for not having anything "interesting to say", though I would offer that is different than not having "something to say." It isn't about the message implied by the latter so much as the lack of intelligence of the former.

I agree with you that films should not be judged simply on the message they want to impart, and your two examples of neglected analysis of movies are spot on (looking at what a film does, and how it does this, alongside the questioning of the image and the cut ((and this would also go hand in hand with the corresponding audio)) is righfully important and unfortunately neglected). One doesn't always have to have a profound message, and many are the movie that thinks this is what matters and are absolute shit as a result, but should hopefully have a thought behind the images and editing, etc. I think even on this level Zombie is often lost. While there are moments of interesting images/edits/etc as you offer they are surrounded by so many of ineptitude and contradiction that they seem more like happy accidents than profound investigations or innovations or statements of the very techniques of narrative filmmaking, or simply succesfull moments of filmmaking, be it focused on the visual/audio, narrative, or rhythms, etc etc. Again, perhaps this is going too far rhetorically. Let me rephrase this:

I appreciate the examples you've brought up and do not deny that there are moments in his films that are shot/edited well, though I would say this is not particularly consistent and thus they seem to be the techniques of genre he has picked up that work and he often fails to discern these from those he utilizes that don't work, which are many. His films seem scattershot (and not in an intentional stylistic way that seems purposeful) and that may be a basis for the lack of intelligence I see (the inability to discern what works in in the abstract and concrete of movie-making from what doesn't).

To go back to the point of having anything "interesing" to say versus "something" to say, I think it is quite an important distinction and one that underlies many discussions of films. One need not have a polemical message but one should have thoughts upon which images, sounds, edits are based. I don't critique Rob Zombie's films for lacking the "something", as you say many films don't do this and should be appreciated and looked at for how they do what they do (and they can be great films), but for their lack of the "interesting" which here stands in for a depth of thought (which can be found in a Russ Meyer film as much as a Straub-Huillet, it is not meant as elitest/cultured designation) that I have yet to feel or find in Zombie's films.

Jaime

Alexander - what can I say? I won't contradict you on anything you say against his films. It's true that they are bad! They wear a badge of badness. But the security in that conclusion doesn't satisfy me, when bad films stir my interest - at that point, I treat the "bad" label as a flywheel, spinning independently of what I find in the image and the cutting. I don't have an agenda to promote HALLOWEEN II to the pantheon - in fact, I would prefer to sit out the promote/demote game when I feel it limits conversation.

After a friend had looked over my Unexamined Essentials directory (which was inaugurated with the 2009 list, featuring... yes... HALLOWEEN II; the 1997 list goes live in less than an hour), he observed that my agenda was similar to what contemporary Cahierists are doing with their annual top 10s - aside from promoting auteurism, they would "play the high and low against the middle." Not do denigrate the great films of the "middle," but...they do not lack for spotlight. (They sometimes win Academy Awards.)

Um...where was I going...after blatant self-promotion...um...

Yes. Just this: I'm not looking to convert you re H2, or Zombie. My moviegoing last year was so sparse, my top 10 only has 7 titles, and none of them are H2. To give you an idea. If what I consider Zombie's visual intelligence didn't happen for you, I can at least guarantee that you *will* find it in low-brow films, at least as frequently as in any other risky moviegoing adventure. (Like going to a film festival.) I guess it's all about trying to be flexible.

Glenn Kenny

@ Jaime: That's an interesting piece, and well worth the time of anybody who is interested in the subject. Sorry to have missed it the first time around.

@ Chuck: Oh, you, so quick to take offense. It's entirely legitimate to object to the flippancy of my "Spider Baby" reference, and it was probably an ill-advised one, all things considered. But it did not constitute a slam at that film, any more than saying "X learned everything he knows about music boxes from 'Rules of the Game' " would have constituted a slam on "Rules of the Game." It's true I probably could have chosen a more germane example, but it was Saturday morning. My bad.

@ Nathan Lee: "Worth a look." If you may say so yourself. Alas, I'm missing that issue, and probably missed it back then, which is too bad, as it would have been nice to have it on hand.

As for Zombie's other films, I find them interesting insofar as they're attempts to craft grindhouse movies that are both self-conscious and yet aspire to a certain unselfconsciousness. Which is a whole other ball of wax that I may or may not look at some other time.

maximilian

Can we get a review/analysis/critical beatdown of the current creme de la creme of the crop of current horror cinema?

I refer, surprisingly, to the French, particularly "Martyrs" and "Inside".

It's not on-line, but your "Synecdoche, New York" fellow roundtabler Walter Chaw wrote 'em up in the latest Film Freak Central annual. Fucker was so persuasive that I rewatched "Martyrs" just to see it through is eyes, and while I'm not quite as keen on it as he is, the film does have, as you so eloquently phrased it above, "instances of violence becomming so insistently numbing that the real horror lay in the interstices, the moments in which nothing was happening."

"Inside", however, is where it's fucking at. Beatrice Dalle in a horror film = epic win!

Chuck Stephens

I've already hated myself for it. You deserve better.

p.s. I like Eli Roth's films more each time I see them.

Glenn Kenny

@ maximilian: I'm gonna wait before I tackle those French ones.

I don't know if I'm getting old or mellowing out or what, but watching the two Zombie pictures back-to-back gave me a strong urge to revisit "The Music Man" some time soon.

But speaking of Beatrice Dalle in a horror film, what do you make of Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day?" THAT I could watch again, even at this very moment.

maximilian

Glenn: oh yes. Oh yes oh yes. In fact, I just recently rented it, this time for the special lady friend, who has been jonesing for any and all vampire related film/books of late. I sold it to her as a vamp flick, with Vincent Gallo, and she was keen on viewing it, though she's pretty sensitive to horror fare in general.

For the first hour or so, while loving every second of it, I couldn't for the life of me figure out just why I hadn't rented it for her previously.

And then, not to spoil anything, THE scene happened.

Oh my oh my oh my.

She was in a conundrum during the scene; sure, clasping your hands over your eyes to the horror, the horror is one thing, but then what was she to do about the slurping, munching, "schlupping" (to paraphrase Bill Lee in "Naked Lunch") sound pumping from the speakers?

Being a wishy-washy stoner, I can't do top 10 lists for years, let alone decades, but if I did, "Trouble Every Day" would not only be top 3 for horror films of the decade, but might even crack the top 10 overall.

Alexander Vladimirovich

Jaime, perhaps this conversation has run its course, but dosh garn it if I can't help myself to try and clarify myself a little. It was never my attempt to say it is worth dismissing a film entirely bad as it may be, particularly when there is something that stirs your interest. It is that pique of interest that is fascinating as a viewer and well worth examining. Lord knows there are many movies that I consider "bad" but maintain an interest in. I never meant what I said to come off as some elitest dismissal, I hope it wasn't taken as such. I won't strive for credibility by naming "low" films, to use the terminology in place, I like/love/have an interest in as that seems both sad and unnecesary, but sufice to say the point that I was dismissing a whole means of looking at, and a whole class of films (or even breaking films into "classes"), was far from what I offered.

I guess the salvagable point I was trying to make was I personally hadn't had that experience with R. Zombie's films, and those moments that did occur I found surrounded by things I found to run counter to them, hence the statement that I find him lacking in intelligence in that I think he gets lost in his own filmmaking and perhaps this is where the distinction of "interesting", though maybe lacking, points to a thought behind the construction. I realize know that this also may not account accurately for my own thoughts as there are certainly instances where an amateurism, or something of the sort, yields tremendous results, so perhaps one has to fall back on a term as vague as "sensibility." Ugh, murky waters here. That said, there can always be moments in movies one finds to be failing that rise above the tedium and do strike one's fancy or interest.

Anyways, I didn't take you to be proselytizing for H2. I don't feel I need to be reminded that I "*will* find it in low-brow films, at least as frequently as in any other risky moviegoing adventure. (Like going to a film festival.) I guess it's all about trying to be flexible..." as my qualms here were with specific Rob Zombie films not all so called "low-brow" films.

Fuck it, maybe my problem with his movies is I just can't divorce the man from that god-awful music he spent so many years peddling.

Chuck Stephens

RZ's music is what kept me away from his films until just a year ago. Thankfully, though it wouldn't be right to suggest that the films and the music are worlds apart (they obviously aren't, from his band's name on down), there are such significant differences that one can easily hold them at arm's length from one another. The films -- HTC, TDR and EL SUPERBEASTO especially -- reward genre aficionados on so many levels that those pleasures tend to mostly compensate for the moments when you can all but hear Robin Wood shrieking in horror at what those "revolutionary" 70s American horror films he so admired and brilliantly explicated have lately wrought; and the performances of Moseley, Haig and Ms. Zombie are indelible in every respect.

Jaime

Alex - muddy waters indeed. But that's cool.

I think we see things similarly, if we differ on today's subject. Good talk, hope to see you around!

The Siren

@Glenn: "I don't know if I'm getting old or mellowing out or what, but watching the two Zombie pictures back-to-back gave me a strong urge to revisit "The Music Man" some time soon."

Sweet!

If that doesn't suit, may I recommend "Mother Wore Tights"?

It's Ed Hulse's favorite Betty Grable too.

bill

I hated INSIDE. Nobody asked me, but I did.

Joseph B.

I'm not the biggest Zombie fan, but damn "House of 1,000 Corpses" is bold, scary and downright terrifying filmmaking. That final 30 minutes... talk about a horror film going down the rabbit hole.

And I think we're all forgetting the real surprise here is Lee's choosing of "Next Day Air" as his number 6 film? Now there's some rationalizing I'd love to hear....

Nathan Lee

"Lee hasn't written at length about either picture. " If you may say so yourself.

Keith Uhlich

I consider the DVD director's editions of Zombie's "Halloween" and "Halloween II" to be a masterful (not saying flawless) diptych, as inseparable from each other in my heart and mind as his peer QT's "Kill Bill"'s. I've gotten some eye-rolls in invoking everything from Jorge Luis Borges ("Pierre Menard and the Quixote" specifically) to Fritz Lang's "Mabuse" films in describing their effects—the ways in which they work/feed off of each other and their antecedents. But I'm putting it all out there regardless, because these films have a potent emotional undercurrent that I want to try and illuminate. (In addition to Jaime's essay, I have a long-in-the-queue convo on the first film with Nick Schager and a recently recorded convo on the second film with Jeremiah Kipp, both of which will hopefully go up on The House Next Door sooner rather than later. Lazy editor just gotta transcribe.) These are serious works of art worth much more consideration than they've been given. Glad you grappled with them, Glenn.

Chuck Stephens

Certain though I am that I should just leave all this nonsense alone, two aspects of this thread (how's that for flattering the term) stick with me:

1] this comment from "Jaime": "I'll bet you five dollars he shoots with two cameras, just like (supposedly) Ridley Scott."

Question: if RZ used two (or more) cameras, how would that differentiate him from any three dozen other Hollywood action directors of the last thirty or forty years, including Peckinpah, John Woo, McG, Tony and his brother Ridley, and on and on?

2] the way "Alexander Vladimirovich" drones on here for paragraph after paragraph without having a SINGLE specific thing to say about any of RZ's films, though he does makes it quite clear that he regards the director as stupid. Don't take my word for it: go back and read what Ignatiy, er, Alexander wrote: not a SINGLE specific thing. You know, examples -- those things people with something to say deploy to dissipate their own hot air.

He does have this to say about the Carpenter version though: "Much of the original Haloween, despite being shot in California and it showing at times, is about the rhythms and realities of growing up in the suburbs."

If everyone who grew up in "the suburbs" (as if the suburbs in Idaho bore some identicality with the suburbs in Maine) was a blonde babysitter with perfect grades whose entire existence consisted of coming home from school, smoking a little pot and being terrorized by an unkillable entity, that might be true. Sadly, such a description is just more hapless reaching on that writer's part, and about on par with saying that Chinatown is a study of 1930s automobiles: remotely related to the subject at hand, but about as far from the point as one could get.

jim emerson

I haven't seen the Zombie Halloweens (I prefer to celebrate Dias de los Muertos these days), but I guess I'll give 'em a try. I had no idea, until I saw that still at the top of this post, that Michael Haneke was in the 2007 film.

Chuck Stephens

Finally though (yeah right), I'm mainly upset that Glenn never mentioned the PHI ZAPPA CRAPPA poster in RZ's H2.

Jaime

Not sure I understand the question, Chuck. How can I help you?

bill

Sometimes, I have a hard time believing I'm even reading this thread.

IV

CS,

I'm not Alexander Vladimirovich.

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