By Aaron Hillis
[Photos: Left, Rob Zombie; below, Tyler Mane and Kristina Klebe in “Halloween,” Dimension Films, 2007]
While we tend to collectively groan at the mere announcement of a beloved film being remade, it’s easier to be forgiving with genre cinema. That’s not to say there’s anything in dire need of an upgrade in John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher landmark “Halloween,” but the idea of a bloody face-lift becomes more intriguing when the plastic surgeon in question is heavy metal superstar-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”). Fresh-faced Scout Taylor-Compton takes over as 2007’s Laurie Strode (a part made famous by Jamie Lee Curtis), the victimized younger sister to the white-masked, psychotic mute who spawned numerous sequels, imitators and this very remake, Michael Myers. Whether Zombie’s take will be any better than the recent slew of 70s-horror remakes or their sequels (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Hills Have Eyes”) remains to be seen, but at least his supporting cast of cult talent Udo Kier, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Adrienne Barbeau and Mickey Dolenz (?!) hints that Zombie’s is a genuine labor of psychotronic love. The former White Zombie frontman, who even named his band after a Bela Lugosi horror flick, chatted with me briefly via phone.
Did you have any trepidation tinkering with a classic?
No, not really. [laughs] I didn’t have any interest in doing anything with “Halloween” when the opportunity first came up. It wasn’t something I was thinking about, so I wasn’t really prepared for the offer. But then I thought about it for a while, and you know what? Classic characters and stories can always be told again in a completely different way.
Are there any sacred-cow horror faves that should never be touched?
I don’t think that way. You don’t want to box yourself in because you never know what’s going to happen. If somebody remakes a movie and it’s awesome, great. If you don’t like it, who gives a shit?
Why do you think Michael Myers has lasted so long as a horror icon, especially since Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th” has usurped the silent, masked murderer look?
The first movie is great, so that’s a good way to start. For a character that’s 30 years old, there’s nothing about him that appears dated. Sometimes they come up with these characters which are much more extreme or over the top, so five or ten years down the line, you think, “God, that looks ridiculous.” Anything that’s trendy or in an “of the moment” scenario always becomes dated, but Michael Myers is so simple and classic that I think it’ll always work.
The original “Halloween” featured Laurie Stode as the protagonist, but your update focuses more on Michael Myers’ perspective. How does this work since he doesn’t speak, and are we to sympathize with the serial killer?
Well, he does speak when he’s a child. So really, all his personality and vibe I’ve set up with him when he’s ten. When he does become an adult and isn’t speaking anymore, you feel like you’ve had enough of a glimpse inside his head, that he isn’t just a guy in a mask standing there. You feel something, some sense of understanding the character. I mean, it’s a conflicted movie. At times, you might feel sympathy, but overall, no. He’s a flawed character, to be sure. I’m a fan of making characters a little conflicted because if it’s just “good character, bad character,” it’s too simplistic for my tastes.
Slasher flicks have a very limited, pared-down set of tropes, which have been mined to death in countless sequels, knock-offs, and no offense remakes. As both a director and knowledgeable fan, what’s left to do in the genre?
I think what’s left to do, sort of what I was trying to do with this film, is to make movies more character-driven. Over the years, they’ve become very gag-driven. How crazy can the kills be? How wild can the scenarios be? That stuff grows tired. You have to be watching a movie about characters you’re interested in, or you’re just going to get bored. That’s why I turned Michael Myers into a character whose journey you follow; same with Laurie, same with Loomis. It’s not just about a big guy running around doing horrible things I mean, who cares? You have to have some sense of what you’re watching.
The way I describe it to people, even those working on the movie, I say, “This sounds really weird, but think of this as a real movie.” I swear, everyone thinks there are different rules if you’re making a horror movie. “Oh, the acting should be like this, and that should be…” Fuck all that bullshit, you know? It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I’ve never been a fan of horror movies that are campy that drives me crazy. I hate that shit. I want things to be serious. Even a movie that’s not a horror movie, like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” think about how fuckin’ intense the shit in that movie is, from Brad Dourif’s character killing himself to Nicholson getting the shock treatment. You’re so caught up with these real people, it’s like you’re there living it for real. But when you’re making way over-the-top scenarios, I don’t know… People watch these things for different reasons. I’ve never been a big fan of giant special-effects gags where everyone yells and screams. It’s like a Roadrunner cartoon.
You mention characters a lot, and your films tend to co-star so many unusual character actors, often from classic genre cinema. Do you write parts specifically for them, or is it all in the casting later?
Well, sometimes I have someone specific in mind for a role. Sometimes I don’t. I always knew I wanted William Forsythe for the boyfriend. I always wanted Ken Foree [from the original “Dawn of the Dead”] for the truck driver whom Michael Myers steals his jumpsuit from. You start going through your memory banks and start coming up with stuff.
What about Mickey Dolenz? You don’t strike me as a Monkees fan.
How could you not love The Monkees? I think they’re the reason I even liked music. When I was a little kid, before I even discovered there was a radio or The Beatles, I watched TV. The first bands I ever saw were The Monkees, The Banana Splits and The Partridge Family. When I was in kindergarten, I thought that was the greatest thing of all time.
Many American horror films of late have been of the “torture-porn” variety. Do you think there are sociopolitical implications to that, just as when slashers reactionarily appeared in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate?
Well, I think there was, back in the day. All the directors of those films have always said that, like Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper or George Romero. But I don’t know about now. Do you really feel that the war in Iraq is affecting the average person? I don’t get that feeling. If there was a draft, I think it might be affecting everybody, but people just carry on with their lives. They’re more concerned with Paris Hilton than the Marines.
So you believe it’s a coincidence?
I think so, but maybe the trend you’re talking about is losing its luster. Maybe it’s hitting too close to home, and something like “1408” is grabbing people’s attention because it’s supernatural and seems more like a horror movie. I do know a lot of people who say, “I want it to be scary, not gross.”
You’re known for your encyclopedic knowledge of psychotronic cinema. What’s the sickest, most depraved film you’ve ever seen?
I don’t know if it’s the sickest, but “I Spit on Your Grave” is always one of those films that you’re like, “Eh.” You know what I mean? There are depraved films like “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS,” but there’s still some stylistic element to it, so that you can watch it. But “I Spit on Your Grave,” what’s the point of this? It’s just such a nasty film, and you’re like, “What the hell?!”
Your artistic reputation is so morbid. Do you ever kick back with a good romantic comedy?
I’ll watch almost anything unless it’s total shit, then I won’t want to waste my time. I don’t have any prejudice against movies; a good movie is a good movie. I think the last one I got out to see was “Knocked Up,” and I thought that was great. “Superbad” looks really funny, I’ll probably go see that. I like comedies when they seem inspired. It’s the same thing with everything else: too many comedies feel like cookie-cutter shit.
“Halloween” opens August 31st (official site).