Tagged Malcolm McDowell

31: Creeps, Clowns, & Chaotic Terror

31. 2016. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, & E.G. Daily.
Bow and Arrow Entertainment/PalmStar Media/Protagonist Pictures.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterI’ll defend Rob Zombie to the day I die. You can say you don’t like him, you don’t dig his brand of horror; that’s totally fine. To each their own. You can’t say objectively that everything he does is bad. Because that simply isn’t true.
31 is a markedly different piece of horror from Mr. Zombie. It’s so clearly in his style, from the way he directs to how he writes his characters. At the same time, this is even more savage than his previous efforts with scarier characters, and we’re not given too much explanation so as to ruin the effect of his various maniacs. There is the recognisable Zombie directing, the old school 1970s-type freeze frames and his unique brand of dialogue. He’s just decided to take it up a notch.
The game at the heart of Murderworld – where Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) bring their victims – is truly terrifying. Not something we haven’t seen before. Zombie makes the gimmick worth it. This isn’t some kind of Saw building setup with booby traps. No, Father and the Sisters have gathered together the worst of the worst killers, assembled their massive warehouse like a carnival of rooms and let those murderous clowns loose to play. Along with Zombie’s dare to be disturbing these clowns are something to behold.
pic1Totally dig the opening scene with Doom-Head (Richard Brake). He’s capable of channelling sinister energy, which comes out nicely here. The way Zombie has everything open, before we discover the pastor sitting on the other side of the shot awhile later, it’s as if Doom-Head is speaking right to us, the viewer. He tells us a tale before the kill. Of course he’s talking to the pastor. But it’s a neat way to get things going. Compounded by the fact it’s shot in black-and-white, there’s something jarring. Essentially, it’s the prologue to Zombie’s tale of horrific madness. A no-nonsense immersion into the stark terror for which Zombie so clearly aims. We come back to Doom-Head later, as he’s the ultimate main villain of the film. When we do, Brake goes into full awe mode, as he quotes Casablanca, Che Guevara, as well as has ferocious sex while watching Nosferatu, among plenty of other insanity; and it works. He’s a showstopper. Watching him put on the makeup is a transformation of acting and editing. Brake pumps himself up in terrifying form screaming “Im not crazy Im in control” then punching himself in the nose a ton. Meanwhile, the cuts leading up to his little chant flash around, skipping, like a schizophrenic fit, and then Brake’s face turns from a smile to a frown; the blood runs cold watching him become a vision of disorder.
The crazy clowns are each pretty gnarly! Sick-Head (Pancho Moler) surprised me. I feel like there was too much time spent on his character. Otherwise, he’s nasty. From the Nazi-Hitler fixation to the fact he’s a tiny man, it hits that shocking spot just right. The ones who disturbed me most were the pairings: brothers Psycho-Head (Lew Temple) and Schizo-Head (David Ury) wielding chainsaws, threatening sexual violence, looking like the sort of child molester clowns we all feared as children; then there’s Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), a walking Freudian horror nightmare. Out of the two pairs, Sex and Death are the most bloodcurdling. Their size is off-putting, Death looming so tall and Sex so tiny. Death is physically intimidating and really strange-looking; Sex is tiny, violent, cute in a way that doesn’t make me feel good, and scary as fuck. While I do think Doom-Head steals the show because of Brake’s startling performance, the rest of the gang are equally well written by Zombie to give them all their own frightening elements.
pic1Zombie’s always guilty of a few writing mistakes. Mostly, he often doesn’t trim some of the fat. Like Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie) when she gives us the cliche “You wanna know whats going on inside my head; Ill tell you whats going on inside my head” before, yes, telling us exactly what’s on her mind. More than that I also find the character of Panda Thomas (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) poorly written. Could be that Hilton-Jacobs’ performance is super forced and annoying, too. Not sure which is the worst part of it. Either way, Panda isn’t as interesting as some of the others.
There’s lots of gritty, stylish directing on the part of Zombie, though. For all the slack in his writing he makes the whole film visually interesting. Whether it’s sticking to that ’70s practical effects driven horror and old school editing (those awesome swipe transitions at certain points make the movie feel like a comic book), or stylised sequences such as the showdown with Sex and Death, Zombie finds a way to bring something more than turning the camera on and letting the blood flow. He promised his most brutal film yet. I’ve seen some reviews out there who don’t think he’s accomplished that. I disagree. He’s definitely done disturbing before. Although, never before has his disturbing material reached such an adrenaline-fuelled, frenzied height of ferocity. In the best horror loving sense, it’s beyond fun.
pic2There’ll be constant detractors of Zombie because they just don’t like him, for whatever reason. There are legitimate horror fans who can’t get into his style. I respect all opinions, long as you can back them up. But for me, 31 is a blast. Some of my favourite horror is the more cerebral sort, the kind you can get lost in and think about constantly. In high regard I also hold the horror which purely scares me, to the bone. Doesn’t have to be an elaborate, twisty story to make me feel creeped out. Brake, among the other Heads, does enough to get to me, let alone some of the general blood an gore tossed in. SPOILER ALERT AHEAD: the ending does it for me, when we see Father Murder and the Sisters change back to their normal lives, and yet Doom-Head can’t let go. Yeah, the others are clearly sick, but how Doom can’t change back without finishing the game, you see how utterly lost in the delusion he’s become. A simple, horrifying conclusion.
I feel there are things Zombie could’ve easily changed, made better. A couple performances aren’t what they ought to be. Once more, Brake saves the day, as do Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Meg Foster (of whom I’ve always been a big fan). But Brake, he is the supervillain of the Heads, the violently crazy clowns of Murderworld. He gives me an actual fright, in the quieter, more subtle moments. There’s a pulsating electronic score at times, not the typical Zombie stuff (with help from John 5), which helps with much needed tension. The camera is chaotic, and also there are beautifully framed shots that linger: later when Doom-Head chokes Charly, their eyes are intercut in closeups, mirrored again right before the final shot. I do think Zombie, amongst all the viciousness, keeps improving as a filmmaker in a lot of different ways.
At the end of the day Zombie sets out to do what he wanted: to get fucked up, disturbing and nasty. He wants to get under your skin. Maybe if you think there’s too much violence, he did his job. Maybe if you feel the Heads are all too much, he did his job. And perhaps if you don’t feel like there’s enough violence, like Zombie didn’t deliver on the dripping blood and sloppy gore, then I don’t know if we were watching the same film.

Come Get It in the Yarbles: Criminality in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Can we ever rehabilitate a criminal mind? Is some supposed rehabilitation too invasive?
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE goes beyond either question with a look at a young man primed for ultra-violence.

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Halloween II: Supernatural Michael Myers

Halloween II. 2009. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Octavia Spencer, Danielle Harris, Margot Kidder, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Wright Vanek, & Caroline Williams. Dimension Films/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films.
Rated R. 105 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Rob Zombie is a take-him-or-leave-him-type director. You either love him, or can’t stand him. Much the same as with his music career. But for me, and I’m sure others, Zombie is one director whose entire film career feels like the last bastion of a time before too much CGI, too many remakes (yes; even though he’s done two Halloween flicks). He works like how many directors did during the late 1960s and the 1970s, focusing on performance, practical effects, instead of loading down his horror films with computer generated blood and watering it all down for public consumption. Even if you don’t like his movies, you have to admire the fact he lays it all out there. Particularly, The Devil’s Rejects and The Lords of Salem are my favourites, and are a great representation of how he goes for it, no matter the subject, themes, or style of the movie. He always leaves everything on the table and gives us to us in his typically Zombie-like fashion.
So then there’s Halloween II. Many people I know didn’t even enjoy the first one, the remake to Carpenter’s classic slasher from 1978. Me, I find this sequel to the remake endearing in its own ways. There are some pieces I don’t enjoy. But overall, there’s enough in this Zombie sequel to enjoy apart from the first Halloween II. It doesn’t come as a faithful remake. It’s a furthering of aspects in the Zombie version of Michael Myers. We dive deeper into the mind of the notorious slasher, and the almost supernatural element of Michael, one which came out later in the original series, is on display full force.
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After the events of Halloween, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is left wounded. Both physically, and especially mentally. She’s living with Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris). They do their best to try and understand her, to try and help. But Laurie is damaged beyond belief.
Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is shopping his book around and making lots of money, getting famous. Although, people are wary of him, as they believe he’s profiting off the death of many.
And then there’s Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). He’s not dead, and the men transporting his dead body discover that. Michael, driven by visions of his dead mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), keeps looking for Laurie.
And he will find her. No matter who gets in the way.
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One thing I do truly love about this sequel to the remake is that, like the original series as it went on, it really pushes the boundaries on Michael’s brutality. Later on in the original series, either in the fourth or fifth installment, Myers pushes his thumb through a person’s head. Even in John Carpenter’s original classic, his power is displayed pretty clearly with him picking up a teenager and pinning him to the wall with his knife. But here in the new Halloween II, Zombie almost goes further. In the opening 20 minute sequence there is some savagery. A nasty decapitation. Lots of raw, brutal force from Myers, as he starts to murder his way back into Haddonfield, one corpse at a time.
Many people, it seems, had a problem with the backstory to Michael with Zombie’s remake to start. I understand that. Some fans of the franchise just like Michael as this faceless entity. My argument is that, had Zombie not changed anything and done the same thing, people would likely have ragged on him for copying Carpenter. Instead, Zombie brings a fresh face, literally, to Myers. He gives him humanity, but takes it away. He makes Michael human to make him a monster, an even more vicious killer than the original (even though I love Carpenter’s film most). We even get him wandering around sans-mask, which some of course cried sacrilege over. I dig it because that sets him apart as Zombie’s own character, as opposed to a simply copy of Carpenter.
There is a further brutal nature to Michael when he’s this person that became a unrelenting killer instead of just The Shape. So an extension of this version is that psychology plays a big part in what Michael becomes, who he is as the unstoppable serial killer. The whole white horse deal I found a bit of fun. And I like how Laurie, in her trauma, starts having the same vision of her mother. Very eerie, and supernatural without quite being supernatural. It’s like a fever dream.
Now, I don’t dig that the same kid didn’t play young Michael. It was really off-putting. Not only because they’re definitely different looking (and yes I understand the real actor likely changed a good deal in between the films), but the original actor Daeg Faerch has a very perfect charisma and style for the character. So that’s one of the aspects of this movie that truly disappointed me. The actor here didn’t fit the role and his intensity is starkly different, so the flow of this film with the remake is a bit shaky.
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I’m back and forth on Laurie as a character in this movie. Her trauma is very real, I don’t doubt she would be a woman torn apart after the events she’d experienced. However, the writing on Zombie’s part makes her so whiny and just too unlikeable. The way she treats her best friend, Annie, who went through lots of trauma herself, is difficult to reconcile. Maybe that was the intention. But still, it actually annoys me, Scout Taylor-Compton makes me hate her and I didn’t during the first one. I can appreciate characters who are despicable, et cetera, this only serves as a way to make me feel like fast forwarding. And I’m already in the minority of people who actually dig this flick.
In the acting department, what saves Halloween II is the fact Brad Dourif, Daniel Harris, and Malcolm McDowell give us pretty good performances in their respective roles.
Dourif is always a treat, especially when given the proper material. His Sheriff Brackett is even better than Charles Cyphers in the first two original Halloween films. I love the way Zombie writes characters, and it shines with Brackett. Performed by Dourif it is a dream. The whole Lee Marvin bit is some of my favourite banter from any recent horror. So funny, even funnier that the girls have no idea about Lee Marvin, nor do they get the barn part of the joke. Just a great sequence. Dourif and Harris are great as a father-daughter combo. Harris herself is a Halloween veteran. Here, as a grown woman, she does a nice job in the tragic role she plays. Her energy is what’s enjoyable, even in films that aren’t so great. But the Annie Brackett she plays is equally as fun as Nancy Kyes (billed as Nancy Loomis). Harris doesn’t get a huge part before the fate she runs into, but what we get is solid.
Finally, it’s McDowell as Dr. Loomis that I enjoy most. I will always love Donald Pleasence and his portrayal above anything in any of the films, truly. He was amazing. What I enjoy here is how Zombie writes Loomis as a fame-whore, a guy who just wants another shot at being well-known, at money and glamour. As opposed to the original, Loomis here is an opportunist, who only after it’s too late realizes the error in his ways. So with McDowell acting his ass off and bringing this new vision of the doctor to life, it’s a ton of fun. Some of the dialogue with his assistant is downright hilarious. But it’s the tragedy of this character, the blind ignorance, which really sells it. McDowell was made for this role, too. He has all the right range to play a man who’s got this saccharine sweetness about him in public and, when pushed, a bitter rage that comes out.
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With warts and all, I give Zombie’s second Halloween a 3&1/2-star rating. There is a great dose of horror and terror within. Not all of Zombie’s writing is on par here with the first, or some of his other work. Nevertheless, he gives us a version of the Michael Myers tale that doesn’t try and straight-up adapt the original sequel (apart from a nice dreamy sequence in the beginning). The brutality of Myers is always evident, as is the trauma that his serial killing rampaging has caused. Although the script could’ve been better, I still thought Zombie did some interesting things, as well as brought the savagery required to make this worthy of a watch.

Rob Zombie Presents Halloween: The Horrific Origins of Michael Myers

Halloween. 2007. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie; based on the original screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, & Leslie Easterbrook. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films/The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTER I never imagined, listening to White Zombie in the ’90s, that Rob Zombie would go on to be one of my favourite horror directors working. He always appeared imaginative, but I couldn’t have guessed his love of the horror genre ran so deep. He’s given the keys to the slasher horror castle here, reinterpreting the original screenplay for Halloween in 1978 from John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Instead of providing lackluster jump scares and unnecessary gore to overcompensate, Zombie crafts a new vision of Michael Myers. No more is Myers so much a force of evil, like some wandering, unkillable spirit. Now, he is a boy with a face, a child not just hidden behind a mask, who eventually grows into his skin and becomes the ugliest, most vicious serial killer in America (well, the fictional one anyways).
Switch the subtle techniques of Carpenter for a throwback aesthetic mixed with gritty realism, and you’ve got Zombie’s film in a nutshell. Although many want to try and pick one over the other, they’re different movies, different stories centered around the same characters. You can say what you want. But for me, Carpenter and Zombie both have their merits. No matter if the original is my favourite, and a perfect piece of horror cinema, Zombie brings savagery to the table, plus an interesting style of directing. This makes it more than worth the watch.
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Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a young boy with a fairly awful life day to day. Although his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves him, her sleazy boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe) treats him like shit, all the while sizing up Debbie’s daughter Judith (Hanna Hall). At school, Michael gets pushed around and harassed, specifically about his mother being a stripper at a local club. But at home, alone, Michael dissects animals, getting blood all over his hands. Then once a kid at school finally pushes him over the edge, Michael beats him to death in the woods. The transition begins.
On Halloween night, Michael kills Ronnie, then Judith and her boyfriend. This shocks the town of Haddonfield. The law puts Michael in an institution, where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) picks his brain to try and determine why evil lies in such a young mind. There’s also orderly Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo) who talks to the boy often, trying to relate with him.
Only after 17 years go by, an older Michael gets a visit from a new, less friendly orderly by the name of Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple). He and his equally disgusting hillbilly cousin take advantage of having keys to the place. They rape a female patient after bringing her into Michael’s room, when Noel underestimates the now 27-year-old man. Michael kills the men and then begins on a path of destruction carrying him back towards Haddonfield, where his reign of terror is about to begin. As if it already hadn’t.
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Love the metafictional quote from Dr. Loomis’ book. Like a post-modern version of Carpenter and Hill’s classic, early slasher. The whole character of Loomis is much different from that of Donald Pleasence’s version, and of course that’s mostly the way it’s written. In the original film(s), Loomis is an underrated psychiatrist whose knowledge of evil, and particularly that of Michael, is unparalleled. Here, McDowell’s Loomis is a good man initially. Then he morphs into a fame-seeking, fame-whoring doctor who made his fame and fortune off the dead corpses of a bunch of people in Haddonfield. He’s treated as such, too. So apart from the other liberties Zombie takes, or should I say aside from the expanded history Zombie creates, there’s this totally new role for Loomis, which I love. Pleasence is a classic, though, Loomis is a completely new beast under McDowell and I dig him, as well.
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I don’t agree with the stance of people saying oh well we don’t want to see Michael Myers as a child, that’s the scary part. But wait a minute? Doesn’t the original Halloween, which I adore, start with that POV from the perspective of a young Michael? We already see that. Far as I’m concerned Zombie doesn’t really leap too far in reimagining Carpenter here. He takes what we’ve already seen, then elaborates largely. So yeah, maybe you don’t want to see the childhood of Michael completely played out, but the seeds were there in the original. So honestly, if Carpenter really wanted to keep his Myers as the almost supernatural, mythical Shape, then there’s no need to even show us the beginning of the child Michael; may as well jump right in. Not a criticism against him – I love that film, and it’s perfect. Period. That’s a criticism against those trying to rationalize their need for a theory on why Zombie shouldn’t have done it this way. For me, the best thing Zombie does here is humanize Michael. Because for all those people saying something is scarier about an unstoppable force of almost supernatural strength, I believe there’s nothing scarier than human evil, it never stops either. And personally, imagining Michael as a human killer, a kid who grew like weed out of hatred, is far more terrifying.
Carpenter wins overall, obviously. The techniques he used directing, some of those shots they achieved, plus the writing from him and Hill; everything in that movie is perfect. While Zombie’s film is not perfect, it wins on horror. There’s a more brutal aspect to this Halloween that hooks me in. It’ll never beat the quality of Carpenter’s original, but Zombie does a fine job crafting a gritty, raw remake. One of the better remakes that’s come out of the big Hollywood machine. Probably because Zombie isn’t exactly a Hollywood director, he just has the popularity to draw the Weinsteins and such. Regardless, this is miles better than the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and that glossed over Texas Chainsaw Michael Bay-produced affair.
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As I’ve mentioned, there is a stern brutality to many of the kills in this remake. Part of why I still enjoyed some of the later Halloween sequels is due in large to the fact they started to up the pure strength of Michael. In one, he simply jams his thumb right through a victim’s forehead. After that, he became relentless in power. So even better that he’s a real humanized type killer here, coupled with the way he straight up just beats a few people to death. And I’m talking absolutely demolishing people. When he kills the orderly Noel, he repeatedly slams him against the concrete wall until blood starts to fly. It is a savage death. Then he drowns Danny Trejo’s character Ismael, which goes to show how brutal he is – no longer does Michael even care for people who show him any compassion. His heart is dead: “I was good to you, Mikey,” sputters Ismale while trying not to drown. Then a television gets dropped on the guy’s head. So if you didn’t already know this is a remorseless killer, he does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter who or what is in his way, not anymore. Since his mother died, the last of his humanity left, too. Lots of great kills after this, which Zombie captures in perfectly nasty fashion.
Some of my other favourite moments – the fight with Big Joe Grizzly (legendary Ken Foree) that is just pure unadulterated hypermasculinity, though oh-so-horror-good, and once more showcases that sickly strength in Myers; when Michael makes his way into the neighbourhood and goes mad on the young people it gets bloody and unruly; and when Michael goes to see the Strodes awhile before that, things are pretty rough, as well as creepy, and sad.
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On top of everything there’s Scout Taylor-Compton in the old Jamie Curtis role. She does a solid job, as she’s cute and personable and she plays a nice good-girl, at the same time she’s got attitude and can be funny. Also, proper at showing fear. Danielle Harris is great, too, even if she doesn’t have a massive role; nice to see her back after the performances she gave as a child in a couple of the original movies. Then there’s a bunch of cameos, such as Ken Foree, Zombie alumni Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook, Sheri Moon Zombie (though hers is more than a cameo really), William Forsythe, Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame. Brad Dourif is awesome as the sheriff in all his scenes, too. Love seeing him anywhere, solid character actor.
All in all, I’m giving Zombie’s remake a 4&1/2-star rating. I don’t care, man. Dig it so hard. Lots of brutal violence in slasher tradition. Good, old school style filmmaking that both technique-wise and design-wise throws back to the 1970’s. But it’s the reinvention of Michael Myers and his story that draws me in consistently. I can always watch this, right alongside the original. And while I love Carpenter’s Halloween most, this one is a solid modern remake that gives us blood, thrills, and even some sly laughs.