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Rob Zombie takes on a slasher classic

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I had almost talked myself into thinking Rob Zombie’s take on the Halloween franchise wasn’t really that bad. Then she walked past.

About three feet tall and wearing a pink t-shirt, the tot couldn’t have been four years old. In my memory, she wanders up the theater aisle with a doll or blankie tucked under one arm. But that might just be hyperbolic recollection.

What my mind isn’t making up are the images awash in blood and the reckless, helpless, echoing screams elicited by murderous man-child Michael Myers’ return to the big screen. In the grand tradition of slashers, those closest to the plot receive the worst treatment. So while Myers’ sister’s boyfriend gets dispatched with just a few pumpkin-smashing whacks of an aluminum bat, sis herself gets lovingly caressed with a foot-long kitchen knife. Seventeen times, to be specific, according to a TV newsman doing a stand-up in front of the house where it all happened. “Of course, we’ll have much more on the story as it develops,” he promises. Of course you will.

And so it goes in rock and shock master Zombie’s revision of John Carpenter’s tale about evil incarnate.

Halloween is basically a string of formulaic episodes of violence. In one, a girl who describes herself as “only the hottest cheerleader on the squad” gets her neck wrung just after screwing her moon-van-driving boyfriend in the same room of the now-abandoned house where Myers killed his sister in similar circumstances. The death is one of several sessions of sexualized violence: naked nubile bodies going limp at the touch of pure evil.

And what a touch. Zombie’s version aims to explain Myers’ origins, and so the killer starts out as a fat-faced, pre-pubescent blondie before transforming into a hulking, freakishly strong man while locked up in a mental hospital as punishment for his first murders. With a diet of prison food and an obsessive regimen of papier-mâché mask manufacture, it’s easy to see how Myers wound up with lightning-quick reflexes, chain-breaking strength and the ability to brush off any bullet wound that’s not a .357 to the face at point-blank range. I hear the Army Rangers use a similar training program.

That large-caliber face shot is the appropriate end to Zombie’s spasms of violence, an orgasmic pop after which the screen goes finally dark, ending the mishmash of blood, bile, semen and vaginal secretions. It wasn’t pleasant, inventive or uplifting, but, you know, this is Rob Zombie and not Emma Thompson so I was ready to let it slide.

But I keep coming back to the toddling kid, leaving the theater under the watchful guidance of mom and pop. That image was easily the most horrifying thing about Halloween.

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