While I was reading up on the SHIRLEY TEMPLE fantasy flick THE BLUE BIRD, I found that consensus held that its financial failure was due to the fact that audiences could not stomach seeing SHIRLEY in an “unsympathetic” role.
We’ll get to ROB ZOMBIE’s DIRECTOR CUT of HALLOWEEN II in a moment but first I’d like to know what’s so darn unsympathetic about SHIRLEY‘s character Mytyl in THE BLUE BIRD…
Let me break down Mytyl’s “bratty” behavior for you; when the film opens we find her putting forth great effort into capturing a bird and then finally succeeding. On the way home with her prize some girl who claims to be ill suggests that Mytyl hand it over it to her, and Myty rightfully declines. Later, Mytyl comes across a mansion where folks are living it up at a Christmas party. She points out that those who have to work the event are having zero fun.
Once home, Mytyl accesses her surroundings and feels great dissatisfaction She demands to know why her digs are so cheap when others are living high on the hog. Mytyl refuses to be placated with the old “others have it worse then you so shut up “ spiel. The girl can’t help it, she wants more.
That’s about it, the rest of the movie she’s helping strangers find their lost belongings, yodeling for people’s entertainment and playing therapist to a bunch of unborn children. She even hands over the bird to the sick girl eventually, so really why the hell is she so darn “unsympathetic”?
Is it because she expressed her unhappiness and dissatisfaction? Is it because she voiced her discontent? Is it because she had the audacity to stop tap-dancing for other peoples benefit and wonder what’s in it for her? Audiences want Mytyl (and SHIRLEY really) to shut up and tow the line; they want those dimples to shine.
All of this was on my mind when I sat down to revisit Haddonfield with the director’s cut of H2. Now, I defended the theatrical cut for its schlocky, rough around the edges grindhouse charm and general off kilter bizarreness but I’m now prepared to unabashedly call the director’s cut one of my favorite films of last year. It quite simply fascinates the hell out of me. Is Michael Myers wearing a hoodie in this? Do they show his face? You know what? I couldn’t care less about that guy at this point. I’m intrigued, enamored and obsessed with this cut of the film because Laurie Strode takes off her own mask here and reveals her rage. Is she sympathetic? Does she yodel and tap dance for the audience? The time for keeping up a polite front is over. Laurie Strode is seriously fucked up and whether you like her or not is beside the point.
I realize that the director’s cut of H2 will not alter the opinion of those who hated the theatrical cut, but my point is that the very best parts of this movie were extracted from that version in order to make Laurie more…here’s that word again “sympathetic.”
Obviously this is NOT the same Laurie we met in 1978, but let’s say for a moment that she is, and for over 30 years this character has behaved for the audience. She has taken it on the chin, acted the hero and came back for more. Let’s say that Laurie Strode in any incarnation is the ultimate embodiment of every horror victim, let’s say she represents every screamer there ever was…
Now she wants to tell you what it’s like to live in fear. Now she wants to tell you how maddening it is that she’s expected to go back to normal. She wants to reveal that she can’t even stand to look at her best friend’s face because it is a constant reminder of her pain. She’s pissed off, she’s angry, confused, and she’s brimming over with self-loathing. She wants to hurt herself and she wants to hurt the ones who stand by her. These feelings are impossible to neatly box away. The past constantly bleeds into the present. Hallucinations parade through the waking day. She identifies with her attacker, who else on earth could possibly understand the fury brewing inside her?
All of the above is consistent with the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder but what the hell is it doing in a slasher sequel? Wouldn’t we rather see Laurie transformed into a warrior? Why isn’t she MACGYVER-ing traps or sleuthing through microfilms? How about an archery training montage?
Apparently audiences don’t want to see Laurie’s pain and even if they could withstand the repulsiveness of her vulnerability you can’t possibly expect them to accept the ugliness of her guilt and the stench of her anger. …that’s just silly. If horror movies, particularly slasher films are built to thrill teenagers then why the hell is this one such a boner killer?
H2, unlike just about every horror sequel I can think of, actually stops and asks Laurie how she’s doing. Laurie answers honestly but it’s not what we want to hear. How unsympathetic, what a selfish victim to not hide away her anguish.
Sure big bro Mike stomping on a head is alarming but the real horror in this movie comes from the idea that the old idiom about “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” only works if you’re seven feet tall. The sad reality for Laurie is that the “whatever” that didn’t kill her only made her suffering (and med dosage) stronger. She’s a 19 year old who lost her parents, several friends, got the tar beat out of her and ultimately had to shoot a guy in the face to save her own hide; when’s she gonna get her act together?
Even more intriguing (to me) than Laurie’s down hill dementia-dive are the dynamics of her tumultuous relationship with best bud Annie Bracket (DANIELLE HARRIS), which was lightly skimmed over in the theatrical, or as I like to call it “mall” version. I get why they dropped this stuff for the Friday night crowd, dialogue and drama is teen boy kryptonite but it’s the beating heart of the movie and it makes Annie’s ultimate fate that much more devastating. In other words, with the added addition of roughly 15 minutes of extra footage, I’m not feeling very guilty about this guilty pleasure anymore.
ZOMBIE has a talent for falling between barstools; too violent for this crowd, too dime store pretentious for that one. It just so happens I enjoy that no man’s land. I wouldn’t disagree that Z’s trash-attack approach was an unnecessary crutch but that doesn’t change the fact that he makes a genuine point of grafting frequently shirked emotional levels on to the slasher template. It’s actually pretty amazing to observe MARGOT KIDDER star of the inaugural slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS attempting to coach Laurie on how to function post assailment and getting a face full of “fuck you” in return.
With his long hair and fuzzy face you’d think hobo Mike was a stand in for the director but I think he’s just a decoy. ZOMBIE is really doppelgang-banging neo-Strode. Look at them, two defensive, discordant peas in a pod, up against the wall with something to express that nobody wants to hear. Remember kids, opinions are like assholes, the more you expose your own, the less friends you have.
O.K, I’m rambling here. What was my point? Oh, yeah HALLOWEEN 2: THE DIRECTOR’s CUT and THE BLUE BIRD (1940) are the perfect double feature! They both have petulant protagonists, specifically colored animal symbolism and a ghostly fairy lady leading the way. Don’t believe me? Well, I’m half past give a shit. I’m sure ROB, Laurie and Mytle understand.