Rosenthal: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Midway through Halloween: Resurrection, two characters discuss the difference between the words “continuous” and “continual.” “Continuous,” we’re told, “means continuing uninterrupted, while continual means reoccurring periodically.” It’s an appropriate discussion for the most radical update of the franchise before or since – one that provides us with the only Halloween film to feature a substantial cast of black characters, the only Halloween film that partly plays as a comedy, and the only Halloween film that incorporates incorporate digital, found-footage horror. Most radically, however, Halloween: Resurrection starts with the death of Laurie Strode, an event that has always formed the figurative horizon of the franchise, even or especially in those retconned or revised narratives in which Laurie is presumed to be dead. With Laurie finally disposed of, the suburban thresholds that have preoccupied the franchise to date are now well and truly traversed, along with the fantasies of insular whiteness that they facilitated, resulting in a much more picaresque and tonally elastic approach to space, as well as a more racially heterogeneous cast of characters. The point is made concisely in the very opening sequence, in which the events of Halloween H20 are narrated by a black nurse working in the hospital where, we soon discover, Laurie has been committed after accidentally killing a paramedic instead of Myers.
This hospital forms the backdrop for the prologue to Halloween H20, where it continues the rhythm of the previous film much as Halloween II, which was also directed by Rick Rosenthal, continued the rhythm of Halloween. Three years later, Laurie is in a state of “extreme dissociative disorder,” and spends all her days stashing her medication and preparing herself for when Myers inevitably turns up again. Throughout the film, this hospital is the closest we come to the Haddonfield street that formed the syntax of the franchise up until this point, as Laurie’s few remaining possessions, and records of her family, are strewn across her room like a final bastion of defensive whiteness. Against those dispersed mementos, this opening sequence is suffused with, and overwhelmed by, the competing planes of reality and incommensurate narrative timelines that comprise the franchsie as a whole, resulting in a curiously abstracted and affectless tone. For the most part, this doesn’t even really feel like an asylum, but just a vague, anonymous space, whose lack of any clear or stable coordinates force Myers and Laurie to engage in most of their violent confrontations while suspended in mid-air. As we move down one bland corridor after another, Laurie’s manner grows blanker and blanker, until it feels utterly disconnected from her characterisation in the previous films, or from any sustained characterisation at all.
In other words, the prologue to Halloween: Resurrection takes place in a protospace, a figurative zone that hasn’t yet been adapted to any one version or franchise, if only because the franchise now has so many disparate possibilities and ways of mediating itself. Debilitated by that ovderdetermined figurative matrix more than by Myers himself, Laurie is marooned in a strange space in which she’s not permitted to inhabit any one version of her story, simultaneously underdeveloped and overextended by so many different iterations of that story that when her death comes it’s almost a relief. As a result, the opening of Halloween: Resurrection feels completely separate from the film that follows, but also distinct from Halloween: H20 as well, despite the fact that it ostensibly features the same incarnation of Laurie and was apparently shot at the same time as the former film. Caught between those two films, this prologue forms an aporia, a representative void that gives way to the next generation of Halloween victims, and a world suffused with Yahoo! chat rooms, reality television and internet broadcasting. No narrative, it seems, will be able to fully traverse the gaps between these generations, with Rosenthal instead focusing on the ways in which the remediations of the past defy our best attempts to fully narrativse them.
With that burden of continuity removed from the film, and the horizon of Laurie’s death finally traversed, Halloween: Resurrection is freed up to reimagine the franchise more irreverently and brilliantly than any film since Season of the Witch. In place of the austere whiteness of the franchise as we knew it, we’re now presented with an internet reality show, Dangertainment, which is run by a pair of young African-American entrepreneurs – Freddie Harris, played by Busta Rhymes, and Nora Winston, played by Tyra Banks – who have lighted upon the original Myers home for their next show. Recruiting a gang of local teenagers, they devise a new instalment of their series in which the contestants have to spend a night in the house and deal with whatever hurdles are thrown their way. Virtually the entire film takes place in this space, as the collection of teenagers that comprise the main cast find themselves confronted with one theatrical Myers tableau after another, all of which have been staged by Freddie and Nora, and in fact culminate with Freddie donning Myers’ trademark mask and running through the house to scare the contestants. At the same time, however, the real Myers also appears in the house early in the film, picking off his victims one by one as they grow more immune to the effects orchestrated by Freddie.
All that makes for an incredible reintroduction to Myers’ childhood home, and the most sustained reinvention of Carpenter’s suburban topos since the original. Most noticeably, Carpenter’s skeletal synth score has now been subsumed into a broader hip-hop ambience, which percolates through every scene and is particularly associated with the bank of televisions where Nora watches the events unfolding in the house. Against that musical milieu, Carpenter’s theme is more absent, and feels more absent, than ever before, as its sombre tone is deflected into the low ambient synth hums of the house, while its propulsive energy is translated into Rosenthal’s ambient hip-hop beat. As the film proceeds, the familiar refrains do start to emerge again, but they’re always contoured in a vertiginous and dissonant way by this hip-hop ambience, only flourishing for the first time when Myers comes into his own. Yet this moment also culminates the more digital, hand-held, found-footage form of horror that offsets the stately suspense of Carpenter’s original, and the entire franchise up until this point, which may have moved Myers closer and closer to a figure of digital disruption, but never fully embraced a glitch aesthetic as radically as Halloween: Resurrection, which moves between omniscient footage and the footage streaming from the contestants’ head cameras in a remarkably eerie and disjunctive way.
Yet dissonance between Carpenter and hip-hop, and between analog and digital horror, simply forms part of the broader tonal dissonance that ensues when black characters are taken seriously by the Halloween universe. As Jordan Peele’s Get Out so brilliantly demonstrated, suburban horror is such an inherently white genre, and so dependent, structurally, upon black invisibility, that its horror can’t and won’t ramify in quite the same way when black characters are actually framed as figures of sympathy. The only way for black characters to inhabit suburban horror, then, is to either be reduced to figures of fun or to render the genre itself comic around them. It’s the latter approach that is taken here, as it is in Get Out, which skirts the line between horror and comedy in a wonderfully deft manner, thanks in part to the way it partakes of the flirtations with the fourth wall that were such a feature of reality television at this moment in time. While it may be chilling in the house, there’s always a chilled-out hip-hop beat playing in the webcast’s nerve centre. Similarly, while the contestants may be quite comic, their digital cameras inevitably remake the Myers house as just the kind of space that would become so precious to found-footage horror – namely, the dank, decaying cusp at which a quasi-industrial aesthetic emerges out of residential detritus, and at which a more medieval and historicised dungeon aesthetic emerges out of the remains of American suburban infrastructure and structures of feeling.
The result is tantamount to seeing one of the most austere and canonical horror spaces remade as an MTV clip, effectively pushing Myers to the edge of his own fictional universe. More hermetic, paranoid and withdrawn than in any film before or since, Myers never once leaves the house for the duration of Halloween: Resurrection, with the exception of the prologue, and yet never seems to exactly be “in” the house in the same way as the teenagers either. Perpetually coming at them through walls or mirrors, he’s too identified with the syntax and connective tissue of the house to ever be properly inside it, which is perhaps why Rosenthal tends to announce his presence with a haze of slow-motion glitch that seems to split the difference between post-production effects and the inherent graininess of the digital image itself. The fact that Freddie dresses up as Myers also means that when Myers does arrive on the scene in a visible way he’s never quite present as his full self, or with his full dignity and gravity, making Halloween: Resurrection the first film in the franchise in which Myers has been well and truly overtaken by his mediations, which now function as missives from a world that is utterly incommensurate with the conditions that brought him into existence. No surprise, then, that Myers’ status as a cultural icon has eclipsed his actual presence and person, with one teenager after another competing to see who can analyse him best from the perspective of their particular study major, be it economics, psychoanalysis or, most memorably, cultural studies as it stood in the early 00s.
More specifically, the version of Myers that Freddie promulgates eclipses Myers himself, resulting in a second Myers who may wear the same mask, and move in the same way, but speaks with a hyperbolised blackness that renders Myers’ solemnity both stranger and more absurd than ever before. As the film proceeds, Rosenthal contrives one ingenious scenario after another to force these two version of Myers to come up against one another, until the entire franchise plays, retrospectively, as one of the most paranoid exercises in passing for white ever committed to the big screen. That might sound like a strange thing to say, given that the characters, and Myers himself, have always been white, but what Halloween: Resurrection demonstrates so eloquently is that Myers embodies a fantasy of white authority that not even whiteness itself can live up to, and that no whiteness can satiate.
From the vantage point of Halloween: Resurrection, Myers has become a figure who both provokes and satiates the fear of every suburban patriarch that they might indeed be black at heart, or that their whiteness might not bear the scrutiny that they apply to the whiteness of those around them. The great twist of Halloween: Resurrection, then, is that Myers has always, at some level, been black, just because the whiteness that he represents is a pure fantasy. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Myers reserves a particularly unique death for the first and last black man that he kills in the franchise, forcing him to stab himself twice, before stabbing him in turn, and then lynching him up on the back of a door.
Nor is it surprising that Freddie reserves the most irreverent act of the franchise for when he kills – or appears to kill – Myers in the final scene. Finding himself face to face with his masked nemesis in the production room of the television series, Freddie electrocutes Myers in the groin with a socket from the bank of televisions, comically undercutting his claims to phallic mediation with a cursory, “Trick or treat, motherfucker!” Yet this standoff between whiteness and blackness also belies the extent to which the series itself is indebted to blackness for its very existence, explaining why, even at this final moment, Freddie acknowledges Myers as a fellow gangsta, “a killer shark, with baggy-ass overalls.”
That suggestion that Myers and the gangsta could somehow emerge from the same figurative matrix is the final, and most profound, suggestion of Halloween: Resurrection. In the closing stages of the film, Freddie never quite respects Myers, but admits that he has a similar and uncanny ability to game the system, and to gamefy life, in the manner needed to be a proper hustler, and a proper gangsta. Accordingly, when Myers seems to finally die, Freddie acknowledges him with a gangsta diss lexicon – “May he never, ever, rest in peace” – and describes him as looking like fried chicken, relegating him to the stuff of hip-hop legend, and subsuming him thoroughly him into the musical substrate of the series that the inevitable return of Carpenter’s theme over the final credits seems to belong to a different aesthetic universe. That gaming approach extends to the wider structure of this final act as well, which sees Myers’ final victim exchanging SMS messages with her friends watching the webcast from a local party, eluding her stalker from room to room as the film occupies the exact moment in time at which SMS communication became as omniscient as, and thereby managed to eclipse, the proto-digital potentiality of the classical, surveillant slasher. The rise of gangsta machismo, and the decline of the slasher, are thus both attributed to the impossible whiteness of American suburban life, in possibly the most brilliant figurative leap of the Halloween franchise to date. Meanwhile, Myers’ mask is fused to his face for the first time, and more embedded in everything he seemed to oppose than ever before, setting the next film in the saga the biggest challenge, both narratively and figuratively, since the third.
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