Thomas Ligotti’s horror aesthetic mirrored by — Rob Zombie?
My readers know it’s no secret that I’m compulsively fascinated by the work of literary horror master Thomas Ligotti. As I’ve explained here in the past, I’m also compulsively fascinated by horrorific musical icon and now horror cinema auteur Rob Zombie, for reasons that are more obscure to me. The two fascinations would seem to have little in common, other than the almost accidental crossover value of their both being centered on practitioners in the horror genre. Ligotti’s ultra-luscious prose and uber-philosophical approach to the writing of literary horror fiction is, on its surface, light years from the ultra-grunge and uber-gore of Zombie’s musical and cinematic universe.
And yet I’ve long suspected that maybe there is indeed more than just an accidental connection between these dual interests. Sometimes Ligotti’s stories deliberately invoke a sense of stylistic and spiritual grunge that resonates with typical Zombian themes, and sometimes Zombie appears to aspire to, and occasionally attain, something more profound than, or maybe more profound within, the delirious creepshow carnival he creates with his sounds and pictures.
So when I stumbled across a highly literate and balanced review of Zombie’s almost universally reviled Halloween II, in which the author makes a compelling case for the idea that Zombie, despite some serious weaknesses in execution, really does possess a dose of real filmmaking talent and really is pursuing his own distinctive filmmaking aesthetic, and then found the author drawing an extended comparison to Ligotti’s work — well, color me interested.
The review is titled “You, the Horror: Halloween II (2009).” The author is Jaime N. Christley. The Website is The House Next Door. The relevant excerpt is as follows:
Like the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti, who put the image of “gas station carnivals” into our minds, Zombie’s rot and degradation feels continuously, stubbornly vital—if “alive” isn’t quite the word we’re looking for here. Ligotti, a Michigan-born writer unknown even to most fans of horror fiction, doesn’t share much with Zombie in terms of agenda or style. His protagonists, luckless as they often are, are frequently the dregs of urban and/or academic spheres, educated but wearing second-hand coats, obsessing over myths or disreputable objects. (He would not feel at home valorizing a redneck band of outlaw cannibals.) The back-alley pharmacist’s assistant in “The Clown Puppet” cannot get over himself and his unique lot in an incessantly phantasmagorical life even when he intuits correctly that he’s just a bystander in someone else’s nightmare. Yet, connecting strands abound.
Zombie’s version of Loomis shares with Ligotti’s author character, Alice (“Alice’s Last Adventure”), a deep sense of entitled, bourgeois discontent, as they are both impatient with the scaffolding required to keep the gears of their financial liquidity in motion, drawn perhaps not unwillingly back into the abyss to which they truly owe the debt of their success. Most horror writers and aficionados are familiar with the concept that fear isn’t fear, and horror isn’t horror, unless the attraction is as strong as the repulsion. In terms of setting, physical and spiritual, the careworn shop at which Laurie Strode is employed is precisely the kind of “not quite a coffee shop, not quite a vintage bookstore” setting we might expect to find in Ligotti’s “Teatro Grottesco,” “Gas Station Carnivals,” or “The Bungalow House.” And there’s the small matter of her nightmares pursuing her into daytime.
Zombie’s elevation of the Myers killer into the supernatural is prime Ligotti. The vehicle of Laurie Myers-Strode’s fate appears in one Ligotti story after another, as device, conclusion, casual offing, or theme: not merely to be haunted by familial blood but to be subsumed utterly by it.
I urge fans of literate film criticism to click through and read the review in its entirety, because it really does an excellent and elegant job of finding the gold within Zombie’s grime. It was only three months ago that I finally watched the first of Zombie’s Halloween movies, and after the long buildup of negative reviews and anecdotes from disappointed viewers, I was quite pleasantly surprised with the thing. It was flawed, yes, with the first half being manifestly better than the second, during which Scout Taylor-Compton’s staggeringly annoying performance as Laurie proved an almost insurmountable obstacle to enjoying whatever charms the film had to offer. But overall the movie was dark and disturbing and extremely effective at inducing cringes (the right kind) and holding my attention. Now Christley’s review leads me to think there’s more of the same in store in the sequel. It also launches my thoughts in some interesting directions that spin out equally into Ligottian and Zombian territories.
Many thanks to Christley for the intellectual and affective stimulation. Now I just need to rent a copy of Halloween II.