Michael Myers Returns

By Witmer, Jon D. | American Cinematographer, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Michael Myers Returns


Witmer, Jon D., American Cinematographer


It is the first day of spring, and director Rob Zombie stands in the snow outside a Los Angeles-area hospital. The snow has been provided by the art department on Zombie's latest film, a "re-imagining" of John Carpenter's horror classic Halloween. Stepping away from the bustle on set, director of photography Phil Parmet, who first teamed with Zombie for The Devil's Rejects (2005), sheds some light on Zombie's role in the Halloween franchise: "I think it's been a challenge to make this film new, not just a remake - to make something that has artistic integrity but is still an homage to the original."

Zombie reveals that his own taste in horror favors Universal's classic monster movies of the 1 930s. "My reference point for this Halloween was really Frankenstein," he says. "That's what horror movies used to be: the misunderstood monster." Accordingly, Zombie's Halloween focuses considerable attention on killer Michael Myers, depicting his childhood (when he is played by Daeg Faerch) as a period that clearly sows the seeds for his murderous tendencies. As in the original Halloween, we also see the adult Myers (Tyler Mane) escape from a mental institution and return home to terrorize Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton), Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif).

During their initial meetings about the project, Zombie and Parmet focused on evolving the techniques they'd used on The Devil's Rejects to fit Halloween's themes. They decided to stick with a gritty multi-camera shooting style and naturalistic lighting, but they traded the Super 16mm of fle/'ecfsfor 3-perf Super 35mm. Additionally, Halloweenwas shot entirely on location and features very little CGI. "The impulse on Halloween, as on Devil's Rejects, was to shoot a film that had the feel and texture of documentary photography," says Parmet.

Achieving the grittiness Zombie sought with 35mm proved a bit of a challenge. "I shot a lot of tests overexposing and underexposing, with and without bleach bypass, and we took those to [colorisi] Lou Levinson at Post Logic," says the cinematographer. "The first few tries were not to Rob's liking; he felt 35mm just looked too polished. He wanted the picture to have a stripped-down, raw elegance, a look that was hard-edged and realistic." Finally, with the start of production just days away, Parmet showed Zombie the final test. "Lou and I had added grain to make it look like an older emulsion, and we had also crushed the blacks, upped the general contrast, pulled out the greens and desaturated the image overall," says Parmet. "I let out a long sigh of relief when Rob smiled and said we had finally nailed it!"

To fine-tune the look they had in mind, the crew (and many of the cast) first tackled the tongue-in-cheek Werewolf Women of the SS trailer that was featured as part of Grindhouse. "It was a good chance to work out the kinks," says Parmet. "We used the same lab and the same camera package, and we shot it the weekend before we started shooting Halloween. It was basically a shakedown cruise for the crew."

Parmet's crew included "Orange" and "Black" camera operators David Daniel and BJ. McDonnell (who also operated the Steadicam) and 1st ACs Jay Levy and James Sprattley.

(Levy had to leave to the production early because of a prior commitment and was replaced by Bob Brown.) Along with Daniel, McDonnell and Sprattley, Parmet's key grip, Vince Palomino, also returned from The Devil's Rejects.

New to the crew was gaffer Curtiss Bradford. "I hired Curtiss because I'd seen his work and knew he could handle big lights," says Parmet. "In my experience of doing independent movies all these years, nobody has the money to light up whole streets, so I thought I'd better get someone with a few tricks up his sleeve. As it turned out, we had more night exteriors on this movie than I've shot in my entire career as a cinematographer!"

The production's first night exterior was on a Pasadena street where Bradford and Parmet initially planned to use large backlight sources, including two Dinos and a Condor equipped with Maxi-Brutes. …

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