I remember being somewhat shocked when I found out Rob Zombie was going to remake the venerable Halloween. I mean, granted, he seems like the only guy for the job, if one must remake Halloween (and in today’s Hollywood, one must). But he had to have known the deck was stacked strongly against him in terms of acceptance. This is what you face any time you set out to remake something iconic. People will compare your new version not just to the original film, but to the original film’s legacy as well. He was up against a generation’s preconceived notions of what Halloween (the film not the holiday) is about – and he was going to change it all.
But as someone who does respect the opinion of film critics (not A critic necessarily, but critical consensus) this is one film that I always reference to prove I don’t base my opinions entirely on the Rotten Tomatoes score. Critics savaged this film, fans savaged this film, and I loved it. It’s far from perfect. In fact, I’d say that many of its flaws actually make it more intriguing¹.
Let’s get the big thing out of the way – Rob Zombie stripped Michael Myers of his mystique. This is the most common complaint leveled against this film, and for good reason I suppose. Few would argue that a child who brutally murders his sister with a kitchen knife for no discernable reason is more frightening than one whom we witness being turned into a monster by his environment. Not only that, but Zombie kind of biffed that angle to boot. We see Michael being unrealistically bullied at school and verbally abused (unrealistically) by his stepdad (a scene-chewing William Forsythe). His whole family is fucked up rednecks, but his mother is actually shown to be pretty nurturing and supportive, despite her night job as a sleazy stripper. And logically, the mother would be the most influential figure in this kid’s life – far more than some asshole stepfather who actually hits on his step daughter. The whole “bad environment” thing doesn’t really add up to “emotionless killing machine” on its own, so Zombie does us one better and establishes that Michael was also born evil. This kind of negates the whole point of showing his troubled upbringing.
At the same time, what’s the one thing that really makes this version of Halloween unique? It’s the first half. Once we get to adult killing machine Michael Meyers, it’s pretty much a routine horror remake. Faster, slicker, more violent, but still little more than an upgrade of the original film’s premise. The first half of this new Halloween, while dubious, does attempt something unique and ambitious – it tries to show us how an 80’s style slasher villain is created. Had it been executed better (snicker snicker), I could see actually preferring this approach.
So a nurse makes the dreadful mistake of snarking at Michael Myers while alone in a room with him, he murders the shit out of her with a fork, Michael’s mother puts a gun in her mouth, and we smash cut to about 15 years later. Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Dr. Loomis has gone totally gray and Michael has metamorphosized into a giant.
This is another point of contention – there’s an accusation leveled against Rob Zombie that he doesn’t understand what makes a figure like Michael Myers scary. First he tries to explain away his childhood psychosis, then he makes the adult version a Goliath. Audiences were terrified of Michael Myers in the late 70’s because he was, in many ways, a normal person. In fact, John Carpenter referred to the character as “The Shape” for just that reason. Myers was everybody, and nobody. The idea being that almost anyone could be behind that mask. Your next door neighbor even – a faceless embodiment of incomprehensible evil.
But again, I don’t think it’s a matter of Rob Zombie not “getting” Michael Myers. I’m sure he understands the character, and I’m sure he consciously decided to depart from that characterization, because he was intent on making Rob Zombie’s Halloween, not John Carpenter’s Halloween 2007. On a psychological level, an average-sized man in a mask going around committing murders is terrifying, but on screen, in 2007, it doesn’t really hold up. The original Halloween came out in a pre-Vorhees world. In a way, the leagues of Halloween-imitators have raised the bar for killers and Zombie almost had no choice but to make Michael Myers an imposing figure.
Seeing this Halloween in theaters, I may not have been “scared” (slashers don’t really affect me in that way), but I was thrilled. This Michael Myers knows his power, and you feel it in your gut when he comes crashing directly through walls, doors, and ceilings. “Brutal” is the most fit word to describe it.
Speaking of which, the killings. 1978’s Michael Myers had an eerie, detached calmness in his murders. One stab per victim, in general. Again, this is psychologically horrifying. 2007’s Michael is clearly driven by rage, and he doesn’t dispatch anyone quickly or quietly. Often he stabs, or strangles, or pummels long after the victim is dead. It’d be comical if it wasn’t so gruesome. The killings in the new Halloween are visceral rather than psychological.
I feel I’m starting to get redundant, so I’ll button this up. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is NOT John Carpenter’s Halloween, and it was never meant to be. If you’re not going to create something new from the material, there’s no need to remake it. Was this Halloween necessary, or even warranted? Probably not. Was it an improvement on the original? Hell no. But viewed as an “alternate universe” take on an iconic franchise, it’s at least memorable, despite its shortcomings. That’s more than you can say for the remakes of Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Speaking of Texas Chainsaw Massacres, the final shot of Halloween 2007, clearly inspired by T.C.M., is perfect. It makes you let out an exasperated breath as soon as it cuts to black. The feeling of finally being able to get off the ride.
¹One flaw that doesn’t make the film more intriguing – the dialogue of the supporting characters, many of whom seem like they’re trying to set the “Fucks per minute” record in their sentences. Take this line from a school bully in the Young Michael act: “Fuck, if my fucking dad finds out I got fucking suspended he’s gonna fucking kill me!”