With the new Halloween film on the horizon, we take a look at one of the more controversial entries in the Halloween franchise. Comparing it to the original film, we dive into what made it so different, and why it should be appreciated more.
Differences & Comparisons
Rob Zombie is an interesting guy to say the least. Whether we’re talking about his music or film career, he maintains a key identity across the mediums. Blood, sex, vulgarity, and Americana all play significant roles throughout his filmography. When news came out that he was going to remake Halloween, the skepticism began flying about. How would he interpret the story? What would he change, and how would he handle Michael Myers?
In the original Halloween we find a young Laurie Strode stalked by the silent, maniacal Michael Myers. She must do everything she can to outwit him and survive Halloween night. Zombie’s re-imagining holds onto a skeleton of ideas from Carpenter’s original film, but starts on a much different note. Carpenter’s classic opens on a young Michael Myers killing his sister, whereas Zombie shares with us the daily lives of the Myers family. This is perhaps the most controversial element within the remake.
“Zombie sets up the context for how Michael could become so unhinged”
In 1978 Michael’s background was never explored. We have no understanding why he killed his sister or why he’s attacking people again as an adult. We only know him as the embodiment of pure evil. Accompanied with his iconic white mask, Michael Myers is an ominous, ghostly force in Carpenter’s film that never speaks, and never explains himself.
The 2007 model of Mr. Myers is actually somewhat sympathetic. We get to learn about his deadbeat, abusive stepdad, his sister who could care less for him, and some bullies that don’t know who they’re messing with. Michael’s only positive relationships are with his mother and his baby sister. In sharing all this, Zombie sets up the context for how Michael could become so unhinged. After showing that he is capable of killing small animals (and also that bully), he snaps and goes after his family.
Fifteen years later we are introduced to Laurie Strode, who we come to learn is Michael’s baby sister, all grown up. Toward the end of the picture, after killing and harming a number of Laurie’s friends, Michael attempts to connect with her. He kneels before her, removes his mask, and stays there in silence as she looks at him. In the first Halloween there was no mention that Laurie was the sister of Michael. That concept was explored in future Halloween films. Zombie pursues the idea full-out, setting up an interesting emotional dynamic between the characters.
Now, let’s talk violence. Compared to Zombie’s remake, Carpenter’s Halloween is incredibly tame. The 1978 film is more focused on creating tension in how Michael stalks his victims, but Zombie’s Michael is a chaotic force that promises a gory aftermath. Zombie’s film brought us up close and personal with the carnage Michael created. His escape marked a stark contrast between the two films. In an alternate cut, (which was also rolled out to select theaters) Michael escapes after murdering a dozen or more security guards during a prison transfer. In the standard cut, Michael escapes after two of the janitorial staff savagely rape a woman in his cell. Both are clear examples that Zombie was ready to show us a dark, brutal world to firmly separate it from Carpenter’s.
“Michael is a completely different kind of haunting figure. He is just as grim as the 1978 Michael, but far more intimate.”
Overall criticism for the remake was divided. On the negative side of things, it was felt that Zombie’s changes undercut what made Michael such a terrifying being. By humanizing him, even making him slightly sympathetic, some folks found that he was no longer an ominous presence, making him just some guy in a mask. Some even commented that the remake just felt like another slasher flick, bringing nothing new to the table.
On the flip side, Zombie makes sure to pay proper tribute to Halloween in the right places. Physically and visually, Michael is sinister. Dawning his iconic mask, the character moves with vicious intent. His presence is still just as terrifying as he lingers behind unsuspecting teenagers, grasping his knife. On a technical level Zombie uses a solid score that brings on the chill factor, while also capturing the lighting, mood, and tension within the town of Haddonfield.
An Under-appreciated Horror Gem
There was no doubt that Zombie would have a slew of skepticism coming his way when handling such a classic film, but his efforts have allowed for a fresh re-imagining of Halloween, bringing a new air of horror to Michael Myers. 2007’s Halloween is a different story compared to Carpenter’s, with more gore, but also with more emotion. In the remake, Michael is a completely different kind of haunting figure. He is just as grim as the 1978 Michael, but far more intimate.
Zombie does a terrific job setting up the childhood backstory. Michael is a creepy kid, but you also feel for him (if only in a small way). You can see on his face the need for someone to listen and love him. Even after his initial killing spree, when he’s institutionalized, you are concerned for his well-being. When it comes to adult Michael confronting Laurie, it’s emotional.
“[Zombie’s Halloween is] worth more appreciation for the fact that it sets out to present a new spin on a classic character and accomplishes it well.”
Zombie establishes a more psychologically interesting narrative in his take of Halloween. The film shows Michael as the result of domestic abuse, along with some unexplained psychology. When Michael takes off his mask and kneels before his sister, we have to ask ourselves: “What is he feeling?” He’s clearly gone out of his way to get to her, because she’s the only remaining family he has left. This dynamic isn’t forced into the audience’s face, but appears just enough to encourage insightful dialogue.
The Halloween remake may not be a game changer in the world of horror cinema, but it’s certainly an under-appreciated work. While the film’s 2009 followup isn’t as flattering, Zombie’s initial remake displays the power in taking creative chances. It was a gutsy move to share the emotional connection between the Myers family to construct an origin for Michael. Yet, these elements offer a whole new framework for Michael, with a new means to interpret the character.
Rob Zombie is an artist that pursues what he loves, establishing a unique identity to his art. While paying tribute to the original story, he still makes a version of Halloween that is his own. From the moment the first reels roll, it lets loose his own personal flare. It’s a film worth more appreciation for the fact that it sets out to present a new spin on a classic character and accomplishes it well. Halloween is much different from other Rob Zombie films. While it’s full of blood, sex, and vulgarity, it also has emotion, and even a little sympathy for a boogeyman.