Any discussion about remaking Halloween has to begin with the concession that any movie that features a masked killer chasing a teenage girl with a knife is an extant remake of Halloween, or at the very least they’re a descendant sharing the same DNA. Still, whoever was going to remake Halloween faced an uphill battle from the moment they signed the dotted line on the contract, this was not only a classic, it was *the* classic. It was like remaking Psycho, and look how well that went. So how do you remake Halloween?
In this case, you start with a director who’s audacious, decisive, and with little interest in convention or good taste. It was the perfect job for Rob Zombie, who, at the time, was fresh off the one-two punch of The House of 1,000 Corpses, and The Devil’s Rejects. What John Carpenter made subtext in the original Halloween, Zombie would make text. Subtlety would be thrown out the nearest window, and if there was anyway to enhance the cheap thrills of nudity and gore, then he would surely do it.
“In the original, there’s never a reason given for young Michael’s sudden turn to sister-cide, but Zombie paints its murder as catharsis.”
It’s almost impossible to say anything new about Carpenter’s original vision, so let’s jump right into Zombie’s. His film would boldly revision the storyline of the original, with adult Michael Myers savagely hunting babysitter Laurie Strode and her friends, after a lengthy prologue that dived into the reasons why and what for young Michael became a killer. Zombie’s Halloween was once prequel and remake, designed to add more depth to Michael Myers than just a mute goliath in a painted Captain Kirk mask, but would anyone really care?
Looking back on the Halloween franchise, the lowest point is probably the sixth chapter, The Curse of Michael Myers, which tried to tie Michael to some centuries-old curse involving human sacrifice, Druid tribes, and the ancient pagan holiday Samhain. Someone thought they were writing a dissertation of the ancient traditions and symbols behind Halloween, but we only ever come to these things to watch Michael Myers kill people, we’ve never much cared why he did it.
So the first problem with Zombie’s plan is that we’re supposed to care if there’s a reason why Michael Myers kills, and we’re supposed to care what that reason is. Michael Myers’ early years plays out like an episode of Criminal Minds, with the 10-year-old the victim of sociopathic tendencies like killing animals, and the victim of the abuse and bullying from kids at school, and from family members in his own house. In the original, there’s never a reason given for young Michael’s sudden turn to sister-cide, but Zombie paints its murder as catharsis.
The prequel portion also paints a world where young Michael, despite his heinous crimes, has a support system. His mother, played by Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie, tries desperately to stand by her son until it’s clear that he’s too far gone to be saved. There’s also Ismael, a kindly orderly at Smith’s Grove played by Danny Trejo who tells Michael not to the let the walls get him down. When the older Michael kills Ismael in his prison break, the caretaker’s final works betray the surprise that his kindness to Michael didn’t engender any sympathy. “I was good to you, Mikey,” he cries out.
“What John Carpenter made subtext in the original Halloween, [Rob] Zombie would make text.”
Despite his obvious influences in exploitative cinema, Zombie seemed interested in using Halloween to explore the idea of trauma, or at the very least exploring what the real world psychological effects might be on the people that survive horror movies and the perpetrator of the crimes. Zombie’s Halloween II flirted with the effects of post-traumatic stress, and it wasn’t entirely successful, but it did, in its way, set the stage for David Gordon Green’s 2018 legacy-quel Halloween.
That movie erased the revelation at the end of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II when it was revealed that Laurie is Michael’s baby sister. Carpenter, who co-wrote the script for Halloween II, said that he regretted that twist, but it was a symptom of what little story he had for the sequel. Zombie makes the relationship central though with Laurie as Michael’s only human connection; he’s not chasing her to kill her, he’s chasing her to save her.
Another big stylistic difference between the Zombie’s film and Carpenter’s is how they paint Dr. Loomis. Malcolm McDowell in the Zombie film plays Loomis as a kind of huckster, he’s not a sentinel standing between Michael and the rest of society, but he sees Michael as a means to tabloid fame and fortune as the man telling the monster’s story. That’s another theme continued in Zombie’s sequel as you’re not sure if Loomis is driven by a sense of responsibility or a sense of opportunity.
Indeed, if Rob Zombie is guilty of anything in regards to Halloween, it’s that he embraced complexity. Carpenter’s Halloween was the simple story of a babysitter in peril, it read like an urban legend, a story someone might have told you around the campfire. Michael Myers’ name was superfluous, and the reasons why he killed his sister were irrelevant. He was only “The Shape”, a nameless and faceless threat that comes out of the night and kills you. The line at the end about there really being such a thing as the Boogeyman is not subtle.
But on that point, Zombie should be congratulated because he was able to generate something interesting and thoughtful from the source material and was able to sell it to a new audience. It’s not always easy. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man delivered an origin story that was only half-baked because it had already been realized so well just 10 years earlier, and Len Wiseman’s Total Recall couldn’t go to Mars without evoking its superior originator. It’s a matter of balance, you can’t change the essentials, but you can fill out the story by finding aspects of the story not covered before.
“[…] if Rob Zombie is guilty of anything in regards to Halloween, it’s that he embraced complexity.”
In the case of Halloween, re-watching the original is a master class in filmmaking, and what a director is capable of doing with a vision and the will to execute it. Can you improve on perfection? No, but you can’t say that Rob Zombie didn’t put his personal stamp on the Halloween legend, which is more than what can be said for many in the legion of Halloween imitators in the last 42 years.
What are your thoughts on Rob Zombie’s Halloween? How do you view it in comparison to the original, or the sequels the original spawned? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. And for more Remake Redemptions, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.