I’ve long admired Rob Zombie as a visual artist. I like monsters, girls, rock and roll, and hot rods, and Rob Zombie created a sort of cultural comfort food from the music to the album covers to the music videos. I can’t get behind every one of his artistic impulses, but I can always sit back and admire his tenacity and the way he goes for it on every album and video. When it was first announced that he was working on his debut feature film, House of 1000 Corpses, I was sold sight unseen. The kaleidoscopic Scooby-Doo on acid meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was exactly the kind of over-the-top/everything-in-the-red, relentless rock and roll horror show you’d expect from the man who gave us La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1.
When word came down that Zombie would be helming the remake of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic, Halloween, I was among the chorus of disapprovers, even though I enjoyed and admired his work. For the original Halloween, it was about subtlety, mystery, ambiguity, what happened in the edges of the shadows… not the hallmarks one came to expect from Zombie. I really thought that he would do better with a film like Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where restraint wasn’t needed or wanted. Of course, there was no way I wasn’t going to see the movie anyway. For God’s sake, I saw Halloween: Resurrection on the big screen and anything would have to be an improvement over that abortion.
The weird thing about Halloween (2007) is that it is everything I was afraid it would be, but that I really enjoyed it for that fact. Critics and fans balked at the idea of a full-blown Michael Myers origin story, that Zombie turned a force of nature into a bullied KISS fan, but that is an extremely unfair and, frankly, wrong criticism of the film. Michael is still very much a force of nature and a supernatural killing machine in the ’07 film as he was in the ’78 version. Before Michael killed his sister in the ’78 version he was a normal little boy. We don’t know what triggered him (well, those of us who read the novelization know). Zombie shows a little boy presenting some classic signs of a youth in crisis: a tumultuous home life, torturing and killing animals, alienated from his peers. Michael grows up in a perfect storm of shit that would break a sensitive little boy and drive him into extreme behaviors. Fans cried it was too spelled out, but that doesn’t explain his supernatural strength and size and resilience to bullets, now does it? I really feel like the bulk of negative criticism aimed at Halloween ’07 is a surface reading of the events that unfold. When Michael snaps, that’s a hyper-event, beyond the pale, and something ‘else’ takes over. Sure, some kids commit murder when they hit their breaking point. There are plenty of cases of kids murdering their siblings, or going on shooting sprees at their schools. The human capacity for committing grand scale evil is something we should never underestimate, but this still doesn’t explain what Michael becomes.
My favorite parts of all the Halloween sequels involve Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), especially when he actually interacts with Michael directly (think of the diner scene in part four). When Loomis is explaining Michael to Sheriff Brackett in part one, I really wanted to see that. It felt like it would have made a good movie in and of itself. Zombie thought the same thing and originally pitched a prequel film that would have followed Michael from the killing of his sister to the opening moments of ‘the night he came home,’ and then the sequel would be more the remake. Dimension hated the idea, so Zombie split the movie/ideas into one film. This is my favorite part of the film. I’m a huge fan of Malcolm McDowell who takes on the Dr. Loomis role. I really wish the studio had trusted Zombie’s vision. Most of the movie would have progressed like a character drama, with Michael and Loomis playing mental chess, as the darkness in Michael took over and Loomis fought to keep him locked up when he got to the point of realization that there was no helping the kid.
Once we are introduced to the Michael we know, we’re really meeting something entirely new. Tyler Mane might give us shades of Nick Castle or Dick Warlock when he dons the mask, but Mane is a monstrous version of Michael and displays a level of brutality that probably would have been more at home in a Friday the 13th film. When we first see him in his cell, back turned, working on a paper mache mask, with his walls covered in other handmade masks, it’s one of the most visually arresting shots Zombie has ever created. Following Michael into the second half of the film feels a bit more like a standard slasher with above-average production value. Mane is always scary and imposing, but it’s really the performances of Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, and Brad Dourif, along with cameos from Dee Wallace and Ken Foree, that really form the engine for the third act. Taylor-Compton gives a great performance as Laurie Strode that doesn’t lean on Jamie Lee Curtis’s iconic portrayal.
Zombie hits all the major beats in a fraction of the time of the original, before diverting into a very different ending from ’78, creating a tense cat and mouse chase that ultimately puts the gun and the fate of the film in Laurie’s hands after Michael seemingly crushes Loomis’s head. When the credits rolled on my first viewing, I let out a sigh of relief. As a longtime horror fan/monster kid, who holds the original ’78 film as one of the greatest cinematic classics ever created, Zombie knocked me on my ass. The remake did what great remakes do. It gives us something new without fucking with the original. It’s not about improving on what came before, but recontextualizing it for a modern audience. Zombie did that far better than other directors who tackled remakes of TCM, Silent Night, Deadly Night, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, or Black Christmas. Of all the remakes that hit in that era, only F13 and The Hills Have Eyes even come close to the level of originality and tension Zombie built into the skeleton of his Halloween.
Zombie had left the set of Halloween saying he didn’t even want to talk about a sequel, but two years later and he just had to scratch that itch. Coming back, it seems one of Zombie’s main goals was to confound expectations. In the original Halloween II, we pick up right at the end of part one. We follow Michael and Laurie to the hospital where she is admitted for her injuries, then spend the rest of the film there. Similarly, in the ’09 version, we see Michael’s corpse being loaded out while Laurie undergoes major surgery in the ER. After an accident on the road gives Michael a chance to escape, he heads for the hospital. We get nearly the whole story of 1980’s part two in a matter of minutes, before Zombie hits us with a bait and switch/it-was-only-a-dream moment. Taking the last third of part one and the opening sequence of part two and comparing them to the rest of their respective films, you can assume that the stalk and slash aspect of the films is likely the least interesting part for Zombie, considering how little screen time they actually occupy. The hospital scene is fucking scary and so well played out, but Zombie is more interested in exploring trauma and the consequences of the choices we make.
As in the early hospital scenes in part one, it’s the exploration of Laurie’s trauma that is the more interesting story, if not always as compelling. Taylor-Compton really lets it rip, furthering the divide between her Laurie and Curtis’s. This at times can border on needlessly shrill, although she and Zombie always pull the story back from the brink of going completely off the rails. Mane gets to do what no other Michael actor has ever gotten to do and spends most of the film not wearing his mask. In fact, we get several clear shots of Michael’s face. In addition, he’s joined by the ghosts of his mother and his own childhood as malevolent guiding forces. We see into his inner life and his spooky, surreal, dream state. Zombie plays at the psychic connection between Michael and Laurie, something that was explored in part five between Michael and his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). McDowell returns as Loomis, who survived getting his skull crushed. But, rather than go on to be an Ahab to Michael’s white whale, he has devolved into a narcissistic, social vampire. Loomis is pocketing blood money from his latest book that not only milks his experience as Michael’s doctor but reveals a key secret to Laurie’s life: that she is, in fact, Michael’s sister.
I think Zombie did a far better build-up and reveal of the sibling connection than Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Tommy Wallace did in the 1980 part two. He started building in the connection in his part one, whereas Carpenter had never intended such a twist and, in fact, thought it was a dumb idea. (The connection plays much better in the Jamie Lloyd trilogy of parts four through six than it does as an obvious afterthought in part two.) In Zombie’s part two, the reveal is a heartbreaking moment of betrayal that throws Laurie’s life into a tailspin.
There’s also a lot of story threads at play in this film that are all essentially a lumbering death march toward an inevitable showdown: Loomis on a disastrous book tour, his reputation destroyed, Michael returning to Haddonfield to reunite with his long lost sister. Laurie, being pummeled by fate, as it funnels her toward her destiny. Then there are all the characters in their individual spheres that become collateral damage in a saga as twisted as a Greek tragedy.
I love all the Halloween films, with the exceptions of H20 and Resurrection. I love that you can pick and choose various timelines or just take the films on their own individual merit. The 2018 reboot/sequel was one of my favorite films of last year and I’m extremely excited for the next two sequels, Halloween Kills (2020) and Halloween Ends (2021). I say this because, as a die-hard fan, I think Zombie’s Halloween films deserve to be judged on their own merit, rather than constantly held up to Carpenter’s original. It misses the point. I didn’t want a remake of the film, because I wanted a better sequel that kept the timeline intact. But, I’m not an executive at Dimension.
As a Halloween fan, I’m going to make do with what I got and not act like a spoiled toddler (and art is SUBJECTIVE: just because you hate a film I love doesn’t make either of our opinions fact. Art is. You get out what you put in, so maybe stop shitting on people on Twitter just because they see something in a different light than you). And thank God Halloween fell into the hands of an actual fan with actual ideas, I mean, just look what Dimension did to Hellraiser! They did not care any more about Halloween than they did Clive Barker’s seminal film. It was just dumb luck that Zombie said yes, and then cared enough to try and do something different than just give us a couple of paint-by-numbers slasher movies. As I said before, I can’t get behind every one of Zombie’s artistic impulses, but the man swings for the fences with each one.
Don’t miss Rob Zombie’s new film, 3 From Hell, screening exclusively in theatres for three nights only, September 16th, 17th and 18th through Fathom Events. Get the details here.