With the release of “Halloween” in 1978, director John Carpenter introduced audiences to one of the horror genres most iconic villains, Michael Myers, and ushered in the era of the slasher film. Even though his film was not classified as a slasher, the many sequels, and countless other film series’, which were spawned from it were definitely slashers. Skip forward to 2007, after 7 sequels, some good and some not so much, the ‘Halloween’ film series seemed to have run its course. So, it must have appeared to some executives in Hollywood that the only options left for this franchise were to, A) let it die (which would have been fine and should have happened after “Halloween: H20”), B) continue making pointless sequel after sequel that would most likely wind up going straight to DVD shelves (case in point, the ‘Hellraiser’ series), or C) remake/reimagine the franchise. Apparently option C seemed the most viable, as musician/director/writer Rob Zombie (“House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”) was tapped to helm this new incarnation of Michael Myers with his remake of the original film, simply titled “Halloween”.
“Halloween” is partly a remake of the John Carpenter original from 1978, but is also an origin story for Michael Myers. Young Michael Myers seemed like a fairly normal 10-year-old kid, but appearances can often be deceiving. Behind his seemingly innocent facade was a cold-blooded killer, he just hadn’t fully manifested himself yet. Then one Halloween night, Michael suddenly unleashes his dark side resulting in a string of grisly murders. After that fateful night, Michael is locked away in a psychiatric hospital where he meets his longtime doctor Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), and begins to fall even further into the abyss of his murderous psychosis. Fast forward 15 years, and Michael suddenly decides it is time to escape the hospital that has served as his prison for so long, and return to the town where his rampage began and finish what he started.
The choice of Rob Zombie as director and writer for the new film didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. Sure, the franchise had kind of wandered into the typical slasher sub-genre of horror films, but Zombie’s brand of horror was much more extreme and gratuitous than anything contained within this series. However, when the movie was released and began receiving some praise for the reinterpretation of the original classic, I thought maybe Rob Zombie had managed to make a more mainstream movie; instead of his typically demented brand of horror that he’d been crafting over the last couple of years. So, when I rented the film I approached it openly, and had hopes that it would be good, and possibly equal the original (which should always be the goal of any remake). If nothing else I thought the movie might give an interesting origin story to the character of Michael.
Upon watching the film, I soon realized, after getting about 30 minutes into the unrated version of the movie, that this was nothing that really resembled its predecessor. This film, although not a typical Rob Zombie movie, contained most of the familiar elements that he loves to include in his films, i.e. plenty of language, graphic nudity, disturbing images, and extreme violence. Basically, Rob was making a more toned down film than usual, but in the end it didn’t really feel like it was a part of the ‘Halloween’ series. Really it seemed to fit more in line with Zombie’s previous two disturbing pieces of cinema, than with the film it was supposedly paying homage to, while trying to breathe new life into the character.
The story, as I stated earlier, is a mixture of origin tale and remake all rolled into one film. The first half of the film is devoted to the early years of Michael Myers, essentially expanding on the opening moments from the original movie. This portion of the movie was somewhat interesting because it was showcasing a different time in the life of this villain, and also giving some clues as to why he became a killer. But, this new origin seemed to contradict the opening of the original film. Because here Michael’s family is painted as broken and abusive; whereas, in the original he appeared to have come from a loving home and he simply snapped one day. Having Michael come from such an abusive upbringing served as a way of explaining why he killed some members of his family. However, it also seemed like an attempt on Zombie’s part to humanize Michael in an attempt to gain sympathy for the character from the audience.
Trying to build sympathy for Michael is where I feel the movie made a big mistake. The film is about Michael Myers, a masked killer and horror legend, I for one do not want to be made to feel sorry for this character. Why should we as an audience be sympathetic to him? Why not just show him as a kid who suddenly snapped, committed a horrible crime, and then show how he slipped further into psychosis while in the mental hospital? That is what I thought this movie was going to do, and to an extent it did, but it also seemed to go to great lengths to engender sympathy, which should not have happened.
The good news is that the scenes centered around Michael’s time served in the institution are where the film finally begins to gain some momentum. These are some of the most fascinating scenes in the movie, and I thought that Rob Zombie actually did a good job of showing the character’s gradual descent into madness. While in the institution scenes, Zombie did provide me with an interesting observation about Michael that I hadn’t anticipated. Several scenes focus on the exploration of why Michael always wears a mask, and it is within these moments that the story really gains its footing. As I said this area of the film is by far the strongest and most intriguing for me.
The second half of the film, is basically a rehash of the original with some changes made to certain events. This portion of the movie works on some levels, but not as well on others. I liked some of the changes that Rob made to the original film; although it was interesting to see that even after all these years, some aspects of the original are just too good to change. However, as good as parts of this section of the movie was, they were overshadowed by Rob Zombie’s penchant for blood, gore, and gratuitous nudity. All of those unnecessary elements took away from not just this portion of the story, but the entire movie as well, due to them being sprinkled throughout.
The actors in this film were decent; those playing the various teenagers were average at best. Their performances for the most part were fairly by the book; therefore, their characters were somewhat forgettable. Not a single one of the younger stars contained even an ounce of the screen presence of Jamie Lee Curtis. Her performance in the original film is part of what made that film so successful. Laurie Strode was so sweet and innocent, and Jamie played her so naturally that you couldn’t help but invest in her character. But the ones here were pretty much standard horror film fare. No real standouts, just a bunch of unknowns trying to make a break, even though none of them deliver anything resembling a memorable performance.
The highlight of the cast was Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis, the role made famous by the late Donald Pleasence. Malcolm plays Loomis as a caring child psychologist who desperately wants to reach Michael in hopes of finding some good in him. When Michael escapes, Loomis comes after him with such zeal that it seems borderline obsessive. McDowell is truly fun to watch as Dr. Loomis, and steals every scene that he is in. We get to see more of the time Loomis spent with Michael as a boy in the institution as he attempts to understand what happened, all of which was alluded to in the original but never explored. Malcolm convincingly takes the role from being a man who only cares for this young boy as a patient to becoming obsessed with stopping a monster for whom he feels responsible due to his failure in reaching him early on.
In the end, “Halloween” is a lackluster movie and a weak excuse for a remake. It fails to even come close to capturing what made the original film so good, and I think a majority of the blame must be laid on the shoulders of the film’s writer and director Rob Zombie. His talents as a screenwriter and director are average at best, definitely not worthy of big screen feature films. His body of work seems more at home in the Direct-to-DVD marketplace than in your local multiplex. Even if you are a fan of Rob Zombie’s movies, there should be no denying that his adaptation of “Halloween” is nowhere near good enough to hold a candle to John Carpenter’s original film that started it all.
“Halloween” is available in rated R and unrated editions, both containing graphic violence, language, nudity/sexuality, and gore.