Depending on how you feel about remakes, the movie is either dreaded or anticipated this friday. Cinema Suicide got the rare opportunity to check in early and come back with the word, good or bad.
I’ve had it with remakes. I haven’t bothered to watch many of them and those that I have seen have left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Remakes are glaring evidence of two things in Hollywood. The industry is out of ideas and the industry has a deep running contempt for the horror genre. One of their most successful genres is handled with such malice that the most they can toss us are some soggy, half eaten scraps from decades ago. I would have expected more from a guy like Rob Zombie who has gone on record again and again as one of us. The success of The Devil’s Rejects allowed him to write his own checks. He could have done anything he wanted after that movie and when they turned over the keys to the kingdom and asked, “What’s next?” Rob replied, “Halloween”.
I can’t blame the guy for loving the Carpenter original. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, an indie success story like few movies. Made on a budget equivalent to the average craft services budget of an A list picture, Halloween was a runaway success bringing kids into theaters like nothing else. It took proven elements from Italian giallo pictures and combined it with Hitchcockian suspense and then layered on a soundtrack as memorable as Jaws. Halloween was a uniquely American horror movie. It also set the ground rules for the exploitation clusterfuck that was to follow in years to come. No matter what, if they’re ripping it off (Friday the 13th) or spoofing it (Scream), the ripples the original made in 1978 are still being felt to this day. So what the fuck is the deal with a remake?
I’m sorry. I meant reimagining.
In Rob Zombie’s world, Michael Meyers was dealt a bad hand in life. At the age of ten he was held tightly in the grip of your classic toxic household. His mother meant well and did the best she could but her shithead lowlife boyfriend is doing nothing but trash talking her kids and drinking all her booze. Her oldest daughter Judith is the town jizz jar and she, Michael’s mother, makes ends meet by stripping. By this point, Laurie is no older than 12 months. Michael is also, for reasons unknown, obsessed with wearing masks. From the earliest news about this movie I suspected the worst and I was right for the most part. Rob Zombie has always sympathized with the villain. In House of 1000 Corpses, the victims were just bodies to be butchered, the real stars of the movie were the Firefly family. Only by this point, Zombie was still really rough around the edges in the storytelling department and the movie is a music video mish mash of ideas. A series of settings rather than plot points. By The Devil’s Rejects he had improved significantly and most of the problems of House were solved, but there was still the lingering problem of his protagonists. By asking us to root for the bad guys, Rob was trying to fill a tall order. Rejects is full of these character moments that are supposed to grab our sympathy for Baby, Otis and Captain Spaulding. Despite all the mayhem, they’re a family and blah blah blah. All I see is Otis cutting a man’s face off and forcing his wife to wear it. All I see is Otis raping Priscilla Barnes. Tutti fuckin’ fruity, my ass. William Forsythe, the intended villain, was a much more intense and cooler character. Now, in Halloween, Zombie is getting better, but rather than scattering some humanizing moments of Michael Meyers here and there, the entire first half of the movie is dedicated to drawing him as this tragic figure, a kid who had no other options.
Back to the movie. When Michael’s mom has to go strip on Halloween night, his sister Judith is instructed to take him out trick or treating but she instead blows him off in order to screw some long haired dirt bag. Michael, heartbroken, hits the streets of Haddonfield on his own and returns to find the place as he left it. Mom’s boyfriend passed out drunk and his sister getting plowed by a hippie. After some lonely reflection, he snaps, and gets to work murdering everyone in the house. The bloodshed that follows is both brutal and not entirely surprising. Also, keep an eye out for Zombie’s clever White Zombie reference. On one hand, my earliest gripes about slashers when I was a kid was that they were never as bloody as people told me they would be. If my parents were to be believed, Friday the 13th was a nonstop festival of disembowelment. From the opening seconds to the credit crawl, it was nothing but camp counselors being gutted by a man in a hockey mask. The original Halloween, like other indie horrors of the time, was a relatively bloodless movie. It’s not without a drop, but the graphic violence was never on the menu. People were stabbed, throats were cut, but you never saw gaping wounds and geysers of blood. Part of the original Halloween’s charm was the ability to avoid the splashy violence and still scare the fuck out of people. Rob Zombie will have none of that. His movies are the cinematic equivalent of Gallagher performance. The audience can’t help but get a little on them. Zombie’s inability to create an actual atmosphere of tension is instead replaced by the red stuff. Whatever. I’m willing to let him slide a little because I’m a gore hound but I’m going to keep one foot in the land of the rational because he’s remaking one of the untouchable holy cows of the horror genre. Despite completely missing the point, this is a messy, nasty horror movie. Take the viciousness of The Devil’s Rejects and put it in the familiar William Shatner mask.
Michael spares his baby sister’s life and upon discovering the horror of the evening’s events Michael’s mother loses it completely and Michael is hauled off to a locked insane asylum. His doctor is the iconic Sam Loomis. Michael has blocked out the violent events of Halloween night and spends his time making rudimentary masks to wear on the unit. Dr. Loomis does his best to get through to Michael and his mother visits weekly, but nothing works. Michael, unaware of why he’s in the hospital, just wants to go home. After a couple of years, it begins to sink in that he’ll never go home. What little humanity is left in him is washed away when Loomis and Ms. Meyers leave Michael in the company of a bitchy nurse who makes a disparaging comment about Michael and then feels his wrath by way of a fork to the carotid artery. Having lost everything, Michael’s mom goes home and puts a bullet in her brain. Rob Zombie is on the verge of breaking through and doing something original, but for the moment he’s stuck in the same rut that keeps Quentin Tarantino from being anything other than a one trick pony in my eyes. He’s able to capture the elements of movies he liked as a kid and put them in his own movies and he loves to cast genre favorites. This movie is a who’s who of everyone you could want in a horror tribute. Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Ken Foree, Richard Lynch (who desperately needs to be in more movies), Clint Howard, Dee Wallace, Udo Kier and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m watching movies I’ve seen before. It’s as if I’m having a conversation with another horror fan and he rattles off his favorite scenes and actors. Incessant name dropping and heavily accented plot regurgitation worked on me for a while when it was novel and new, but by this point, I’m really looking for something new and exciting.
15 years pass and Michael is an adult. Dr. Loomis, unable to get Michael to speak for all this time, gives up and splits. Halloween is approaching and inevitably, Michael manages to overpower the guards and break out. Somehow, he has become a beast. For a guy who sits in a little room all day making masks, he’s huge. Later on, in one of the many cameo scenes, Michael murders Ken Foree on the can, steals his coveralls and then heads off to Haddonfield in time for Halloween where the movie shifts gears and plays out in familiar fashion. While Rob Zombie is making the kind of movie only he can make, and taking the legacy of one of the finest masked slashers of all time in a really strange, wrong direction, he gets things so right in the Loomis department. The late Donald Pleasance was Dr. Loomis. He owned that character like Anthony Hopkins owns Hannibal Lecter. There is no substitute, but if you had to find one, Malcolm McDowell is the guy you’d want to pick. He plays Loomis with the same heavy attitude, constantly reminding everyone that he told them so. Meyers is the devil and there is no stopping him! He’s a killing machine! It was a brilliant move to cast McDowell and it wins recovery points in a big way.
Laurie is a nice girl. Her friends are sluts. While at school, Michael lurks in the yard and on the way home he follows them, just a little off camera. Since Michael is now an adult, the surprising performance from kid-actor Daeg Faerch who really turns it in and shocks with the early scenes of violence, is replaced by pro-wrestler turned actor Tyler Mane. Mane has all the right moves as Michael. It’s not hard to be big and imposing, but in the same way that Kane Hodder gave Jason Voorhees a ton of nuance and menace, Tyler Mane sells Michael Meyers big time. By this point, Loomis is butting heads with the local sheriff, played by Brad Douriff, laying down the heavy Dr. Loomis dialog. Also, Laurie’s friends are drinking and fucking and reaping their wicked rewards at the hands of Michael until the inevitable stalker/slasher confrontation in the end.
Since the original Halloween is such a sparse picture, with not much background on the Michael Meyers character, Rob Zombie set out to fill in some blanks. I can understand why. Meyers is a fan favorite and it’s natural for people to want to know more. I was always happy with what John Carpenter gave us originally. I like the idea that there was no reason for Meyers. He was just wired wrong from the start. In the original, the Meyers family seems quite normal and his sister isn’t a slut. Still, he snapped. Slashers killing teens who enjoy a little vice has always been a convention of the genre, established by Halloween, but the motivations for that have never been clear. In Rob Zombie’s version of the movie, we gain that understanding.
I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting all over this movie. I realize that my tone has been pretty negative, but the truth is that it’s not a bad movie. When you’re remaking and reshaping one of horror’s finest characters and achievements, you have a lot riding against you. My biggest gripe is that The Devil’s Rejects was pretty good and Rob Zombie could have done anything, but he chose to dive into that arena that makes true horror fans cringe, the remake. There’s nothing wrong with this picture, though. While the original rode on suspense, that was 1978 and fans have come to expect a lot more in these trying times. As a director, Rob Zombie is coming along. You can see him getting better with each picture. He needs to work on his writing, but things are getting better. Even his wife, Sherri Moon, who plays Michael’s mom, is becoming a better actress. Where she is nearly intolerable as Baby in Zombie’s previous movies, here she plays it straight and as a desperate single mother doing the best she can, she’s actually quite believable. I still don’t feel bad for Michael Meyers because he spends a good deal of time killing people for no reason, but the circumstances that Rob Zombie has established are reasonable and well made.
Halloween as far as remakes go, falls into that same weird place that the Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead did. It was much better than it had any right to be. Rob Zombie may have no ability to create any kind of suspense or atmosphere, but as a wet, splattery horror movie director, he’s turning out good movies. The Halloween remake shines in many places and is a genuinely entertaining movie but it lives under the black mark that it’s a remake of one of horror’s greatest movies.