When we last saw masked madman Michael Myers he was getting his psycho ass kicked by Busta Rhymes. After that, a reboot of the Halloween franchise, going right back to its roots, didn’t sound like such a bad idea. Enter Rob Zombie…
There is nothing wrong with remakes per se. A few (Ocean’s Eleven (2002)) even improve upon the originals. Comparing a new version with the beloved original might seem unfair, but the fact is a generation of young horror fans are less familiar with John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), than they are with the thirty years worth of brain-dead slasher clones it spawned. Conveniently, if regrettably, Zombie has made a film that encapsulates everything wrong about the horror genre’s bastard offspring. He hasn’t revitalized Halloween. He’s embalmed it.
Carpenter’s opening sequence unsettles the audience via a single, eerie steadicam shot. Zombie treats us to an interminable origin story wherein wee Michael (Daeg Faerch) is trapped in a trailer trash TV movie scripted by Jerry Springer. His stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) and drunken stepfather (William Forsythe) argue all day, delivering such bon mots as: “I will crawl over there and skull-f**k the s**t out of you”, while sister Judith (Hanna Hall - whose tight hotpants prove a welcome distraction) taunts him for masturbating over pictures of dead animals. The only family member Michael truly loves is baby sister, Laurie. When Michael’s misbehaviour reaches high school, his concerned principal (Richard Lynch - uh-oh) calls in psychologist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell - in hilarious hippie wig and sunglasses), but it’s too late. A local bully, played by Spy Kids (2000) star Daryl Sabara, is first to feel Michael’s wrath - so we get to see Chuny bludgeoned to death. Judith is too busy boinking her boyfriend to take lil’ Mikey out trick-or-treating, so he swipes that famous mask and goes kill crazy. ’78 Michael knifed his sister. ’07 Michael triples his body-count without delivering an ounce of terror. Needless to say, mom isn’t pleased.
Michael is hauled off to an insane asylum, where grindingly tedious interviews conducted by Dr. Loomis reveal him as a petulant brat who loves making masks (Profound statement: “I like the mask because it hides my face. It hides my ugliness.”), but hardly the Antichrist. He finds a friend in the kindly janitor (Danny Trejo), but proves less keen on the sarcastic nurse (Sybil Danning), whom he gorily knifes to death. This leaves him locked up for good, while mom blows her brains out, and Dr. Loomis washes his hands. In the one, mildly interesting addition: Loomis admits Michael is the closest thing he has to a friend - but still calls him a “soulless killing machine driven by pure instinct” in his next lecture.
Fifteen years later, Michael has grown into 6ft 9 Tyler Mane. How did he get so muscular? Does this asylum have a gym? In a truly appalling scene: two redneck asylum guards (Tom Towles and Bill Moseley) bring a female inmate to Michael’s room and viciously rape her, until he slaughters them all. But he saves his biggest bile for Trejo’s janitor, who is beaten, drowned and bludgeoned/electrocuted with a TV set - proving kindness gets you nowhere. Michael escapes the asylum and, after a quit pit-stop to kill Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree while he’s on the toilet, heads home to Haddonfield.
After a bum-numbing fifty minutes, we finally meet Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), babysitting alone while her friends, Annie (Danielle Harris) and Linda (Kristina Klebe) are out canoodling with their boyfriends. Michael unearths his mask and rusty blade and sets to work, while Dr. Loomis and Annie’s dad, the local sheriff (Brad Dourif) race to stop him.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is about Laurie Strode trying to evade the masked, malevolent Shape. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a love letter to Michael Myers. Carpenter visits terror upon his teenagers, but he also makes us care. We want to see them make it through the night. Zombie couldn’t give a crap about these anonymous kids - they’re the fleshy canvas upon which Michael vents his angst - and relishes seeing them squirm, snivel and crawl in agony. Zombie loves Michael, and wants the audience to love him too. Except, Michael Myers isn’t King Kong or Frankenstein’s monster - a character you can sympathise with or love. You wouldn’t even want to, because he is a mindless killer. He is death.
Zombie’s attempts at psychology during the early scenes are wafer thin and patronises horror movie fans, heavy metal kids and even, trailer trash folk. He seems to think they deserve to die. The teenagers are poorly written, but well played by the capable cast, especially Scout Taylor-Compton, a worthy successor to Jamie Lee Curtis as warm, likeable Laurie. Her relationship with mother, Dee Wallace is well drawn, resulting in the one death that does shock as it’s so unexpected. Once Michael arrives, Laurie is sidelined as a shrieking, bloody wreck, while Loomis’ heroism is written off amidst the ineptly handled finale. It’s great seeing Danielle Harris, heroine of Halloween 4 (1988) and 5 (1989) back in Haddonfield, but she spends the humiliating final reel, squirming topless in a pool of blood. Harris (who still looks like a teenager) is one of a dozen horror stars scattered throughout the movie. With Dourif playing the sheriff and perennial screen psychos Clint Howard and Udo Kier running the asylum, you might think the world has gone mad, but it still won’t prepare you for The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz as a gun dealer.
Although the main feature is horrendously overlong, Paramount’s DVD offers a whopping twenty deleted scenes, plus an alternate ending. Moderately better than the “take-no-prisoners” original, this still features the ridiculous sight of Loomis weeping over the mass-murdering S.O.B. In his audio commentary Rob Zombie comes across as an intelligent guy with an obvious love for the genre, yet his films strain so hard to be edgy they all carry the same flaws. Zombie’s Halloween trades thrills for mere unpleasantness and is so overwrought it numbs us with nausea and boredom. If any young horror fans still want to give this a try, please watch the original first.
American musician turned horror director. Born Robert Cummings, Zombie fronted cult metal band White Zombie for a decade, before making his first movie in 2003, the gaudy shocker House of 1000 Corpses. A sequel, The Devil's Rejects, was released in 2005 after which he contented himself with two reimaginings of the Halloween franchise. His Satanism-themed next film was The Lords of Salem.