With a new Halloween movie (and direct sequel) less than 50 days away, it’s almost hard to believe that just over ten years ago the franchise was getting rebooted. Following the dismal Halloween: Resurrection, a remake helmed by Rob Zombie promised a lot of upside for fans of the franchise. Few filmmakers could boast such a reverence for the source material and the same penchant for grindhouse horror like Zombie.
While Zombie’s interpretation of Carpenter’s classic was far from a failure – it did merit a sequel – it didn’t necessarily set the world on fire. Like much of Zombie’s filmography, the 2007 Halloween remake is a maddeningly flawed classic.
A Tale of Two Movies
Zombie’s treatment of Halloween feels like two entirely different films forced to co-exist alongside one another. The second half is essentially the true ‘remake’ of Carpenter’s original vision, mostly following the familiar plot points. It’s the first 40 to 45 minutes of Zombie’s Halloween that are more accurately described as a ‘re-imagining’.
That first half of Halloween, where Zombie has the most creative licence, is equal parts rewarding and challenging. The decision to explore the psychology of a killer using the Michael Myers’ mythos presents a genuine opportunity for a true re-imagining while simultaneously undermining the movie before it’s even out of the gate. Arguably the most frightening aspect of Carpenter’s classic film is the lack of explanation for Michael Myers. He is ‘pure evil’ according to his own psychologist. Even the film credits, which refer to the character as ‘The Shape, treat Myers as an entity, something to be feared rather than understood.
…it’s the movie’s first half, when Zombie is allowed to take the story in his own direction, where Halloween delivers its best moments.
Yet it’s the movie’s first half, when Zombie is allowed to take the story in his own direction, where Halloween delivers its best moments. Much of the movie’s psychology looks like it’s been lifted from a true crime serial killer biography or an Introduction to Abnormal Psychology textbook, but Zombie’s knack for horror aesthetics and framing raw violence makes it compelling. As with Zombie’s other films, there’s a gritty and seedy realism that permeates his story of a dysfunctional family that serves as an incubator for a blossoming monster. If the movie had been called anything but Halloween – and if Zombie hadn’t been forced to so closely follow Carpenter’s original film so closely in its second half – one can’t help but feel the movie would have been received differently.
Halloween Further Illustrates That Zombie Can Be His Own Worst Enemy
Rob Zombie broke out with his heavy metal band, White Zombie, named after the 1932 Bela Lugosi chiller. His music is rife with references to and sound bites from horror films and assorted b-movies. Not surprisingly then, Zombie has shown a natural insight into horror filmmaking not found in a lot of horror directors’ work. His penchant for gritty, ’70’s grindhouse violence is largely unsurpassed.
Much of the problem with Zombie’s movies, however, is his tendency to give into his own excesses. For instance, Rob Zombie’s characters are almost exclusively some mix of foul-mouthed, psychopathic, or southern hicks. In fact, Zombie has a problem crafting empathetic characters. Despite the fact that Halloween’s Haddonfield is in Illinois, its cast is seemingly overrun by a motley crew of deranged hillbillies. Not even Laurie Strode is particularly likeable in this movie.
While Zombie has no problems delivering grindhouse gore, he does struggle with generating genuine fear and suspense. Truth be told, Zombie’s films aren’t so much scary as they are disturbing. In applying the same approach to his Halloween remake, he gives audiences a remake that exchanges scares and suspense for brutal and dark violence. This leads to the same problem discussed above. If this were anything but a Halloween movie, Zombie’s excesses would be just fine. But the approach seems entirely incongruent with the tone of the original Halloween.
But the approach seems entirely incongruent with the tone of the original Halloween.
This is not so much an issue of vision. But it’s hard to be truly afraid for characters who are almost wholly unlikeable. And while I have no issues with graphic violence, it doesn’t replace good old-fashioned scares. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that Zombie would deliver his best movie working from someone else’s script and with a producer who might reign in some of his excesses.
A Mixed Bag of Casting and Characters
Casting and characterizations in Zombie’s Halloween are a mixed bag. Zombie includes his usual assortment of seedy characters played by a ‘who’s who’ of cult film actors. His casting of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis was something of a coup for the remake. Replacing the enigmatic Donald Pleasence was never going to be easy, but McDowell is no slouch. And he’s game for the role in Halloween but the screenplay does him no favours. This Loomis feels all over the map – an opportunistic hack at times, and crusading doctor at others.
Notably, Zombie makes Michael Myers scary again with the casting of the imposing Tyler Mane and gritty updating of the infamous mask. For the first time in years, Michael Myers feel like a monster. He may be less a silent ‘Shape’ in the background, but Zombie gets that Myers is an unstoppable natural force. Most importantly, Mane perfectly captures this characterization in his performance.
There are some casting misfires and missed opportunities in the Halloween remake. Scout Taylor-Compton never feels right as Laurie Strode; I’m probably not the only one who would have liked to see that role go to Danielle Harris. Brad Dourif feels very underused – he’s the best part of the sequel. Like Taylor-Compton, Sheri Moon-Zombie just feels out of place in this movie.
A Flawed But Utterly Watchable Remake
For all of its flaws, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake remains an utterly watchable movie. His dark and uncompromising vision gave Halloween fans the most disturbing franchise entry since the original. It’s a far cry from the tepid late ’80’ sequels. With the sequel, Zombie was unchained from a set narrative. Left entirely to his own devices, Zombie gave fans a dark follow-up whose violence felt too ugly for the franchise. Nonetheless Zombie’s remake was among the best in a decade defined by horror reboots.