After last year’s successful Halloween sequel, 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.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween a Tale of Two Movies
Zombie’s treatment of Halloween feels like two entirely different movies forced to co-exist alongside one another. The second half is essentially the true ‘remake’ of Carpenter’s original vision. Conversely, the first 40 to 45 minutes are more accurately described as a ‘re-imagining’. And it’s this first half where Zombie has the most creative license. The result is equal parts rewarding and challenging. On one hand, Zombie’s decision to explore the psychology of a killer using the Michael Myers’ mythos presents a genuine opportunity for a true re-imagining. Yet it’s a choice that simultaneously undermines 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.
And it’s this first half where Zombie has the most creative license. The result is equal parts rewarding and challenging.
As much as issue as one may take with Zombie’s initial direction, Halloween delivers its best moments in that controversial first half. 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. Nonetheless, Zombie’s knack for horror aesthetics and framing raw violence makes it compelling. As with Zombie’s other movies, he fills his story with a gritty and seedy realism that’s frequently uncomfortable. 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
Few filmmakers have the same penchant for gritty, ’70’s grindhouse violence as Rob Zombie, save for Quentin Tarantino and El Roth. No one’s going to argue that Zombie doesn’t know anything about the horror genre. 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.
…he gives audiences a remake that exchanges scares and suspense for brutal violence.
While Zombie has no problems delivering grindhouse gore, he also struggles 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 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. This is not so much an issue of vision. But it’s hard to be truly afraid for characters who are almost wholly unlikeable. Maybe Zombie would deliver a better movie working from someone else’s script and 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.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween 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.
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