Film discussion

Throwback 10: Rob Zombie’s Halloween

As Halloween's 2007 remake turns ten yeats old tomorrow, Leslie Byron Pitt looks back at Rob Zombie's take...

“I thought that he took away the mystique of the story by explaining too much about the guy. I don’t care about that. It’s supposed to be a force of nature, he’s supposed to be almost supernatural. And he was too big. It wasn’t normal.” – John Carpenter on Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween.

Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s seminal horror classic provoked a response which was more animated than most remake reactions. By 2007, we had already started to see a dramatic rise of slick yet unremarkable rehashes of famous horror features finding their way into multiplexes. Carpenter’s work had already endured two retellings of his films. First came a star studded and functional re-tread of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) before the poorly received and extremely forgettable modern update of The Fog (2005) was released later in that same year. Both films seemingly did their best to illustrate the difficulty of revamping the works of Carpenter without the auteur’s distinctive craftsmanship behind the lens.

2007’s Halloween came to audiences with the fanfare of a real horror director at the helm and a clear desire to make Michael Myers Great Again. It was stated that Zombie went to Carpenter himself to obtain his blessing, to which Carpenter said: “Make it your own.”

Make it his own he would. A filmmaker who had gained a cult following with his macabre horror franchise duo of House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects, both films were messy and divisive but were clearly both born of a director of a singular vision. Something that a remake of an influential horror film would most probably need.

Halloween (2007) is both an angry prequel that follows how a young Michael Myers came to be the serial killer we know, and an aggressive retelling of John Carpenter’s original story, in which the murderous psychopath escapes from his mental institution and stalks his lonesome teenage sister on Halloween night. Zombie’s film highlights the love hate relationship with remakes to a T. Zombie cannot just rehash the same film. That’s just not cricket. However, to move too far in the other direction, then is he truly making Halloween? How can the man win?

The answer isn’t simple. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is most certainly Rob Zombie’s Halloween, yet in becoming that film, it loses much of the spirit which made John Carpenter’s film the classic enjoyed by horror audiences and critics for over 35 years.

“I will skull fuck the shit out of you.” Ronnie White, Michael Myers’ stepfather

Quotes like the one above showcase the conflicts that Zombie’s Halloween holds within itself. It’s a film which forces hostility whenever it can. Rage is the most important emotion of Zombie’s Halloween and it seeps through every crack. Michael Myers’ childhood is a typical running checklist of a problematic upbringing. Terrorised by fellow school kids and bullied by his step father (a man who has dubious designs on his young step daughter), Myers (Daeg Faerch) sits glumly while his stripper mother works shifts leaving him on his lonesome.

When the family do spend time together every second word is a swear. When not mutilating animals, young Mikey is wearing masks to divorce himself from his reality as well as his murderous acts. Zombie spends much of the film’s first hour drowning the young serial killer in a world of grimy hostility. The only person other than his baby sister who doesn’t speak to him in disdain is his mother (Sheri Zombie Moon), whose career choice has ensured her that she remains oblivious to Michael’s deteriorating state.

A pivotal moment of the film’s first half features Mommy Myers sadly stripping in a club on Halloween night while Myers is left to go trick or treating by himself as his older sister is too busy having sex with her boyfriend to go with him. Nazareth’s cover of ‘Love Hurts’ squeals over the soundtrack while Michael sits out on the kerb looking up to the dark sky.

“He’s become a ghost. A mere shape of a Human being.” – Doctor Loomis

So much so serial killer. Zombie’s desire to get under the hood of the villain is as admirable as it is destructive. The wish to relate to Michael is like the relationship with Micky and Mallory Knox in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Stone’s film flitters and flirts with its murderous couple in such a way that the films supposed satire of the mass media’s glamorisation of murderers became more than a little murky. Halloween (2007) suffers from a similar handicap.

Despite doing his best to give off his best Satan’s Lil Helper glare, Daeg Faerch is still enough of a wounded cherub look about him to appear loveable. This is Zombie’s MO. It only takes one look at The Devil’s Rejects’ Freebird scored “blaze of glory” finale to note that the filmmaker is a lot fonder of the villains over the heroes. Halloween is no exception. By showing Michael Myers as a troubled child brings around the issue that plagues many horror fans since the conception of the original: an affinity to the villain. Myers is no longer a mysterious bogeyman, but a human being given the rawest of deals.

The change of scope and splitting of focus does much to render the character of Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) rather impotent. Not only do we spend less time engaging with her, but Compton, despite holding a charming presence, is not as effective in the final girl role as Jamie Lee Curtis, and the fear factor lessens. The film looks to engage with the killer and pays little interest in the victims, with a few of the fatalities being oddly fetishised for the pleasure of both killer and viewer.

Interestingly, Zombie’s film hints at a conflict between middle and working-class America, which could have become a fascinating subtext if Zombie had allowed himself to read into it more. Samuel Loomis’ (Malcolm McDowell) pomposity as Michael’s psychiatrist is an interesting through-line, as is the well-to-do togetherness of Laurie’s adopted family in comparison to the making a murderer hell hole that she was saved from. But these subtexts are never fully formed.

While there’s many a YouTube comment or Reddit thread which state otherwise, Halloween (2007) never feels truly terrifying due to Zombie’s interest in removing Michael Myers’ near supernatural presence and making him a being of understanding. Zombie makes Myers a walking case study of obnoxious yelling and white trash pop psychology. The film never understands what made the original so unsettling, from the uniformed rows of suburban houses which lay quietly silent to the chaos of the nightmare, to Carpenter’s brilliant use of Steadicam, which utilised space and form to a far more chilling effect in comparison to Zombie’s more explicit grisliness.

But what could we expect? Zombie’s film is one of sound and fury. Carpenter’s one of chilling elegance. The film’s grimy aesthetic highlights Rob Zombie as a formidable craftsman. The problem is, like the explanation of a complex joke, once you give everything clarification, it’s no longer effective. You shouldn’t go too big.

What did you think of the Halloween remake? Did Rob Zombie succeed or falter? Let us know!

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