While Rob Zombie’s sophomore hillbilly horror flick, The Devil’s Rejects, may not have seen the greatest in horror box office numbers, it did shine a spotlight on the movie making metal maestro. In 2006, Zombie garnered the attention of Bob and Harvey Weinstein. (Yeah, I know. But they owned Dimension Films, and you can’t talk horror without mentioning these guys eventually.) Wanting to remake and possibly revitalise the sacred and much revered Halloween series, the House of 1000 Corpses director was their first and only choice to bring a fresh take to Michael Myers.
The problem was, between fan fatigue and fan nostalgia, the filmmaker had more than a bit of an uphill battle on his hands. Not one to mince his words, he came to the world 100% upfront about his intentions for the series.
“…what I am doing is starting totally from from scratch. This the new HALLOWEEN. Call it a remake, an update, a reimaging or whatever, but one thing that for sure is this is a whole new start… a new beginning with no connection to the other series. That is exactly why the project appeals to me. I can take it and run with it.
I talked to John Carpenter about this the other day and he said, “Go for it, Rob. Make it your own”. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Whether this discussion ever actually happened has been a much discussed point of argument among fans. Whether or not the pair spoke, it didn’t matter. Nothing was ever going to appease fans. So Zombie did the only thing he could do. He gave up giving a shit what people thought and made the film he wanted to make.
If you really want a great deep dive on this new iteration of Halloween, you can take a butchers at Leslie Pitt’s throwback piece from a couple of years ago. While Leslie and I don’t agree on much when it comes to this particular film, it is a phenomenal read that should be digested by everyone who calls themselves a fan – it does you no good to ignore differing opinions, after all. Suffice it to say, like it or not, Zombie created a fresh and monstrous take on The Shape.
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Where John Carpenter’s Myers was all but supernatural, Zombie’s creation was a bullied, beaten, animal killing kid who was always going to become a serial killer. It was just a happy accident that he became a seven foot monster as well. With the in-real-life terrifying Tyler Mane (X-Men) under the mask, a new, scary as shit, Michael Myers was born.
Somewhere around Halloween’s halfway mark, Zombie tries his hardest to make us hate and fear his Michael. As he escapes the facility that arrogantly thought it could hold him, he brutally attacks and kills Ismael (Danny Trejo), the jolly old janitor who thought he had bonded with the monster. His cries of “I was good to you Mikey” are supposed to leave you cold and hateful towards Myers. If Zombie’s love of the antagonist wasn’t already going to prevent that transition, The Shape’s good-guy-like dispatch of a couple of rapist guards minutes earlier left you fist pumping with joy. Try as he might, Rob Zombie is struggling to make us hate his bad guys. They’re just so damn entertaining.
The darkest souls are not those which choose to exist within the hell of the abyss, but those which choose to move silently among us.
Added into the mix was Scout Taylor-Compton taking on the iconic role of Laurie Strode. Made famous in 1978 by Jamie Lee Curtis and so dutifully worshipped by fans across the world, it takes balls of steel to recast that part and bigger ones to accept it. Taylor-Compton had a tough grind against nearly 30 years of fan fetishisation to deal with. Depending on who you ask, she did a great job or ruined the character. I believe she did a great job. The pure virginal babysitter wasn’t going to cut it for this grindhouse Halloween, and the very idea of the innocent little girl in this day and age just didn’t fit the film that we were watching. Compton’s portrayal of a bad-ass chick who came up against a terrifying force of evil that she simply wasn’t going to be able to beat brought a realness to Strode that we hadn’t seen before. It was a nice twist on being a “Final Girl” that was possibly a little ahead of its time.
The return of Danielle Harris to the franchise that kicked off her career was a stroke of genius on Rob Zombie’s part. Having become a bit of a horror icon since we first met her in 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers when she played Jamie Lloyd, Micheal Myers’ niece who had the same murdering DNA as the series protagonist. Harris was a natural fit for Annie Brackett, Laurie’s best friend who nearly doesn’t make it to the end of the first super-violent instalment in Zombie’s Myers duology. The icing on this particularly bloody looking cake came in the form of Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) taking on the role of Samuel Loomis.
Myers’ doctor was done so brilliantly by Donald Pleasence that his recasting was almost as controversial as that of Curtis. McDowell made the role his own, going from a caring doctor trying his hardest for his patient to a money grabbing attention whore wanting to make a few more bucks. It was another turn in a character that reflected the time the film was made instead of romanticising the original’s doctor as someone who could exist today. Cynical? Perhaps. But it worked for Zombie’s vision of Michael Myers and his place in our world today.
Where Rob Zombie lost a lot of people’s forgiveness, was with his sequel.
All but forced to make 2009’s Halloween II, the director was offered first refusal at the sequel that was going to be made with or without him. So after having a year or so to cool off after the insanity of making the first one, the rocker signed his name on paperwork for number two.
In an interview on the making of the sequel, Zombie said he no longer felt the need to keep any residual John Carpenter-ness in his sequel, where the first was a story he was making his own, the follow-up was going to be much grittier, and much more real. What lost a lot of people, was the white horse.
Having escaped the back of a coroner’s meat wagon – and brutally removed vital parts of soon-to-be-Zombie regular Richard Brake – Myers follows a vision of his deceased mother (Sheri Moon-Zombie) in a white gown with her white horse. The vision drags the poor bastard across the countryside to try and find his way back to Haddonfield, a trek that takes a full year and lands him and the near psychotic Laurie on a collision course on Halloween night. Again.
For his sequel, Zombie upped the crazy, upped the grindhouse feel, and really upped the violence into near comic book levels. Every one of Michael’s kills is more brutal than the last, with a nasty, NASTY repeated head stomping being one of the most horrific things to hit cinema in the same year the first Human Centipede movie appeared! An extended look at a near-mortally wounded Danielle Harris in the aftermath of her attack in the first film’s final act was enough to put those with even the most cast iron of stomachs off their lunch that day.
Hey, world! Guess what. I’m Michael Myers’ sister! I’m so fucked!
In a moment to prove it wasn’t all about showing the violence, Annie Brackett’s eventual demise is one of the most horrifying 60 seconds of any of Rob Zombie’s films up to and beyond this point. We saw her get her ass kicked in the first movie, we’ve seen a guy impaled on on a set of antlers, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer was stabbed with a combat knife, and the aforementioned head stomping. But Brackett’s end comes in darkness that pans to an external shot. We don’t see anything of her assault by Myers, but we do hear her screaming, pleading and crying while being thrown around. While the aftermath is a horrible sight – stories Scout Taylor Compton told on the Shock Waves podcast whilst promoting Feral last year speak of her visceral and real reaction to finding her friend on the floor that adds something a little more horrifying to the proceedings – knowing what Michael is capable of, but being told we are not allowed to see it, is a whole new level of disturbing.
The bizarre spiritual side of H2 turned off a lot of people; even those who were able to accept Zombie’s Halloween for the independent vision that it was. Sheri Moon-Zombie being “a beautiful ghost” and leading grown Michael – and the long dead spirit of the young boy he used to be – to his sister with no real end game was a twist many weren’t able to get over. Understandably so, especially for die-hard fans that struggled with the first instalment.
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In the end, Rob Zombie’s Halloween and its sequel are the epitome of Marmite, love it or hate it, films. When you live in a world that brands you a heretic for not loving the 1978 John Carpenter original to a fetishistic level, to be a fan of the gritty reboot does, in some circles, mark you for a death fitting of a Myers victim. Although, in the last 12 months, as David Gordon Green’s Halloween – a direct sequel to Carpenter’s first – hit theatres, it proved that it wasn’t necessarily Zombie that was in the wrong. The reaction from fans for the latest one, and the two upcoming sequels that Blumhouse has announced, shines a spotlight on the fact that there just isn’t any pleasing some people. Best to do what Rob Zombie did, and just don’t bother trying.
For what it’s worth, if it wasn’t plainly obvious, these films take pride of place as some of my favourite horror films. I’ll self-flagellate myself for the shame of it, the day I actually feel shame for it!