As per muse tradition, the October Horror Movie Spotlight has risen from the depths and is ready to bring those brave enough to venture further a look at four frightful features sure to keep the Halloween spirit alive all month long. We’ve covered the vaunted originals, we’ve looked at a mixed bag of sequels, and this year we’ll look at yet another horror movie convention: the remake.
“Remake” can be quite the touchy word when it comes to the world of film. It is capable of dividing fanbases and creating Internet conflicts that wage on for thousands of pages. The truth of the matter is that, like them or not, remakes are an inevitability. Hitchcock, himself, remade his own film when he cast Jimmy Stewart in a reimagined version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Some filmmakers find the chance to go back and put their own spin on a movie that may have inspired them to take up the craft quite appealing. However when it comes to horror, remakes are typically a last ditch effort to get some cash out of a property when sequels stop working.
That’s not to say that the horror genre hasn’t seen its fair share of quality remakes, Carpenter’s The Thing immediately comes to mind as an example of taking an existing flick, in this case the 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World, and using its essence to tell a completely new, and unexpected, story. Unfortunately, the desire to retread old ground seems to be especially prevalent in horror, with the woeful shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho leaving a taste so bitter in the mouths of its audience that it would take 15 years and the cleverly written Bates Motel television series to breathe new life into the franchise.
When it comes to remaking horror, there’s a fine line that filmmakers have to walk. Audiences don’t lay down their cash for a ticket to the latest Friday the 13th movie expecting to see anything less than the hockey masked Jason Voorhees slashing up an array of hapless teenaged victims. But, on the same token, a remake has to find a way to inject new life into the established story, or else run the risk of turning into another Psycho. Unfortunately for writers and directors readying themselves to revisit a beloved classic of the macabre, there’s also the matter of keeping the hardcore fanatics happy. They’re the fans who cry foul if the hair on Michael Myers’ iconic Captain Kirk mask is a slightly different shade of brown from one movie to the next, the ones who physically went to Paramount and picketed outside the building when Jason Voorhees didn’t appear in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. The hardcore fanatics mean business, and they’re rarely, if ever, completely happy.
Way back during the first Horror Movie Spotlight, I credited John Carpenter’s Halloween as being the film that led to the massive slasher movie boom of the 1980s. The shoestring budget tale of an escaped mental patient returning to his childhood home of Haddonfield, Ill., and unleashing mayhem on a screaming Jamie Lee Curtis opened the door for sequels, homages, and blatant and unapologetic ripoffs while simultaneously wetting the appetites of millions of theater goers eager to see more on-screen bloodlust. Michael Myers did not disappoint, with Halloween spawning seven sequels over the course of twenty-five years. However by the time the credits rolled on 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, the Myers saga had become so convoluted that even the most committed of fans have thrown their hands up and declared it an impossibility to pull any kind of coherent story out of the sequels, many of which seemingly went out of their way to contradict plot points seen in previous movies. Seeing no conventional way of taking the story any further without causing even more undue stress on audiences with an eye for continuity, it was decided that it was time to press the “reset” button on Halloween and that hard rock legend and noted horror devotee Rob Zombie was the man for the job.
Shortly after the news broke that he’d be writing and directing the Halloween remake, Zombie, never shy about expressing his opinion, publicly declared his distaste for the entirety of the landmark original’s numerous sequels and promised fans that he had no interest in aping the work of John Carpenter and, instead, planned to take Michael in a new, but not wholly unfamiliar for longtime fans, direction. He also made sure to point out that he really, really hated Friday the 13th, and considered it to be the most loathsome of all the Halloween rip-offs. Seemingly random hatred for a beloved horror franchise aside, Zombie went on to cast a who’s who of genre favorites for his “new vision of terror” including Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, ), Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling), Bill Moseley (Army of Darkness, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Danny Trejo (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Anaconda), Brad Douriff (Child’s Play series), and even Danielle Harris, who previously appeared as the menaced niece of Michael Myers, Jamie Lloyd, in Halloween IV and V. The crucial role of Dr. Loomis, previously played by veteran actor Donald Pleasence, was bestowed upon another veteran actor, this time A Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell.
Zombie’s Halloween certainly possessed all of the tools needed to make it a successful reimaging of the original story. However, instead of choosing to preserve the essence of the source material, Zombie opted to go in the complete opposite direction. The source material, as far as Zombie was concerned, was damaged goods, permanently soiled by an onslaught of increasingly bad sequels. He’d tell his own story, his own way, and he’d reinvent a legend.
Unfortunately, Rob Zombie’s Halloween didn’t even come close to breaking any new ground. While Zombie was eager to bash the supposedly inferior sequels that had preceded his “masterpiece,” it may have helped his film tremendously if he had opted to watch any of them. Not only did Zombie’s remake fall into many of the same clichés that plagued previous entries in the series, it managed to succumb to all new derivative plot devices that, up until that point, the Myers saga has been shockingly lacking.
Part prequel, part remake Zombie’s movie immediately delves into previously uncharted territory for the Halloween series when it explores the childhood of the boy who would ultimately devote his life to wearing a spray-painted Shatner mask and stalking around on Halloween nights with a butcher knife in hand. In the previous series, audiences were only afforded brief glimpses into Michael’s psyche, but Zombie’s goal was to focus his entire movie on learning what makes Michael tick, which of course effectively robs the character of the mystique it managed to carry for nearly three decades, but it gives Zombie a chance to cast his increasingly grating spouse, Sherri Moon Zombie, in the role of Michael’s pole dancing mother, Deborah.
In addition to having to deal with the kids at school teasing him about his mother’s profession, Michael Myers is also forced to cope with the most dysfunctional family ever. His mother’s latest live-in boyfriend, Ronnie, is “all broken up” and therefore unable to work, forcing Deborah to have to put in extra hours at the gentleman’s club. Ronnie decides to seize the opportunity and have some quality time with his girlfriend’s kids, which he accomplishes by yelling a series of increasingly creative profanity laced threats and lusting over the physical development of Deborah’s oldest daughter, Judith.
Michael copes with this situation for as long as he can, unleashing his aggressions on animals. However, when his puppy killing ways are accidentally discovered on October 31st by school officials, Michael is pushed off the deep end. Before he’s carted off to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, he dispatches of a mean natured school bully, angry boyfriend Ronnie, and older sister Judith, along with her ill-fated lover. The body count, alone, certainly ups the ante when compared to the 1978 version, where young Michael claims a sole victim, his older sister, before calmly walking out of the house and into custody. Zombie seems to delight in this practice, turning scenes that originally claimed no victims like Michael’s fateful escape from Smith’s Grove into bloody massacres.
Michael spends fifteen years under the care of Dr. Loomis, whose character remains relatively unscathed by Zombie’s creative prowess. McDowell plays him well enough, not coming close to topping Pleasence, but not doing anything terribly offensive towards the role, either. Of course, while Loomis gets treated pretty well in this film, it’s worth mentioning that in Zombie’s sequel, Halloween 2: The Devil Walks Among Us, the former rock god opts to turn Loomis into a money hungry sellout, eager to milk any dollar he can out of his association with the notorious Michael Myers. Not even Loomis, whose presence throughout the original series proved capable of salvaging even the most wrongheaded of sequels, was safe from the unyielding power of Rob Zombie’s creative genius.
Once Michael has inexplicably grown up to be a seven foot tall monster, he bids farewell to confinement and makes his return to Haddonfield. At this point, Zombie effectively plays out the plot of the original film, only at a much faster pace that doesn’t allow the audience much time to even get to know the character of Laurie Strode, now played by Scout Taylor Compton, and her friends, much less sympathize with them. This is an unfortunate side effect of presenting the movie from Michael’s perspective. His victims, though sometimes positively oozing with potential, never quite get to be full-on characters in the narrative, they’re just fodder.
Zombie’s Halloween is an example of what happens when a director takes a few too many liberties with a time-tested franchise. Perhaps Zombie’s innovations wouldn’t have been quite so bad had he not taken any opportunity presented to bash every sequel in the series. As confusing as the continuity between the old sequels got, all of them managed to retain the same tone and spirit of the original. Zombie has, rather ironically, successfully managed to turn Halloween into Friday the 13th.
On the whole, it’s a mixed bag. It’s got its moments and, despite the clichés, it’s hard to argue that it’s not, at the very least, an interesting take on Michael Myers. See this one but, at all costs, avoid Zombie’s sequel. On top of having absolutely no coherency whatsoever, Zombie turns Myers into a hobo, complete with a gigantic beard, that is haunted by the ghost of his stripper mom and a white horse throughout the film’s duration. If nothing else, the sheer idiocy of Zombie’s sequel redeems some of the more questionable choices from his initial remake. It certainly could have been a lot worse. Two out of five scowling skulls.