Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Love/Hate Relationship: (Rob Zombie's) Halloween (2007)

I've decided to come clean.  I don't hate the 2007 version of Halloween. There, I said it.  My conscience is clear. At least about that.  Of course most of you think I'm certifiable at this point, but um...let's proceed anyway.
I watched it again recently (it was on TV but I do in fact, own it - ahhhh!) and I really got to thinking about why I actually tolerate the fact that Rob Zombie took one of my most treasured favorites and ripped it a new one.  But that in fact, is my point.

While there were elements that were almost exactly the same as the 1978 original, Zombie chose to include some new plot points, in particular the entire beginning sequence.
While utterly crude and overdone with white-trash outbursts, it still lends a new light on just why Michael Myers may be so brutally unforgiving and ridiculously violent.  Saying that a child is a product of their environment has never been so true as in this case.  (Personally though, I find it ten times scarier in Carpenter's Halloween - the fact that Michael appears to come from a "normal" family and becomes such a nut-job.)
We are trained to think that people who have mothers who are degraded stripper/hookers and step-dads who use the words "choke the chicken and purge my snork" in an every-day sentences are just asking for a destructive attitude and vengeful existence.  Can you recall a time that your own mother would have dropped the F-bomb while discussing your bad-ass attitude with the principal?  Pity for you if that's true.

You realize Michael, in the RZ version, has serious issues right out of the box.  The first few scenes are of him killing his pet rat (while KISS's God of Thunder blares in the background), you know - just to see what it's like. We later find out (in that lovely scene with Loomis, Ms.Myers, and the school principal) that Mikey has been slaying animals all over the neighborhood.  In a normal situation, a parent should have been completely aghast and immediately pulled the child out of school and had him admitted for observation at the first nearby psych unit.  But Deborah Myers does nothing of the sort.  What does she do?  She tells Michael she shouldn't allow him to go trick-or-treating for the "stunts" he's pulled.  Is that what they are calling psychopathic tendencies now?  Hmm...
So she hauls her tight ass off to work at the strip joint and leaves Michael under the care of her lazy, abominable boyfriend, her uncaring teenage sister and said sister's sleazy, 'help-yourself-to-my-fridge' suitor.  Deborah's man can do nothing but berate and chastise the boy, and though Judith told her mother she would take him trick-or-treating she backs out on her way up the stairs to have naughty, unprotected sex.

So considering the set-up prior to this, in which Michael moves from killing local pets to bludgeoning to death a bullying classmate with a large tree branch, we should expect things to go south quick.  And they do. 
In the '78 version, we only get Michael stabbing his sister to death as she sits in her bedroom in the afterglow of a romp with a boy who never would have called her again.  We aren't really privy to any rhyme or reason with the young whippersnapper, it just occurs.  And just as in the original, Michael makes quick work of his slutty sister, stabbing her countless times.  More gore here, but then again, it is a Rob Zombie film.

In the remake, we have several things to ponder. 
Is Michael so pissed about Judith ignoring his pleas to trick-or-treat?  Does he hate his mother's lug of a boyfriend that much?  (Insert a 'yes' there for me) What on earth made him squash Judith's boyfriend's head in like a melon?  Just 'cause he screwed her? Or perhaps because he was using the last of the bread to make a sandwich?  Or was Michael ultimately punishing his mother for the life he has been dealt? 
One lone factor remains.  He doesn't kill his baby sister (in fact, Laurie).  But when he returns fifteen years later he seems quite ready to finish the job.  As it was in the first film as well.  Why on earth is Michael so hell bent for leather? Talk about love/hate relationships.

One thing I missed in Zombie's remake is the tension.  If you'd never seen the original, you might get a little freaked out, perhaps even brown your trou when Michael makes his escape at Smith's Grove.  Or maybe when he corners Laurie in an empty in-ground pool.  But gone are the great spooky moments from the Carpenter version:  Laurie seeing Michael outside the school window, behind the sidewalk hedge, and amongst the laundry on the clothesline at her house.  Those few scenes are what made me adore the film like no other.  No gore, no violence - just quiet shots of unnerving terror.  The only shot that creeped me out was young Michael in the police car after the the massacre at the house.  Okay, that was chilling.

But generally, there are no quiet shots in Zombie's re-imagining.  It is full-on, balls-to-the-wall, wham bam thank you ma'am pretty much from the get-go.   But I actually am a fan of the director's other work: the whacked-out, over-sized music video he calls House of 1000 Corpses and the seedy good time known as The Devil's Rejects.  I enjoy the gritty, near-grindhouse feel in particular in Rejects.  I love how he uses (and re-uses) some of the genre greats in his work, including William Forsythe, Dee Wallace, Brad Dourif, Ken Foree, Danielle Harris, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, and Danny Trejo.  I also think Zombie has a good feel for horror.  He seems well-versed in the field and has a genuine love for the genre, which he attempts to translate into his work. I'm not saying it's entirely successful, but I truly feel he gives it his best, and he is obviously an avid fan.

I must admit I was taken aback when I heard of his plans to film a remake.  In fact, I was effing pissed.  I swore I wouldn't have anything to do with it and uttered many a four-letter word when discussing the repulsive idea.  But I'll be damned if I didn't have a wee change of heart when I saw the trailer. Disturbing as it may have been to think of someone messing with "my movie", I was there on opening weekend.  And lo and behold, I actually enjoyed it.

I do have some major gripes with it though.  For instance, I assume Zombie hired Daeg Faerch (young Michael) because he was hands-down the ugliest kid he could find and wanted to make sure little Mikey didn't receive any sympathy, as in "Ohhhh, he's so cute! How could he murder fifteen people?" 
But make no mistake, part of what made Michael in the '78 version so frightening is the fact that he looked like such a normal kid.  Like he should be home playing with Star Wars figurines and eating Pop Rocks rather than plotting the murder of his teenage sister. 
Zombie's Michael had delinquent written all over him.  In the older film, I felt for Michael, wondered why he was so demented - wasn't there something someone could do? 
I have that mentality about lost souls.  Why do you think I have such a love affair with Norman Bates?
But this new Michael - I hated that kid.  I didn't feel a bit sorry for him, even though he had the home life from hell and it was no wonder he was so fucked up. 

But did living that horrific, slummy lifestyle make Michael the way he was?  Or was he just doomed from birth?  It raises the question of whether or not an evil child is born that way or made that way from triggers in his life?  In the original, Michael seems to have been born that way.  There is no indication from the small amount of time we spend with him that his home life sucks or that he is a bad kid who kills family pets and beats up bullies.  Is that scarier?  In fact I think it is. 
It's said that Ted Bundy had a completely normal upbringing and there is no rationality as to why he became one of the world's most prolific serial killers.  He was intelligent, attractive, and charismatic.  He was not a walking zombie of evil. Demented, sure.  But let's not forget, he lured his victims by being that charismatic.

Michael, as seen in the '07 version, has scenes in the sanitarium that we were not privy to in the original.  (In fact there are cut-out scenes in a version of the '78 film that released for television, but they are not routinely shown most times.)
We see his interaction with Dr. Loomis, feigning no knowledge of what happened the night he killed his family.
Also included are scenes with his mother, as she realizes more and more that help for Michael is a moot point.  The boy is gone.  He asks how everyone is at home, wonders when he himself can get out of the institution and join them.  The 'say what?' look in Deborah Myers' eyes is a tell-tale sign of acceptance.  Michael is never getting out. 
I enjoyed these scenes, though I really feel Faerch's performance borders on painful here.  The kid isn't a bad actor, not really.  I just hated him in the role. I liked the scenes best when he had on the masks.  When I didn't have to see his face and the ridiculous looks on it.

Speaking of masks, Zombie's version really delves into the importance of the mask.   In 2009's Friday the 13th re-make, the most rewarding part to me is when Jason finds the iconic hockey mask.  These killers are identified by the masks that made them famous.  So adding a bit of storyline here and there to flesh out the significance of Michael's famous white visage was a plus in my book.  It's a telling factor in understanding why Michael is so somber yet volatile.  He hides his face so he can be someone else.  He always wears the mask when he kills.  I liked seeing adult Mikey, in his "room" at the sanitarium, constructing mask after mask.  They covered the walls and he was never seen without wearing one.  Creepy shit, yet effective. 

Nearly the entire second half of Zombie's film is a copy of the original.  The chatting among Laurie and her friends moves into this century, but still the topics remain the same.  The fact that Laurie and Annie are both babysitting, Tommy's fear of the boogeyman, the discussions between Loomis and Sheriff Brackett, the search for Judith's gravestone, most of the kills remain true to the original, hell - even Don't Fear the Reaper is heard several times throughout the last forty-five minutes.  In all honesty, this is where I became somewhat bored.  I'm sure it's because if you don't have anything new to bring to the table, I don't feel a remake is necessary.

So I'd have to give this redo high scores for originality in the first half of the film, but would grade it slightly less courteously in the wrap-up.  In fact, the entire chase sequence was a major wet blanket. All that bumbling around the house and then running out on the street.  The relentlessly long amount of time spent in that empty in-ground swimming pool?  Not a fan.  I'm not sure how it could have actually been better, but it could definitely have been shorter.
Zombie could have cut a good fifteen minutes out of the end-game and still had a satisfying ending. 
Well, to do that it would have had to be a satisfying ending.  And the ending was tolerable enough - that is until they announced a sequel.  I was like, whaaa?? Laurie shot him in the face at the end of the movie.  How does someone come back from that, mask or no mask?

Halloween, 1978
But if we're talking unrealistic, is must be mentioned that I have always found fault in the death of Bob. Both the 1978 and the 2007 versions are the same:  Michael sticks him with his trademark butcher knife and apparently lodges the knife into the wall, holding Bob up.  No way.  That would never happen.  You'd have to at the very least have a sword - something that would be able to be halfway into the wall - not just the tip of a ten inch knife.  I mean, people are at least six inches thick, right?  If you look at the scene, there is still knife sticking out in the front, the knife goes through the body and is through the wall.  So there must be like, two inches tops, jammed into the wall.  Probably dry-wall at that.  I'm not buying it. I will give Zombie credit for having Michael near-strangle Bob first.  But it's still ridiculous.

So, while suspending belief at the ability to live after a close-range gunshot wound to the face, and the marvelous holding skills of the Ginsu knife, I'll also mention quickly that it's utterly hard to imagine Annie living in the '07 version.  But knowing they no doubt wanted to cast Danielle Harris again in the second film, she somehow escaped Michael's wrath.  Whatever. I missed Harris singing "Oh, Paul...I give all" as Nancy Loomis did in the original. 

Ultimately, what my rambling on and on is trying to say is that though I found a remake of John Carpenter's Halloween completely unnecessary, I have set aside my animosity at the thought and experienced the 2007 version as a stand-alone film.  And while it has plenty of faults, I think there are some good points to it. 
I can appreciate the detailed explanation into Michael's background, giving us reasons that he ended up the way he did.  While vulgar and at times repulsive, it sought to shed some new light on the troubled youth, instead of just having his daddy lift the mask and say "Michael?", acting completely shocked that the boy had went off his rocker.

 A few notes about casting:  I can see why Zombie always casts his wife in pivotal roles in his film (um, yeah - she's hot), and I don't think she was too awful as Michael's mom.  It was an interesting take on his home-life, and unfortunately probably a better indicator of the violence that troubles today's youth and sets them off on the wrong path.  To delve into some stressors and make the audience aware of Michael's violent proclivities was a step in the right direction.

And I thought Malcolm McDowell was a good choice for Sam Loomis.  To me, Donald Pleasence will always be Loomis.  But McDowell lent his own charm (for lack of a better word) to the role.  Also forever pleasing is Brad Dourif (Sheriff Brackett).  I don't think I need to say much about him, he's always the man.
Tyler Mane as adult Michael was just scary.  He's one big dude and when he took out Danny Trejo, I knew no one stood a chance. 
Quite honestly, any young girl in Hollywood could have played Laurie Strode.  It wouldn't matter, because Jamie Lee Curtis is a tough act to follow and let's face it, no one has the capability to make people forget about the original scream queen.  That being said, I have never been so glad for a movie to be over so Scout Taylor-Compton could stop fucking screaming.  Wow.

So there it is.  My scattered ramblings about Halloween (2007).
I'm not a horror purist - nor do I pretend to be one.  Nothing annoys me more than someone who won't even give a film a chance because they are SO SURE it will suck.  Claiming that certain films are sacred is dangerous.
Am I a big fan of remakes?  No.  But I will give them a chance.  Sometimes you're going to get another "The Thing", sometimes you'll suffer through another "Psycho (1998)".  (Okay, I will get extremely defensive about Psycho.  That awful shot-by-shot remake was completely pointless, brought nothing new, and let's face it people - didn't have Anthony Perkins. I rest my case.  We can bury that one.)

But to lash out in anger before giving something a fair shot - yeah, that irritates me a bit.  If you'll recall, I did just that - mentioning before seeing this film that it was a sacrilege to fuck with Carpenter's original.  But I've learned to keep my mouth shut and pass judgment after the fact.  To prove that point, no one is more psyched than I to see the remake of The Woman In Black.  I simply can't wait to see what they do with it, the original 1989 version is one of the creepiest films I have ever seen.

(But rest assured, I will flip my lid if someone remakes Jaws.  Just sayin'.)

I digress.  Anyway, there seems to be no lack of opinion about this film, and I'm sure I'm bound to get some grief for this post, but I think I was fair in listing its decent qualities as well as its shortcomings.  And I think that's all I have to say on the subject.

(But if you want to hear some serious ranting about the 2009 sequel to this film, go here.)


The Mike said...

This is a good bit of rambling, ma'am. I have an extraordinarily love/hate relationship with this film as well, but my reasons are slightly different.

For me, the long term appeal of Halloween has always been the boogeyman aspect of the film. My personal interpretation of the original has always been that Michael, as you eluded to, simply was evil - and potentially was the boogeyman himself. I love this idea, and it is that thought of how a young boy could just become the boogeyman for no reason we can understand that keeps me haunted by it still.

Zombie's version, with its excessive attempts to humanize the young killer, takes that away for me. I don't want to think Michael Myers is an abused/neglected kid who turned, I want to believe he's what Dr. Loomis believes he is: pure and simple evil. Zombie seems on the fence about this, and offers the human side when he likes and the unkillable evil side when he likes.

That all said, I can respect the film for what it is. It's actually my favorite film Zombie's made, to an extent, because he does create a unique story and make something that provides shocks and gore in a artistic manner while carrying a plot. I just don't want it to be Halloween's plot! It's too hard for me to accept it as a Michael Myers story.

A book on '70s horror I'm reading had a comment that grabbed me today, as the author noted that the filmmakers of this era realized that good horror provides shock, but great horror provides awe. That's where I'm at with these two Halloween films. Zombie's Myers is shocking, but the Myers that Carpenter created - even in a couple of the better sequels - leaves me awestruck. And I want that.

(End ramble. Great post as always!)

James Gracey said...

Great write up Christine. I respect Zombie’s decision to try and do something different with the original story. And like you, I quite like his Halloween. I was nothing if not curious when I first read about Zombie's decision to remake it (the original is one of my all time favourite films). I enjoyed Zombie's VERY rough around the edges House of 1,000 Corpses and LOVED The Devil's Rejects. Heck, I even dig his music, too.

With his remake, Zombie attempted to explore the man behind the mask. Arguably this is the thing that serves to strip the film of the ambiguity and haunting atmosphere of the original. Delving into Myers’ troubled childhood and dysfunctional family Zombie attempts to show how someone could potentially commit such atrocities. Okay, fair enough – but in doing so, like I said, he strips the story of mystery. However! Turns out, this aspect of his remake was its most original - and compelling segment - before it eventually spirals into repetitive violence and tensionless cliché. It’s when Myers returns to Haddonfield that Zombie’s film lacks innovation. Which is funny, given that Zombie’s reasons for exploring all the psychology behind the murders was to bolster them in reality and make them more disturbing. They were ultra-violent and a wee bit shocking at best; tedious, unimaginative and repetitive at worst.

Unlike you, I liked Daeg Faerch as the young Michael. And it was interesting to see the origins of The Shape conveyed in such sympathetic and vulnerable terms.

I'm looking forward to seeing his next film, The Lords of Salem...

deadlydolls said...

Agreed on a lot of your points. Had Zombie made more of a prequel than half of one plus a double time remake, I'd have a lot more positive things to say. I liked how he explored the idea of a child sociopath, but once we flashed forward, it was so rushed and hateful and meh.

Also, thank you for pointing out horror fans need to chill and judge things after they see them.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

What an excellent post, Christine. I've been one of the few who defended this remake since its opening day. It's not a bad remake at all. It's just flawed. The first half, I feel, is really well done even though the white trash stuff does get a bit grating. But I really enjoyed Sheri Moon's performance as the mother and feel the explanation for Michael's behavior is well constructed. It's the last half I have issues with, due to it being a rushed and less tension filled copy of the original. I still feel Zombie was the best man for the job in terms of a HALLOWEEN remake goes though. I think for the most part, he succeeds in creating HALLOWEEN for a newer generation - one that wants gore and blood instead of "boring" tension and creepy moments [I've had people tell me this for their reasoning as to why the remake is better than the original - oy].

I do wish this had been the final film of the franchise because that ending is pretty final. Unfortunately, we had that horrible H2 B.S. that I would like to forget [even though I own the film on DVD - in fact I own all the HALLOWEEN films plus the documentary]. But it's nice to see people appreciate this one, even if it isn't perfect.

Christine Hadden said...

Mike: I know exactly where you are coming from when you say it is hard to think of Halloween in any other way than the original version. It's one of my favorite films - ever - and to think of Michael as anything but the evil kid next door that looks like an angel is rather difficult.
I think Zombie has the right idea with the first half of the movie, but yes - it would be better as a separate film. Imagine how awesome it would have been if that boy was actually some brand new horror icon in the making. Everyone would be talking about how awesome he was. But seeing as how it is our beloved Michael Myers, Zombie rocks the boat.
And by the way, I think we're reading the exact same book... :)

James: Agreed that Zombie did something very different with "our" Halloween. And that different first half is the part I, and everyone else apparently, seems to like best. I too, enjoyed the way Zombie created a new Michael. I think if he would have changed the entire storyline it would have been a mixed bag for the fans though. Horror fans are fickle. They'd be pissed if it was so different that they couldn't recognize it as a HALLOWEEN film, but equally as irritated if it remained the same. It's a conundrum. But certainly the entire tense atmosphere disappeared in the second act, there was none to speak of, and as I said, I became bored.
Also: I like Zombie's music as well, and am looking forward to LOS too!

Emily: Seems everyone is in agreement that the second half of the film left a lot to be desired. A prequel would have been an awesome idea, I would have much preferred a little more elaboration on Michael's youth and time spent in lock-up than the rehash of Carpenter's material that left me wanting to read a book or chat on the phone while watching it. Yawn.

Fred: I really love it that so many people are showing this film a little love, or at the very least, some like. There are a whole slew of movies (esp. remakes) that are profoundly worse than this one! And it seems you fit right in with the 'first half good, second half mediocre' crowd, as we all are. I agree Zombie was a good choice to direct it as I feel he is a really honest fan. Have you ever seen the YouTube video tour of his house? Awesome. And after his first couple films, it was obvious he was gonna give HALLOWEEN the gritty grindhouse treatment. Sure could have been worse.
And very much agreed that he should have stopped there though. I liked only a few things about his H2 sequel. The use of Nights in White Satin and the white horse. :)

James Gracey said...

Me again. Just thought I'd add that I agree whole heartedly with you and Emily - horror fans need to chill and judge things AFTER they see them.

I have quite enjoyed some recent remakes - the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Ring and even Last House on the Left (microwave moment aside). Plus, let's not forget that some remakes have gone on to become 'classics', such as David Cronenberg's The Fly and John Carpenter's The Thing. :)

Aaron said...

I hated this movie not because it was a remake of a classic and blah blah blah, but because ALL of the characters were fucking obnoxious. The same can be said for H2, but for some reason I actually enjoyed that one.

Christine Hadden said...

James: I enjoyed all the remakes you mentioned as well, and in fact prefer the remake of DoTD to the original, which would probably get me smacked in some circles.
But the truth of the matter is, horror films are no different than "real life" - most people judge EVERYTHING without seeing or knowing. That sucks.

Aaron: You're right. Absolutely every character in this movie is obnoxious. But I'm used to generally setting that aside considering most characters in nearly all horror films are obnoxious. It's oft hard to find a genre film in which the roles are actually thought-provoking, well-meaning and likable.

Hm.. perhaps another blog post is in order. "Characters we actually LIKE in horror films"...

B.R. said...

I still haven't made up my mind about 1000 Corpses. Do I love it, hate it, or it somewhere in between? One thing i will admit, the last 15 minutes are well-done, no matter how spaced out the rest was. The Satanic chanting, and the journey through the charnel tunnel? Classic. That alone makes the whole mess worthwhile.

B.R. said...


Me too. I've been listening to his stuff for years now. I suppose you've heard Demonoid Phenomena by now?

tukan said...

I,like everyone else took many issues with rob zombie's remake too-at first.Honestly though,the more and more i watched it,the more i started to like it.I think a lot of people were expecting a shot for shot re-make and were upset to see that this is more of a re-imagining rather than a re-make.I can agree that there are some pointless,purposeless,down right disgusting scenes[the rape in the director's cut]and yes it very much has a kind of trashy feeling[in the first half]but when Rob zombie signs on to make a movie what else would you except other than a white trash backdrop?I don't mean that in a disrespectful or offensive way,so please don't misunderstand.I am an avid horror fan and the Halloween franchise is one of my all time favorite.I hate to say this and i am sure i will receive some not so nice comments for saying this,but as much as i love the original halloween,after all these years of watching it relentlessly,it has become kind-of boring,kind of slow and drawn out.As much as i love and respect Jamie Lee,her version of Laurie Strode is cookie-cutter,girl scout,plain jane,etc.Scout Taylor Compton brings some color to the character.She is no wild child,but she is also not a complete prude either.I have come to expect to see a "certain" cast when it comes to anything Zombie,and he did not disappoint.I love the familiarity of his casts [sherri moon,ken foree,william forsythe,sid haig,tyler mane,etc]I also like the fact that he kept Annie alive,in doing so we were introduced to a "new"character[although only for a couple of seconds]we got to see paul,in the original she never makes it to pick him up.All in all I think he did a damn good job with this re-make and I really wished people would watch it without any expectations[i know that's difficult,trust me]it's a really good re-make,now,h2,much different story,i'll leave it at that.

The PAC Squad said...

Have you seen the original "workprint" copy that leaked onto the Internet before the film was officially realeased? (I don't condone downloading, and saw the film theatrically as well as buying the director's cut; I don't know if that gives me the right to look at the workprint, but I did it. Forgive me.)

In that one, even more so than the Director's Cut -- there's not so much ambivalence; Michael is presented much like a Universal monster, misunderstood and hurting people who he views as a threat to himself or his sister.

I think, after 8 Halloween movies over 20 years, at least Rob Zombie deserves credit for trying to bring something new to the table.

Although somebody obviously pointed out to him, probably his handlers from the studio -- "hey dope, that's why the first movie was scary, nobody knew why this normal kid suddenly became evil." So he started recutting and reshooting.