This is one of those remakes that, when it was announced, everyone groaned. “Halloween doesn’t need to be remade,” they said. And they were right. The original Halloween is as classic as a slasher film can be. The haunting score, the cat-and-mouse game in which John Carpenter wisely keeps his killer in the shadows, both literally and, when it comes to motivation, figuratively. We don’t know until the sequel that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Michael Myers’ sister. All we know is that an insane killer is loose on the streets, stalking an innocent young girl.
In his revamp, re-imagining, or whatever you want to call it, Rob Zombie brings Michael Myers out of the shadows in the first frame of film. Within minutes we see that the young boy is deeply troubled (he takes to his pet rat with a knife), and we see at least part of the reason why: he’s growing up in a white trash hellhole, a sharp contrast to the quiet suburban upbringing we glimpse in Carpenter’s original. He’s bullied at school, verbally (and maybe physically) abused at home, and the only hint of compassion he shows is toward his mom and baby sister. For them, he desperately wants to be a good, normal little boy.
It’s not to be, however. In one of the biggest miss-steps of the film, it’s suggested that the pain of being ditched on Halloween night by his older sister, who prefers treats with her boyfriend over trick-or-treating with her weird little brother, is what finally sends him over the edge. Michael goes on a brutal rampage, slaughtering his stepfather, sister and the hapless boyfriend while his mom is working a late shift at the neighborhood strip joint. He spares the baby and his mom, but faces a lifetime of institutionalization for his actions.
We get a little more young Michael story, including his final tip into the abyss, before jumping ahead 15 years. Michael’s alone at this point – Dr. Loomis has given up on him, his mom checked out – and he’s grown into the silent, hulking menace who spends his days in his room making masks. It’s not long until he breaks out, and Zombie moves into familiar territory with the actual “remake” portion of this Halloween.
As good at Zombie is at capturing the white trash aesthetic, he still lacks some skill in building suspense. Zombie is at his best when he’s staging all-out assaults, such as the quick scene in which Michael takes out Laurie’s parents (or, as we all now know, her adoptive parents). Unfortunately, that’s not what Halloween is all about. If Zombie had made a movie about an original serial killer, this approach would have been fine. The problem is, we all associate Michael Myers with the deliberate, patient and emotionless approach Carpenter introduced him with. Zombie’s Myers is fast and angry, and while it makes for some jarring scenes, it just isn’t Halloween.
While the characterization of Michael Myers may have been a calculated approach Zombie took in order to put his own stamp on the character, I can’t imagine the same can be said for his version of Laurie Strode. Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis gave us a heroine who was strong and courageous; someone who loved her friends even though she was light-years ahead of them in maturity. Zombie’s Strode may be smarter than the average high schooler, but she seems content to hide her intellect and take on the giggling, foul-mouthed personas of her unlikeable friends. To me, this was the biggest disappointment of Zombie’s film – there was no one there to root for.
If you can cut loose the baggage that the name Halloween brings with it, there’s some enjoyment to be found in this “re-imagining.” Zombie makes a good-looking horror movie with a few effective scares scattered throughout. While it will never replace the original, it’s an okay companion piece. And, unlike all the sequels, they at least got the mask right.