Up to this point, my other two pieces in my series of Take Two have been concerning originals and their remake counterparts, but the comparison doesn’t always have to be adversarial. The series can measure two film’s relationships of any kind.
That’s why I’ve chosen Rob Zombie’s two Halloween films as the subject of this edition of Take Two.
Although it is tempting to compare and analyze Zombie’s remake vs Carpenter’s original, I think the differences between the two would be better served discussing Zombie’s two films on their own terms as his unique vision of the Halloween story demands it.
Remaking a Masterpiece
Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s masterpiece comes during a time where the horror genre was dominated by violent and more extreme remakes of older horror films, particularly the slasher sub-genre.
Slashers dominated horror throughout the ’80s with the rise of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. By the early ’90s, they ran their course and it wasn’t until director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s meta post-modern update of the slasher with Scream gave the genre get a shot of adrenaline.
A shot that was short-lived. Scream so successfully parodied and picked the genre apart that most slashers following its wake felt outdated and the small bit of meta-commentary these films had felt more like obligation. Scream did it than something genuine.
By the time we reach the final entry in the original Halloween franchise, Halloween: Resurrection, everything felt tired and these iconic franchises just weren’t scary anymore.
The genre responded by going back to the classics and going extreme.
The Michael Bay-produced Platinum Dunes remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre cranked up the speed, increased the gore, and enhanced the intensity. These movies existed in a world of post-9/11 geopolitics, torture, and war. It wasn’t enough to just be an old-fashioned slasher. They had to be glossy, fast-paced, and pushed the level of violence into a realm unseen in other slashers before them. The genre reflected the increased of violence in the world around American culture.
And that’s where a musician got interested in the sub-genre…
Enter Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie’s remakes fit into this world of horror. Michael Myers was no longer a faceless shape that slowly stalked babysitters, Myers was a vicious and brutal killing machine that was big and overwhelming. It would seem easy to throw this movie in with any of the other Platinum Dunes remakes of Friday the 13th or Nightmare of Elm Street, each bigger and more extreme but relevantly paint by numbers and adding nothing stylistically.
But do people talk about those movies much anymore? Certainly not the remakes of My Bloody Valentine or Prom Night. Yet, Rob Zombie’s Halloween films seem to hang around in discussion. Why? I think unlike a lot of the other remakes of its day, Rob Zombie was a filmmaker with authorial vision and had something to say with these characters.
His Vision of Halloween
Let’s get something clear: Zombie’s films aren’t perfect.
Most of his movies suffer from some rough dialogue and his characterization can be hit-or-miss. But, unlike other remakes, Zombie’s Halloween had directorial vision.
Whereas most of the post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre films all tried to look super glossy and with a music video style polish, Zombie’s Halloween was dirty and grimy. If you look through his other films, like The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween fits perfectly into it. Zombie has a grindhouse-style that feels more reminiscent of the films of Sam Peckinpah and (oddly enough) the original Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Zombie’s first Halloween brings that aesthetic to the Halloween franchise that had been desperately (but mostly failing) to recapture the magic of John Carpenter’s original film and gives this a unique flavor from the rest of the series.
Zombie’s film is visceral, it’s bloody and in your face but it feels more grounded and real than other remakes of the time. The violence is shocking because he understands why the violence of older grindhouse was effective. It’s a far cry from the smooth and methodical nature of Carpenter.
But isn’t that what we should want from our remakes?
I love Carpenter and I love the original Halloween, but the idea of remaking something with the intent of replicating exactly what the original did is not all that appealing to me. We live in an age of Blu-ray, I own those movies. Show me something new.
A New Angle
That’s what Zombie’s films do: They show us all the Halloween story from a new angle. Many considered it sacrilege to explore Michael Myers’ origins and explore his psyche. After all, wasn’t that what made him scary in the first place? I would argue the franchise dropped that as soon as the sequels arrived and made Laurie Strode his sister.
Besides, I’ve seen the story already. Zombie’s films ask the question of what drives this killer in this version. Zombie had something he wanted to explore here.
This may seem controversial to some but Zombie’s exploration of Myers was the most interesting part of his two-part series. It takes the idea of Laurie and Michael being related and actually does something with it.
The psychic, almost supernatural link between family members both living and dead suggests something about the environments we live in and what blood relations do to us all. The films seem less interested in exploring “what is real and what isn’t” and rather instead just accepting different character’s views and realities as truthful to them.
In exploring what drives Michael Myers, Zombie isn’t looking for sympathy (even if you might find some for characters around Myers). Rather, instead he presents Myers for all that he is, with no softening moral qualities. So many films that explore a villain often find themselves needing to justify their character’s actions. Joker for all its aspirations of moral ambiguity, shows violence towards characters that “deserve it” and wronged him.
Anything beyond that is left off-screen. Zombie doesn’t do that.
Myers might be occasionally sympathetic but his vicious and brutal attacks on innocents aren’t given some moral justification. Although it happens on occasions most of the victims of Myers don’t have this “go Michael Myers” quality. Even when it is Myers killing his school bully, the violence has sheer brutality to it that removes moral justification and leaves your stomach feeling queasy.
The first Halloween acts as an origin story but also a remake of the original (even though there are shifts to a few story elements from the 1981 Halloween 2).
The first half of the movie is nearly all uncharted territory. The second half is closer to Carpenter’s film. But unlike a remake like A Nightmare on Elm Street, which shamelessly recreates scenes to appease fans, this still keeps faithful to the movie’s initial setup and thematic through-lines. So when we retread familiar ground, it is through a fresh lens.
The first half works really well emotionally as Zombie is able to quickly construct a relationship between Myers and his mother that is endearing. Sheri Moon Zombie gets knocked for her acting ability (a lot) but she elicits that caring mother feeling that is pivotal to the movie’s emotional core.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is the most controversial of his two films (scoring a low 19 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Zombie freed of the origin story goes completely in his own direction. The Halloween theme doesn’t appear until the end of the movie signaling that Zombie found a new creative freedom and wanted to tell a story about Myers that was purely his.
Injecting the film with strange dream sequences and an almost psychosexual edge, Halloween II is not for everyone, especially with a high profile IP like Halloween. IP comes with fandom and with fandom (unfortunately) comes expectations. Zombie clearly made a film that was his and not beholden to expectations of the franchise, which I find brave and admirable.
Of course, daring doesn’t equal definite quality.
Halloween II has a lot of the same problems that plague Zombie’s films but it’s thematic consistent, it works as an extension of the first movie, an exploration of PTSD and surviving pure trauma even when your friends don’t (it’s worth noting that the theme of PTSD is far more pronounced in the director’s cut). Zombie continues to make Myers feel like a towering figure with his brutal penchant for violence. There isn’t a bone in my body that wants to come across this version of Myers.
Which Halloween We Celebrate?
This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with the original Halloween. John Carpenter’s original film is still the best in the series and one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Zombie’s films are flawed but I don’t think they should be discounted either. Rob Zombie did what most filmmakers and studios are afraid to do, put their own stamp on the franchise and in a market of sub-par remakes of other slasher films. Zombie’s film stands out as a film with thought, skill, and a new perspective. His films are not the originals and do things differently that would have been antithetical to what Carpenter did. But these creative choices work completely within Zombie’s vision of the Myers story.
It’s about time we re-evaluate these films.