The 00s were a decade of remakes when it comes to slasher movies. Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street al were remade between 2003-2010. Even the movie responsible for kicking off the slasher boom in the late 70s got a “reinvisioning” by Rob Zombie: Halloween.
If you are familiar with Zombie’s work you will know that his style is miles apart from John Carpenter’s. Those who have seen House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects know what they can expect from him. Trailer park trash, explicit gore, gratuitous nudity and his wife Sheri Moon-Zombie in a large role. Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses was already a loose take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s probably the reason he got to do this remake. You can say what you will about Rob Zombie, but he’s got a distinct style. Whether you like that style or not.
Zombie keeps the plot of Halloween largely the same. After being committed for 17 years, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to find his sister Laurie. The approach Zombie makes to the story could not differ any more from Carpenter’s. Most notably the humanization of Myers. A character that was originally created as a being of “pure evil”. He was even billed as The Shape since the character of Michael Myers died on Halloween when he was 10 years old an killed his sister.
Zombie, who also wrote the script, gives Myers a substantial back story and changes certain elements to his background. Almost half of the two hour running time is dedicated to Michael’s youth and his stay at the psychiatric institution. Carpenter’s original only gave young Michael Myers a 5 minute opening scene. That was kind of the point.
We see Michael being part of a white trash family. His mother is a stripper, the guy she’s seeing is a stereotypical domestic abuser. At one point he’s commenting on the quality of Michael’s sister Judith’s butt. Judith is written as a slut. Always wearing skimpy outfits and making sexually laden comments. When she’s supposed to go out trick or treating with Michael she makes him go by himself so she can have sex with her boyfriend.
At school Michael is bullied and he outs his internal rage on animals like his pet rat. Like the average serial killer he is starting out small, targeting mostly rodents, cats and dogs. At one point he also exacts revenge against a bully at school. Beating him severely with the branch of a tree. Later on that day, on Halloween, he kills his mother’s boyfriend by slitting his throat. He then beats Judith’s boyfriend to death with a baseball bat before killing Judith as well with a kitchen knife. Michael takes the infant Laurie out of her crib and sits with her out on the porch until their mother comes home from working the pole.
What follows are sessions between Dr. Loomis and Michael, Michael’s obsession with masks, a bit of bonding between Michael and a guard (Danny Trejo). Michael also kills a nurse during one of his mother’s visits. This puts her over the edge resulting in a suicide leaving Michael and Laurie orphans. The scenes in this institution all build up to the inevitable and the actual story of the movie: Michael’s escape and subsequent mass murder on Halloween.
Rob Zombie makes this movie his own. The difference between his version and that of Carpenter are almost night and day. A lot of the characters have different personalities. Even the character of Laurie Strode is more edgy than the virginal version from the original. She’s still the babysitter while her friends are having sex, but this is a girl who is also sexually active. Just not on this Halloween night because she’s working.
The only character who remains largely the same is that of Loomis. Malcolm McDowell’s interpretation shows a lot more restrain when comparing him to Donald Pleasance’s take on the character. His role is also much bigger since he shares a lot of screen time with young Michael. This gives him a chance to give the character more depth. Pleasance had the thankless task of providing the original movie with all of the exposition. It almost made him a caricature. Something he did become in the sequels.
This version of Halloween feels much more of an exploitation movie. Before her murder Judith Myers has a lengthy sex scene with her boyfriend. Zombie even manages to throw in some incestual themes; 10 year old Michael caresses her legs somewhat sensually before stabbing her to death. Mother Deborah has a scene where she shows off her pole-dancing skills and both Laurie’s friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe) have explicit nude scenes. Especially Annie is topless during much of the final act.
I’m certainly not against it. But it does feel a bit weird to see the actress who played the 10 year old Jamie character in Halloween parts 4 and 5 return in another role that has her topless on screen for minutes. She is by the way 30 but plays a teenager. Maybe an homage to Grease which was released the same year as Halloween and had a 30 year old Olivia Newton-John play a high school student. I like seeing girls naked as much as the next guy, but here it somehow feels very exploitative. Much like the nudity in those seedy 70s women-in-prison movies.
In terms of gore Zombie also goes into overdrive. Mutilated and dead animals, slit throats, crushed skulls. Zombie shows it all in a visceral color palette. I didn’t expect anything less from him. It also enlarges the contrast with Carpenter’s movie. Nudity in it was brief and only glimpsed at. Gore was basically non-existent. It was more about a sense of threat and the suspense it creates than about giving the audience something nasty to look at.
Upon the time of its release I gave this movie a 7 out of 10. But having seen it again I’m thinking it’s more worth a 5.5 out of 10. I don’t think that making Myers a more human character was the right choice. The more we got to know about Freddy, the less scary he became. Same for Pinhead or even Myers himself with his goofy backstory shown in Halloween 6. At least Zombie kept a druid-like cult out of this movie.