No But Listen: Rob Zombie’s Halloween

With the newest entry into the Halloween franchise out later this month, it only seems right that we take a good look at another director’s take on the series – we’ve got our Franchise Fanatic retrospective of the series as a whole coming soon, but for now, we’re deep-diving into Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s classic horror flick. But turns out we’ve got some pretty different takes on the 2007 reboot. So what better way to indulge ourselves than with a Halloween special of No But Listen? Without further ado, here are the pros and cons to Zombie’s Halloween:

Pro

Look, I make no bones (heh) about the fact that I love Rob Zombie’s work. And that’s not to say that I think it’s brilliant – far from it, in fact, with a lot of them indulging bad habits and ugly sides to an already unpleasant genre. No, what does it for me about the musician’s cinematic outings are the fact that they are utterly singular. Rob Zombie makes movies to please nobody but himself, and, as I wrote in my article about his entire ouevre, I respect that. While House of 1000 Corpses and 31 display his talent and love for classic horror, stuff like Lords of Salem hints at a near-Lynchian surrealism and adeptness at bringing his very specific vision to life.

And it’s that singularity that I love so much about his remake of Halloween. To be clear, I think the original Halloween is superb, one of the best horrors ever made – that suburban nightmare of Michael Myers brazenly stalking the streets of Laurie Strode’s home is profoundly unsettling in a way that almost no other horror villain ever has been. And part of what makes him so striking is that he just is. We don’t know what, or who, or how he came to be the way he was – Michael Myers just exists, boldly and without question. Add to that a superb, epoch-defining Jamie Leigh Curtis performance as everyone’s favourite final girl, and you’ve got a stone-cold classic.

But in an era of remakes and franchises and reboots and everything in between, filmmakers struggled to bring something definably new to the worlds they were working within. Trust me, I’ve seen ’em all, and by the time I reached Zombie’s Halloween, I was exhausted by what felt like an endless retreading of old ground. So when this movie delivered something genuinely new, I was here for it.

And he does this by delving into Myers’ childhood – to great effect, at least for me. A superb Daeg Faerch plays the young Michael, with Sherri-Moon Zombie as his mother, and Zombie spends a good half of the movie exploring the cold suburban sociopathy of the iconic villain. His time in a mental institution and his mother’s desperate attempts to connect with him after the murder of his old sister add some genuine dramatic weight to a character who has, for a long time, felt like a blank slate. I know that a lot of people – including Carpenter himself – see Michael Myers as best depicted as nothing more than a mysterious omen of doom and death itself, but that’s an inherently limited premise. How long can you play the villain as blank-faced and cold before it’s just straight blandness? For me, the gloss had worn off Myers many films ago, and Zombie needed to bring something new to him to give some film some life. His childhood? Now that’s some untapped territory, something genuinely fresh that the franchise had been lacking for years by the time this film was added to the canon.

And beyond that, for me, this just works as a solid slasher flick. The adult Michael (Tyler Mane) is appropriately unsettling, with the exploration of his choice of mask and what the mask represents for him acting as wordless but engaging characterisation, and, while Taylor Scout-Compton is no Jamie Leigh Curtis, she’s a perfectly passable Laurie Strode. Zombie knows this genre inside out and delivers on the gore and at least some of the tension, and Malcolm Macdowell is formidable taking on the classic Samuel Loomis role.

I’m not going to sit here and defend some of his eye-rollingly “shocking” choices – like the addition of a rape scene – but the last thing I wanted was to sit down in front of a movie that felt like a soulless remake of something that already existed. With Halloween, Zombie brings his iminitably singular vision to a franchise that feels as though every avenue has already been exhausted, and for that, I’ll always defend it.

By Louise MacGregor

Con

The Halloween franchise has had many different versions and styles over the last forty years, most of which have been bad. John Carpenter’s original was a lean and scary slasher with an inhuman monster who was terrifying because he was unknowable. Michael Myers is an icon both due to the original movie but also due to the endless sequels that have predictably neutered the character of any mystique that he once had.

All of this was true even before Rob Zombie’s uninspired remake. Serving as both a prequel to and a remake of Carpenter’s original, Zombie’s movie ends up failing on both counts despite a genuine effort to put his own spin on tired conventions. The question in terms of remakes is whether the new version has anything to say that the old version failed to. Yet the real horror of the original is what is left unsaid.

Zombie’s approach isn’t all that surprising as he tasks himself with getting into the abyss of Michael’s mind to try and understand what makes a monster like this tick. It’s ambitious, and considering how many fucking Joker movies that are on the cards, Zombie’s approach suits the cinematic landscape of today much more than 2007, where seemingly every question fans have ever had about their favourite characters are getting answers. This approach to the material, while misguided and certainly one of the movie’s biggest mistakes, at least showed that Rob Zombie had no intention of making an easy cash-in in the style of the Platinum Dunes remakes of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface’s seminal movies that were so prevalent at the time.
Zombie’s problem is that he often uses a sledgehammer when a scalpel is needed. His Halloween shows us that Michael’s upbringing was predictably hellish, with an abusive father, a struggling mother, and a sister who wanted nothing to do with him. Trauma is a common motivating factor, but Michael’s family are a bunch of white-trash cliches, as if Leatherface’s family was in hiding and told to behave themselves. In the original, Michael’s childhood looked completely normal, rendering his eventual transformation even more inexplicable and unsettling. While there are some interesting ideas in Michael’s obsession with masks, which seem to be less about hiding his true self and more about fully manifesting it, his childhood murder spree, which this time involves his father, don’t work nearly as well. The simple fact is that I don;t want to relate to Michael Myers, if I wanted that I would highly recommend Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes, I just want to see him as force of destruction.
The second half of the movie is almost a carbon copy of Carpenters,only with an overuse of shaky-cam that would rob the movie of tension if we weren’t already so over-familiar with the plot. Rob Zombie had a dreadfully difficult task. Not only did he have to remake a masterpiece of the the horror genre, but he also had to try and put a new spin on a movie with an impossibly huge cultural impact. The result is derivative, an origin story I didn’t want followed by a stale run-through of the movie I did.

By Kevin Boyle

(header image courtesy of Geeks + Gamers)

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