The Halloween series sat in limbo after the negative reaction to Resurrection. There were plans for a sequel called Halloween Asylum that would take place at Smith’s Grove and perhaps feature returning characters like John Strode from Halloween: H20 as well as Freddie Harris from Resurrection. Those plans never came to fruition, especially after the tragic death of series producer, Mustapha Akkad. The reigns now belonged to his son, Malek, and thanks to the recent “remake wave” in horror, it was time for a new direction. Rob Zombie, hot off the heels of his surprisingly critically praised The Devil’s Rejects, was chosen for the task of updating John Carpenter’s beloved slasher classic. This choice of director was widely welcomed at the time since Rejects proved that he had talent and respect for the genre as a whole. That initial excitement would die down quickly once details of his vision were released.
The story begins with young Michael Myers murdering another one of his pets, this time a rat. He does so in the bathroom while his sister, Judith, stands outside of the door and accuses him of masturbating. It’s revealed that Michael lives in an unstable home with many negative forces at play. His mother, Debra Myers, is an exotic dancer which constantly comes up when other kids bully him. His step-dad is a disabled prick who constantly bickers with Deborah, makes fun of Michael, and inappropriately leers and comments on Judith’s body. The only aspects of Michael’s life that bring him any happiness are his mother, his baby sister named Angel who he calls “Boo” (aka, later an unaware Laurie), and a bit of animal-murder. It’s not long before Michael graduates to killing people and wipes out the negative forces in his life. The film then focuses on Michael’s time at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium under the care of Doctor Samuel Loomis, and then when Michael escapes the hospital fifteen years later to reconnect with his younger sister and kill anything that gets in his path.
When Zombie took the assignment he called John Carpenter to get his blessing to remake the film, which wasn’t necessary, but Zombie felt it was appropriate. Carpenter’s best advice was to “make it your own” which was the right advice in this situation. Carpenter knew this all too well. He had also directed a remake, The Thing, which was not only vastly different from its predecessor, but also acclaimed for that reason. Zombie, unfortunately, only took this advice to a half-measure. His Halloween is three movies in one: Michael’s redneck unstable childhood, Michael’s detachment from humanity while under care at Smith’s Grove, and a compressed version of Carpenter’s Halloween for the last act. These structural issues largely contribute to its failings. Along with this, he has put together a cast including up-and-comers, Zombie regulars (including his wife Sherri Moon as Deborah), and a slew of cult-horror/genre legends such as Brad Dourif, Ken Foree, Danielle Harris (from Halloween 4 & 5), Dee Wallace, and Malcolm McDowell.
He doesn’t get the most out of his actors as the characters are sometimes just there for a scene or so (usually served up as murder fodder). It also doesn’t help that they are largely insufferable. They do a serviceable job acting, with some overacting in spots (particularly McDowell), but they are mostly indistinguishable from each other with the vast majority of their dialogue being what should be labeled “Zombie-speak.” This sort of dialogue is mainly composed of lines serving no other purpose than shock value, while being overly sexually and violently charged. Cue Laurie Strode’s introduction where she “jokes” with her parents about being molested by a teacher all while finger-banging a bagel. A subset of the characters are redneck caricatures and these lines coming out of them feel very forced and purposely edgy. This type of stylized character speak may have worked in Zombie’s previous works, but here it shows a lack of range.
There are a couple of exceptions, with Dourif’s Sheriff Brackett and McDowell’s Dr. Loomis coming to mind, but in the case of the latter he just spits out the usual Dr. Loomis style of verbiage; just with any type of nuance or subtlety being completely absent. While this “over the top” style of approach to dialogue is a constant aspect of the film, it’s during the last act that it becomes most noticeable. This part of the film has moments taken verbatim from Carpenter’s and Hill’s script, as if Zombie couldn’t wait to get to these parts so he could have an excuse for a lack of imagination. The lines are often mildly paraphrased or downright stolen from the original’s script. Hearing such lines as “Even in the most rudimentary sense of the word” or “As a matter of fact, I DO believe it was” is cringe-worthy and out-of-place. The lack of variety in dialogue also translates to the characters themselves. Most of the teenage males are all made out to be grungy, skinny, white dudes (who honestly kind of look like Rob Zombie, which makes the numerous sex scenes even more awkward).
The shocking, edgy approach is highly present in how the events of the plot play out. Michael’s upbringing is often filled with the worst situations imaginable. Michael’s bullies make fun of his stripping mother, asking Michael if they can get a blowjob. His creepy stepfather who constantly leers at Judith and speaks of “skull-fucking” his mother during their bickering. The stereotypical orderlies are stereotypical rednecks that abuse their patients. This, of course, leads to the rape scene that initiates Michael’s escape from Smith’s Grove. It’s notable that in the three versions of the movie that have been made available to the public (leaked workprint, theatrical, director’s cut) the rape scene only appears in the first and last versions. It’s as if the studio mandated that Zombie cut the scene out, but once Zombie had free-reign with his own edit he didn’t have the awareness to keep it on the cutting room floor. This is purely speculation.
The rape scene itself is about as tasteless as exploitative filmmaking gets. As a moment it has no reason for existence. The scene occurs when a couple of redneck orderlies bring a new female patient to Michael’s cell so they can assault her. This does nothing to add to Michael’s escape; he could have done that any other way, nor does he particularly care that the rape happens. It only exist to show the repulsive nature, not of mankind, but of the director’s own sensibilities. In trying to be more “mature” and bring a “darkness” to the source material, Zombie only proves to be juvenile.
This is a film with an identity crisis. Tonal clashes pop up constantly, especially when bits of the original film are thrown in. Sometimes this only seems to be for fanservice, like the discreet mentions of Laurie’s introversion. Does the film believe the audience will care that this universe’s version of Ben Tramer is interested in Laurie based off a single moment? It’s shoehorned in and lacks impact, especially with the amount of time that Laurie is on-screen. She isn’t introduced until the second half of the runtime.
This is reflective of the film in general. None of the small character arcs, subplots, or larger storylines carry any impact because of how overstuffed it is. There is no room for any natural progression and it all feels rushed. When young Michael finally breaks bad and kills his family, it means nothing for the viewer. Honestly, there are too many scenes that are there for sheer violent spectacle. There is no reason to spend so much time on Michael acquiring some coveralls by killing Joe Grizzly (despite that character being a bright spot due to Ken Foree’s comedic sensibilities), nor does killing Laurie’s adopted family serve any purpose. The only characters that find out are the police. This should be used to develop Laurie’s character, but the film doesn’t allow her to discover it herself. These wastes of screen-time hurt the effectiveness of the story and the overall impact of the characters. A casualty of this is the suicide of Deborah Myers, which the film treats as an incredibly tragic moment. The problem is that it doesn’t work. The audience isn’t given the opportunity to know Deborah, so we don’t care about her death. More time should have been spent on the characters. Unfortunately, it seems that the only purpose many of them serve is to up the kill count.
With the structural issues apparent, along with the lack of interesting storytelling in the first and last sections, more emphasis should have been placed on young Michael’s incarceration at Smith’s Grove, where he receives treatment from his doctor. It’s rushed, but it’s here that the film shines brightest and Zombie brings some new ideas to the table. This version of Loomis isn’t as trustworthy as Donald Pleasance’s version, and that’s interesting. Sometimes it seems he only has his own self-interest at heart and not the lives of the Myer’s family or Michael. The care that Michael receives is substandard; Loomis does as little as possible to help the boy. Michael could have been a lost cause but his resentment of Loomis and his growing disconnect from humanity should have been more a focus. Instead, it’s only wasted potential.
The film disappoints technically, as well. At times, the camera seems to be placed with no real thought or reason, and has an over reliance on shakiness during the film’s “scare” moments to try to up the intensity. Instead, it reveals a lack of tension and shows that Zombie and director of photography, Phil Parmet, are overcompensating for what isn’t there. The violence is designed to be brutal and gratuitous, but it loses its impact to a sub par execution.
There is, however, one moment where Zombie’s intent with the violence actually works, which makes the experience viewing the film all the more frustrating. Annie is attacked by Michael and Laurie and Lindsay find her afterwards. It’s quite telling that there is nudity in this sequence, but that’s the last thing on the viewer’s mind; the imagery is too disturbing. The framing is on point in this sequence as well, especially the static shot where Laurie leaves Annie to call for help and it’s revealed that Michael was hiding behind the door. Danielle Harris really sells this moment with her painful cries for Laurie to get out of the house, knowing that more danger is coming. This is also Tyler Mane’s best moment as Michael. The way he comes out and views the trembling Annie, who is in agonizing pain, as if she is some extraterrestrial or some other foreign object, only to walk over and investigate her boyfriend, who is hanging with a Jack-o’-lantern placed over his head, and makes the corpse sway back and forth to amuse himself. It’s absolutely menacing and terrifying, and it’s a shame the rest of the film can’t measure up to this moment. Unfortunately, there was no way to attach an image of this moment due to its content.
The music is another component that is having an identity crisis. Tyler Bates is the film’s composer, but that should come with an asterisk since a majority of the legwork is done by tracks from Carpenter’s original score. Yes, the “Halloween Main Theme” is iconic. Yes, the rest of the original’s score is just as good and is acclaimed for a reason. Zombie is trying to make a different movie though, and the heavy use of another film’s score was a terrible decision. It feels so out of place and there is no thought for where the tracks are included. It’s comparable to throwing different colors of paint on a wall and using that as direction for ordering them. It is also a constant reminder of a better executed film, which should be the last thing in the viewer’s mind. Any original material Bates provides is an afterthought due to the decision to rely on past cues.
Despite the highly critical nature of this review, Zombie had good ideas in places, particularly with his direction of Michael and Laurie’s family relation. Where the original series didn’t take advantage of this aspect until many sequels in, this connection serves as the primary motivator for Michael’s actions. The intent was to make him sympathetic, like Karloff’s monster from Universal’s Frankenstein franchise, but the film fails to do so. It seems that Zombie couldn’t juggle this aspect and his desire to make Michael like “a bear,” which is how he is described. He is very bear-like, with this hulking interpretation being the largest Michael in the series. The intent of sympathy is on full display in a scene where Michael reveals himself to Laurie and shows her a childhood photo. Her rejection, confusion, and betrayal should serve as an emotional tug-of-war for the viewer as they understand Laurie’s decision, but feel Michael’s pain. None of this lands, though. This is even more noticeable in the final moments of this film. The takeaway is supposed to be two lives (Michael and Laurie) who were failed by their upbringing, the system as a whole, and the world in general. The very last images are a young Michael holding baby Laurie in a moment of happiness, which directly contrasts with Laurie unknowingly blowing her brother’s face off (he holds the gun for her in what is essentially an assisted suicide) and screaming hysterically. It’s an interesting direction for the series, which was in much need of new ideas. It’s a shame the film couldn’t follow through.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween stands as an example of how a director should stick to his guns and trust his gut to tell a story instead of trying to appease everyone else. If Zombie could have shown some restraint, this could have been a welcome and interesting addition to the Halloween franchise. Instead, all that remains is a Frankenstein of a picture that has an identity crisis and displays a lack of maturity. As an experience, it’s as frustrating as it is disappointing; the potential is apparent, but the execution is lacking. The ideas present point to a mostly uncharted land for horror and the slasher genre in general, but the promise is unfulfilled. Maybe in the future someone can pick up the scraps.