It just happened that I was not old enough to see John Carpenter’s Halloween when it was released in 1978. I was already deeply into movies by age ten, but my parents were very cautious to shield me from ones that were violent. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I finally went back and saw Halloween. I liked the film a lot and understood why it is considered a classic, yet the fact remained that I was seeing it out of context. After nearly 20 years of increasingly gory horror flicks and lame rip-offs, it was impossible to experience firsthand the enormous impact that Carpenter’s masterpiece had on the cinematic landscape back in the late 70’s. For that reason, I didn’t have an intense negative reaction to the idea of remaking Halloween, as some purists have. As far as I was concerned, the original is eternal and any remake that attempted to return the series to credibility after too many crappy sequels couldn’t be all bad.
This remake – wait, scratch that…this re-imagining of Halloween was written and directed by musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie, who I think is the most exciting and innovative director working in the horror genre today. Not everyone agrees with me on this. Zombie’s pictures have their own rhythm and feel; they bring a real sense of danger back to horror in a time when a lot of filmmakers are content to wallow in artificial edginess. (I’m talking about you, Darren Lynn Bousman and James Wan.) Somehow, the concept of Zombie interpreting one of the great modern horror icons seems natural.
Zombie’s big idea was to spend a little time depicting the tragic childhood of masked killer Michael Myers. This can be the equivalent of skating on thin ice. Earlier this year, I pilloried Hannibal Rising, which attempted to “explain” how Hannibal Lecter became a serial killer, thereby robbing the character of his menace. Thankfully, Zombie largely resists the urge to over-analyze things. Instead, we simply observe young Michael (Daeg Faerch, one of the few child actors who can convincingly play creepy) living a sad, troubled life. Mom Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie, the filmmaker’s wife) works as a stripper at the local club, so she has little time to spend with her son. Sis (Hanna Hall) would rather be up in her bedroom having sex with her boyfriend than taking Michael trick-or-treating, as promised. Then there’s Mom’s boyfriend, Ronnie White (William Forsythe), who is verbally and physically abusive.
Michael hides his pain behind a plastic clown mask. One day, he snaps, viciously attacking a school bully and then murdering his sister, her boyfriend, and, of course, Ronnie. What got me about this first section of the movie was its understanding that children who have no one to help set their moral compass often grow up without a conscience. Abuse is bad, but neglect is, in some ways, even more damaging. Young Michael is disturbed. He tortures animals, gets in fights, and so on. A psychologist, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), tries to help, but the boy is too far gone by that point. It’s meaningful that Zombie pauses long enough to show Deborah’s guilt for having failed her son.
The second section of Halloween will be more familiar to fans of the original. It’s fifteen years later and Michael (now played by 7-foot tall former pro wrestler Tyler Mane) escapes from the psychiatric hospital and returns to his small town. Wearing a creepy, tattered mask, he specifically tracks down young Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and those around her. (For those who don’t know the story, I won’t reveal why he is interested in her.) People are knifed to death, but Laurie fights back, unaware of why the hulking lunatic is targeting her. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis tries to locate Michael before anyone else can be killed.
As in his previous films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie brings a strong visual style to his version of Halloween. There’s a disturbing scene where young Michael goes haywire in the mental hospital. Zombie stages the scene so that we see the commotion but hear only the emergency alarms wailing. The approach gives the sequence a sickeningly creepy vibe. The director’s use of atmospheric lighting and shaky camera movements also make Michael’s predatory behaviors legitimately scary, especially in the intense finale, set in the abandoned Myers home. I hate the way modern movie villains have become “charming.” In some weird way, characters like Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Jigsaw have become the heroes of their respective franchises. The audience is supposed to root for them to kill everyone else. That was a fatal downfall of most of the Halloween sequels, and Zombie rectifies it by making the guy unrepentantly evil again. He also coaxes good performances from his cast, many of whom also appeared in his previous efforts.
I have to be honest and say that this is hardcore stuff. It’s a picture designed for people who are serious about horror movies; casual viewers may be put off by the gore, which is considerably higher than anything in Carpenter’s version of the story. But here’s what it comes down to for me: the violence in a Rob Zombie movie is never intended to be titillating. I am revolted by the Saw and Hostel pictures, which embody the so-called “torture porn” movement. In these films, the point is to delight the audience with sequences of people being tortured in increasingly profane and demented ways. They are quite literally pornographic in their extreme depictions of unspeakable violence, which they hope the paying crowd will get off on. And apparently people do get off on it; can you imagine how badly the upcoming Saw IV would tank if it cut the gore back to a PG-13 level?
Zombie, on the other hand, shows intense violence but sees nothing glamorous about it. Michael’s killings in Halloween are shocking and brutal. We hope for Laurie and her friends to get away, to be safe. I won’t make the case that Halloween is anything other than a well-crafted slasher film. That’s all it wants to be, and that’s what it achieves. But I will say that the movie does the horror genre a big favor by reclaiming a legendary character and reminding us that things are scarier when we empathize with the good guys and not the killer.
( out of four)
Halloween is rated R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Halloween
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