Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
One of the hazards of reviewing a remake when you had just reviewed the original is there is not much to say when it comes to reviewing the story. When it comes to remakes the only thing to talk about is the differences. Thankfully, the Rob Zombie Halloween remake is significantly unique from its 1978 predecessor. The differences are mostly in tone and atmosphere, but there are some notable story alterations as well.
The original Halloween was a bloodless, suspenseful, Hitchcockian thriller with the music and setting creating a frightening atmosphere. The Zombie version, on the other hand, is a more or less exploitation-styled retelling of the Michael Myers story that’s brutal, gory, loud, and obnoxiously verbose with strong language and sexually-charged dialogue. It’s a nasty piece of work which looks and feels vile, trashy, and disgusting in all the ways Rob Zombie knows best how to deliver.
For some fans this will be a bad thing and for others it will just be another interpretation of the Myers mythos albeit in a different horror subgenre. We already had the Hitchcockian suspense version. So why not the exploitation drive-in film version be next?.
One noticeable difference is that we are given a much more intimate look at Michael’s childhood and home life before we see his eventually transformation into the mute, mask-wearing stalker we know today. This is, in my opinion, one of the weaker aspects of the film because as I said in previous reviews Michael Myers doesn’t need a backstory. He is at his best when he is just evil incarnate without him having to be indoctrinated in druidic cults that demand blood sacrifices from him to explain his motivations and emotional baggage.
While not being a part of a cult, the Rob Zombie version gives us a family history of abuse and neglect that eventually culminates in a violent outburst in which Michael not only kills his older sister, but also her boyfriend and his stepfather as well. Rob Zombie loves violence so much that he just makes up characters for him to kill. He is like the George R. R. Martin of the horror world.
His family consists of a stripper for a mother, a drunken abusive lout for a stepdad, and a vulgar bimbo for a sister. All of them, we are led to believe, contributed to his descent into violence and all of them are not necessary to tell his story. In the original film when his parents drove up after he killed his sister they looked pretty normal. They drove a decent car and didn’t dress like trailer trash. And that was the better way to go. The less reason Michael has to kill people the better. Michael needs to be that inexplicable fluke in humanity devoid of human emotion and moral sentiments. The backstories undo all of that and I think Rob Zombie seriously screwed up when he tried to make sense of Michael’s behaviour.
We see further expansion on Michael’s development as an emergent mass murderer during his time at Smith’s Grove Asylum. There Michael is befriended by child psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (here played by Malcolm McDowell) who tries to reach out to Michael who claims to have no memory of the murders. The boy becomes more and more insular as time wears on and he becomes less and less forthcoming to the doctor until he stops speaking altogether. He starts obsessing over these homemade masks he constructs made of cardboard and coloured markers which he refuses to take off. He develops an almost schizophrenic fear of being seen by others and as he becomes more and more uncontrollable and aggressive he is eventually isolated and handcuffed at all times for the next fifteen years. His mother commits suicide unwilling to cope and Dr. Loomis devotes his life in studying him. He eventually publishes a book about Michael in which he expounds on his view that Michael is pure evil without soul or moral conscience.
He eventually tells Michael that he is no longer going to visit him any more as he needs to move on with his life. The film does not explicitly state that this is what provoked him to escape, but not long afterward Michael breaks out and violently kills much of the staff and security employed at the hospital.
The rest of the film is pretty much the same as the original except for its distinct Rob Zombie flavour. There is more blood, more tits, more foul language and the characters are less likeable and endearing. Laurie Strode is about as vulgar and potty-mouthed as anyone else in the film. In fact, in her first appearance in the movie one of the first things we hear her say is a gross sexual joke using her finger and a bagel to demonstrate.
Many of the other characters in the movie are different in personality too. Sheriff Brackett is played by Brad Dourif (of Chucky fame) and he is less pleasant to Dr. Loomis here than he was in the original. The reasons for this are that Dr. Loomis is a much less likeable man who used the Michael Myers case to sell a book which leaves Sheriff Brackett unimpressed with the doctor’s integrity and unhappy that he is in his town.
Among other differences Michael doesn’t steal his signature mask from a hardware store, but retrieves it from his old house. Why was it there in the first place? Well, just before he killed his sister Judith fifteen years ago her boyfriend brought it with him for what he hoped would be some kinky role playing. He was unsuccessful and Michael puts it to better use.
Another difference is that Laurie’s friend Annie Brackett survives in this film rather than getting killed like she was in the original. She also doesn’t use the word “totally” nearly as much as she used to and she is played by none other than Danielle Harris herself who was Jamie Lloyd in Halloweens 4 and 5. I am not sure why Rob Zombie chose to spare the life of a character, but I imagine it must have pained him dearly knowing how much he loves gore which is why I am guessing he has Michael kill off Laurie’s foster parents in this movie who had survived in the original film.
Other than these things and the nearly hour long prologue delving into Michael Myers’ childhood the film’s plot is identical to the original classic. It’s just bloodier, raunchier, and more vulgar. But that is style, not substance.
John Carpenter and Rob Zombie both made a Halloween movie according to their respective styles and so both are vastly different in tone and mood. Carpenter’s is more subtle and frightening and Zombie’s is more loud, violent, and obscene. I think they both made the best Halloween movie they could make with the talents they had.
I don’t hate the Rob Zombie Halloween like some people do because I have no expectations for it other than it to be the sort of flick I can expect from Rob Zombie. And that is precisely what it is. It achieved its aims and it achieved them well. If you prefer Carpenter’s style like me then that is the one you will like more. If you are a gorehound and exploitation drive-in cinema junkie then you will like what Zombie did with the place when he moved in. To each their own.