Remake Rumble: Round 6
Not all remakes are created equal, but sometimes the battle lines between the original film and the so-called “re-imagining” aren’t as clear as they may first appear. In this new, regular feature Joey Keogh pitches a chosen horror film against its remade counterpart, to answer that oft-debated question – is there ever any justification for “rebooting” a horror movie? And, dare we even suggest, can a remake ever surpass the original?
In honour of the spookiest night of the year, the Remake Rumble pits John Carpenter’s seminal slasher against Rob Zombie’s divisive 2007 remake, neither of which requires much introduction.
When Rob Zombie first announced he would be remaking one of the most famous, and universally well-liked horror movies of all time, fans were understandably up in arms – how dare he think he can do better than the master of horror himself? What was the director of gorefest House of 1000 Corpses going to do with our beloved Michael Myers? However, it was nothing compared to the backlash he received following the flick’s release, which bordered on murderous. The main issue people seem to have with his take is that it either tries too hard to surpass the original or that it attempts to remake it almost frame for frame. The real issue with Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is that it does both.
Halloween (1978) is an institution. For many of us, it was an introduction to the world of genre films, a benchmark by which we judge every horror movie imaginable. And it helps that it’s still really bloody scary. Nowadays, when Carpenter’s masterpiece screens at late-night showings or on re-releases around that time of year, the film is often met with barely-concealed giggles from an audience who grew up being terrified of it but can now spot the holes – how does Myers seem to be able to teleport everywhere? Why is he hiding in the washing? How come nobody seems to be able to outrun him?
A horror nut himself, one suspects Zombie was one of those kids who grew up not just fearing Michael Myers, but idolising him. When it came time to tell his story, Zombie endeavoured to create a history for the guy that would do his infamous, Halloween night killing spree justice. To his credit, the idea of Michael coming from a horrible, white trash household with a stripper for a mother is interesting, if not terribly inventive. The kid we meet in 1978, after he’s just stabbed his sister, is not the kid we meet in 2007, but thankfully Daeg Faerch (who was replaced in the sequel with a much less scary child) is a fine actor, and when he pulls down the clown mask before his first kill, echoing his 1978 counterpart’s being taken off post-stab, it’s a truly dread-inducing moment.
Likewise, Michael’s incarceration in an institution for the criminally insane, which takes up an entire act of Zombie’s film, gives us another potentially fascinating glimpse into his psyche, even if his wall of masks hints more that he’s secretly a member of Slipknot than a brooding, psychotic killer. Watched over by the well-meaning Dr. Loomis (skilfully played by the legendary Malcolm Mc Dowell), we see Michael’s slow drudge into complete and utter apathy, the moment he stops talking for good signalling that there is no longer anything decent there.
For the first two acts, Zombie’s film is very nearly a masterpiece all on its own. Certain parts are overdone, and if you’ve caught the Director’s Cut then you’ve seen the ludicrous, redneck rape sequence, but for the most part it all fits together nicely in its own rough, white trash kind of way. The moment when “Mikey” kills his only sympathiser, played by Danny Trejo, has divided audiences but Zombie left it in to show how cold and evil Myers truly is. Whether it fits or not is a matter of opinion, but suffices to say Zombie made his point.
Where the film begins to lose its way is when Myers makes his way back to Haddonfield in search of his sister, Laurie (played by Scout Taylor Compton, who goes full emo in the sequel) and her slutty friends, one of whom is played by the somehow still teenage looking Danielle Harris. Although the final act isn’t as close to the original as certain detractors would have you believe, it does follow much the same formula as the original film with just one, key difference – it isn’t nearly as frightening.
There are some set-pieces that work, in particular when Laurie is crawling through the gaps in the walls of the old Myers house to escape her brother, or when he strands her in an empty swimming pool, full of autumn leaves, and slowly advances on her. But these moments aren’t quite stand-out enough to make up for the fact that Zombie hasn’t done anything else with the “Halloween” part of the Halloween mythos. It’s a damn shame too because the film ends with a memorable, blood-curdling scream, while the famous line “Was that the bogeyman?” signals one of the best jump scares in the entire flick.
Carpenter’s Halloween isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. Still terrifying to this day and with one of the creepiest scores in film history, it’s the perfect example of how to establish brooding, nail-biting tension without feeling the need to rely on cheap scares, or to ramp up the gore. It’s nonsensical in parts – how does Myers manage to move so quickly from place to place, without being spotted? – but the premise is still solid – as noted in Scream 4, there’s something really frightening about a guy with a knife who just…snaps.
Nobody could claim Zombie’s remake is perfect, but what’s most disappointing about it is that it very nearly could’ve been. The first two acts are solid, they’re not to everyone’s tastes but they are expertly crafted for a modern audience who demand gore, swearing and violence before they’ll pay any attention. Regardless of whether you agree that Michael Myers’ upbringing makes any sense, it’s still undeniably cool to see him as a snotty little kid, wearing his mask and torturing his pet rat (and later his sister). This is Michael Myers for a new generation, he doesn’t just stalk and slash, he revels in the murders and his first victim (sadly, one of the Spy Kids who has grown up to be a right dick in spite of his espionage adventures) is killed brutally and, somewhat shockingly, in broad daylight.
Although Zombie wanted Michael to be a cold, sadistic killer, when he meets Laurie, removes his mask and thrusts a photo of the two of them towards her, it hints that maybe there is a heart underneath somewhere. This thread is picked up again in the sequel, to varying effect, but as it stands, it’s an interesting moment on its own even if it doesn’t really fit. Much of the hatred aimed at Zombie’s remake is either at the portrayal of Michael, as played by hulking ex-wrestler Tyler Mane, or that of Laurie, but both characters are consistently modern versions of their 1978 selves. Carpenter himself allegedly refuses to watch the film, as he doesn’t want to be put in the position of criticising his friend’s vision, but he supposedly advised Zombie to make the story his own. For the most part, he did.
Although it’s easy to hate Rob Zombie for remaking a horror classic, kudos should be given to him for trying to make Halloween his own. He did not surpass the original, but the first two acts of his rough, redneck, modern take on the Myers legacy hint that he could have. As it stands, there’s only really one Halloween, but the remake makes a respectable stab (sorry) at doing justice to its incredible legacy.
Winner: Halloween (original)