It’s hard to imagine a greater stylistic mismatch than Halloween and Rob Zombie. Zombie’s previous two films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects (I am perhaps a minority of one in that I enjoyed both), were done up in his grubby-spastic grindhouse style, in which the camera jiggles so much you think the film has slipped its sprockets. John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween was clean, classical filmmaking, with dread and suspense building in those long, smooth, menacing takes. Zombie is too antsy a director to duplicate Carpenter’s technique, and he doesn’t even really try. For a while, I agreed to take this as Zombie’s way of putting his stamp on this remake.
But only for a while. Zombie frontloads his Halloween with backstory. Here, we see the origins of the madness of Michael Myers, the looming Shape who slashed his way through Carpenter’s masterpiece and its progressively awful sequels. Michael, it appears, grew up in a luridly dysfunctional white-trash family — his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) was a stripper, his stepfather (William Forsythe) a broken-down drunk as mean as a tick. Young Michael likes to kill small animals — “a warning sign of deeper problems,” intones Michael’s new shrink Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, wearing a hilarious stringy wig in the early scenes). Do we really need to know this? Not hardly. Didn’t we go through this earlier in the year with young, troubled Hannibal Lecter? When will people like Zombie learn that you shouldn’t shine a light on the boogeyman?
Like Brian Helgeland’s Payback, Zombie’s Halloween seems to locate itself in several different eras at once. The decor, the soundtrack (Michael’s mom pole-dancing to “Love Hurts”), Michael’s KISS shirt, all scream ‘70s, but the attitudes and language are modern. Years later, after the adult Michael has escaped the asylum, we get an establishing shot of a truck stop and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” kicks in. Huh? Why? I think the movie is Zombie’s Halloween scrapbook — it’s stuck in the late ‘70s in some ways because that’s when the original film made its mark on Zombie. He also drags in a parade of horror-geek cameos — Ken Foree, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning. Even Danielle Harris, who played Michael’s niece in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5, returns here as the free-spirited Annie, the sheriff’s daughter. And the sheriff? Brad Dourif. At times it’s like an all-star fan film. I kept looking for Forrest J. Ackerman.
Cute as a button but without much personality, Scout Taylor-Compton’s Laurie Strode (whom Michael pursues for the film’s last half) won’t challenge Jamie Lee Curtis’ scream-queen throne. It’s not all her fault, though; Zombie really only has eyes for Michael. He spends so much time setting up Michael that there’s not much time left to get to know Laurie and her doomed friends. Pauline Kael called Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original script “pitifully amateurish,” but it turns out they had a sense of structure that Zombie completely misses (or totally misses, according to Laurie’s bubble-headed friend Lynda, who’s still saying totally). Zombie does have enough sense to include the famous Michael head-tilt upon surveying a freshly impaled victim, but then he forgets all about Dr. Loomis’ classic speech (delivered with frightened resignation by Donald Pleasence); instead, he has Loomis point to the cover of the book he wrote about Michael and say “Look at his eyes! There’s blackness in those eyes!”
Maybe Zombie left out the speech because it concludes that Michael is “purely and simply evil,” but in this film he isn’t — he’s just a toxic mix of nurture (or lack thereof) and nature. This Halloween has a far higher body count than the original — young Michael has killed three people, not just his older sister, before he’s taken into custody — though it’s not especially gory, just brutal. (As embodied by wrestler Tyler Mane, Michael will knock the entire house down onto you if he can’t stab you.) The ending, if I’m not being too generous by calling it such, hits new lows of shrieking incoherence and doesn’t come near the creepy elegance of the empty-houses montage that sealed Carpenter’s film. I believe Zombie when he says he’s a huge fan of Halloween, and I don’t think he’s tarnished the legacy any more than the last few sequels already did. But he’s not right for this material, which demands a cool-headed formalist. Zombie is all about garish, gnarly grindhouse freakshows, and that’s fine and fun, but it’s not Halloween.