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Rob Zombie Should Have Stuck with a Prequel to Halloween

It seems everyone nowadays wants to remake John Carpenter films.  We’ve had remakes of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog, a prequel to The Thing (itself a remake), and talks of a remake of Escape from New York.  When will we get new versions of Prince of Darkness or Starman?  In 2007, rock musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie decided to do his own version of the film that put Carpenter on the map–Halloween.  Of course, this was the movie that introduced the world to the silent, slow-walking, Shatner-masked serial killer Michael Myers.  For two movies (the second was co-written and produced by Carpenter), the seemingly unstoppable Myers stalked Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode.  He took off the third movie only to return for five more sequels (with the last two featuring Curtis once again).  The series ran itself into the ground, so Zombie felt it was time for a reboot.

Carpenter’s version started with a prologue featuring Michael as a boy.  For some inexplicable reason, the youth stabbed his older sister to death one Halloween while dressed in a clown costume.  This scene played out in one continuous shot seen through Michael’s eyes looking through the mask until the mask was removed to shock the audience with the reveal that the murder is a kid.  His blank stare is creepy to the max.  The film flash forwards a couple of decades where an adult Michael breaks out of the mental hospital he has called home for all these years.  His psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) follows him to his hometown of Haddonfield, where he expect murderous mayhem.  Laurie Strode is the protagonist, a teenage girl who has to babysit a little boy on Halloween while the young kids are trick or treating and the teenagers are coupling up.  There is surprisingly little gore in this movie (that’s saved for Halloween II), but instead relies on mood.  The scene where Michael is standing behind drying laundry flapping on a clothes line ranks up there in one of the most chilling in horror film history.  Ultimately, Michael hunts Laurie (after killing a few of her friends), there’s a showdown, and Michael vanishes only to reappear in the sequel, which picks up immediately after the events in the first movie.  This is where Michael is really portrayed as some supernatural being since he can’t seem to be killed (this concept was perfected by Jason Voorhees).  Another twist that was revealed is that Laurie is actually Michael’s sister, which somehow explains why he’s after her.  Later sequels introduced Laurie’s daughter Jamie, then proceeded to ignore that she existed in order to bring back Laurie, who had pretended to be dead and was eventually killed.  All that convoluted plot development was unnecessary other than as an excuse to make more movies.  The original holds up perfectly well  as a mystery–Michael is an enigma; there’s no reason for what he does.  As Dr. Loomis says, he’s just evil.  In fact, the screenplay simply refers to Michael as The Shape so he’s not even human anymore.

If you’re going to do a remake, especially of a beloved classic film, you’d better bring something new to the story and give the audience something they haven’t already seen.  John Carpenter knew this when he did The Thing  and Memoirs of an Invisible Man (even though that wasn’t truly a remake but a different take on an invisible man concept), though less so with Village of the Damned.  Rob Zombie understood this as well.  Rather like Batman Begins decided to put the focus on Bruce Wayne rather than the villains, his Halloween put Laurie Strode on the back burner and placed Michael Myers in the spotlight.  He took that prologue of the young Michael (played by a terrific Daeg Faerch) and developed that into half of the film.  We learn that Michael is a product of a trailer trash family with an abusive stepfather and a stripper mother.  He kills small animals while is the target of bigger bullies (though why a 10-year-old is in the same school with adolescents is unclear and is convenient to the plot).  The school brings in Dr. Loomis to help treat him before it’s too late.  Of course, Halloween night it becomes too late.  Not only does he kill his sister, but also his stepfather and the bullies in a brutal, vicious manner.  We also see what happens to him after the murders with Dr. Loomis trying to reach him in the mental hospital.  Unfortunately, nothing works.  He retreats into a world of masks and when no one is looking he kills a nurse, leading to his mother committing suicide.  Left behind is Michael’s baby sister, whom he loves dearly.

His story is fascinating.  Peering into the childhood of a psychopath and trying to understand him humanizes Michael Myers.  He is not a supernatural boogeyman, but a real person with deep scars and a truly scary psychological condition.  However, the film falls apart when it flashes forward 15 years.  Michael has grown into a giant-sized mute with long hair hanging over his face (now played by wrestler Tyler Mane).  We don’t actually see his face until the end of the movie when his mask is removed, and it re-emphasizes the theme that he’s a person and not a monster, a contrast to the previous series.  In the mental hospital, Dr. Loomis finally gives up on him.  While being transferred elsewhere, he breaks his chains and slaughters the guards.  He then heads back to Haddonfield, killing everyone he comes in contact with while searching for his baby sister, now 16 years old (played by Scout Taylor-Compton).  Her role is reduced to simply the target of his quest rather than being the protagonist.  Zombie stages similar scenes to the original, such as Michael dressing up in a ghost sheet with his victim’s glasses standing over the guy’s girlfriend.  It worked better in Carpenter’s film.  Gone is the creepy mood in place of non-stop gory violence.  Even Dr. Loomis (the mainstay for five of the movies in the previous series) meets a gruesome demise.  Laurie’s showdown with Michael is a long chase scene ending with a literal bloodbath that indicates that Michael has been killed (though of course, Zombie brought out his own Halloween II two years later).

It’s like Zombie made two movies.  The first is a taut character-driven tragic psychological study; the second a bloody slasher film with no heart.  Indeed, he should have actually made two movies as it would have served him better.  If he had taken the first 45 minutes and doubled the length, thereby delving even more into Michael’s psyche.  Not that many people would necessarily want to see this, but his torture and killing of the animals is talked about with the aid of photos.  It would help showing the darker side of his character before he loses it completely if we glimpsed more episodes like this.  As it is, it’s like the film is saying that growing up in a trashy, abusive home will turn you into an emotionless killing machine.  Dr. Loomis talks about Michael’s inner and outer existence is a “perfect storm” that turned him into a monster.  We see a lot of the outer, but the inner is lacking.  That’s what the audience needs to have depicted otherwise Michael comes off as being sympathetic.  He’s kind of a nice kid dealing with a lot of problems, but that doesn’t cause a little kid to be capable of duct taping a man to a chair and then slicing his throat.  A full examination of Michael’s childhood, including the inner demons he faces, would make a scary feature film in itself.  However, Zombie chickened out.  It’s all too easy to make a slasher film, as the countless low-budget B-movie horror films attest to.  The writer/director wanted to go deeper than make a traditional slasher film by giving us a back story first rather than have a Scooby Doo mystery where the bad guy is revealed at the end.  What made the original work was the intrigue–we knew that Michael had killed his sister when he was a child and has broken out of a mental institution, but there’s no motive.  He is literally the boogeyman, unstoppable and without reason.  Zombie tries to provide a reason, but by the time the killings begin, it really doesn’t matter.  That ends up undermining the entire first half of the film.

If Zombie had made one movie about the child Michael, ending it with the hopeless climax of him in the hospital committing another murder, slipping into the recesses of his own mind hidden behind his hand-made masks.  The second film could then be a true remake of Carpenter’s movie with Michael escaping and heading back home to retrieve his sister.  Since the relationship between Michael and Laurie is not known in the original, this would be the aspect that Zomie could develop.  Laurie would now be returned to center stage rather than be treated as a secondary character.  It would also give Dr. Loomis a second film, as Malcolm McDowell does a better turn than Pleasence did in the role.  This sequel/remake would now allow Zombie to slow down and not feel like he has to rush the story of Michael stalking Laurie and fill it with wall-to-wall death.  He proves to be competent handling character drama; this aspect would help the second film greatly giving the audience a much more satisfying film-going experience.

It is worth noting that Zombie cast Danielle Harris in the role of Laurie’s best friend Annie.  She played Michael’s niece and subsequent target in the fourth and fifth films in the original series.  It would have been even more fitting to have her actually play Laurie as she’s an accomplished actress.  Also filling out the interesting cast are Brad Dourif (the voice of the killer doll Chucky) as Annie’s sheriff father; the director’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie as Michael’s mother; E.T. mom Dee Wallace as Laurie’s adopted mother; Clint Howard in a decidedly non-creepy role; horror icon and Zombie film regular Sid Haig; Danny Trejo as a sympathetic guard; former Spy Kid Daryl Sabara as one of the kids who torments young Michael; Ken Foree from the original Dawn of the Dead; non-famous sibling Richmond Arquette; and ’70’s B-movie queen Sybil Danning as the doomed nurse.  Also, look for a cameo from the original version of The Thing on TV–twice.

copyright © 2011 FilmVerse

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