It is time to discuss the elephant in the room.
Heavy metal music and horror movie maven Rob Zombie has remade one of the greatest horror films of all time, John Carpenter‘s Halloween. Originally released in 1978, Halloween is the story of Michael Myers, a psychopath who was institutionalized at the age of 6 after he brutally stabbed his sister (she was shirtless at the time) on Halloween night in the sleepy town of Haddonfield, IL. Fifteen years later he escapes from his institution and returns to his hometown to kill more people on…you guessed it…Halloween night. The movie spawned an entire franchise of sequels (most of which are completely unwatchable) but the first one has stood the test of time and remains near the top of my personal list of favorite horror movies, so it filled me mostly with trepidation when I heard the news of a remake.
Halloween will be the third full length feature film directed by Rob Zombie, and given the combination of the original’s status as a classic of the genre and the mixed reviews of Zombie’s first two films, I think it was quite an ambitious project for him to set his sights on. While John Carpenter is not associated officially with the remake, he and Zombie are close friends and Carpenter has given his blessing to the project, telling Zombe to “…just make it your own.” (The following link is to the John Carpenter interview with the cited quote, but it is at SuicideGirls.com, so I would not click if you are at work, school or anywhere else that your internet traffic is monitored. NSFW.)
Before we discuss my hopes and fears about the film, let’s briefly touch on the previous films of Rob Zombie. His full length debut was House of 1,000 Corpses which came out in 2003. It was a gory, nightmarish tale of 4 teens who are abducted by a family of psychopathic murderers (the Fireflys) and follows them in their struggle to survive and break out of the backwoods house they are being held captive in. While not completely lacking interesting characters and scenes, the movie was a jumbled mess that did not feature enough story or character development and, rather, dropped the viewer into a disgusting and surreal world full of disgusting, surreal people with little pretense, explanation or solution. As a straight up homage to the classic slasher flick that is only intended to shock or scare, House of 1,000 Corpses was passable. The highest point of the film was the soundtrack, particularly the songs scored by Rob Zombie himself. He matched the music to the film well, which is at least to be expected from a musician-turned-director.
In 2005 Zombie released The Devil’s Rejects, a sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses that eclipsed the original in just about every way possible. The sequel features a proper storyline that builds towards a final point instead of just meandering around in the ether for two hours like House of 1,000 Corpses. In addition to the better story and character development, the movie also had a much improved look and feel than it’s predecessor. Corpses was dark, claustrophobic and uninteresting visually. Rejects, which takes place primarily in the desert, was bright and wide open which served as a nice juxtaposition to the actions of the characters in the film. The soundtrack for this film was also fantastic, although it was more of a compilation than a score. Zombie did not contribute any tracks to this soundtrack, relying on a mix of classic rock, R&B and country tunes to help set the tone.
One of the staples of Carpenter’s Halloween that helped make it so creepy and chilling is the subtlety. The scariest scenes in the movie rely on atmosphere and setting more than they do gore or shock. One of the best examples of this is the score that was put together by John Carpenter himself. The all-electronic soundtrack to the film is everything that a horror movie soundtrack should be. I’ve tried to listen to it in the dark and I just cannot get through more than a track or two. It stands well on it’s own, but most importantly it accents the action in the movie without stealing your attention or overpowering the scenes. The score, while minimalist and generic, is definitely one of the defining elements of the film that helps make it so effective.
The soundtrack of the new Halloween was released on Tuesday, and while I do not have a copy myself, I have looked over the tracklist and I have hit my first ripple of skepticism. First off, I have heard the reworked version of the iconic Halloween theme song. Zombie commissioned Tyler Bates, who did an excellent score for 300, and it is good. True to form with a few new wrinkles that do not detract from the importance or creepiness of the song.
Tyler Bates Halloween 2007 Theme Song
Other than that, the OST looks like a fantastic mixtape, but I don’t know how songs like Tom Sawyer, Baby I Love Your Way, Love Hurts and Only Women Bleed will fit in with the motif of the film. I will give him the benefit of the doubt because of how well he laid out the songs in Devil’s Rejects, but I am concerned with the ability to create the proper mood and atmosphere associated with Michael Myers and Halloween using classic rock tunes instead of creepy synthesizer sounds.
Zombie chose former WCW wrestler Tyler Mane to portray the adult Michael Myers. Mane, as an actor, is most well known for his roles as Sabertooth in X Men, Ajax in Troy, and most importantly, Bondi the oil rig worker in Joe Dirt who accidentally ignites himself while pissing on an oil fire. In an interview with MTV.com, Mane claims that Zombie had him in mind for the part while he was writing the script, and also mentions that he (Zombie) wanted to hire an actor, not just a stuntman, for the role in the hopes of “bringing a little something different to the character.” This also does not bode well with me. The rigid, emotionless portrayal of Myers in the original Halloween by Tony Moran only enhanced the constant dehumanization of of the killer that occurs throughout the movie, and my biggest concern is that too much “acting” might result in a more sympathetic Myers – the last thing he should be.
One casting decision that I think it will be hard to argue with was landing the versatile, veteran character-actor Malcom McDowell to play Michael Myers’ shrink, Dr. Loomis. McDowell has been in about a billion different things, but is most well know as Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. Loomis, originally portrayed by versatile, veteran character-actor Donald Pleasence, spends most of the film spinning his wheels in an attempt to hunt down Myers before he can kill again. Taken lightly by most, herr doctor leads an aloof pursuit of Myers with little support and spends as much time looking over his shoulder as he does for Michael. Loomis has some of the most memorable dialog in the movie, including his description of Myers as having “the devil’s eyes.” I am looking forward to McDowell’s take on Loomis.
One final casting note. Zombie, as he has done in every feature film he has directed, gave his wife Sheri Moon Zombie a major role, this time as Deborah Myers, Michael’s mother. Can’t say I blame him, as it probably saves him some scratch. “Hey baby, wanna play one of the leads in this movie I am doing so I don’t have to hire another actor?” I am interested to see how he works in a bunch of near-nude scenes for his better half in this film, though. He seems to enjoy making his wife get half naked and bloody in his movies.
One thing that Zombie definitely has going for him in this endeavor is his knowledge and love or horror films. I once saw him on MTV Cribs (he owns the former home of Bonanza star Dan Blocker, which is insanely fucking awesome) where he showed off a gigantic walk-in closet in which every single wall was lined with horror movies from ceiling to floor. It was quite a spectacle. With Zombie being such a horror movie buff, I find it doubtful that he will trash or tarnish the original. I expect something close to Carpenter’s, but based on a lot of what I have seen on the movie’s official MySpace page, it looks as though the new film will delve into the family and childhood of Michael Myers a little more than the original, which may or may not work, mostly dependent on how much liberty he takes with the storyline.
After watching the following featurette, I have mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness about the film. Zombie describes the movie as 3-Act play chronicling Myers childhood, his adolescence spent in the sanitarium, and then then the time after his escape from the sanitarium. I suppose that a little background on Myers wouldn’t hurt, but one of my favorite aspects of Halloween is the fact that the question of why Michael Myers is a killer is never answered or even addressed. It helps the mystique of Myers as an indiscriminate, emotionless and amoral psychopath when the viewer has to create his or her own reasons. My only hope is that Zombie is above the pandering usual suspects of alcoholic/abusive parents, being bullied at school and animal torture as the reasons for Myers’ brutality.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween opens up nationwide August 31st. I would like to think that the wife and I (she has major wet-pants for Rob Zombie) will be there opening night, but that seems a little far-fetched seeing as how we haven’t been out together for more than a 30 minute sojourn to Target and Starbucks in the 6 months that we have been parents. So…waiting for the DVD then.