What is fear? Fear is a biological response to things perceived as threatening or harmful. What does it take for something to instill fear? Fear is universal but all humans experience it for a multitude of different reasons. A giant spider sitting in the bathtub, the approach of armed military forces or an unpleasant medical diagnosis, all these can be cause for fear. John Carpenter, acclaimed horror director, took a simpler approach in the 1978 horror classic “Halloween,” and struck fear into audiences around the world with the films central antagonist, Michael Myers, a voiceless, faceless (essentially) killer with one motive in mind, kill everyone he can.
This was typical slasher-film (movies about killers wielding sharp objects) stuff, even for the time, but what made “Halloween” such a scary film was its subtlety. The cast was typical, a bunch of hunky, dopey or sexy teens acting dumb and getting picked-off one-by-one. The characters were hard to sympathize with, as their dialogue was hokey and the acting was wooden, but their deaths when the killing starts, it’s scary because it feels real.
With the relatively low budget the film was made on, kills were not over-the-top with gore, most were implied, rather than shown in full detail. Without the gore factor, Carpenter was reliant on building tension to be scary. Characters would wander around dark buildings and empty houses for minutes before Michael would make an appearance, adding to the idea that this was a real killer. Michael did not rush out into the open swinging a hatchet, severing limps and lobbing-off heads, he watched, waited and struck when the moment was right. It preyed on the very real fear of being watched from the shadows by someone dangerous.
To accurately and appropriately reboot the Halloween franchise (which included several awful sequels) great care had to be taken to capture the spirit of the original. Whatever the reboot’s director, Rob Zombie, came up with, it had to match the subtleties of the original, while putting a fresh spin on the series. Well, “Rob Zombie’s Halloween” got the spin part right, and that’s about it.
In the original “Halloween” the story starts with a young Michael Myers murdering his older sister. His parents come home, catch him with the knife, and the movie cuts to several years later, with his baby sister being all grown-up, and Michael locked in an asylum. The remake takes a similar approach, but to its credit, it actually manages to make the introduction, which fleshes out the story of young Michael, interesting, despite it taking away from the character’s mystery.
In the reboot, young Michael (played by Daeg Faerch) has a hard life. He is not the blank slate he was in the original, but rather a troubled, disturbed child. Michael is frequently bullied at school, has no friends, his older sister resents him and his mother’s boyfriend is a pig. In all of this, Michaels mother Deborah (played by Sheri Moon Zombie) is the one beacon of hope in a life of misery. Despite her best efforts to keep Michael happy, he naturally ends up going off the rails, and kills his entire family, save his baby sister Laurie, and Deborah.
During his mental assessment at the asylum, Michael and Deborah meet his new doctor, Doctor Sam Loomis (played by Malcom McDowell). During his attempts to converse with Michael, Loomis is attacked, and assesses that he is truly insane. This drives Deborah into a depression, and she ends up taking her own life.
Several years later, Laurie is in high school, and Michael is still in the asylum. Driven by an inexplicable desire to see Laurie again, Michael kills his way out of the asylum, and the murder spree begins. Loomis, who has made a living selling a book about Michael’s life-story, feels like it is his responsibility to stop him. He enlists help of the town sheriff, Sheriff Brackett (played by Brad Douriff), then he sets-off to stop Michael.
“Halloween” had everything it needed to be both a good remake, and a great horror film in its own right. Despite his borderline obsession with violence and gore, Zombie shows genuine signs of inspiration and originality with a few of the moments in the film. The fact that Loomis, who was a much more caring character in the original, is now a pompous celebrity, works great with McDowell’s performance, and it adds a dynamic to the character that, while different, works fantastically to establish motive, as the personal details he placed in his book are now at risk of endangering young Laurie Strode, and his guilt for being responsible comes off as genuine.
The introductory sequence also shows a few sparks of brilliance. Sheri Moon, who is typically dreadful, gives a performance reflecting that of an actual mother. Her affections for her son and her mental breakdown are heartbreaking, and Sheri Moon pulls off the role without a hitch. The decision to give Michael a backstory detracts from his formerly unknown motivations for being a killer, but Faerch adds a layer of sympathy to what used to be a faceless, unsympathetic monster.
Where the movie fails is in its utter lack of horror. There’s nothing scary about this movie. The excessive gore, constant profanity and graphic nudity are all disturbing, shocking and typical of modern horror films, but where the original built horror through tension, the remake has about as much subtlety as a thunderclap. Kills are excruciatingly graphic. Blood flows like water in this movie. Throats are slit, heads are cut-off, people are stabbed and faces are crushed, and it’s all shown in so much detail, that, while it’s undeniably disturbing, it’s also comically over-the-top. Nothing about the violence and death feels genuine. The character’s that die are all completely unlikable, as they’re all drenched with Zombie’s typical sheen of grossness.
The original “Halloween” is a masterwork of horror. It has aged considerably, but it still works as a horror film, because it understands the fear of being stalked by a killer. Zombie’s reboot is a typical gore-fest, lacking enough originality to be a good standalone, and lacking enough scares to be a good horror movie. It’s a bad “Halloween” film, and a bad horror flick.