Um...the most R of all the R's. Okay, R-rated horror movies are pretty offensive to begin with. Binging the previous eight films reminded me that horror movies show constantly offensive content. Rob Zombie's Halloween cranks that up to eleven. Some of the entries seem borderline family friendly compared to this movie. So much nudity. So much on-camera violence. So much language. Like, it is almost an art how language is used in this movie. I felt more skeeved out by what people were saying than what horrors I was seeing. It's very very R.
DIRECTOR: Rob Zombie
I have a hot take! Like, it's a really hot take. It's actually shocking me a bit. Some of it might be coming off the fact that I just watched a bunch of really awful Halloween movies back-to-back. But I kind of want to say that Rob Zombie's first Halloween movie might be the best in the franchise. Yeah. I know. I love the first Halloween movie. It's one of my all time favorite scary movies. It's so good. I'm not diminishing that one. But Rob Zombie's Halloween is actually amazing. The only thing that is holding it back is that it is technically a remake of someone else's work, so it has a lighter load to carry. But that's almost like saying that a remake could never be a great movie simply because it's a remake. For the most part, there's some truth to that. But then when you think of Cronenberg's The Fly or, appropriately enough, John Carpenter's The Thing, that idea is moot. You could also say Casino Royale has technically twice been rebooted and the only good one is the last one, but that's a very different animal. But I want to defend my choice for Rob Zombie's Halloween. It's tough, because I really don't want to slag the original, which is still as terrifying as ever.
John Carpenter had a really good idea for his serial killer. I stand by that idea because he wasn't really planning for a Michael Myers franchise as far as I could tell. If anything, he was shooting for a series of Halloween themed anthology movies, which I also would have gotten behind. But his version of Michael Myers worked because of a simple concept: anyone could just be a serial killer. That's a really cool concept. The idea that a maniac is born a maniac, regardless of socioeconomic factors is truly terrifying. Look at the beginning of that first movie. Michael's house is great. He is ready to go trick-or-treating. Sure, her sister blows him off to sleep with her boyfriend, but that's all that really sets him off to becoming the insane psycho killer of most of the movies. Loomis claims that he is bred of evil and that's what drives him. But Michael Myers is just a little boy who seems to have a pretty decent life. That works...for a single movie. But that is so simple, there's not much character to explore. Michael goes into hunting his family because we are told that he does. That's the only motivation. And honestly, that gets a bit tired. We're told many times by Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis about his time with Michael in the mental institution. That stuff seems awesome. Rob Zombie picked up on that and realized that Michael actually needs to be a character in his own franchise. Before this point in the series, Michael was the raptors in Jurassic Park. No, not Blue. Blue is dumb. He's the tornado in Twister. He is the cold snap in The Day After Tomorrow. He's the Terminator. That's fine. That's what he needed to be for those movies. Laurie was the main character for the first two films, but then Laurie started disappearing. It's why the franchise gets life when Laurie shows up. Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is great. I'm really looking forward to the new one with Jamie Lee Curtis. But Jamie Lee Curtis is an actual character with investment. When Laurie Strode isn't there, Michael needs to hold up the tent and an empty husk can't do that.
I know. Laurie Strode is in this movie too. But she's barely in the first act. But she's not even Laurie Strode in the first half of the film. She's Angel Myers. She's Boo. (How great that the baby's nickname is "Boo" for a movie called Halloween?) Instead, we have a much more complex Michael Myers. There's this great line that I didn't pick up on before. It's something along the lines that Michael Myers is the perfect mix of biology and nurture. What would make someone go truly insane? Michael is biologically predisposed to murder. All of those warning signs were there. But the tragedy of Michael Myers is that he was relegated to being a second class citizen by society. He is only identified as a creepy kid the day that he murders someone. He lives in a dysfunctional household and is considered a pest by the school system. The great thing, and this is truly upsetting that I'm wording it like that, is that Michael thinks he's a good kid. One of the most uncomfortable of Michael's murders is one where there is a degree of sympathy to his murder. (Okay, it's not a ton, but it is there.) He beats a kid to death. It's really upsetting, but that kid tortured him. In a Disney comedy, getting revenge on the kid who beat you up is the fun catharsis. Think of A Christmas Story. Yeah, it's like that, but only with a blunt object. He seems to love the animals he kills. He loves his mom and his sister. What Zombie crafted here was a story about a brother trying to get back to his baby sister. It's only once she rejects him that he doesn't know how to handle it. And can I tell you that the casting on young Mikey Myers is the perfect casting. Like, it doesn't get better than that. The kid who plays Mikey Myers is Daeg Faerch. I had to look that up a couple of times, but that kid crushes it. He gets every single beat. They recast him for Halloween II, I'm sure because he aged out of the part. But the second kid isn't as spot on as that. This kid is equal parts terrifying and sympathetic. He scares the crap out of me because he seems so real.
Actually, grounding the story around Michael's psychosis, among other things, is what grounds the movie. Yeah, we're in Rob Zombie world. Rob Zombie movies have a very particular aesthetic. Even though he keeps shifting the tones of his movies, they definitely have a Rob Zombie fingerprint on them somewhere. But Zombie starts with the real world for his Michael Myers. I never really feel like horror movies exist in reality. They are always in this heightened world where everyone is pretty and says stilted dialogue. All day long, teenagers are having a good time and super down for everything. There's a little bit of that in Zombie's version, but these choices are made off of long time friendships / enemy-ships. But people aren't as vapid in these movies. There's resentment and love and hate. The apathetic nature that accompanies most slasher films is missing. When someone drops the F-bomb, they never roll their eyes unless it is with intention. These are complex characters. Deborah Myers, played by Sheri Moon Zombie in her most nuanced role yet, is a paradox. She is angry and spiteful. She is a stripper who lives with an abusive maniac. Her entire family is brutally slaughtered by her son. But she still loves her son. God, there's not a moment where I don't see that in her performance. She wants to bring her son home. She's not scared by him for a moment and that probably terrifies her in itself. All she sees is this little boy who feels scared and alone. Like with all adolescence, only cranked up to a Rob Zombie Eleven, little Mikey is fading from her. She sees her aching kid and she wants to die. This is Deborah Myers, a character who is only seen in silhouette with a crane shot in the original. This was the element that was needed so badly. I'm locked into an image that absolutely crushes. I completely forgot that it was in the movie and it is just so perfect. Michael, in the original, carves up his sister and her boyfriend while wearing a satin clown suit. The suit here is plastic and the clown motif stays with Michael for these two movies. But he is given the Shatner mask in this one. A little kid with an adult head carving up his sister is terrifying.
I also love Loomis in this one. Loomis comes across as a bit of a nutbar in the other movies. The reason that he's a protagonist is that you know that he is right. But in Part 4, he makes friends with an insane preacher who also is chasing evil. That means that Loomis is as nuts as the preacher. This version of Loomis is a deeply flawed individual trying to do his best with a crappy situation. There's an odd love for Michael which Pleasance never had. Malcolm McDowell is a cool cat, so it's not easy to win me over here. But it makes sense that McDowell would view Michael as a failure. The "hell" stuff really takes a back seat. I think I remember a line referencing that stuff, but McDowell presents Loomis as a doctor who wants to treat Michael to the best of his ability. It actually makes the dynamic super cool because Micahel spent fifteen years not trying to murder Dr. Loomis. That connection is very close. I mean, that definitely shifts once Michael starts murdering everybody. But Loomis calls Michael his best friend because they see each other everyday. That's nifty. Also, this old man sitting across from disheveled Tyler Mane in a papier-mache mask is so darned effective. It's pretty terrifying. The inclusion of the masks is solid and having the hair fall in front of Michael's face makes him just seem so neglected. It's marvelous.
The only thing that falls a little flat for me is the direct remake of the original movie. I know that there are different beats for things, but Zombie almost seems locked into recreating the Carpenter original. That's what people expect. What I like about Zombie is that he's almost bored by the scary stuff. He's interested in the character stuff. Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie Strode is super fun, as is most of the casting. But this isn't really Laurie's story. I hope I'm right on this one, but this is almost the first Halloween movie from Michael's perspective. Yeah, the modernization is a thing, but the second half of the movie is just a bit too close. I've already bonded with Mikey Myers, so Laurie is really a secondary figure in this. She'll get her attention in the sequel, but Michael's development is much more interesting. This is Westworld season one. I know that the storm is a-comin', but I'm far more interested to see it on the horizon. But even the second half of the movie is great. It is very scary. Zombie gets brutality, which I'm not proud to say because it makes me seem unhinged. It's not easy. Zombie embraces the ugliness of violence. It is uncomfortable to watch, but that's kind of the point. Death isn't casual ever in this movie. The previous entries have victims left and right, but there's such a lack of struggle or reality. Zombie removes all pretence when his characters are being hunted. There's a desperation there and, I suppose this should be in every movie, the characters have to act more right before their deaths. They don't go limp. They fight and cry and embarrass themselves. It's pretty great.
The one dynamic that shifts in this one is that Laurie is revealed to be Michael's sister in this one. Laurie doesn't find that out, but it does make watching this movie with that knowledge all the better. You could always go back and watch Carpenter's entry into the series with that knowledge, but it is always a bit forced. But that knowledge, revealed by Brad Dourif, makes the movie so much heavier. I like that there's a backstory of how Laurie got there. I mean, it makes little sense that she would be living in Haddonfield without any knowledge. But Zombie plants a pretty credible backstory attaching her to both Dourif's character and the town. It's great. But I do want to mention Dourif while I have the chance. Dourif is one part of a perfect casting job. It's me fanboying out a bit, but Zombie pulled in his crew. These are some straight up staples of both Zombie's works and cult cinema in general. Danny Trejo takes the cake for best casting. I love him in this movie. He's such a warm character compared to what I'm used to seeing from him. It's great that he's a horror vet, but there's some acting chops at work here. Similarly, a small part for Sid Haig and Udo Kier are just wonderful. It's so fun seeing McDowell across from these actors. Also, let's just comment on McDowell as Loomis. McDowell is the right level of cultural permeability. He's a talented actor who does weird stuff. I love that. Points all around.
I know many people will disagree with me on this movie. It does fundamentally change things that people consider precious, but that's what the franchise needed. It's such a breath of fresh, if not disturbing, air, I knew that I liked it before, but this movie is much better than I remember it being.
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