“Is the Boogeyman Real?” The Divisiveness of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” Films

I may be in the 1% of the population who adores Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake and sequel (2007 & 2009). I may like it, dare I say, more than the original…

Did I say that Rob Zombie’s version of John Carpenter’s original slasher film is better or superior than the 1978 film? No, of course not. But that seems the be the only thing that horror fans in the toxic and downright miserable modern horror community probably get from that statement. Of course it’s not better, but it is the best version of itself that exists. It is perfect through the eyes of Zombie fans, as we saw him take something great and spin it on it’s head, creating an almost alternate reality of Michael Myers and giving him a backstory that, in my opinion, is to die for.

 

 

Halloween (2007) received a whopping 26% on Rotten Tomatoes with an audience score of 59%. Wow, you critics are harsh. I think my absolute favorite diss on this film is the tiny summary of how bad the movie sucks on the RT website,

Rob Zombie doesn’t bring many new ideas to the table in Halloween, making it another bloody disappointment for fans of the franchise.

Wow, no new ideas? It’s almost like he stuck to the original themes of the 1978 version. Almost like a remake. But, who am I to argue with these critics. They know everything, right? Then Halloween 2 (2009) got an even harsher sentence with a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Lighten up, people. The reviewers have the audacity to complain about how bad the sequel is by describing it as being, “smothered by mountains of gore and hackneyed, brutal violence.” It’s almost like Halloween 2 is a Rob Zombie movie…

I have never seen a more huge divide of horror fans when it comes to the original compared to a remake. I can understand, though, why this has really changed the views of horror culture. The Halloween (2007) film is not simply a copy-and-paste remake. This is not that simple. The remake took the original idea and thematic elements of John Carpenter’s version and morphed into an original Rob Zombie flick, but this is where we stumble into problems in the franchise fan community. Richard Newby said it best in his recent article actually praising these films, “…there was a consensus that Zombie’s additional exposition, Grindhouse brutality, and roughed-up characters did the property no favors.” I have to say, each one of those things mentioned made me love it more and more.  Zombie added blood and gore, he took away the question of Michael’s mortality, made small tweaks, but also paid homage to the original in important ways.

 

 

The biggest upset (which was one of my favorite aspects of the film) was giving Michael Myers a backstory – a human backstory. One of the most original elements of the Carpenter film is that Michael Myers is simply a child who killed his sister, and was sent away. There was no explanation of his actions, and no explanation of his childhood and development leading up to that moment when he stabs Judith, his older sister. We never even hear him speak. To quote Billy Loomis from Scream, “See, it’s a lot scarier when there’s no motive, Sid.”  

With that being said, Rob Zombie’s film explores the youth of Michael Myers and his insanity and violence being affected by outside sources, making him a product of his terrible, yet realistic, environment. He is robbed of his childhood by being forced to mature in the middle of a terrible home life complete with an abusive stepfather, a mother who moonlights as a stripper, and a bully sister. He is not relieved of this when he goes to school – the school environment for him is much worse and he is picked on, called names, and even jumped in the school bathroom. Zombie incorporates other themes of an adolescent bound to become a serial killer such as animal brutality and maternal fixation.

So it is very clearly illustrated that he is well on his way to becoming a murderer, and he gives viewers the right to say, “well, of course he’s evil” and “of course he comes back and kills everyone.” Newby reiterates this idea, stating, “He was always going to become something. The mask simply gave him a shape through which to channel his sense of loss, betrayal and rage.” One small detail to finish off this point is that even though young Michael goes through all of this shit as a kid, he still comes home from school so full of love for his mother, despite the fact that he will be ridiculed for feeling this way and showing this type of emotion.

 

Tyler Mane (Michael Myers) and Kristina Klebe (Lynda) star in Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

Of course, in the original film, giving him a reason to kill wasn’t the point at all. No motive, no reasoning, no love. This was perhaps the first straw in dividing audiences: separating the die-hard John Carpenter fans and the young horror fans who only watched the original in preparation for Zombie’s remake. In a 2016 article, the man himself stated his dislike for Rob Zombie’s creativity in creating the backstory and turning Michael Myers from an evil entity to a real man, “I thought he took away from the mystique of the story by explaining too much about [Michael Myers].” The two directors had an awkward tiff, but at this point I suppose that’s water under the bridge. You can read more about it here. I mean, what’s horror without a few swear words.

I’m sure some horror fans have mellowed out with time and now probably can tolerate his backstory…and then, there’s little old me, and I’m a sucker for a traumatic and fucked-up history.

Every horror fan must agree, I mean I hope they agree, that Carpenter set the bar extremely high when he gave us the gift of Halloween – with a shoestring budget and a score jotted down at his very own piano – wanting to tackle a remake of this movie is straight up ballsy. Zombie himself explains, “I really wanted to rework what Halloween was.” And guess what, he did fucking great.

 

Rob Zombie has some pretty big shoes to fill, and even bigger still are the shoes of Jamie Lee Curtis and the role of Laurie Strode. There are plenty of people who shit on the acting chops of pretty much everyone in Zombie’s Halloween, but I have to beg to differ. An angry man penned this opinion from a Bloody Disgusting editorial, stating that there isn’t a solid performance around. I mean, really? EVERYBODY was terrible? Have you watched the original? Okay, in the remake, yes, there is some questionable writing, but come on, the script is ridiculous because the back and forth is a fucking big satirical joke to Rob Zombie. No, people don’t talk like that, because it’s a movie. But, come on, just listen to the conversations that are had in the original. People don’t talk like that either, nor did they in the late 70s, or did they? I certainly hope not or everyone would be annoying as hell (I’m looking at you Lynda).

How can people possibly have an issue with Malcolm McDowell? Maybe they forgot he was Alex from A Clockwork Orange, or maybe they hated his role as Sam Loomis. No one can surpass the performance of Donald Pleasance as Sam Loomis, but they can interpret his character in this remake and create an original performance inspired by him. However, in Rob Zombie’s Halloween sequel, Sam Loomis turns into a fame obsessed asshole, and we all know Donald Pleasance would never be like that – let’s be real. But, the sequel is 100% Zombie that threw all Carpenter themes out the window, and I fucking ADORE the sequel. A great explanation of his two films explains that instead of messing with the legacy of the original, Zombie’s film is “offering a point of comparison, carving out a space where both films could exist and be respected simultaneously.”  I like the sequel (2009) better than his remake. Go ahead and tell me all about how I’m wrong, but if you have a stroke over this, then you’re the problem.

 

 

Jamie Lee Curtis is the original scream queen, no doubt. She appeared in Halloween as well as Prom Night, Terror Train and The Fog, and yet she is still underrated compared to other final girls in horror. Yes, again, no one can do what she did, give the same incredible performance – but Scout Taylor-Compton grew on me right away. Her performance as Laurie Strode/Angel Myers is something that should be viewed as one of the best final girl performances in a horror film. She screams a lot? Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her; she stole the scene each time. Another reason fans are divided, is this debate. I agree with this Hollywood Reporter article arguing, “[Compton’s] performance, one of the best and most surprising to come out of horror in that decade, that rejects former notions of the final girl and her invulnerability.”  If you’re a die-hard fan of the original, you’ve sold your soul to Jamie Lee and no other girl could ever take her place, so if anyone mentions that she was just as good, maybe even better at portraying Laurie Strode, then you’ve been banished from being allowed to be a horror fan or, my personal favorite, you’re “entitled to your wrong opinion.” Come on people, lighten the fuck up. Compton actually shot Michael in the face, but Curtis didn’t do shit until she was rescued by Dr. Loomis.

Earlier, I mentioned John Carpenter writing the original theme himself on his piano, and shit, did he even realize that when he wrote that simple song on the keys, that it would completely change horror culture? Probably not, but it did and it remains the most iconic, and the most recognizable horror theme song of all time. Viewers watching Zombie’s remake understand that this is a Halloween movie made for a more modern time, so I love the fact that he adds classic rock hits mixed in with a version of the original theme.

Let me be clear: I’m not trying to be a hater on John Carpenter’s classic – I love that movie, and I respect that movie. That movie did things that no modern horror film could ever do again. His film allows the viewers to peek inside the lives of these teenage babysitters on Halloween night: it’s simple, and it’s real. It’s the type of film that made people second guess themselves, muttering, “…what if something like that really happened, because it could…” to themselves as the credits rolled up the screen.

 

 

Another huge difference between the remake and the original is the Carpenter’s lack of gore. The angry editorial man does make a good point describing that, “the original Halloween was a mostly bloodless affair, which made it all the more impressive that is could be so scary.” This film doesn’t even need blood to scare you -it’s all about the atmosphere, the slow burn, the anxiety inducing dark corners. The – you know he’s there, but Laurie doesn’t – type of scary. And that is timeless.

I’ll still love the Zombie Halloween films the best, they have my whole heart although they are probably “the two most polarizing horror franchise films of all time…but also two of the most ambitious franchise films.” You can love it, hate it, but come on, give credit where credit is due. For those who do hate it, they still have it on the forefront of their minds,

Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2 are dirt-under-your-fingernails movies, and while you may not like them, they leave an impression, and that’s more than many of the era’s remakes have managed to do.

Well said from Newby’s “rethinking” article. I know Rob Zombie kind of shattered the sense of nostalgia that older Halloween franchise fans had, bringing something so dark and so very different to the forefront, but we cannot ignore the argument that this film paved the way for younger generations of horror fans to seek out the original in 2007.

Zombie felt the need to explain evil, when it didn’t need a definition. He took risks, added his own personal stamp on both films, and took them both to limits that only Zombie would be comfortable with. Both of these films are as complete and perfect as they can be, as I stated before. They are the most perfect versions of themselves, no matter if fans enjoy them or not.

 

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