Tom Stoppard once wrote a one act play called “The Fifteen Minute Hamlet” which was, as you can probably guess, a pretty incoherent version of “Hamlet” performed in 15 minutes. You can imagine that much would have to be left out and that what was once dramatic and tragic would be renderned pointless and hilarious. Well, I don’t know if Robert Zombie knows his Stoppard from his Shakespeare as well as his KISS from his Blue Oyster Cult, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t end up with a lame 15 minute cover version of John Carpenter’s classic.
Now to be fair, Zombie has not made a short film. Instead, he’s made three separate short films all tied together with the last 40 minutes or so devoted to some alternative universe version of the events in the original “Halloween”. This is the part he clearly has no real interest in since it features the least White Trash of all three.
What he’s really into is the idea of Michael Meyer’s origin. Now, I don’t know where you stand on the issue of abortion, but the real Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) would agree that this idea needed to be stopped in the first trimester. It betrays the entire point of the character by rendering an enigmatic, blank evil into an effeminate, long haired, KISS-loving, animal torturing, snot nosed little kid who gets verbally abused by his stepfather and doesn’t get to join in any reindeer games. Zombie wants us to see the makings of a monster but honestly I don’t think he had it that bad. I mean his stepfather doesn’t single him out for the verbal abuse. He makes sure to give everyone their fair share of name calling and empty threats.
Now, the thing that made Michael Meyers such a compelling character was that there was no reason for his evil. Nothing. Nada. He was from a nice suburban family living in a nice suburban home. There was not a single hint of the evil that lurked behind the face of an innocent child until one Halloween night, he snapped. This is a scary idea. The very notion that evil could be genetic or predisposed and that the monster lurking outside could really be within is the heart of the Carpenter film. The genius of the long POV sequence that opens that film is that we don’t know just who is sneaking about, grabbing a large kitchen knife and butchering a pretty young girl combing her hair. The sequence’s big shock isn’t the murder — that’s incidental — it’s the final crane shot revelation that the killer in the mask is really this blank staring but otherwise ordinary little boy next door.
I can guess that there will be people who think that it isn’t fair to compare Zombie’s film to the original. Too bad. It’s called “Halloween” and I’m pretty sure it’s a remake of a movie called “Halloween”. Any idiot who takes the job of remaking a classic is walking in a minefield. Like Mick Garris who decided to helm Stephen King’s “authorized” version of “The Shining”, a film which did nothing but prove that Kubrick knew what he was doing by keeping the King of Horror far away from the screenplay. But I can see the point, like if Zombie called the film “Crazy Masked Mofo” instead of “Halloween” would it be any better without the baggage of comparison?
Not at all, because Zombie betrays his own conception anyway. There’s no doubt that he intended to make a more realistic, case historied, criminal profiler bullshite story about how an abused kid could become a killer. A sort of “How Columbine Could Happen” tale. I’ve already stated why I think this approach is way off target when dealing with Michael Meyers as a character. What makes it worse as a stand alone approach is that Zombie cannot write a single scene that doesn’t play like some kind of redneck parody. But it’s not funny and it’s not really meant to be. I think that lines like, “I’ll skullfuck you” are Zombie’s version of a “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. But hey, not everyone can write like Shakespeare. Unfortunately, Zombie can’t even write like a zombie.
After a looong first act and an endless murder spree, Zombie drops Michael into the Smith’s Grove Mental Hospital under the care of a hippie version of Dr. Loomis played by Malcolm McDowell, who really needs to make a public apology for this performance. (Oh, and Kenny Rogers wants his beard back.) Now, up to this point and in countless interviews, Zombie has stated his desire to make the film more about Michael as a serial killer in the realistic sense. The problem is that he must eventually run into the plotline and horror fantasy universe of the Carpenter film. Carpenter’s film is a poetic fable of darkness that returns to an idyllic town in the fall and absolutely not a realistic story about some random serial killer. This is why Zombie doesn’t allow Michael to steal a car like he did in the original. Because that was unrealistic. How could a boy locked up since his childhood know how to drive a car? In Carpenter’s thriller version he just lets Donald Pleasance clear up the boring issue by saying that even though he isn’t licensed by the state of Illinois, “He was doing very well last night!”
If Zombie were making the film he started with in act one, the rest of it needed a major overhaul in tone and style. By not letting him drive, we now have scenes where the girls in town see this 12 foot tall masked man stalking them and are not alarmed at his presence. This is as equally ridiculous as the recreation of Michael as a hulking, long haired giant of almost Gulliver proportions.
The best remakes just plow ahead with their own singular vision of the film and ill-conceived as it was, I would’ve liked to see Zombie’s more realistic recreation of the “Halloween” story had he decided to actually make it. But from the moment little Mikey is absurdly left alone with a nurse and a fork, the film goes all screwy. It becomes more uninvolving as the director casts a rogue’s gallery of his favorite genre performers — Udo Kier, Ken Foree, Brad Dourif, E.T.’s Mom Dee Wallace, and even Mickey Dolenz (!) — and then proceeds to do a kind of scene by scene imitation of the original “Halloween” instead of reinventing it through his own more realistic vision of the story. In the end, Zombie betrays himself by not making his own film.
This really is a bad film but it’s not an insult to the intelligence like Dimension Films’ usual product. (“Pulse” remake I’m pointing at you!) For one thing, it’s actually “R” rated and makes full use of that rating like an old time horror film with a heaping dose of violence and nudity. This is just the taboo breaking we expect when buying a ticket to a horror flick and on this level Zombie delivers.(Although I must say that the sadism displayed was very boring after a while and seemed to be the work of a band camp nerd desperate to be seen as a badass.) In any case, all he adds to the Carpenter film during his 40 minute Reader’s Digest version is longer beatings, bloodier stabbings, at least three more boobs, and tiresome screaming. This isn’t creativity, it’s just volume and this “Halloween” wants you to know it goes to “11”.
In his former (and future?) career as a musician, Zombie was certainly no stranger to sampling. Here, he samples from another classic of the ’70s, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but it sits uneasily in the world of “Halloween”. He has one good idea to make more use of the spooky Meyers death house, but squanders it trying to recreate the scene of Marilyn Burns screaming her way out of a second story window and ending up covered in blood. His choices of music are all from a K-Tell records “Super Sounds of the ’70s” collection which make it all the more confusing as to when all of this is actually going down. It appears to be modern day but some of the kids are driving around what looks to be the Scooby-Doo mystery van. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is heard twice so I guess Zombie just wanted some more cowbell.
A small note: Danielle Harris, who played little Jamie Lloyd, Michael’s niece in “Halloween 4” and “5” is now all grown up and appears in the film as Annie Brackett. She is the only one of the three girls to give an actual performance and uses her few short moments onscreen to create a character. It’s a bit odd that Zombie, being such a genre geek who casts all of his favorite genre actors, would not give Harris the lead role of Laurie Strode to create a Tarantino like pop culture echo chamber. Carpenter’s casting of Jamie-Lee Curtis created instant echoes of “Psycho” and placed his film in the context of a wider cinematic history. It’s just another bad choice by Zombie in a whole barrel full of bad choices.
Rob Zombie (director) / Rob Zombie (screenplay)
CAST: Malcolm McDowell … Dr. Samuel Loomis
Brad Dourif … Sheriff Lee Brackett
Tyler Mane … Michael Myers
Sheri Moon … Deborah Myers
William Forsythe … Ronnie White