When viewing the franchise in full, it becomes clear why Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007) was a necessity for the horror series going forward. The reboot is also not an uncharacteristic move; after all, the Halloween franchise is one of memorable peaks and abysmal valleys. When the series had bottomed out in the past–such as with the incomprehensible, tedious, rune-filled banter of Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chappelle, 1995)–the reset button was quickly hit. Not only did the series take a new narrative direction, but it also saw that the mythology that had been developed in the post-Carpenter trilogy vanished into thin air. However, the renaissance initiated by Halloween: H20 (Miner, 1998) was inexplicably dismantled by the ghastly Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002). In a series with a clear precedence for building off of audience demand (re: Halloween IV) it made sense to forge a new path forward in hopes of finding the next peak after the choice to kill Laurie Strode. Just as when the mythology behind Myers had become to cumbersome, the choice to try to move past the questionable choices of the series’ last installment made sense. Enter Rob Zombie, told by John Carpenter to “make it his own.”
Somewhere out there is an analyst equipped to engage in a comparison between John Carpenter and Rob Zombie, and show the authorial marks of each director shine through in two similar films. That person, however, is unfortunately not me. I’m not going to profess to be an aficionado of Rob Zombie that can do a complex dissection of how this film is situated within his larger filmography. One thing I do remember is the extreme violence of his films and that certainly is transplanted to Haddonfield throughout what is the most brutal entry in the franchise. The deaths are shown on screen, often drawn out to torturous length as the characters slowly attempt to crawl away, and there are pools of blood at nearly every turn. In many ways, this reflects a necessary evolution; while Halloween has dabbled in excessive gore in almost every sequel the deaths have often been paired with the unintentional side effect of humor. In a film like Halloween: Resurrection the violence becomes absurdist as characters attempt to battle Myers with kung fu. Rob Zombie’s Halloween attempts to step this through building merciless kills; one of its most emotionally harrowing moments is when Myers drowns and drops a TV on the asylum caretaker who had looked after him for fifteen years. While this often works, it can be quite problematic. One thing the Halloween franchise had largely avoided to this point was casual misogyny, but Rob Zombie’s Halloween is rife with it. Nearly all of the drawn out death sequences are inflicted upon female characters; think back to the quick death of Laurie’s step father versus how long Zombie dwells on her step mother crawling and slowly being killed. In the case of each couple that has sex, Myers quickly kills the (clothed) boyfriend before a sequence in which he tortures and kills the (unclothed) girl. Don’t get me wrong, the series has mixed sex and death before, but the way it has treated its female characters has rarely been this grimy and opportunistic. And this misogyny extends beyond these deaths, even Laurie is objectified in the first moments she appears on screen, which is totally out of line with the character and really just represents that the film is sexed up. It would be one thing if the film were aware enough to provide some sort of deeper analysis of why this might be the case in culture or even why it might think this to be the case in the horror genre, but Zombie always just uses these scuzzy events to find humor.
Rob Zombie’s other major move is to, admirably, attempt to graft a fresh backstory to a well trodden antagonist, but many of his choices in this respect don’t work either. Rather than being a successful reboot, Halloween falls prey to the misguided assumptions that have plagued many of the other of the ill-advised sequels. To quote:
“Michael was created by a perfect alignment of interior and exterior forces gone violently wrong. A perfect storm, if you will. Thus, creating a psychopath that knows no boundaries and has no boundaries.”
What Dr. Loomis’ quote here represents is a lack of understanding about what made Michael Myers horrifying in his scariest instances. It wasn’t that the Shape had a tragic backstory; in fact, when the films attempted to craft one in installments IV, V, and VI it largely backfired. Rather, in the most successful films, Myers is an intangible force representative of some sort of evil. In the original, he represents the worst impulses in every audience member, the terrors that may lurk beneath the perfect sheen of suburbia. Likewise, in Halloween: H20 he represents a specter of Laurie’s past that continues to emotionally haunt in. Though he surfaces to attack her in person, it is the idea of Laurie’s history affecting her personal relationships that makes the ending feel so earned. As a result of these intentions, Myers never looked foreboding beyond the eerily blank mask that reflected his absolute lack of personality. Rob Zombie, however, chooses to make the series his own by attempting to do what the post-Carpenter trilogy did; he remakes the original but spends a good deal of the time focusing on Myers’ childhood and fleshing him out to become a true character. No longer is Myers horrifying because he represents the worst in us all, but because the perfect storm of events created a psychopath. This is outwardly manifested in one of the film’s worst offenses: Myers becomes a hulking mass that silently towers over other actors. He ceases to be a source of pure evil, but an other worldly monster with a tortured backstory.
It doesn’t help, either, that what Rob Zombie comes up with isn’t exactly novel. Michael Myers liked to torture animals, because that’s what we’re told serial killers like to do; he came from a broken, white trash family and was bullied: yawn. We get repeated instances of Dr. Loomis spouting clichéd lines about how the child is a ghost, or about how black is the absence of color in spite of Michael professing it to be his favorite (because, killers like black. Deep, right?) Zombie also continually demasks his villain in order to reveal the human side of Myers; one such moment is towards the climax when he willingly takes it off in an attempt to connect with his sister. This only further reminds us of the human, making Myers, as a character, less and less effective. In this way, Rob Zombie clearly situates his film in the lineage of the lesser sequels as he continues to build off the assumption that audiences want to know more about Myers but, by grafting a cliché backstory, only really succeeds in drawing attention to the film’s lack of imagination and insight.
It also reflects the total lack of awareness that I had mentioned earlier that manifests itself in other parts of the film. Rob Zombie repeats many of the events of the first film, but the whole time I found myself questioning: why? He repeats Laurie’s visit to the Myers house, the stalking incidents and Loomis’ graveyard visit nearly verbatim, yet it always feels more like going through the motions. Sure, the crucified animal is a spin but what purpose does it serve beyond saying that Myers is a ruthless torturer of small creatures? When he repeats the instance in which Myers dresses up as a ghost and assaults the first girlfriend post-sex, it also feels more like an example of bland remaking than any actual commentary on the original film or his reboot. This is, perhaps, the most frustrating aspect of the reboot; Zombie is very aware of the source material and plays close to it for the second half of the film, but does very little with it other than dousing the characters in blood.
All this to say: Rob Zombie’s Halloween remains a frustrating film for me. I had high hopes coming in to this series that I would re watch and finally understand it, but on a personal level I just can’t. It doesn’t help that the film is tedious, either; one of the saving graces of even the weaker sequels is their brevity, a concept that is apparently lost on Zombie. His film is tedious, and the repeated attacks make the violence less affective and more boring as they go on. I’m sure there’s a demographic to which Zombie’s white trash reimagining of Myers speaks, but it doesn’t to me.