Back in 2003, when Universal announced that they would be remaking Dawn of the Dead, I was livid. How can you remake such a perfect and landmark film? Well, Zack Snyder and James Gunn managed to pull off a feat I thought impossible: they indeed made a damn good film. By taking only the basic concept (“Zombies in a mall”), they made their OWN film, and a good one at that, and provided what should be the template for horror remakes: Take their basic concept, make your own movie.
So when Rob Zombie announced he would be remaking HALLOWEEN, despite my gut instinct to cry foul, I re-watched Dawn 04 to remind myself that remaking a horror classic CAN be done effectively. Plus, Zombie’s previous films were far removed from Carpenter’s style. A modern slasher movie, Rob Zombie style, only the killer happened to be Michael Myers? Suffice to say: I was not only hopeful; I was almost supportive of the film. Considering how increasingly awful the sequels were, he had almost unlimited room to improve.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Rob didn’t trust either himself or the fans enough to truly make his OWN version of HALLOWEEN. Instead, what he did was make a half prequel, half “typical” remake, resulting in a film that could be described at best unfocused and at worst, pointless. It’s the polar opposite of the NOTLD remake, in which for the first 45 min they made the same movie, and then suddenly jolted us out of our memories by totally changing the rest of the film. Here, just when you start getting on board with his original ideas, he begins doing a sped up version of the 1978 film. It’s a tonal and thematic disaster, leaving you to wonder (as Rob himself said a few years back on the subject of remakes, in particular HALLOWEEN): “What’s the point?”
Zombie’s version begins with Michael as a young kid, on HALLOWEEN morning, sometime in the late 1970s. His family members are all degenerates; the only bright spot is his baby sister, who he nicknames “Boo”. Taunted at school by bullies and showing a peculiar interest in dead animals, it’s not too shocking when he snaps and kills a bully. After this (quite good) scene, Michael goes home and essentially recreates the brilliant opening scene of the original, putting on a mask and killing his older sister Judith. Except this time he kills Judith’s boyfriend and the stepfather for good measure.
The problems begin here. We’re only 10 or 15 minutes into the film, and already Zombie has blown his wad. After the disturbing bully scene, Zombie essentially does the same thing 3 more times. Turning the sound effects up to 11 and banking entirely on the ‘shocking’ notion that this is a little kid; the film starts repeating itself, and, none too surprisingly, begins to bore (and even worse, amuse, as young Michael dons the famous mask, looking more like a little person rampaging around). By the time he kills Judith, we’ve already seen the extent of young Michael’s rage enough, and you want to move on.
The film gets back on track here, as the next 10-15 minutes are by far the best part of the film, dealing with Michael’s stay in the Smith’s Grove sanitarium. We meet Ishmael Cruz (Danny Trejo), a custodian who has sympathy for Michael, and of course, Dr Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), a child psychiatrist who is assigned to Michael. Michael is not the mute he was in the original, and the scenes of him with Loomis are effective and interesting. There are also nice scenes of his mother (Sheri Moon, beautiful as ever and 180 degrees away from Baby Firefly) visiting him and trying to retain some semblance of a family bond with this kid. Sadly, Zombie (or, more likely, Dimension) doesn’t seem to think anyone will have patience for this sort of nonsense (or what you might call character development) and almost as soon as it begins, this section of the film ends, and thus lack any real purpose in the grand scheme of things (especially since Loomis and Michael never really connect in the film ever again). Instead, Michael suddenly kills a nurse after his mother gives him a photo of Boo, and then we get a “FIFTEEN YEARS LATER” title card. Now Michael is not only mute, but a giant. We can assume that the photo of Boo reminded him of the one good thing in his life, but why it takes him 15 years to break out (he is shown to have superhuman strength, so it’s not like he had to wait until he was un-cuffed or something) to go find her, and why this makes him mute, is never clear.
After a quick scene or two detailing Michael’s escape, the film begins more or less remaking the original film scene for scene. Not shot for shot, like the 1998 Psycho, but literally just restaging scenes almost at random: Laurie drops a key off at the Myers place despite being warned not to do so by Tommy; Laurie, Annie and Lynda are at school and Laurie sees Michael watching her; Laurie baby-sits Tommy Doyle and eventually Lindsay Wallace so that Annie can screw around with Paul; Loomis discovers a missing tombstone and then finds Sheriff Brackett to try to warn him… and so on. Other than the odd police officer and a totally pointless scene in which Michael kills Laurie’s adoptive parents, literally nothing new happens for the next 40 minutes or so. It’s the Cliff’s Notes version of the original film, with landmark scenes coming out of nowhere and ending as soon as the editor can coherently move along to the next one. Even entire dialogue exchanges are reproduced verbatim, which serves no purpose other than to constantly remind the viewer of a more effective film.
And this is part of the film’s most crippling flaw: Rob (or, again, Dimension) is so intent on keeping the kills coming that the main characters are never actually developed. Brackett, Annie, Tommy, etc are just there because they were there in the original, and we are given almost zero time with them outside of running and screaming (Brad Dourif, as Brackett, doesn’t even get to do that much). The film seems to be banking entirely on our knowledge and love of the character’s original incarnations to accept them as people we are rooting for or interested in watching. But this creates a paradox – if you’ve seen the original, you’ll know their fates, since nothing really changes (one character dies shot for shot, stab for stab, the same as he did in the original film), and if you haven’t seen the original, you’ll wonder why you’re following these random characters all of a sudden, more than halfway through the movie.
In addition to the main characters’ lack of development, there are also too many distracting cameos. Some are fine (Bill Moseley and Tom Towles as sanitarium guards), but others are so out of place that you will be instantly teleported out of the film. Udo Kier literally shows up long enough to repeat a line another character says, and then disappears. What the hell is the point of that? Obviously he had other scenes that were cut, but why not cut them all rather than call attention to obvious tinkering?
On top of all that, the film is never remotely suspenseful or scary. Michael occasionally stops smashing everyone in sight long enough to do one of his creepy stares from afar or through a window or something, but they are few and far between (and again, seem teleported in from the original movie, since THIS Myers is otherwise a juggernaut). For the most part, suspense is simply replaced with violence; we are supposed to be frightened by a giant guy hitting someone we don’t know over and over with a bat or whatever, instead of watching him chase a character we do not want to die.
If you go back and think of the more shocking scenes in slasher movie history, they will all have one thing in common – they were characters you loved. For example, Randy in Scream 2: his death was sudden and brutal, and truly shocking, because he was the favorite character for a lot of people. But how can anyone feel the same way about someone like Laurie’s dad, when he is barely introduced before Michael kills him? That scene in particular was so beyond pointless it’s almost laughable. I hate to keep comparing to the original, but in that film, Michael WAS the boogeyman, calculated but essentially without any real motive. He was not the brother of Laurie – that was something the sequels introduced. He was stalking these girls at random, and that’s what made him so frightening. But here, we know right from the start that his goal is finding Laurie, a.k.a. his baby sister Boo. So why (after standing there and watching her leave with Annie to go baby-sit) does he walk into the Strode home and kill Laurie’s parents? What purpose does it serve? Why not just follow Laurie? Later, again, he attacks Annie and Paul for no reason whatsoever. They are minding their own business, down the street from where Laurie is. There are only two reasons: they died in the original (well, Annie did anyway) so they have to die again here, or someone just felt the film needed another EXTREME moment.
As a director, Zombie is certainly capable, and has shown considerable growth from his first film. He relies on shaky-cam a bit too much, and has apparently never heard of the 180 rule, but for the most part, he definitely gives the film its own look – even when copying scenes verbatim from the original (Bob and Lynda’s murders in particular) you won’t mistake it for Carpenter’s film. Unfortunately, as a writer, he leaves much to be desired. Scenes come and go without any semblance of what you might call ‘narrative flow’, dialogue often sounds unnatural (particularly the banter between the three girls), and nothing he sets up in the beginning has any sort of payoff (Loomis might as well not even be in the film). Ironically, the lack of any cohesion almost benefits the film, as some scenes ARE pretty good on their own. This film will be a great purchase on DVD, as you can skip to any random scene you happen to like and be done with it. I have no desire to watch the whole thing again, but I’d love to revisit the Ken Foree scene.
And whoever was the continuity person on set should be banned from the industry. At one point Michael slams a character against a stall door. On the other side is a giant framed advertisement, which partially falls off and the glass breaks. In the next shot, the ad is intact and unbroken. Later, a character has his eyes gouged out, and it’s a bloody mess, yet when Michael drags the body inside, the face doesn’t have a drop of blood on it. There were several others, and that is not something someone should notice on their first time watching a film. They’re just that blatantly obvious.
Much talk has been made about Zombie giving Michael a motive to kill (one that thankfully did not involve druid cults and impregnating his niece), but that is botched as well. The film would have us believe that Michael snaps when he discovers that his mother works as a stripper (in the film’s most (only?) disturbing scene, Michael looks at a picture of her at the strip club, crosscut with scenes of her dancing at said club, while perennial movie break-up song “Love Hurts” from Nazareth plays on the soundtrack), but yet in the first scene he is killing a rat and we learn moments later that he has already killed several animals, including large dogs. Was he always crazy, or was it the realization that his entire family was comprised of lowlifes? Make up your mind!
So really, what went wrong? Many things, but I think the key element to the film’s failure can be narrowed down to one thing: Rob’s indecision over whether to make a prequel or a remake. He certainly had some good ideas, and the film IS brutally violent in a way few other slashers have ever been, so the film at least delivers on that level. But his bizarre and ultimately crippling dependency on characters, plot devices, and whole scenes from the original film (and even HALLOWEEN II) results in a total mess of a film. You could argue that there was no way to please the fans of the original, but if so, why did he rely entirely on a working knowledge of Carpenter’s film for the 2nd half of the film to even make any sense at times? And even if you hadn’t seen the original or just don’t care about copying things from it, I can’t see how anyone could be excited at the prospect of watching something that comes off more as a collection of deleted scenes than an actual film.
And to bring up Dawn of the Dead again – that remake worked because it was so far removed from the original that you could easily forget about it and focus on the new film. But we are never given that opportunity here. It has nothing to do with personal opinion of whether or not they “work” – Rob directly copies scenes from the original script, and does so more than once or twice. That is a fact. Good or bad, I would much rather he tried to do something unique rather than settle for emulation. Anyone could have done that.
The ads are telling us that this is Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, but that’s a lie. This is Rob Zombie’s John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.
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