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Halloween

Published by Nena Shankin

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Directed by Rob Zombie

Man vs. Myth

I’m of the belief that, from a creative standpoint, there is almost nothing sacred in Michael Myers’s story. Someone compared the Myers myth to Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and other characters like that. Just like it’s okay to have some radically different and conflicting stories of origin for these characters, it should be okay to do so with Michael Myers. He’s that big, that universal, and that mythological, that he’s pretty much gone “open source” on us with his story. That’s why I’m okay with Zombie’s changes, and part of me probably wishes he made some more.

I feel that instead of copying so much of the original, a few homages would have been better. For example, just as in Carpenter’s version, Laurie at one point says, “Was that the Boogeyman?” I love that line, but after so many scenes of near-verbatim dialogue, this just felt like another line that Zombie was copying. Had he worked to make the rest of the film more original, I think that ominous line could have been so much more effective; it could have been a great way to join the two films, meaning that we could have two very different versions, but they meet at that line: Was that the Boogeyman?

A flaw that I see in the new Halloween is the same flaw I saw in Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses: we don’t care about the people we’re supposed to care about. In only three pictures, it’s obvious that Zombie always wants us to sympathize with “the monster.” It didn’t work in Corpses because they were shallow, cookie-cutter “psycho hicks.” It worked in The Devil’s Rejects because the characters became more appealing through humor, personality, and the presence of an even bigger “monster.” And it doesn’t work in his version of Halloween because Myers, this version’s protagonist, comes across as either:

  1. A really messed up kid with a case of “bad family life,” or
    2. A really silent, really tall guy who tends to kill people for no good reason.

No Sympathy For Lord Vengeance

Half of Halloween is dedicated to showing us just how messed up Michael’s childhood really was. His sister treats him like dirt, and his mom’s boyfriend treats him even worse. His mother actually cares and worries about him, but she’s too busy winning the bread for the family by taking her clothes off. And of course, there’s Michael’s baby sister, perhaps the only one who “gets him” because, well, she can’t talk. Zombie’s choice to use the “bad family life” angle is fine with me, but I feel that it was a little mishandled.

If I’m supposed to sympathize with this “poor kid,” then why is he killing an innocent animal the first time I see him? After that, I don’t care if his family treats him like trash; this kid’s messed up! I hate him already! And while the whole “white trash” setting seems to be Zombie’s thing, it feels like it’s been done before (we see it emphasized a lot in real life, too).

It just feels like a letdown to have the “mythical” Michael Myers’s back-story be, “Well, he had a trashy, poor, abusive family….” It’s just so…ordinary (wow, how messed up is our world when something like that feels ordinary?), and I personally think some else would have been better. Sticking with the mythological motif, was Zeus’s story that ordinary? What about Hercules? Or Frankenstein’s monster? I mean, I loved The Devil’s Rejects, but if I found out that their back-story was simply a bad family existence, I’d label that as being lame and disappointing. Is it Zombie’s point to de-myth the myth? To “humanize” the Shape? Well, he succeeding in not making it “mythological,” but I don’t know if he “humanized” him very much, either.

Now, when it comes to the point that Myers has grown up, his character has already hidden behind a proverbial wall: his mask (or his mangy hair, depending on his mood). If I don’t already care about Myers by now, this brute isn’t going to change much. He sits in his cell making creepy masks all day until he finally gets a chance to break free and start cracking some necks — even those that belong to people who were “good to him” (as Danny Trejos’s laughable delivery remind us). Do I really want to “feel for” someone like that? Not really. I know I keep harping on the sympathy factor, but it’s because if I don’t care about anyone in this movie, why in the world am I sitting through it?

So: is there anyone care-worthy in the film? Why, yes, plenty of people. Even through Sheri Moon Zombie’s stiff acting, I felt for Michael’s mother. Her son performed many evils, but she still visits him in the institution without fail. She talks to him, looks at the masks he’s created, and tries to assure him that once he gets better, he’ll finally be able to come home. A moment I really liked comes when the young Michael commits another murder and is struggling to break free from the institution’s security. Dr. Loomis and his mother rush in and his mother, horrified, approaches Michael. In his rage and current state, he turns and attempts to attack his own mother.

What I liked most about this moment is that his mother’s reaction shows that she was less horrified by her son’s gruesome killing as she was by the fact that her son would actually try to attack her, the one person who has unconditionally loved and accepted him. It also shows and foreshadows that once Michael clicks into this state of mind, there are no prisoners; no one is safe, not even those who cared for him.

But again, this doesn’t help me feel bad for Michael, it helps me feel bad for his mother.

Unlike other people I’ve talked to, I liked the Laurie of this film. I liked all of the younger girls. They were beautiful, fresh-face unknowns (to me, at least) who had more chemistry and acted much more naturally than the girls of Carpenter’s original. The character of Laurie is pretty much the same as the original, though I think Jamie Lee Curtis felt a little tougher, while this new Laurie feels a little more like a regular, modern teen (who happens to be chaste). I do wish a little more originality was given to her character to differentiate her from her predecessor, but I was even willing to let that slide a bit. The real problem with her character, as with the character of Michael’s mother, is that we don’t see enough of her. I wanted more; when she showed up halfway through Zombie’s film, I thought, “Geez, I wish she was here all along!” Plus, her reaction at the ending was awesome.

But that’s my whole point with the “sympathy factor,” even if it took forever to get to it. Zombie has care-worthy characters in Halloween, but he pushes them to the background, limiting our sympathy into short bursts. Michael’s mother is a supporting character. Laurie is only in half of the film. The result felt emotionally choppy: “You can feel for this person, but only for a little bit. Okay, now this person, but only for a little bit.” And the one constant throughout the film, the one guy that we get enough time to actually know — well, I already told you how I feel about him.

Iconography

As with the 1978 film, I feel the Halloween theme is misused in this film. It’s implemented a little too often to be an “homage,” but it almost never feels at home, either. The placement is awkward and so blatant that it calls way too much attention to itself. You almost feel like you have to give Zombie a pat on the back and give him a treat. A lot of times, Zombie uses the theme as a crutch. There are moments when we see Myers as a blurred figure in the background of our scene, but instead of letting his eerie silence and presence do the scaring, Zombie cues the music. “Oh, I get it, now I’m supposed to be scared.” I can only think of one time when the director actually let Myers show up without shoving the theme down my throat, and that’s during a sideways shot of Annie and the child she babysits walking down the street at night. Myers stands behind them, nearly out of the frame, nearly forgotten. This was a good moment in the film.

I will say, though, that there is one part where the theme worked absolutely perfectly. There’s a scene where Myers carries Laurie’s body out of a house and down a moonlit street. The theme plays, and for the first time in the film, it felt right. The shot itself is particularly iconic without being derivative.

Another shot that I loved even more occurs when Myers returns to his old home in order to retrieve a knife and his mask (let’s just ignore the gaping chasm in the logic of this plot development). He breaks into the floorboards and digs the objects out. He finds the mask, and holds it up in his hands, looking at it. It’s almost as if he’s holding a severed head. Perhaps it’s meant to represent another entity — to show that there are two separate people involved, and only one of them is a killer.

When is a Mask Not a Mask?

This isn’t the first time that the idea is presented so concretely in the film. A moment I found interesting occurs when the young Michael is in the institution. His mother asks him why he did “those bad things” to her boyfriend and his sister. Michael simply and comfortably answers that he didn’t do those things. That it wasn’t him. If I’m looking at the film correctly, I think he might be telling the truth. Almost every time Michael kills, he’s wearing a mask, and the exception would be during his massacre at the institution; at that point, one could argue that:

  1. his hair was his mask, and/or
    2. his psychotic break (when he killed the nurse as a kid) was so severe that the innocent Michael ceased to exist.

I always hear that when traumatic things happen to people, they often build a wall — a separation — to deal with it. I’m assuming that Michael’s masks represent this wall. You see, I would have liked to have explored this notion so much more than the “bad family life” idea. I know, his family’s treatment of him is partially what caused the break, but it could have taken up less space and time. And yes, I also realize that the “psychotic break” idea may be as unoriginal as the “bad family life” one, but I really think Zombie stumbled upon something when he paralleled it with Michael’s masks.

Or what about exploring Michael’s killing nature coupled with his sexual frustration? We hear a lot in the news about serial killers who have that sort of problem, and if you look at Halloween, you can see it there, too. He kills his sister and her boyfriend right after they finish having sex (but not before he himself attempts to caress his sister questionably). His mother can’t watch over him because she’s a stripper. Years later, he kills two of his victims as they are involved in sexual acts as well. There’s something to this, but instead of it being a more interesting twist on Zombie’s take, it takes the backseat, becoming a “did you notice” concept as in the original Halloween.

For a movie that I hadn’t planned on seeing, and for one that I’m really not that satisfied with, Zombie’s take on Halloween brought a lot of different thoughts to my head. If the film was a little more original and compelling, imagine how much longer this review would have been….

 

 

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