It seems to me that it was around this time last year that I was lambasting the desperately misconceived remake of The Wicker Man. Here we are again, then, with another entry in the disastrous remake sweepstakes. Halloween may be a little more mainstream than is, strictly speaking, the concern of this space, but when has that ever bothered me before? While Rob Zombie’s atrocity is in the theatres, I feel it is my solemn duty to warn you off.
Not that a moment’s thought wouldn’t convince most sane individuals that remaking Halloween is a terrible idea in the first place. Sure, and we’ve been down this road before, there have been very good remakes, and what has distinguished these efforts is that they bring enough new to the table that they stand on their own merits as original works in themselves. Just bringing something new isn’t enough, of course. Plenty new was brought to The Wicker Man, and it was all rubbish, demonstrating a total lack of understanding as to what made the original work.
But granting all this, the problem with Halloween is that it is material that is purely and simply inimical to both remakes and sequels. Something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be remade effectively because its idea, simple as it is, is also very rich, and can be applied to numerous socio-political contexts. Halloween, by contrast, worked because of the absolute and merciless simplicity of its idea. It is one of horror’s most basic classics. But it doesn’t give filmmakers much to move on with (which is why, though it was not a financial success, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was actually a smart move: the notion of a franchise that simply takes the season as its theme and tells a different story each year). How on earth, then, to do a remake that isn’t, like Psycho, a pointless, shot-for-shot remake? The material hardly invites the sort of treatment David Cronenberg gave The Fly.
Rob Zombie clearly loves classic horror, but as a filmmaker, he is much more comfortable emulating the sleazier, rougher side of seventies horror (with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the prime model). Halloween, despite in large measure giving birth to the slasher film, is much more concerned with atmosphere, quiet chills and suspense. There is almost no gore, and its subtler nature is completely dumped by Zombie, who piles on Friday the 13th style blood with Chainsaw-like screaming grotesques. For the first half of the movie, he sets out to explain the origin of Michael Meyers. This is a big mistake. He is not a character who should be explained. His impact in the original was largely predicated on how unexplainable he was, and how ultimately supernatural he was. There was also the stab to the jugular of having him erupt from a respectable middle-class home. Instead of an elaborate tracking shot ending in the reveal of a dead-eyed little boy, Zombie gives us poor, abused, incipiently psychotic Michael growing up in a white trash household. Sigh. He’s also pretty talkative. And while young Daeg Faerch is a pretty disturbing looking kid, this too misunderstands what made the original Michael so frightening in his youth is that he didn’t look like Leatherface’s little brother. He could have been anyone’s son.
So having spent the first half of the film trotting in new, fatally misjudged material, Zombie turns to a Reader’s Digest version of the original for the second half, carbon-copying the greatest hits (with much more gore) but not bothering to let us get to know any of the characters except in the most cursory and unconvincing way. The victims, in their development and dialogue, make your average Friday the 13th nonentity look like something out of Ibsen.
In sum, an idea that should never have been, has been badly executed on top of everything else. Zombie’s love of the genre does not, in this case translate into anything worth watching.
And did I mention it’s dull?