Countdown to Halloween: The Legacy of Michael Myers Part 9
In anticipation of the upcoming sequelboot of the Halloween franchise, in which every entry but the first are to be eliminated from canon, I decided to give one last look at the whole series before it is banished into the Soul Stone for good. As it currently stands, the Halloween series has a pretty crazy continuity, complete with alternate endings, ridiculous retcons, and an unrelated anthology entry about magic masks that fill kids’ heads with bugs. There’s a reboot and a sequel to the reboot, both of which have multiple conflicting endings of their own as well. It’s a glorious mess, so there’s really no reason to treat any future story developments as anything out of the ordinary. No, Michael Myers has never made it to outer space, nor has he dueled with another horror heavy (although Halloween vs Hellraiser did almost happen) but he’s certainly been around the block enough times to merit an investigation into just what has kept this killer alive for so long, and just why we are now throwing most of his work in the canonical trash. I will be watching the entire series in order of release, starting with John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic which, for my money, remains one of the finest fright films ever made. Check out the whole series here!
“Evil has a destiny”
Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
Stars: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Sheri Moon Zombie, Danny Trejo, Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe
Michael Myers played by: Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch
Plot: Pretty much the exact same as John Carpenter’s Halloween, only this time, for some godawful reason, we spend the first hour of the movie following Michael Myers as a kid.
Review: This is the mixiest of mixed bags, with half of the movie being a aggressively unpleasant, thoroughly pointless “psychological” drama, and the other half being a heightened retread of a masterpiece, in which “heightened” means “more shaky cam.” I feel Zombie’s reverence for the source material at every turn, and I must commend his inclination to try and bring something new to the story, but short of some cool imagery, this one lands with a sweat-drenched thud.
When I first saw the film back in 2007, I hated everything about it. I never watched it again until now, so I figured that this time around I’d feel a bit different. Back in 07 I was 23 and much more of a contrarian regarding movies (especially horror remakes). Add to that the fact that I’ve spent the last two months digging into a series for which I had little knowledge of at least half the entries, and I figured my initial beef with the film (Michael Myers doesn’t NEED a background) would fade. Given the ridiculous lore heaped upon The Shape in the later entries, how could I fault this one for attempting to do the same? As it turns out, I was half-right. Zombie’s take on the finest slasher of all-time worked considerably better this time around, even if my initial criticism still stands. Unfortunately, it’s still not a very good movie.
Let’s begin with the first half of the film, in which the background and family life of Michael Myers is explored. The difference between the background given to this iteration of Myers and that which was built over the course of the original series is that the original series saw fit to lightly suggest that young Michael’s home life was already troublesome before he became a murderer, while Zombie’s take explicitly shows it. When we look back to the original film, part of what makes it scary is that Myers was from a typical family, and he was just plain evil. The sequels slowly chip away at this (culminating in Resurrection with the suggestion that Michael was kept chained up in the basement of his childhood home - an absolutely moronic development), but never actually show us his youth. At least this way it keeps him a voiceless killer.
Zombie’s film depicts Michael to be a troubled young boy with an abusive, wheelchair-bound stepdad, a single mom who works as a stripper, and an older sister who is your stereotypical “horror slut.” He was bullied at school, and as such, has difficulty fitting in. When he finally snaps and begins murdering people, it’s almost forgiven by the movie, due to his “victim” status. At this point, it becomes hard to tell if the movie is suggesting that he was always evil, learned to be evil, or a little bit of both. Any permutation of these options makes for a weaker, decidedly un-scary killer. Add in a performance that can only be described as one of the worst in the history of child actors, and it really becomes a muddled characterization. Plus, he talks. I hate that Michael Myers talks, even as a kid.
After murdering his sister and stepdad (or maybe it’s just the Mom’s boyfriend - I don’t care), Michael is institutionalized, and a young Dr. Loomis takes on the case. Malcolm McDowell seems to be in a different movie than everyone else. His Loomis is knowingly a bit goofy, cemented by the utterly ridiculous wig he sports to make him look younger. It doesn’t make him look younger. It makes him look like a bad SNL character. During his sessions with the Myers boy, we learn that the murderous child doesn’t remember any of his crimes, and would just like to go home. Over time, Michael descends into a catatonic state, and stops responding to Loomis’ therapy sessions entirely. He becomes obsessed with wearing masks, and eventually kills a nurse who he is left alone with for no reason except to set up a gory kill. Seriously, Loomis is a terrible doctor.
The problem with having this “descent into madness” is that the movie posits he was already insane, while also stating that he wasn’t. It also gives us plenty of expressive dialogue from young Michael which, even if he were written well, would undercut any chance his adult form had of being scary later in the film. In fact, when we do finally get to the more iconic imagery, the Michael Myers who stalks Laurie Strode doesn’t even remotely feel like the same person. Certainly this isn’t the first time that the series has tried to give him a deeper characterization, but it’s definitely the first time that he was treated as “suffering from a mental state.” It doesn’t work at all. Even the most charitable read of the film gives us nothing. Granted, I would never expect Rob Zombie to handle mental illness with subtlety, but what makes Myers scary in the first place is that he cannot be studied at all. Why is he evil? Because he IS evil. That’s it.
In this first half, the violence is pretty brutal, but most of it is shot in a way that feels much less like the master filmmaker who made The Devil’s Rejects, and much more like a music video director who thinks that a grimy color palette and a handheld camera are all you need to invoke fear. Unfortunately, all it invokes is a feeling of revulsion, and a questioning as to why, in a movie that seems interested only in shock, it doesn’t take pains to show the violence with any sort of clarity. If the thematic concerns of the film could be somewhat cleaned up by switching out the mask and eliminating any Halloween reference, branding it as something else entirely, the directing problems could only be rectified by a complete reshoot. For a movie that wishes to modernize the Michael Myers mythology from the ground up, this first act sure does feel lazy from a directing standpoint.
The second half of the movie works a bit better. In a lot of ways, it’s everything I’d want from a remake (that I never wanted to begin with). Perhaps it’s because the Halloween imagery, even when employed for all the wrong reasons, can’t help but suit my taste (perhaps this why horror is so damn franchisable, even when it doesn’t need to be). For the most part, this is a beat for beat retelling of the original film, only shinier, more explicit, and more “metal.” The kills are staged much more cleanly in this portion - perhaps because they are all based on some pre-existing, well-blocked kills - and the pacing much more intense. While it does have identical aims as the first half of the film - basically saying to the audience “isn’t it cool how fucked up this is? - it works better here, because we’ve entered slasher territory, where it’s much easier to use shock value effectively.
I should note that the second act has a title card of “Trick or Treat.” I don’t know why, but it’s as laugh-out-loud hilarious as any of the goofy choices made in act one.
With the first half being such a repugnant slog, the fact that the second half is cramming a 90 minute movie into about 60 minutes is a welcome abbreviation. It’s not necessarily shot-for-shot, a la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, but it hits every beat of the original film. Kudos to Zombie for taking some familiar elements and doing his best to make them slicker and more modern. While the look and feel of this film hasn’t aged well over the past 11 years, it’s in the second half that you can really see Zombie’s reverence for Carpenter’s film, even if it’s a misfire. It’s clear that he does not take the task of updating a stone cold masterpiece lightly, and I must appreciate his efforts at trying something new.
Once again, there’s too much handheld camera for my taste, but overall this looks much more crisp and welcoming. The more intense scenes do ultimately provide some excitement, but it’s still not scary. The town of Haddonfield is depicted with the same autumnal color palette as the original, and our trio of “main” characters have a great rapport with one another, even if their dialogue is absolutely atrocious most of the time. Laurie Strode is depicted well, although her character is wildly inconsistent (she’s the “good girl” except when she’s not). Myers himself is a huge, imposing force, and Zombie captures him in a way that maximizes his physical power. He feels nothing like the pipsqueak child he impossibly grew from, but at this point I’m happy to forget the first half and treat this act like a fun short film version of Halloween.
McDowell is having a blast as the older, now almost always manic Loomis, while Brad Dourif, as Sheriff Brackett, chews an impossible amount of scenery, while also being the most human character in the whole film. He’s even able to work his way around an explanation of how he hid the Myers baby from the world that makes no sense whatsoever (in his version, he didn’t include the baby in his reports of the Myers murders, and then dropped the newly orphaned infant off at a shelter - no mention of how he had a baby, presumably with a birth certificate, scrubbed from existence entirely).
Toward the end of the film, the background given to Myers comes into play rather nicely, if only for a few seconds. Whereas the character should definitely never be humanized, in the instance where his humanization is used to evoke sympathy, it actually kinda works. At the very least, it gives Laurie a moment where she questions her own existence — her own as-to-this-moment unknown dalliance with fate, luck, and family.
A few notes:
Everyone in Haddonfield seems to have a copy of Loomis’ book about Myers. Even Sheriff Brackett just has a copy chilling on his desk, despite his frequent assertions that he finds the book to be garbage and has worked hard to let the town forget its murderous history.
Danielle Harris, who played young Jamie in parts 4 & 5, plays one of the trio of young women who are terrorized by The Shape. As such, she is frequently topless. Granted, I have no qualms about T&A popping up in a slasher film, but there’s something weird about the sexualization of an actress who, up to this point, I’ve only seen as a child.
Really, the nudity in this entry is all a bit pornographic. It certainly comes with the brand of “metal AF” but it’s a big departure from even the more 80s inspired sexuality in the series.
There is one scene, however, that specifically frames the sex as unsexy. So I guess that counts for something. When Lynda and boyfriend are doing it in the Myers house before being killed, it’s an awkward bit of teenaged lovemaking (and a great kill!! More on that below...)
As I said before, this hasn’t aged well, but I am much more forgiving to it, so it evens out. Meh.
The score is mostly Carpenter’s original, although it is beefed up a bit by Tyler Bates.
Don’t Fear the Reaper makes an appearance. A fun tag. Mr. Sandman pops up later as well.
Having mama Myers commit suicide is a nice touch, although I can’t explain why. Having Mr. and Mrs. Strode killed is the one scene in act two which isn’t based on anything, and it’s handled incredibly. It makes me happy that Zombie has chosen to subsequently work in original material rather than remakes. Then again, who could blame him for trying?
Loomis refers to Myers as a “mere shape of a human being.” Nice.
Mickey Dolenz is in this. That is all.
Best kill: In an update of the finest kill from the original film, Zombie heightens the pacing and slightly subverts the events of Bob’s death, while using all of the same imagery. It’s incredibly brutal, and makes great use of the source imagery, putting Bob under the sheet before Myers wears it himself. It’s arguably the best moment of the film, and it is preceded by a hilarious exchange between Bob and Lynda. Take a look:
Best Line: Myers obtains his iconic jumpsuit from a trucker at a filling station, played by none other than genre legend, Ken Foree. The two first meet while Foree’s Big Joe Grizzly is using the toilet. Michael knocks on the stall door, and Grizzly responds:
“Hey buddy, just to give you a heads up, I got a taco deluxe supreme talking back at me, so I’ma be awhile. So do you mind waiting somewhere else and let me pass this beast in peace?”
Worst line: When Loomis decides he can lo longer help young Michael Myers and quits, he says the following ridiculous monologue:
“I really don’t know what else to day, Michael. You haven’t said a word in fifteen years! Christ, that’s a lifetime, That’s nearly twice as long as my first marriage. Wow. It’s strange, Michael. In a weird way you’ve become like... like my best friend. Huh! That just shows how fucked up my life is. I’ve done all I possibly can for you, so I’m sorry to tell you that this is going to be my last day. Michael, I have to move on. I’m sorry.”
Also, as a window into just how aggressively repugnant the first portion of the film is, here’s an exchange between Deborah Myers and Ronnie White (Mama Myers and her BF) that serves as one of the first bits of dialogue in the whole film. It perfectly illustrates just how interested Zombie is in making the film “fucked up” rather than scary.
Deborah Myers: Jesus Christ, Ronnie, you know I have to fucking work tonight. Somebody around here has gotta make some money.
Ronnie White: I'm all broken up here, bitch. I can't work.
D: Yeah, and whose fault is that?
R: Fuck you.
D: My God, you're pathetic.
R: You know that new waitress over at the Bingo Lounge? She's been giving me the freaky eye.
D: Oh, the whore with the big tits hanging down her knees?
R: Maybe I'll choke the chicken, purge my snork all over those flappy ass tits.
D: Good. Well, have a good fucking time!
R: I will.
D: I hope she likes cripples.
R: Bitch, I will crawl over there and I will skull fuck the shit out of you!
D: Oh, I'll get the crutches for you!
::Baby starts crying::
D: See what you did, fucking loud mouth?
R: Waah! Waah! That's all that fucker does is cry. Waah! Waah! Cry and shit, cry and shit. Waah!
D: Just like you; that's all you do is cry and shit.
R: Oh, fuck you. Sit on my pole right now, bitch.
That’s entertainment, I guess!
Dr. Loomis’ Health: He’s a shitty doctor, I’ll tell you that. The younger version of Loomis looks ridiculous. The present day version is about the same as Pleasance’s take on the character, performance-wise, although the script severely weakens him. He’s fine though. He’s certainly not as reckless as his forbear, but he does register as considerably dumber. He looks healthy though.
Mask: This is one thing I really loved about the film. This mask looks awesome. Myers’ eyes are visible right away, and the mask itself looks identical to the one from the original film, but with cracks and dirt all over it from having spent 17 years buried under a house. The hair, which has classically ranged from scary to ridiculous, depending on the angle, looks positively bonkers in the best of ways. The overall look of adult Michael Myers (costumed) is an element that Zombie nailed. A very successful upgrade. Outside of the mask he looks ridiculous and I hate it.
Lore: Zombie’s Halloween combines elements of the first two films, remaking the original and including the familial bonds of killer and victim introduced in the second. The chief difference here is that Myers comes from an abusive household, and it was Deborah Myers’ suicide which leaves Laurie orphaned. Otherwise, this is mostly the same old same old, just grimier, meaner, and pretty pointless. By showing Loomis’ sessions with young Myers we make it so that neither character behaves with any sort of logic during the second half of the film (internal logic, of course), while ensuring that none of it registers as scary - just fucked up. At the end, Myers is killed by a gunshot to the head (or by the gunfire of a squad of policemen, depending on which of the many versions you watch), and Laurie is not in a good place. Loomis may or may not be dead, once again dependent on the version you watch, but at any rate, even in the version where he was “killed,” it’s not definitive enough to eliminate him from this new series. If ever a movie didn’t need to be remade, it’s Halloween. This is a job that no one should’ve had and no one could’ve succeeded at, but I guess you can do far worse than Zombie.