One of the charms of John Carpenter’s Halloween, about a psychotic killer named Michael Myers who goes on a homicidal rampage on October 31, was that he employed loads of low budget trickery to create a cinematic treat that has helped elevate the movie’s status beyond the horror genre.
Released in 1978 on a shoestring budget, $300,000, the little compromises director Carpenter had to make to get his movie finished are what give it personality. From the spray-painted Captain Kirk mask Myers wore to the fake fallen leaves carried from scene to scene because the budget only allowed for so many, the film was in every way indie. But it was also scary as hell, and upon its release became the highest-grossing independent film ever made at that time.
Fast-forward 29 years to 2007 and director Rob Zombie’s Halloween, a re-imagining of the classic horror film. The budget? $20 million. Small by current standards, true, but still well beyond what it took to create the original. And though it’s obvious Zombie is a fan, his version lacks the rough-around-the-edges, DIY spirit of Carpenter’s original.
That’s not to say Zombie hasn’t constructed a frightening film – it had plenty of jolts and even a few unexpected twists.
The movie’s first act explores Michael Myers (face and all) as a tormented boy of 10. The demons brewing inside him are beginning to exhibit themselves in violent and disturbing ways. He’s also dealing an abusive father-in-law, a taunting sister and the bullies at his school. We know that at some point the youngster is going to snap, and when it happens it’s horrifying to watch.
It’s around this time Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell taking over for the late Donald Pleasence) enters the picture as a child psychologist intent on helping Michael. Of course we know how well that turns out.
The movie drags in the first half with the young Michael. As a consequence, the latter half, when adult Michael breaks out of a mental institution and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, IL, felt rushed, when more could have been done to prolong the suspense.
The film picks up in the late going, as Michael hunts his now teenage sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton in the role made famous by Jamie Lee Curtis). One of the most effective sequences is a cat-and-mouse chase through the decrepit Myers house as Michael pursues her.
Where Halloween lacks in the suspense department it makes up in gore, and plenty of it — likely no surprise to fans of Zombie’s movies. This Michael Myers, aside from being handy with the papier mache, is especially savage as he dispatches his victims. He’s also wickedly strong and more nimble than the lurching 1978 Michael Myers. There’s also more T&A, although Laurie retains her good girl status.
As a horror movie Rob Zombie’s Halloween comes through on sheer scares and I can appreciate what he was trying to do in telling the psychotic mass murderer’s back story – but it lacks the atmosphere, pace and originality of John Carpenter’s classic. Carpenter may have started with less, but he ended with more.