Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ Films

Halloween (2007) poster

Halloween (2007) Directed by Rob Zombie. Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, Nick Mennell, William Forsythe, Dee Wallace, Pat Skipper.

In 2006 Dimension Films founder Bob Weinstein asked musician turned horror director Rob Zombie to helm a remake of the original Halloween, granting him nearly complete control over the entire film: script, music, direction, and production. Before setting out to make the film Zombie contacted John Carpenter, who urged him to go ahead and “make it [his] own.” Having a blessing from one of the great masters of horror, that’s precisely what he did… For better or for worse.

I have mixed feelings about Zombie’s films. House of 1,000 Corpses I found entertaining but forgettable; I may revisit it in the future. The Devil’s Rejects showed that he has a talent for intense, visceral horror that hearkens back to similarly styled films from the seventies. Unfortunately the structure of the film places a group of reprehensible mass murderers, the titular Rejects, into the role of “good guys”. These were killers that, unless I misunderstood something, I was supposed to root for but instead I found so detestable that I cheered for their deaths at the end. I understand that there are times when it is appropriate to root for the villain, particularly when the moral code of the characters is reversed or if the “bad guys” are somehow more honorable than the lawmen that are pursuing them. But there is none of that in Rejects. The Rejects perform horrible, terrible violence upon undeserving people and I hated them. Their fate seems intended to evoke an emotional resonance that I rejected. In spite of all of this, I was drawn towards the intensity and the gritty, throwback style. Not to mention that when a film elicits such an emotional response from me, I grow more fascinated by it no matter what I felt. But now that I’ve gone on enough about Rejects, it’s time to move on to the movie I actually intended to review…

In Rob Zombie’s Halloween Michael Myers (played as a ten year old by Daeg Faerch) is no longer the embodiment of “pure evil” that he was in Carpenter’s original. Zombie adds a larger back-story in an attempt to explain his murderous rampage and it works fairly well in spite of some of the cliches utilized. If you guessed that Michael came from an abusive home, you nailed it. His stepfather, Ronnie (William Forsythe), sits around the house verbally abusing his stepchildren, claiming he’d actually beat them if he wasn’t recovering from an injury. Michael’s mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), is a stripper, a fact which gives the bullies at school plenty of ammunition with which to torment poor Michael. She loves her children but needs to work Halloween night at the club instead of taking her son out trick or treating. She leaves that task to her teenage daughter Judith (Hanna R. Hall), but Michael’s sister would rather sleep with her boyfriend (Adam Weisman). It all comes to a head when Michael brutally beats the school bully to death with a large tree branch. Later that Halloween night he kills his stepfather and sister but spares his baby sister Angel.

Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcom McDowell), who has already been seeing Michael for his mental issues, continues to try caring for him in a sanitarium. But after Michael murders a nurse (Sybil Danning), the young killer goes silent, never speaking to anyone again. He grows into an enormous man (former WCW wrestler Tyler Mane), his 6′ 8″ form towering over everybody else around him. He escapes the sanitarium during, you guessed it, a routine transfer. Gotta have one of those if we’re going to give our slasher an opportunity to escape confinement. After brutally killing the guards he heads home to Haddonfield where he begins searching for his sister, who now lives with a new family and is named Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). But what is his purpose in pursuing his long lost sister?

Halloween (2007) is not a film for fans who appreciated the original for its lack of gore. Zombie’s style falls more or less into the so-called “torture porn” horror subgenre, with its dull and dark color palette, bleak tone, and extreme violence. By the time we get past the murder of Michael’s family, we’ve seen several times the amount of blood compared to what flowed in the first two Halloween movies. At the end of both movies you’ll probably see as much, if not more of it than all of the previous films in the franchise combined. It’s movies like this that might cause some newcomers to the original Halloween to wonder what all the fuss is about.

Boy, does that camera shake a whole hell of a lot. Almost any time someone or something is hit, the camera shakes from the impact. The first time it happened I found it effective. Young Michael hits one of his victims with a baseball bat and the shock of the action combined with the camera shake made for an unsettling moment. But it grows tiresome by the end of the movie. There is a scene where Michael is pursuing a character who is hiding in the attic. He uses a two by four to smash through the ceiling from below and the camera is jarred with each impact, over and over again. By the time he stops, the trick has become a parody of itself. It may not sound like much but when it’s a part of each attack or chase sequence, it really starts to get in the way.

Zombie knows how to cater to a genre audience by tossing in a number of notable cameos, and I admit that I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. Horror fans will enjoy Ken Foree’s appearance as an unfortunate truck driver in a bathroom stall. Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Dee Wallace, Richard Lynch, Bill Moseley, and Udo Kier, along with some others I probably didn’t recognize or remember, also make appearances. Danielle Harris returns to the franchise, not in a cameo but in the larger role of Annie Brackett, one of Laurie Strode’s friends. Her character is at least ten years younger than she is, but no matter. She continues to be an impressive “scream queen” and it’s cool to see her return to the series that made her famous. Malcolm McDowell, that old droog of mine, takes over the role of Dr. Loomis and he turns in a solid performance. I kind of missed the campiness of the hysterical doomsayer that Donald Pleasance brought to the role but I can see where that’s not Zombie’s kind of thing. Scout Taylor-Compton gets major props for enduring what must have been a brutal physical experience while performing as the iconic “final girl” Laurie Strode. Most of the actors in this film go through hell and I hope they were all paid greatly because of it.

I also found Tyler Mane to be an effective Michael Myers. This might even be my second favorite Myers performance in the entire series. In some of the more recent films I felt he wasn’t intimidating enough, particularly in Resurrection. Zombie must have had similar thoughts when he cast Mane in the role. There’s no way Busta Rhymes is going to karate kick this version of Myers off of his feet.

I was not overly impressed by Zombie’s Halloween remake but I was not bored by it. Again, I do enjoy the dark tone of his films, as well as others of a similar style, though I sometimes struggle to find a point to some of the overly disturbing violence. I can tolerate disturbing for its own sake but I have boundaries. Halloween (2007) did not really push them.

I am, however, reaching a point of Halloween burn-out, no matter what the style. But there’s only one more to go… time to buckle down and see this ride to the end…

Halloween (2009) poster

Halloween II (2009) Directed by Rob Zombie. Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Wright Vanek, Bea Grant, Angela Trimbur.

When we last left poor Laurie Strode, she was in bad shape. She seemingly defeated Michael Myers but has suffered from her experience and is now stunned, wandering the streets of Haddonfield in the pouring rain. Sheriff Lee Brackett finds her and takes her to the hospital… but though they may think Myers is dead, this night of terror is not over yet.

Rob Zombie, at first reluctant to direct the sequel, reconsidered and signed on to helm Halloween II after taking a year to rest from the exhausting experience of the previous film. Without being forced to follow the outline of any of the previous Halloween films, he now had the chance to take the new story of Michael Myers in a completely different direction. And to be honest, I think I zoned out on the movie. I seem to have reached the point of Halloween overload and can no longer form a legitimate opinion on these films. Mike Myers here, Mike Myers there… it’s been all about him these past few weeks and frankly the guy is getting on my nerves. Now he’s taking himself even more seriously and I just can’t be bothered. Let’s go through some stray observations and get this over with.

There were a couple of beautiful long distance shots of a character framed by their environment that gave me hope. But, alas, visually that was as good it got for me. It maintains the same dark and gritty tone that I like but there was nothing as inspired as those few shots.

Unsurprisingly Halloween II (2009) is tremendously bloody and violent, featuring what is probably the most brutal slaying in the entire franchise as Michael stabs a nurse (Octavia Spencer) to death, plunging a knife into her back over and over and over again. Other characters suffer some horrendous violence but, with the possible exception of the ending, it’s all eclipsed by the death of the nurse.

It also features what could be one of the biggest cheats I’ve ever seen in recent memory. As Michael pursues Laurie from the hospital to the parking lot, she makes her way to the security guard’s hut. She tries to hide inside but Michael still finds her. He continues his pursuit… and then she wakes up. We realize Laurie was reliving her memory of that Halloween night a year past in a dream. If there’s one thing I hate it’s the “and it was all just a dream” device. It’s bad enough at the end of a story but using it to cut a scene short early on felt amateurish, as though Zombie was too lazy to write an ending for the chase sequence that would allow both Michael and Laurie to survive. Too much to explain, I suppose. Leave it to the audience to write it themselves.

If you have any loyalty to the character of Dr. Samuel Loomis as a passionate man on a mission to save Haddonfield, put it aside. Zombie’s version of Loomis has let his role in the tragedy go to his head. He’s written a second book, The Devil Walks Among Us, about Myers and is reveling in his new found celebrity status. But Loomis carelessly reveals that Laurie and Michael are siblings, a fact which Laurie apparently had yet to learn until she picked up a copy of the book. Weird. I thought she knew so her reaction was confusing to me. Anyway, Loomis doesn’t bother to come to the rescue until the end of the film as his moment of redemption. I appreciate the character arc Zombie attempted to give to Loomis but I kind of missed Donald Pleasance hysterically rushing around town, trying to warn the entire town of Haddonfield of its impending doom.

Sheri Moon Zombie stars again as Deborah Myers, even though her character died in the previous film. I don’t really care much for her as an actress; I’ve always found her line deliveries to be fairly wooden. I was looking forward to getting to watch a Zombie film without her but there she was, appearing to her son, and later on to Laurie, in a series of visions, cheering for him to finally bring his sister back into the family fold. Michael also sees himself in these visions as a young boy (this time played by Chase Wright Vanek) accompanying his mother because, you know, symbolism. Apparently Judith is the family member they wished they never had since she’s not hanging out with her mom. There’s a white horse too, meant to represent… the desire of the audience to be free of boring visions? Whatever it is, I mostly found these bits tedious, though they are for the most part mercifully brief.

After it was over I didn’t really have any idea if I liked it or not. Halloween II (2009) was a film that Rob Zombie made. It features a re-imagining of characters from the original film. There is a lot of blood and killing. You might enjoy it. You might not. Or you might not be able to tell, much like I couldn’t. I opted for the theatrical version of the movie but there is an “unrated”/director’s cut that may have swayed me more in one direction or another. Who knows? Who cares? For me it’s all over. Until the next sequel comes along…

Pumpkin from 'Halloween' opening credits

There you have it. I slogged my way through all ten of the Halloween films. A dubious distinction indeed. But hopefully I’ll be able to gather my thoughts together and put the horror loving part of my mind to the task of summing up my feelings in a final post for this year’s Halloween Horror Movie Marathon. And maybe I’ll even get it done before December! Stay tuned!

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