In the 2000s, the Halloween franchise had become ridiculous and embarrassing. Michael Myers, the hulking babysitter hunter sometimes just called “The Shape”, had become a joke. Over the course of eight films, Michael was given several family members, plenty of false deaths, cult connections, and he was even karate-kicked out of a window by Busta Rhymes. Every new film tarnished the original that much more, to the extent that the sequels were borderline unwatchable.
The franchise needed to be updated and reimagined, which director Rob Zombie brought with his 2007 remake/reboot, boldly titled Halloween. The film was met with apprehension or just unbridled scorn, with horror fans complaining that few were interested in how Michael Myers came to be evil. A decade later, and after the release of the director’s preferred cuts of both films, Rob Zombie’s Halloween proves to be a modern-day horror classic that took the story in startling new directions. The film never deviates from the dread that Michael Myers has brought since 1978.
Rob Zombie’s filmography has always been unfairly judged. He writes and shoots adventurous horror films that are equal parts fantastic and maddening. In one scene he can show a moment of gripping and genuine horror like few other American horror filmmakers can pull off. In the next, he has an awkward scene set to whatever moody 1970s song is on Zombie’s mind. Frustration aside, there is something both daring and foolish in Zombie’s missteps. Zombie’s previous films 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses and 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects also divided viewers. Some saw them as a horrific mixture of scares and uncomfortable laughs. Others saw them as just loud, cruel, and exhausting.
None of these assessments are incorrect. Regardless of their clear faults, Zombie’s work before and after the Halloween films were original romps that winked their way through the grotesque sides of a genre that had honestly become boring and oddly dull. The Halloween films are a perfect example of Rob Zombie’s directing style. He is original and derivative in almost equal amounts, yet his films are never less than riveting, making him an inspired choice to direct Halloween.
Zombie’s Halloween begins with Michael Myers as a 10-year old child (Daeg Faerch). His family is dysfunctional to an almost campy degree. His stepfather (William Forsythe) leers at Michael’s sister (Hanna R. Hall), while Michael’s mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) away dancing to 70s classic rock at a strip club. His stepfather throws homophobic slurs at him, and older kids attempt to make him feel embarrassed at his mother’s occupation. Michael is clearly disturbed, killing neighborhood animals and taking photos of them. Giving Michael Myers a believable backstory is refreshing after the ridiculous directions the Halloween franchise had previously taken. While the moments of bullying and abuse may be rote and a little predictable, they make far more sense than almost any other backstory could hope to be.
At school, Michael can no longer take the bullying he is being subjected to. After class on Halloween, he savagely beats his bully to death. While it is to be expected that Michael will kill (even as a child), it is the way the attack is presented that truly pushes it beyond most other horror films and all other horror remakes. Zombie chooses to linger on the pain of the bully as he is beaten to death with a large tree branch. This, like all other attacks in Zombie’s Halloween, is slow and grueling.
Unlike the original films, these aren’t quick deaths of nameless teenagers whose light is effortlessly extinguished. Michael’s victims beg him to stop as they are slowly beaten or stabbed. Some survive the attacks, lying bruised and frail. While other horror films that were released around 2007’s Halloween seemed to have an uncomfortable level of playfulness with the inventive deaths of characters, Zombie clearly doesn’t want people to enjoy the murders. They are difficult to watch in a way that recalls 1986’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It is impossible to feel anything but discomfort and emptiness during these killings.
The last two acts of Halloween (2007) are a remake of the 1978 original film. Michael Myers, now a huge masked beast of a man, breaks out of a psychiatric hospital and returns to Haddonfield on Halloween. We are introduced to Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), a teenager who is not quite as pure as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie, but who is a more developed character. The director’s cut shows more of Laurie bonding with her adopted mother, while Myers looks on in the distance. This is a far calmer and more delicate Zombie than he has shown in any other film. Moments like this make it all the more painful when Myers starts killing off people close to Laurie.
The final act wisely brings up 1981’s Halloween II’s revelation that Laurie is actually Michael’s sister. A scene where Myers confronts Laurie and holds up a photo of them as children is easily the most sympathetic we’ve ever seen him. It is almost like Myers is pleading with Laurie to bring him back to some semblance of fragile normalcy that he faintly remembers from his childhood. At this moment, Michael Myers isn’t “The Shape” or “The Boogeyman.” He is a damaged person that was mistreated by the world. This revelation feels earned and not forced.
At the end of the film, Laurie aims a gun to an injured Michael’s head and pulls the trigger. While the character of Laurie would become more defensive in 1998’s Halloween: H20 and would become a subpar “Sarah Connor” in David Gordon Green’s sequel to the original film, Taylor-Compton’s Laurie reacts to the mayhem in a more realistic manner. She isn’t cowering behind an adult, wondering if Michael is dead. Myers has killed her family, her friends, and she wants him gone. The strength of Taylor-Compton’s Laurie is made even more prevalent in 2009’s Halloween II.
After the events of Halloween (2007), her character is bruised, broken, and suffering from PTSD. Laurie acts like Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks had Laura survived and not been murdered. Although 2009’s Halloween II definitely has more obvious faults than Halloween (2007), Taylor-Compton’s performance is consistently fantastic. Her version of Laurie Strode is a better and more developed character than Jamie Lee Curtis’s original version.
Like almost every Rob Zombie film, Halloween (2007) was unfairly judged upon release, and it has only improved with age. While it is definitely not as enjoyable or carefully constructed as John Carpenter’s original film, it takes an inventive and risky spin on the characters of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. While 2018’s Halloween is an entertaining popcorn movie, Zombie’s Halloween is the type of dark and disturbing story that feels uncomfortably real.