Few Thrills in Rob Zombie’s Brutal ‘Halloween’ Remake

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What do you want your horror movie to do for you? One kind of horror movie offers audiences the viscera of bloodletting as assault. Another offers dread as a means to confront problems spiritual and physical. Either way, the confrontation is a way to find out what’s at stake in your life.

Being marginally religious, but nondenominational to my belly button, I prefer the latter, but sometimes that thrill of the former works pretty well. The problem with Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween” is not that it’s a remake—the problem is more complicated and confusing. Because there is something to like here, but its motivations are muddied up.

Zombie’s often-frantic style is not a Tony Scott concrete-to-the-head bully-fest but the bludgeoning of “Halloween” here will not be ignored —not for a second. There is a confrontation with mortality here, but the outcome feels predetermined, . You will bear witness to an unfolding without tension. You will know who will die in the film, and why, rather shortly. In the second-half, complete with caesura cut to credits, what you don’t get is a logical “why” for Michael’s terror parade. And that part is intriguing, but it’s at odds with the first half’s set up. Why do we need the “why” if we’re going to be told that it meant nothing anyways?

The biggest break from John Carpenter’s seminal, original film is Zombie’s choice to front-load his version of the story with a genesis for Michael Myers, imputing his devilry with a kind of logic and—perhaps more surprising —a sense of sympathy as well.

Part of the horror of Carpenter’s film was that Myers was ostensibly unmotivated: a mute killing machine out to crush sexual awakening. Zombie’s version has a full-on backstory, which is effective in its own right as a crude, black slapstick vision of broken homes and repressed rage, but does little to broaden the scope of the character. Carpenter’s Myers is not a character at all, just evil manifest.

However, in giving Myers characteristics, and then silencing them in a cipher adulthood, Zombie obfuscates his film into having no real scares, only slight thrills, all cued by sound design and jagged editing and the sight of cult actors in minor roles. The “scares” are not scary but ugly displays of brutality, which, oddly, render the nervy buzz of Zombie’s film a dulling of the rage in you rather than an enlivening of your senses.

What saves Zombie’s picture from falling in on itself and its death trap problems is its sense of spatial relationships—in families as well as locales. The hierarchies mean something. The hidden is exploited.

Zombie knows how to make a movie, for sure, but he knows how to make exploitation movies, which is not what Carpenter shot for at all. This makes a remake sound like a good idea, to try something different, but it retains enough of the same themes as the original that it doesn’t exploit its novel ideas enough. Except, of course, in the finale, which is all about a family imploding.

The risk of a family is it failing itself. So when a brother chases his sister through the family home he most literally destroys—in every way imaginable —you understand that no matter what bad shit goes down behind closed doors, it will, in the end, rear its ugly head. What that has to do with horror is a tenuous link, but it has everything to do with Halloween: tomorrow’s dawn is All Saint’s Day. Things will be OK.

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