If I were a Carpenter: Rob Zombie’s Halloween

Poster for Halloween (2007)I’ve just seen the remake of Halloween, directed by Rob Zombie. I’m a big admirer of Zombie’s last film, The Devil’s Rejects – the chap clearly has talent – and I’m not adverse to the concept of horror remakes, but this one disappointed me.

John Carpenter’s 1978 original earned its reputation as a genre classic with an autumnal, Halloween-night atmosphere, a brooding sense of suspense and a handful of well-executed shocks. As with so many horror classics, the story’s simplicity worked in its favour.

Unfortunately, Zombie’s film replaces mood and tension with pace and blood – lots of blood – and his story is over-egged. What Carpenter spent five minutes on (Michael Myers as a child), Zombie spends 50. That’s literally half the film. Consequently, any chance of there being any suspense is, um, suspended.

Having seen him bullied at home and school, we know exactly who Myers is and, like Dr Loomis, can have a decent stab – no pun intended – at figuring out his motives for smashing and slashing. Near the end of the film, when Laurie Strode asks Loomis whether Michael is the ‘boogeyman’ (echoing an exchange from the original movie), the answer this time ought to be: “No – he’s just a very naughty boy.”

The second half of the film takes John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original story and strips out the tension-building scenes until the film resembles a collection of Halloween 1978’s ‘greatest hits’, albeit shot and edited in a kinetic, frenetic style. Come the final showdown, I’d lost interest in what Zombie was trying to do; instead, I was thinking how well-crafted the original film was.

Looking at the good horror remakes – The Fly, The Thing*, Dawn Of The Dead – it’s noticeable that they’re not really remakes at all; they’re films that have taken the title and premise of another movie and used them to knit something fresh.

I get the sense that Zombie tried to do something similar with Halloween but, in story terms, was far too respectful of the original. By choosing to add to it, rather than completely rewrite it, he stripped it of its power. The resulting film is, basically, Halloween: The Prequel, followed by a sped-up, punk cover version of Carpenter’s classic. A trick that’s, sadly, no treat.

* The original movie’s title was The Thing From Another World, and Carpenter’s version went back to the 1938 novella. But you know what I’m sayin’ – the best ‘remakes’ are often anything but.

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