I remember back when I first heard that Rob Zombie was doing a remake of Halloween and my initial thought was “How the fuck could anyone remake that?! That movie’s perfect!” However, nostalgia has a way of clouding memory so I was curious to watch them back to back with an open mind and see if the original was in fact as perfect as I remembered it being.
Both films follow the same basic plot in which a young Michael Myers murders his older sister and is subsequently locked away in an insane asylum that he escapes from years later. He is relentlessly pursued by Dr. Loomis, his childhood psychologist, who knows that Michael is returning to Haddonfield to find his other sister and kill anyone who gets in his way. Aside from some scenes in the remake that pay homage to the original that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Some changes in the remake were relatively small like the fact that Michael is ten rather than six and that in the remake he also kills his sister’s boyfriend as well as his stepfather. Other changes however are so large that they fundamentally alter who he is as a character as well as his storyline as a whole. The biggest of these would certainly have to be the choice to spend multiple scenes establishing Michael’s home life as well as his progression into darkness and his time working with Dr Loomis in the institution. On one hand I respect that Zombie didn’t want to simply do a shot-for-shot remake and was trying to put his own spin on the mythology. On the other hand there were some significant problems with his approach, primarily centering on his interpretation of Myers as a character.
What makes Michael Myers so chilling in the original is that he is a representation of inherent evil, a seemingly ordinary boy that commits a murder for unknown reasons and then never speaks again. Having him be only six at the time makes it that much creepier as well. Zombie tries to establish him as more of a troubled, angry kid who is bullied (both at school and at home) and starts killing animals on his way to becoming a full fledged murder. We don’t know much about Michael’s childhood in the original but the fact that it seems to be a very ordinary, middle-class upbringing without any indication of abuse or trauma makes his sudden murderous turn and subsequent psychosis far more frightening and mysterious.
Furthermore, if Zombie is trying to sell Michael’s traumatic childhood as the reason for his psychotic behavior (a perfect storm as Loomis puts it) then we should have seen a far worse childhood than we did. Sure, his stepfather’s a dick but more of just an angry bully than anything else and nothing we see indicates he is actually physically or sexually abused. He also isn’t completely neglected since he has a mother that cares deeply for him. Truly there are people with far worse childhoods who don’t become murders and if you are going to approach it from that angle you really need to commit to it, not take a half-measure.
Now, I am no expert on mental health and I haven’t sat down and read the DSM from cover to cover but I do know enough to know that the remake presents a grossly inaccurate portrayal of what a true sociopath is. If he was an actual sociopath, he would be completely devoid of empathy and compassion at all times not just when it was convenient for the plot. In other words, the way he was presented in the original.
Speaking of the original I did happen to notice a few chinks in the armor this time around. It is of course an undisputed classic and a very important, influential horror film but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas where there is room for improvement. For instance, in the original Michael jumps into a car and is able to immediately drive it. He was six when he was put away and the throw-away line Loomis gives about someone at the institution probably teaching him doesn’t even come close to justifying his ability to do that or make any sense whatsoever. Neither does the fact that Loomis doesn’t think to report the highly recognizable car that Michael is driving as stolen even though he knows exactly where he is going with it. I would also knock the original for having Michael walking around in broad daylight in his super creepy mask without arousing suspicion but the same thing happens in the remake so I guess that aspect is a wash.
All in all I can’t say that the original is exactly perfect, but it gets the important things right in crafting a creepy, suspenseful slasher that is well acted overall and still holds up nearly four decades later. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to like in Zombie’s adaptation. He is, after all, an amazing showman and his version has enough blood, boobs and slick set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout (even if the scenes between Loomis and Michael as a boy do drag on way too long). So in and of itself the remake is fine for what it is but it’s over-the-top characters and excessive backstory make for a film that is easily outclassed by the haunting menace of the original.