This is a continuation of my series on Rob Zombie‘s feature films as a director leading up to the Friday release of his latest effort, The Lords of Salem (Read the first entry HERE and the second HERE). I had the opportunity to speak with him at length about all five of his films and am exploring them in chronological order with snippets of my interview interspersed throughout. Today, we consider the fallout Zombie wrought from remaking a seminal film in the horror genre, John Carpenter‘s Halloween.
With his 2007 Halloween remake, Zombie further confounded expectations and courted perhaps the most controversy and outrage the horror genre had ever seen. John Carpenter’s Halloween is considered by its legion of devotees to be a sacrosanct, inviolable masterpiece. With its focus on Michael Myers’ psychology and lifting the veil on the mystery surrounding its iconic boogeyman, Zombie’s film was generally received as a slap in the face to the original’s tone. In my opinion, it should be lauded for its beautifully grimy, stylish design and dead serious approach to presenting brutality.
The scene where Michael kills the bully in the woods is in my opinion one of the best in your entire filmography. You clearly don’t have an interest in romanticizing violence or playing it for laughs (which is what killed the slasher cycle in the first place). What factors have influenced your decision to portray violent acts in such a harsh, realistic fashion?
Rob Zombie (RZ): Because to me, that’s what it should be. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies where the violence is supposed to be funny. Not because I’m personally offended by that in any way, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I find it stupid. People think that I’m a fan of that, even though I try to do the opposite.
I figure if you’re going to have violence, you want people to be horrified. That’s only in horror movies that we have this fucked up thing about that. You wouldn’t watch Taxi Driver and think, “Oh that end shootout, it better be funny.” No. You know it’s going to be horrible and you know you’re going to leave the theater feeling devastated after you just watched it. I always say on the set, “Let’s not think of this as a horror movie.” I wanted to make Halloween as if it could happen, as if it was a drama and it was involving people’s lives caught up in the drama.
Largely due to an outrageously vulgar breakfast scene at the Myers home early in the film, Zombie’s film has become known in some circles as a “White Trash” reimagining of Halloween. I’ll freely admit the first time I saw the movie, I was honestly shocked by the poisonous filth coming out of William Forsythe‘s mouth. I understand the intent was to create a reprehensible stepfather character, but his obscenity reaches cartoonishly epic proportions. It creates a schism between the squalid reality of Michael’s bleak home environment and the gleeful abandon of the over the top screenplay. I won’t say it’s a deal breaker for me, but I do understand how it could take some out of the film and cause a distancing sense of narrative disconnect.
“People misunderstood the first Halloween quite a bit,” Zombie told me. “I wasn’t trying to say that because Michael Myers comes from this background he became Michael Myers. I tried to make it clear he was always fucked up, no matter what. It didn’t matter if he had the best parents or not. I just thought I would set it in a reality I was familiar with. Why would you make a movie about something you know nothing about? I would feel that to be really hollow. I can’t make it about a kid at a private school who has super rich parents that go to the country club. I didn’t live that life, so I can’t make that movie. Let’s face it, kids at school are pretty shitty to each other, so sooner or later one of them is going to snap and end up beating a kid to death with a stick because he just loses it.”
Personally, I find Halloween to be the most problematic film in Zombie’s catalog. There are a lot of interesting ideas at play in delving into the psychology of an emotionally damaged teenage boy who was mentally disturbed to begin with. Especially as it relates to how Zombie addresses Michael’s desire to hide behind a mask and how he feels invisible and free from judgement for crimes perpetrated while wearing one.
The visual approach is, at times, revelatory, none more so than during the aforementioned scene with the bully in the woods. There’s also an uproariously entertaining aside with Ken Foree portraying a gastronomically distressed truck driver.
Unfortunately, all these disparate elements seem at constant war with each other, making the film come across as a tonal mess and structural misfire. I can only imagine the pressure Zombie was under to deliver what the studio wanted and what the fans expected. The problem with remakes is always the extraordinary baggage they come prepackaged with and how that baggage invariably cuts creativity off at the ankles. They’re films made by committee and therefore feel stitched together, unnecessary and artistically rudderless.
Zombie came as close to successfully imprinting his individuality on the finished product as any filmmaker saddled with such expectation has in the past. But despite his sincerest efforts, concessions, imposed or otherwise, pile up until they reach a breaking point. The film is a schizophrenic, bifurcated curiosity. One half is Zombie’s inspired, individualistic take on the material, the other a truncated run through of all the predictable beats from Carpenter’s original (Zombie admits as much in tomorrow’s piece on Halloween II).
It’s as noble a failure as any remake can claim to be. No matter how much the howling protestations from overzealous fans of the original would like you to believe, Carpenter’s watershed film is still available to watch and cherish so I don’t think Zombie’s misguided remake is responsible for that much damage.
The film was going to be made regardless of who they got to sit behind the director’s chair. I’m just glad it ended up being someone who at least fought to include a modicum of their own ideas and shred of their personal stamp. Most of all, I’m grateful it was Zombie, because the lessons he learned during its production and the clout he gained from its financial success led to him helming tomorrow’s film, Halloween II.