Halloween: Carpenter & Zombie

Written by Michael Schutz

What better movie to watch for Halloween than…Halloween.

John Carpenter’s original 1978 film has been discussed at length over the years. Suffice it to say that with $300,000 and 20 days, he created one of the most iconic horror films, and villains, of all time. A spray-painted Captain Kirk mask became the blank slate on which audiences and characters projected their worst fears. Michael Myers’ expressionless face along with his stiff, measured walk is as terrifying—or more—than axe-wielding maniacs running around a corn field. He embodies the boogeyman. Let us not forget that the character’s name in the credits is simply “The Shape.”

What has always fascinated me about Michael Myers is that so much more must exist in him than we see on screen. Yes, his mask erases all emotion, but what mad contortions wrack his features underneath? Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask reveals the crazed intensity of his eyes, but Michael Myers’ mask creates deep-set hollows, hiding even brief flashes of either insanity or purposeful malice.

And what of his robotic movements? What we see of Myers in Halloween suggests his limbs are nearly frozen in rigor mortis-type stiffness. Yet to dig up and transport Judith’s gravestone would require efforts to which we are not privy. Covering himself with a sheet and putting on Bob’s glasses to scare Lynda suggests either a playfulness or deliberate sadism that we don’t otherwise see in his character—most of his stalking and kills seeming mindless, instinctual. I’m fascinated that “behind-the-scenes” he possesses the creativity and dexterity to create the tableau in the Wallace house and string up Bob’s body from the ceiling. All of this is, to me, more frightening than the fact that bullets cannot kill him, and that he ultimately disappears into the night.

In 2007, Halloween received the remake treatment. Jason and I love discussing remakes—their quality and value, their purpose, and their execution. I usually groan when reading that a classic horror film is being remade. And movie remake criticism seems even more subjective than standard film reviewing. Of course, I don’t consider any of my blogs to be actual “reviews.” Rather, I comment on what I love—and occasionally what I hate. That being said, I can’t think of a better writer/director to tackle Halloween than Rob Zombie.

First off, all of Zombie’s films have a distinct 70’s vibe: grainy film, pitch perfect affectations of that decade’s acting and writing, and his choice of music. Halloween 2007 is not the modern, slicked-up version, like the disappointing The Last House on the Left of 2009. Rob Zombie’s love of the original is evident. He uses Carpenter’s iconic score without changing a note. And he pays homage to such classic scenes as the aforementioned wearing-the-sheet trick.

What I love about Rob Zombie films is the character development. The gore and the violence garners the most attention, but just like Stephen King writes just as much about his characters’ lives as he does the horror, so Zombie takes care to turn the people populating his movies into living, breathing souls. Michael Myers’ early home life is rich with dialog and action and an overwhelming sense of everyday horror: verbal and sexual abuse, violence, and arguments—measured by wry humor. It’s in this first forty-five minutes of the film that Zombie truly makes this his own.

In the updated Halloween, we see so much more of young Michael Myers. It certainly could be argued that this detracts from that faceless, nameless (remember, he’s “The Shape” to Laurie and her friends) boogeyman of the original. But since we already have that version, why not revel in this new detail? Daeg Faerch as young, chubby, bullied, disturbed Michael Myers is an absolute revelation. I love that we see both young Michael and younger Dr. Loomis grow into to the archetypes they’d embodied over the last twenty-nine years. In 1978, we never hear a word from Michael, we know absolutely nothing, and see not a trace of how a little boy transformed into pure evil. Zombie gives us this transition, and it is a valid approach. Downright enjoyable for me.

As for the latter half of the film, Zombie’s clever use of violence lends itself perfectly to the Halloween mythos. Again, since we already have the equally clever non-violence (in the style of Hitchcock’s deceptively tame Psycho) of Carpenter original to watch at will, why not have this version to enjoy the utter brutality of Myers? I think it is safe to say that as horror fans, we are voyeurs of the perverse and bloody. And I just ate up the level of ferocity Michael displays in this movie. I’ve never found Rob Zombie films to be gratuitous, if only because he takes that time to make his characters live, so their deaths have meaning. And now with this Halloween, we have a more graphic, realistic truth to what would happen if the boogeymen returned to Haddonfield.

Whatever your tastes, I’m sure you like one or the other Halloween films. For my money, Michael Myers is the most interesting of the franchise villains, whether we see him in John Carpenter’s original, Rob Zombie’s remake, or any of the films in between. Have a happy Halloween, my friends. Lock your doors. Check your candy. And stay dark.