Review: John Carpenter's original "Halloween," not Rob Zombie's bastardization


Halloween (1978)
Grade: A 


The mother of all scary movies, John Carpenter's "Halloween" is an effectively scary and tasteful low-budget horror thriller, which went on to become one of the highest grossing independent films. "Pure evil” masked murderer Michael Myers kills his sister as a young boy and then escaping the asylum, only to return home to his Haddonfield, Illinois town fifteen years later to target teenage babysitters and start up another killing spree. This is the film that has spawned so many clones and imitations that never come close. 

Originally titled "The Babysitter Murders," "Halloween" has no graphic blood, gore, or special effects, just honest jack-in-the-box scares and dreaded suspense, and in-joke references that are fun to spot (i.e. Sam Loomis named after Janet Leigh's boyfriend in "Psycho"). It popularized the horror clichés before they actually became...clichés: victims having no peripheral vision, sex equaling death, and the killer who can't be killed. Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill's storytelling is somewhat mystical but streamlined and minimalistic, and Carpenter shows a beautifully economic style with every shot and scene carefully considered. The gliding, one-take POV opening is elegantly filmed and lingering in its suspense, in the subjective eyes of the killer as he stalks his older sister and her boyfriend, grabs a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer, and goes on upstairs to stab his naked sibling repeatedly. What makes Michael Myers so special as a movie monster is his bare-bones backstory—he killed his sister at age 6 and picks up killing again as a young adult—which makes him that much scarier. 

The film's ambiguous conclusion perfectly captures that Michael, credited as The Shape, could be anywhere, maybe even right behind you. Myers' mask, which was a William Shatner face sprayed white, is hard to shake, as well as Carpenter's truly hair-raising (if simple) original synthesizer-music score which remains the film's strongest asset. It's insistent but never overpowering. Carpenter has his DP, Dean Cundey, making great use of the widescreen framing that never wastes space, with Myers showing up anywhere. As virginal victim Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh's daughter) marks her territory in her film debut as the horror genre's most memorable "scream queen." She has the vulnerability and relatability as the insecure Laurie. Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles totally acquit themselves appealingly as Laurie's stalked friends, Annie and Lynda, giving them more sass and personality than the slasher-pic norm. Donald Pleasence is wonderfully histrionic and nearly unhinged as Dr. Sam Loomis, who's Captain Ahab to Michael Myers' white killer whale. 


Let's just admit it, "Halloween" may be the little movie that could, but it's also the quintessential slasher picture with a homemade, "less is more" charm. Happy Halloween! 







Halloween (2007)
Grade: D +

In one word, why? Rob Zombie's "Halloween" is a gratuitously crude and unrelentingly ugly pile of trash that sets out to "reinvent" the seminal 1978 horror classic. In the business of remakes, more is less, but Zombie tarnishes the simple craft of the original for purists. Usually, horror movies should come with two separate reviews (one for fans, one for regular moviegoers), but writer-director Zombie's “revision” is a bastardization any way you slice it. 


Starting with a psychologically useless, foul-mouthed "backstory"—30 minutes worth, in fact, of wallowing in a carny act—punkish, animal-slaughtering 10-year-old Michael Myers’ (non-actor Daeg Faerch) sleazy, white-trash household where he senselessly kills off his sister, the sister's boyfriend, and his mother's boyfriend on Halloween night when he should be out trick 'r treating. Only the baby, Bo, survives. Michael is supposed to be "pure evil” incarnate rather than humanized, but we get it already, Mama Myers was a stripper, his older sis a slut, and his step daddy a verbally abusive, rude idiot, so his troubled home life made him do it! Even Ron Howard's rationale of The Grinch was more justified by comparison. We even get a stupid origin to He Behind The Mask wearing the white William Shatner face. 

The plodding second section has Mikey institutionalized for seventeen years and counseled by Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), until breaking out of Smith's Grove sanitarium. Finally, the final third follows now-teenage baby sister Laurie Strode (a bratty, abrasive Scout Taylor-Compton) and her two yappy, oversexed Haddonfield girlfriends (one of which is Danielle Harris, who played Michael's niece in two earlier "Halloween" sequels) being stalked by the giant killer (pro-wrestler Tyler Mane). This section feels like a rushed, condensed version of Carpenter's whole film and yet the chase never seems to end, with kill after kill and all the screaming. 


The hardcore violence is so savagely brutal and exploitative that it leaves nothing to the imagination, sucks out the suspense, and just becomes desensitizing overkill. It doesn't help the prey being hopelessly underdeveloped that we don't care much about their fates. 

For a horror-fan filmmaker, Zombie has proven he has the artistic style and tools to shock us, even stamping his raw, grungy '70s-style vision on this project. Again, he makes sure everyone's TV sets play old black-and-white movies, one recognizably being William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill." 


But "Halloween" grows numbing after a while, primarily from an annoyingly kinetic camera reliant on too many tight close-ups. Tyler Bates' rattling musical score is often effectual, with some echoes of John Carpenter's memorable synthesizer, and shot-for-shot recreations of original sequences are evocative but mostly clumsily staged (Michael standing across the street from Laurie's school window and the "glasses over a ghost sheet" set piece). And, of course, Zombie's wife Sheri Moon (who thankfully cans her tiny Mini Mouse voice and whole banshee act from "House of 1,000 Corpses") appears as Michael's caring mommy, and hasn't yet matured as an actress, but ironically shows the most depth and humanity out of all the colorful actors on screen. Packed with "who's who" cameos, including cult B-movie queens Dee Wallace Stone and Sybil Danning, respectively, as Laurie's adoptive mother and an unfortunate nurse, with Ken Foree as a doomed trucker and Danny Trejo as a nice janitor, but all are wasted in brief appearances with only a few lines. 


That's quite enough, Michael (and Rob).


Comments

  1. Ha totally,
    Carpenter captured the dark mysterious and evil qualities and put them on screen so well. He also added major scare-tactics that just create pure horror.

    Rob Zombie killed so much of the mystery that is in the character. His film was like the dull side of the knife.

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  2. Zombie's was so brutal too. I'm not a prude when it comes to violence and gore. Ha, I would even recommend Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects," but yeah, he totally killed Carpenter's simplicity and ambiguity. What an asshole.

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