By the time you read this, I hope I will have seen David Gordon Green’s Halloween homage, the one setting horror movie records, according to the Washington Post. Being a fan of Halloween — the franchise and the holiday — I’ve been jonesing for this movie since 2016, when it was first announced.
Now, however, I have another reason to see it: Keith Phipps, who in an article for Slate compares Green’s movie to Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween . . . and finds the former lacking.
For Phipps, Zombie’s film is the superior one due to its invention of Michael Myers’s backstory. And what an origin it is. Michael’s mother? A stripper. His mother’s man? Trailer trash. His sister? Sexually precocious, as in the 1978 original, but a real bitch otherwise. Bullied at school, harassed at home, Michael can’t take it anymore and kills everyone: the bullies, his sister and her lover, and his mom’s scumbucket boyfriend.
From there, we see Michael in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, worried over by his mom and fumbled at by Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, looking more like Charles Manson’s mugshot). He deteriorates, then kills a staff member. Mom shoots herself out of guilt. Finally, the years pass, and we pick up with adult Michael on the eve of his fateful escape. This sequence leads Phipps to call the movie “a fascinating and underappreciated experiment.”
Understand, now: I’m not the sort of fan who thinks remakes should never alter the source material. John Carpenter’s Halloween is not inviolate. But the changes should be enhancements, and Zombie’s aren’t.
For starters, he perpetuates the stereotype of abuse victims as predators-in-waiting. Phipps notes that “the term ‘serial killer’ wasn’t common in 1978,” meaning audiences thought they were seeing a literal monster in a guy who stalks and kills people. By 2007, however, comprehension had shifted, and “Zombie’s film reflects that shift.”
But not every abused kid morphs into a killer. According to Berit Brogaard, “the list of serial killers with a normal childhood is long.” That list includes the worst of the worst: Dennis Rader (the BTK Killer), Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy. Murderers are scarier when they could be the boy next door, a fact Carpenter understands but Zombie rejects.
Besides, Michael Myers isn’t a serial killer — he’s a spree killer. Serial killers are patient, exacting. They kill over time, with “cooling-off” periods between murders. Rader, for example, dragged out ten murders over seventeen years.
Spree killing, according to Scott Bonn, “involves the murder of multiple people at different locations over a short period of time in which there is no cooling-off period between murders.” Think John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway snipers, who equalled Rader’s killings in only 22 days.
Zombie also changes things up socioeconomically, making his Myers clan lower middle class. Their house is run-down, the adults argue about money, and Michael’s mom . . . well, her future is on a lap, but not of luxury.
Carpenter puts the family in a nice-looking two-story pad. Michael’s father appears dressed up when he unmasks the boy after Judith’s murder. Maybe he and his wife had been at a swanky party, the kind Laurie Strode’s parents would attend fifteen years later with Dr. Mixter, the surgeon who stitched up Laurie in 1981’s Halloween II (and got a needle in the cornea for his troubles).
It is excessive to have Michael mentally ill and poor. Excessive, and a cliché. Poor people are already seen as criminals. They don’t need to be aligned with the most fearsome movie killer of the last forty years.
I need to quibble too with Zombie’s casting. He chose ex-professional wrestler Tyler Mane as Michael Myers. Mane is 6’8”, 295 lbs. Nick Castle, the original Michael, is around 5’10”. We expect Mane’s hulking, risotta-haired Michael to pitch furniture around the room like memory foam, but when Castle’s clean-cut, fun-sized Michael strangles Annie with one hand or lifts Bob off the floor by his throat, we marvel. Then we get the willies. (Oh, and Castle’s Michael stole Judith’s gravestone. Just picked it up and carried it. You don’t get swole like that from institutional Wheaties. It suggests a supernatural element, enhancing Michael’s otherness — and eeriness.)
Mane, moreover, has no sense of artistry. He is a force of nature, a blunderbuss, a global delete. Castle, however, is an expert stalker, lurking in the corners of camera shots. I had watched Carpenter’s Halloween three or four times before I noticed, when Annie locks herself in the laundry room, Michael’s tiny white face in the window behind her.
The real difference between Carpenter’s and Zombie’s visions is evil, straight up. Remember Dr. Loomis’s speech to Sheriff Brackett about Michael having “the devil’s eyes”? Phipps calls this speech a “pretty thin medical analysis” and consistent with a “’70s understanding of mental illness and violence.” Maybe, but that misses the point. Loomis is talking about evil. Not human depravity, evil. Eldritch evil. Luciferian evil. And the thing about evil is that it can take root anywhere, not just trailer parks, and in anyone, not just strippers’ sons who apparently score PEDs in a mental hospital.
We don’t need pop psychology to understand Michael Myers. We don’t need to understand him at all. Understanding Michael makes this movie a thriller, not a horror. And I don’t want it to be a thriller.
Besides, we know evil’s backstory. It’s right there in Book IV of Milton’s Paradise Lost, when Satan says:
“Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.”
Satan isn’t evil the adjective; he’s evil the noun, the embodiment of the thing. Carpenter shows us a person, Michael Myers, who is evil, full stop. Faced with that, does it matter who or what else he is?