An Angry, Uncomfortable Time
Was anyone clamoring for an origin story for Michael Myers? This is the question I asked myself when watching the 2007 remake of Halloween, a film that gives us an extended origin for Michael. Although the basic gist is the same -- one Halloween night Michael puts on a clown mask and kills his sister before getting arrested and thrown in an asylum -- everything else is very different. We get to learn that Michael was a budding serial killer, that he liked to torture animals and watch them die, before finally upgrading to bullies, abusive parents, and his sister. And then he just shuts down, becoming a hollow husk of a human being.
What I don't get is why? Is there some reason I'm missing for why we needed this other than Rob Zombie, the musician-turned-director that made this film, thought we needed to know more about Michael. Giving a character an origin story is supposed to make us care about them because it highlights details we might not have known, letting us into their head-space so that we can become emotionally connected to the character. The problem is that Michael isn't a character we can connect with; he's a sociopath already, not just in the making, and he's one margin step away from killing people and playing in their entrails (as we see when, within the first minutes of the movie, he plays in the entrails of a gerbil and then kills a bullying teenager). How are we supposed to bond with that?
The answer, at least from Rob Zombie's movie, is to make everyone around Michael (played as a boy by Daeg Faerch) into even bigger scumbags. His older sister, Judith (Hanna R. Hall) is a foul-mouthed jerk who hates her little brother while his stepfather, Ronnie (William Forsythe), is an even bigger abusive prick. The principal, the bullies, and just about everyone else in the film are complete and utter trash which makes it easier, I guess, to care about Michael by comparison. At least he has an arc and, occasionally, acts like someone with emotions and feelings.
Well, at least until he steps over the edge and starts killing people. Then he becomes a husk of a character, almost immediately losing anything resembling a character arc. Once the murders happen, Michael quickly goes from confused boy to the Shape (played by Tyler Mane), with Doctor Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) trying to get through to the boy for years (which are quickly glossed over in the span of a five minute montage) before finally giving up and retiring. And from this point, forward, Michael is no longer the focus of the movie; Laurie Strode (played by Scout Taylor-Compton), Michael's baby sister, all grown up, becomes our heroine.
This is the point, then, where the film really becomes confusing for me, not because of the story itself (which is a straight forward remake of the original film in a condensed time-frame) but because I can't really figure out what the point was of anything we just watched. If the film wanted us to understand Michael better that would be one thing; it'd need to do a better job of it, that's for sure, but I could at least understand it's goal. All the build up of Michael's story is cast aside though for a different protagonist, a different character to follow, someone else to root for. I can understand following an evil character if they're still, somehow, going to be the protagonist of the film but the whole point of Michael's story is to make him a more fleshed out antagonist so, what, we can fear him more when he goes after Laurie?
This is where we realize that Zombie doesn't really understand the point of the movie he's remaking. As I noted back when we watched the original film, the reason why the Shape works as a killer is because we don't understand him. He starts out as a kid that, for all we know, was bright and happy and, until the second he picks up a knife, just wants to be loved. Hell, the kid dressed in a silly clown costume for Halloween; he's any random happy child you'd see on the street. And then he picks up a knife, kills his sister Judith, and a switch is flipped. After that he's just a husk of a human, driven by nothing but the desire to kill, eyes as empty as his soul. He stalks Laurie in the original film because he can -- she catches his eye and that's all it takes for Michael to kill everyone she knows -- and the film spends the rest of it's runtime following his stalking and, eventually, his murder spree.
The remake, by comparison, doesn't want us to have any questions so it has to explain everything. Michael can't just need to kill, he has to be a budding serial killer for years. He can't come from a loving family, he had to have everyone be abusive to him so that he was forced to go bad (this despite the fact that many serial killers have issues stemming from an abusive mother and yet Deborah, Michael Mother here, played by Sheri Moon Zombie, seems to be the only good thing in his life). Michael can't just be a shape, he has to be someone with a rich back-story so we can understand why he's just a hollow person without any remorse or soul. The movie is actively working at cross-purposes to it's own intentions.
If the film could have really focused on Michael, spent an entire film on the slow build up to him become a serial killer, with the attack on his family being the climax that ended the film, that might have been something. The film would keep the kid as it's primary focus, making him into an anti-hero of a sort, so that when the kid finally does snap and kill everyone around him, it's a catharsis, a release from a build up of shit the kid had to endure for most of the film. It would be a very ugly movie (although, admittedly, this film is pretty damn ugly and mean-spirited regardless) but it would have at least had a singular focus. Plus, a shot of Michael, in cuffs, being lead away as he throws a death glare at his baby sister would have at least lent itself the promise of the movie to come after. A different sequel, one where we wouldn't feel the need to explore Michael at all anymore.
The back half of the film is fine for what it is, a louder, meaner, and uglier version of the original. None of the beats are all that surprising, and while Zombie manages to layer on extra kills and more nudity and gore, the film fails to find a way to make any of it scary. The back half of the film is there, clearly, because this 2007 film was pitched as a remake so, somewhere in all of it, Laurie's story had to be told. Zombie doesn't really do anything special with it, simply putting the same story we've already seen into a modern setting and making it move about 30 minutes faster. It's not original or fresh, it's just there.
It also has no self control. The biggest issue with the film, beyond origin story that doesn't matter and the artless remake of the original film, is the fact that it's not scary, at all. I've commented before that the important part of a Slasher flick isn't the body count but how the film handles its kills. The build up to a kills is as important as the eventual murder, a kind of release of the stress that leads to the bloodbath. If you don't take the time to build up a kill the eventual murder is just a waste, and most of the kills in this film are just that: a waste. Character gets introduced, Michael magically appears behind them, and then they die. Rinse and repeat. Very rarely does the film take a beat to let the emotions build. Rarer still is anyone introduced that we can care about so that their deaths mean something. The film just rushes from one kill to the next, losing as sense of hope, grace, or thrill in the process.
But then that really could be said for most of the films in this series at this point. Very few of the HalloweenThe franchise that both set the standard for Slasher horror and, at the same time, defied every convention it created, Halloween has seen multiple time lines and reboots in its history, but one thing has remained: Michael Myers, the Shape that stalks Haddonfield. films have been fresh or original, and fewer still have managed to be scary at all (let alone anywhere near as scary as the original). Instead of trying to understand why the original film was at all interested, Zombie simply applied his horror video aesthetic to the original story. But while he managed to make a very Rob Zombie movie out of Halloween he lost the original film's soul, it's whole reason for being. His movie is loud and brash and long, but it's not interesting. It just painful and ugly.
And also, sadly, successful. Which means that instead of going down as a curiosity, a film that tried to repaint Michael as a hero before finding a new hero in Laurie and, somehow, making us hate everyone in the film (Michael and Laurie included), we get a second film that does it all over again. I already suspect this won't end well for any one involved, the audience especially...
The Killing Floor:
Well, there are a lot, all in quick succession because the whole opening of this movie is angry and abusive. But the first one that leads to a kill immediately is bullying.
A couple of bullies go after Michael at school. In return, Michael stalks one of them into the woods, surprises him, and beats him to death. It's a horrible brutal scene and yet, honestly, I don't feel that bad for the bully; he was a shithead.
Final Body Count:
Eighteen. Everyone Michael kills when he's a boy, plus six people at the institution, and then eight people on his Haddonfield rampage. Other kills are implied but, of course, those don't count. Additionally, his mother commits suicide, which technically could up the body count by one (although I don't think suicide really counts for this metric).