Halloween focuses on a psychotic murder named Michael Myers. After savagely murdering his sister and her boyfriend at the age of six, Michael is sent to an insane asylum and treated by Dr. Sam Loomis. Fifteen years later Michael escapes from the asylum, dons a mask and heads to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Michael spends Halloween night stalking and killing teenagers, and Dr. Loomis does his best to stop him.
Where to start with John Carpenter’s masterpiece? There’s so much to go over. I think a good place is the music. A worthwhile indication that a score has achieved a masterful level is when people who have never seen the movie recognize the music, or when the music has been adopted by an entire holiday. John Carpenter’s score for Halloween is now synonymous with Halloween the holiday. The simple tones evoke the feeling of impending danger. It feels like someone is stalking you when you hear that music; which ties in perfectly with Michael Myers’ actions in the film. I think it’s safe to say that this film’s score is one of the best ever made.
Another notable aspect of the film is the shooting style. Most horror films are not known for their filmmaking techniques. The directing comes second to the scares and the gore. Halloween is an exception to that. The camera work is engrossing to a shocking degree. The opening scene is a point of view from six-year-old Michael’s perspective. He stalks through the home, picks up a knife and stabs his sister to death. The camera angle makes the audience feel like we’re the one committing this act. It’s truly disturbing. I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.
The camera work is further elevated later in the film when adult Michael is stalking around Haddonfield in broad daylight. The camera treats the character differently in these scenes. I like to think of it as adult Michael being too disturbed to comprehend, so the camera takes a few steps back and we sort of follow Michael over his shoulder. The effect is almost as disturbing as the opening scene. It feels like we are participating; like we’re helping Michael pick out his victims.
My personal favorite is when Michael follows the little boy from school. We walk with Michael as he follows the boy and then gets into a car. We get into the backseat of the car while Michael drives. It’s like we are his assistants. I just love that imagery. I don’t think I have ever seen camera work like this before. These scenes have become my favorite parts of the movie, and some of my favorite of all time. I doubt they will ever be surpassed in quality.
Halloween surpasses it’s horror designation further by being very well paced. The directing and pacing build up a palpable sense of tension before Michael Myers starts murdering people. It puts the audience on the edge of their seats and provides them with substantial scares. Furthermore, Dr. Loomis spends most of the film telling the townsfolk how much danger they are in. The character serves primarily as a guide to just how awful Michael Myers can get. Of course the people of Haddonfield think he is exaggerating. Such is the nature of victims.
After that comes the killing. Modern audiences are desensitized to these types of things, but by 1978 standards this was a shocking movie. It wasn’t very often in the 70s that one would watch a person get pegged to a pantry door with a twelve-inch kitchen knife through the chest. Honestly, I think it holds up pretty well. There will always be something inherently creepy about a masked man stalking people through a house and killing them.
All of these aspects together make Halloween pretty much the ideal scary movie. John Carpenter picked a fitting title. I honestly don’t think the film should be bottle-necked as just a horror film. I think that’s an understatement. Halloween is a thriller and a drama too. Any way you slice it the movie is probably one of the all time greats; As a matter of fact, it is.
How I’d remake it
It’s hard to suggest adjustments for something that is so well made. Halloween is such a great film that it doesn’t really need to be remade and, honestly, doesn’t really need improvement. One of my only qualms with John Carpenter’s original film is that there is no explanation. We never learn why Michael kills his sister at the age of six, or why he wants to go back to Haddonfield as an adult and kill people.
Dr. Loomis refers to Michael as evil several times in the film. That’s just not a good enough reason for me. Evil is created; not inherited. People, adult or adolescent, don’t just fly off the handle and start murdering. There is ALWAYS a reason. We never get one in this film. This, obviously, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the film. I just think it gives much more meaning and depth to the story and characters.
Something else that could use some tweaking is the character of Dr. Loomis. Now, let me be clear that I love Donald Pleasance. He gives a great performance. Also, there’s nothing wrong with the character. Dr. Loomis was written well. I just think that he’s a bit nefarious for a mental health professional. He seems hell-bent on taking Michael out. He presents the conflict as having only one outcome: Michael must be killed. I would think a doctor would want to stop the carnage through more diplomatic efforts. I realize that Loomis would consider Michael beyond help. That’s pretty evident, but all he needs to do is stop the mayhem. So, I would think that a doctor would choose diplomacy over violence. Again, I really like the version of Dr. Loomis that we get. I just think that character trait is slightly off.
How They Remade it:
If Halloween was going to be remade, I’m glad it was Rob Zombie at the helm. I feel like Zombie is one of the best horror directors working today. I will admit that Zombie’s first few horror films (House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) were not in the same vein as Halloween. They were primarily gross-out fests. Halloween has more gloss than that. It’s more of a grind-it-out film than an in-your-face movie. However, I think Zombie found a way to quiet that part of his brain when he decided to remake Halloween.
I absolutely adore the first act of this film. Michael Myers the killer is so much more effective after he’s given a genesis. Seeing young Michael torturing animals, suffering abuse from his stepfather, and making his first few kills gives the character the depth he deserves. Rob Zombie captured that genesis with haunting accuracy. I never would have expected such an introspective tone from Zombie, but he hit it out of the park in this film.
I love the performances in the first act; the standout being Daeg Faerch. A lot of kids just aren’t very good actors. Of course there are exceptions, but typically filmmakers don’t take the time to find good child actors. Daeg Faerch is one of those exceptions. Playing a psychopath must have been an immense challenge for a twelve year old. I don’t know how Zombie got that performance out of him, but it is remarkable.
Sheri Moon Zombie hadn’t given audiences anything to rave about to this point, but I thought she was great playing Michael’s mother. I really sympathized with her. I’ve always been a fan of William Forsythe too. He blew me away as Manny Horvitz on Boardwalk Empire. Playing a deadbeat, abusive a-hole in this version of Halloween really illustrates his range as an actor. His character was a great catalyst for Michael’s psychotic break.
Lastly, we have Malcolm McDowell. What a great actor. I think what I like most about him is that he just seems like a guy who will act in just about anything. He doesn’t really care if it’s drama or comedy, horror or thriller; he just likes to work. That commitment to a body of work greatly illustrates an actor’s ability, which Malcolm McDowell has shown us over the years.
Another important genesis we get in the first act of Rob Zombie’s Halloween is the relationship between Michael and Dr. Loomis. We get a softer, more amicable Dr. Loomis when he’s dealing with Michael in their “sessions.” We also get to see Michael as a human being. I sympathized with young Michael in the hospital. It was genuinely sad. We get to see Dr. Loomis attempt to access and quiet Michael’s sociopathic nature. Unfortunately those efforts fail in a grand example of complacency gone wrong. The scene where Michael stabs the nurse to death with a fork is so well shot. Rob Zombie has an uncanny ability to mute the dialogue in a scene and let the music carry it. I think this scene is a primary example of that ability. It provides the audience an opportunity to interpret the images in their own way.
Having said all that, the two following acts of this movie aren’t as amazing. They’re certainly not bad; they’re just standard. There isn’t much to set the stalking and killing in this movie apart from other similar movies. It was kind of nice to see where Michael got his outfit from. That was sort of fun. The rest of the movie drags quite a bit. The movie overall is too long. It seems like Michael chases Laurie for an hour. Other than that I just don’t have much to say about the second and third acts of this film.
I think Rob Zombie did a pretty good job with Halloween. Like I said, the movie didn’t need to be remade, but at least the franchise wasn’t ruined. Matter of fact, I think it was amplified by the character development. We all, as an audience, got some fun, nostalgic scenes to enjoy. It was admittedly nice to just see Michael Myers on the screen again, and in such an enjoyable way.
Halloween (1978) v. Halloween (2007)
John Carpenter’s Halloween is superior to Rob Zombie’s. It’s all around a better made film. It has more artistic flare and I think some of the dialogue is better. I would say that John Carpenter did it better, but (you’re all going to hate me) I actually like Rob Zombie’s version more. Yep, bring on the hate! Let me reiterate that this is just my opinion. I think the original is actually the better movie. It’s a masterpiece. I just prefer what Rob Zombie did with the character of Michael Myers. Michael is the lynchpin of the entire franchise. He has the unique standing as the main character and the villain. That is very rare in the movie industry. So I want the best version of that character that I can get, and I think Zombie’s version is better.
I like to look at these two films by their first acts (or first hour) because the “masked man stabbing people to death” stuff really doesn’t interest me very much. Those parts of both films really aren’t very different. It’s a standard formula. I find Rob Zombie’s first act much more interesting than Carpenter’s. The first parts of the original are definitely better filmed. Like I said, its some of the best camera work I’ve ever seen; but we don’t get the genesis; the background. Michael just sort of IS homicidal and crazy. It lacks the substance of Zombie’s version.
Also, I prefer the Dr. Loomis we get in the remake. I know; I know; I’m crazy. I don’t dislike Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis; they are two different interpretations. Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis felt more like a doctor to me. We actually get to see him being a doctor. All we get to see of Donald Pleasance is the vigilante version, and that’s fine. I enjoyed it. I just feel that the Dr. Loomis that Rob Zombie wrote was a better interpretation. We still get to see him buy a gun and try to kill Michael, but he goes through more of a journey than Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis. Again, you can just chalk this up to preference. Neither are poorly written or acted; I just prefer one over the other.
So, if you ask me, I like Zombie’s version of Michael Myers better, but I think John Carpenter made the better film overall. If you ask me which movie I prefer, I’ll say Zombie’s. If you ask me which filmmaker is better ….. ooooh. Time will tell on that. Carpenter is definitely better for the time being, but he’s been making movies for 35 years; Rob Zombie has only been around for about a decade, but that’s a whole other discussion. You can’t go wrong with either one of these films. John Carpenter’s Halloween is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Rob Zombie’s Halloween has masterfully crafted characters. Just watch both films and enjoy them. I don’t think you need to choose a favorite …. unless someone holds a kitchen knife to your throat and makes you choose!