Coffin Hop Day 8: Old Versus New: Halloween

Happy Halloween, Coffin Hoppers! I can’t believe the day is finally here. Today I want to try something new…

I have to give my wife credit for the concept. “Why not compare something old to a remake?” she suggested, and I thought, yeah, why not? Why not do it on Halloween, in fact, and about Halloween, since I seem to be one of the few people on earth who enjoys Rob Zombie’s take on the franchise (at least, the first movie, the less said about its sequel the better). I’m going to be breaking it down in several categories to declare the winner, but I’d like to say a word or two about the remake, as I know it’s a controversial topic.

The original Halloween is a touchstone film for me; in many ways, it defines what I consider a horror movie. I’ve been a Halloween fan for as long as I can remember, since I saw the movie as a very young child. I’ve seen just about every Halloween movie that there is to see (save Resurrection, I couldn’t bring myself to go there). I say this to establish my fan “cred” and to underscore why I had reservations when I learned that Rob Zombie had been brought on board to reboot the franchise. I had enjoyed Zombie’s first movie, House of a Thousand Corpses, in the same way that you might enjoy a goofy, fun haunted hayride. Sure, it was silly, but I had a lot of fun with it. His second movie, The Devil’s Rejects, had a decidedly different tone and I just found the whole thing mean-spirited. I never made it through the movie despite numerous attempts. This led to my reservation with the Halloween remake.

Still, it looked good enough that I would give it a chance. After all, hadn’t I sat through a screening of the Curse of Michael Myers? I figured I owed the remake at least that courtesy.

And…I found that I actually enjoyed it. A lot. And then was further surprised to learn that so many people disliked it, especially the long-time Halloween fans. I heard their criticisms and saw their point of view, but I wondered if some people had missed what made Zombie’s version compelling for me. Let’s talk some about that today. We’ll start with…

Characters/Acting

We’ll look at the major characters and actors first.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis/Scout Taylor Compton). I’ve heard people say that the new Laurie is a little too world-wise, a little too aware of sexuality and related “mature” topics, but I think that’s a reflection of the different eras in which these films were created. By today’s standards, Zombie’s Laurie is a relative innocent; the original Laurie would be completely unrealistic if created today. I think the Zombie version manages to stay close to the essence of the character while respecting generational differences. Still, I give Jamie Lee Curtis the edge here. Her performance is a genre-definer, while Compton’s solid performance is simply “enough”. Winner: Carpenter

Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance/Malcom McDowell). I like Malcom, even if he’s made some huge missteps in his career. His version of Sam Loomis has some positives, but he also has the advantage of showing us his transformation from someone who genuinely wants to help Michael into someone who’s horrified by the monster that leaks beneath Michael’s facade. Pleasance didn’t have that, and yet he still managed to outshine McDowell’s Loomis. My problem with the latter-day Loomis is one of credibility. I simply didn’t know what to make of his behavior. Was he just out for publicity, or did he really care about Michael? What motivated him to chase down Michael that night – was it guilt or a desire to put himself into the spotlight? Ultimately his sacrifice spells it out for us, but Pleasance’s Loomis plays it much straighter, and I think his role calls for that. Winner: Carpenter

Michael Myers (Will Sandin, a cast of thousands/Daeg Farche, Tyler Mane). This is a tough one. It cuts right to the heart of the differences between the films. John Carpenter believed that no person should ever identify with Michael Myers, while young Myers in the new version is at times sympathetic. A lot of long-time fans felt this was a betrayal of the character, but I think if you’re going to do a remake right, you have to add new touches and examine the concept from a different angle. Otherwise, why even bother? In a lot of ways Carpenter’s take, while well-done, is the safer choice. You can sidestep some of the thornier questions of characterization and turn the character into more of a force of nature, something that drives the plot along. It works really well in the original, and I wouldn’t downplay it in the slightest. Zombie, on the other hand, attempts to make Myers into a more rounded character, if not entirely human. He doesn’t completely succeed, but he does make the effort. In the end, I feel that this is a push between the two – it’s just too different to declare a flat winner. But boy, wasn’t young Myers a lot creepier in the original? Look at that vacant stare and imagine seeing it stabbing you. Brr.

The supporting cast, overall, actually goes to Zombie. There are some weak performances (shockingly, Brad Dourif is pretty terrible), but I found Laurie’s friends a lot more believable and not as annoying.

Overall, Carpenter’s version wins this, but it’s closer than I expected.

Plot

I love John Carpenter’s Halloween, but let’s face it: the plot is fairly thin. Young child kills sister for no clear reason, is banished to an asylum, escapes many years later, and returns to his hometown to go on a random murdering spree. Ultimately he’s bested by his psychiatrist and a babysitter who refused to give in to fear. Remember, the original version didn’t establish Laurie as Michael’s sister (that came in Halloween 2), so while I like that as a motivation, the original Halloween features Michael as more of a force of nature who one day emerges from the shell of a child. I’m separating this from the premise/theme, which I’ll compare shortly. Carpenter’s film is taut, with very little fat, and well-paced.

Zombie’s Halloween, by comparison, has a more robust plot, even if it has numerous holes and ridiculous conceits (come on, seriously, someone gets the bright idea of raping an inmate in the notorious killer’s cell? Really?). We see Michael as something more than a force of nature, though there are glances of that lurking behind his mind as well. We catch glimpses of more human reasons for his actions, as well, with a somewhat clear-cut catalyst building up to his total break. Over the first half of the movie we watch as the human side of Michael surrenders to the evil, completely disappearing into it when he slaughters the man who kept him company in his childhood. This clears the way for him to become The Shape (the name for that force of nature) in the second half, with occasional glimpses of his humanity. Unfortunately, the film’s pacing suffers for some of these decisions, and the chase near the end of the film seems endless at times, wearing the viewer out. The plot has some good ideas, but ultimately falters in its execution.

Carpenter wins this one, but with some caveats.

Premise/Core Concept 

Carpenter’s core concept/theme/what-have-you is that some people are just born evil and allow that side to come out one day with little warning. There is also a strong undercurrent about the dangers of maturing, in that Michael kills those teens who either have sex, plan to have sex, or displays other signs of growing up. The Shape represents the dangerous, uncaring side of the adult world that terrifies kids and shapes the turbulence of your teen years. The original movie is a blinding success here, and I think it’s why the film tapped into the teen zeitgeist of its time. The plot may be simple, but the dangers within the plot, as well as the tight pacing and great acting from Curtis and Pleasance, transform what should be a simplistic concept.

Zombie’s theme revolves more around the corruption of innocence that is Michael’s slide into the dark side. It also begs the question: are some people just born bad, or can those urges be repressed in the right setting? One can’t help but wonder if this Myers would have been able to master his dark side if he’d been raised in a supportive, loving environment. As it is, he’s simply given too few anchors to “our” world, and slips away into the darkness. In this light, some of his seeming rampage against those who mature makes more sense – they are getting the chance to grow up that he will never, ever be granted. There are also questions about fame and life choices that I could riff on at length, but this is already a long post.

Zombie wins here.

Overall

I had originally intended to dissect the directing and soundtrack, but decided against it for space sake. Let’s just say that the Carpenter just edges out Zombie by a nose in the soundtrack department. So many of Carpenter’s cues are re-used in the Zombie’s film, though I think Zombie did a good job of selecting atmospheric songs from the time period. Directing is Carpenter, no question. Zombie is still in love with the shaky-cam ethos, and I questioned some of the choices that he made in editing – the last scene, in particular, where Michael attempts to kill Laurie with a piece of wood through the ceiling, makes very little sense in its current state.

That means that the original wins out. Like you had any doubt. Still, I think that Zombie’s version is worth a Halloween fan’s time and a worthy flick for the lineage. Certainly better than The Curse of Michael Myers. Of course, my cat has more worthwhile “creations” than that film.

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Last day!

This year I’m participating in the Coffin Hop Blog Extravaganza, which brings together over 100 horror authors in a week deadicated (see what I did there) to terror, all leading up to Halloween, naturally. The Coffin Hop is not just about discovering new authors, it’s also about fun prizes. If you haven’t read to this point, here are the rules for entry: all I want is your comment. One comment is one entry, at a limit of one person per post. Don’t worry, I have at least five posts lined up for the next week so you’ll get at least five entries.

And the prizes…

Five eBooks from the Emissaries of the Strange. That’s package #1. I’m giving away three of these.

Package #2 is a complete collection of my works, including the Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Room 3, due for release on November 12th. I’ll also happily replace your ARC once the book launches, but this is a chance to read something a bit early. I’m giving away five of these packages.

All entries must be in before Midnight EST on Halloween night. I’ll be drawing the winners on November 1st and announcing them right here. So be here for it all!

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4 Comments

  1. No doubt! The original kick’s the new one in the … (what you get when you remove pecan’s from their shells)!

  2. Love Halloween (the original) and it’s always been the movie I compared other horror/slasher films to. Scared the crap out of me when I first saw it and still does today. But I have to admit I hated the remake. I always thought if Michael Myers really looked like he did in the remake, no wonder he was a homicidal maniac. OMG, that hair! Anyway, I enjoyed reading this, Jonathan, and I think I’m going to have to pull out the remake and give it another chance.

  3. Nice post about the characters.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

  4. I liked the remake a lot more than I thought I would, that is for sure.

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