In the horror world, nobody knows better what it’s like to be ostracized for having a contrary vision than Rob Zombie. Revered as the dreadlocked ringleader of White Zombie for years before he ever helmed his first feature, he seemed a natural fit for horror cinema. His first two films – House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects – were steeped in 1970s genre influence (particularly the works of Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and Sam Peckinpah), and fans responded with enthusiasm. In an unlikely twist of fate, Dimension Films solicited a remake of Halloween to the auteur, who accepted.
Heavily hyped and coasting on the faith of fans looking forward to Zombie’s take on the well-regarded John Carpenter film, it met with mixed reviews but a voracious opening weekend. I was as curious as anyone else, and saw it on opening day in a packed theater.
So here’s the thing: I have watched Carpenter’s Halloween many times over the years, and every time, I try to understand what a majority of horror fans see as its 90 minutes unfold. I simply don’t get it, and I can’t even appreciate its historical value as the forerunner of the “slasher” craze, especially since 1974’s superior Black Christmas does indeed exist.
I followed the film’s promotional campaign and read articles in Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and online outlets like Dread Central with fevered interest, to the point where I probably spoiled the film for myself. My function as a ticket-buying consumer taking my seat in that theater on August 31, 2007, was the hope that Zombie wouldn’t deliver a slavish remake of Carpenter’s film. For what it’s worth, the trailers and stills I’d seen leaned strongly toward that possibility.
Despite some continuity errors that resulted from test screenings and post-production tinkering (an unfortunate norm at Dimension), I appreciated Zombie’s theatrical cut, which created a fleshed-out backstory for Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child; Tyler Mane as an adult) prior to returning to the familiar beats of the 1978 film. The writer-director put his own gritty stamp on these familiar characters and events, bringing a fresh perspective to the well-trod material (diminished over the years by a string of increasingly unnecessary sequels). And the “unrated director’s cut” that popped up on DVD later enriched the proceedings with about 15 minutes of additional footage.
What’s interesting about Halloween is how the fans that championed Rob Zombie’s previous films, and banged the drums for his vision of this remake, recoiled when they finally saw it. Granted, the film cobbled its share of supporters, but the collective reaction – even outside of mainstream critics (the film has a 25% rating at Rotten Tomatoes) – was one of derision. Many cited how it fell short in comparison to Carpenter’s film, others took issue with the violence and some overwrought acting, and more felt the compression of the events of the 1978 version didn’t work next to the new backstory.
The film is not free of flaws, but the greatest irony is that Zombie went from being one of horror’s potential saviors to a pariah whose subsequent works were met with apprehension or pre-emptive condemnation. When questioned about the sequels Dimension had commissioned, Zombie stated he’d do no more than the 2007 version, something that was taken to task when he returned as the writer-director of Halloween II in 2009 (which carries an even less favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The sequel ventured fearlessly into territory so abstract that it became a psychologically dense art film, full of metaphors and hallucinogenic nightmare imagery (yes, I’m one of its few adherents). One can see the liberation of Zombie casting off the chains of fan service he felt (at least somewhat) bound by with Halloween, giving a dual middle finger to his detractors.
And perhaps that’s the point: whether making or viewing remakes, re-imaginings, or re-whatevers, the best course of action is to follow instinct and push the incessantly-chattering voices of the World Wide Web aside. I would bet that the assholes downvoting the Ghostbusters trailer and sending hate-tweets to Leslie Jones are part of the same collective that posts Game of Thrones spoilers on social media for the sole purpose of pissing people off. After all, fairy tales (and some infamous horror movies) have established that trolls are little more than snarky mischief-makers who do their damnedest to throw wrenches in the gears of life, just because. That mischief has metamorphosed into something more sociologically rotten in North American culture, where changing the gender of the Ghostbusters results in a flood of sexist and racist bile spewed by anonymous cowards. For all the civil discourse and productive communication that can take place online, this pre-emptive assault on Ghostbusters shines a shameful light on a generation that’s known nothing but entitlement, and is therefore unable to process a decision that stands defiant in the face of how things should be (not to make an overblown comparison, but such mentalities allowed men to keep slaves and robbed women of the right to vote, but – silly me! – those notions will be absorbed in the sexist-racist vortex where the trolls reside).
Let’s be honest: the worst damage that could have been done to the Ghostbusters name would’ve been 1) putting a sad III behind the title (17 years after the last sequel); 2) bringing back the aging, past-their-prime (Sigourney Weaver excepted) original cast for a depressing nostalgia trip; or 3) having said past-their-prime cast shuffle through an obligatory prologue where they hand over the reins to Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and – in a bit of comeback casting – Dane Cook. Megan Fox could play a sexy secretary, because why the fuck not? And the older generation can return to help the young(er) generation during the final showdown, because, you know, teamwork! Up top, bro!
As the United States seems to grow madder – in the Lewis Carrol sense – with each passing hour, Feig and company took a “risk” by doing something as simple as casting women in roles previously inhabited by men, and that Ghostbusters had a “soft” opening weekend speaks as a distressing testament to the type of “groupthink” George Orwell warned us proles about. I would relegate such nonsense to a few ornery cranks, but with the rise of a full-time sexist and racist bully to the Republican nomination for the highest office in the land, I have a nagging itch that this may become our New Normal, whether it be the entertainment we choose to peruse or in our daily lives.
Within this sea of insanity, it seems like the only logical choice is to support the assertive, ghost-chasing gals who avoid drama and actually get stuff done – I’d vote them all into office in a heartbeat. Not only are they cool as hell; they’re unencumbered by the trivialities by which we’ve come to define our own lives (aside from, of course, the low wonton count in Chinese takeout – seriously, what’s up with that?).
Crash Analysis Support Team:
Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).
(Photo by Screen Rant.)