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August 29-September 4, 2007

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'Halloween'

Marsha Blackburn©LaMarca/Dimension Films, 2007
Trick or treat: Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) terrorizes yet another victim (Kristina Klebe) in the new version of 'Halloween.'

Masked and Unanimous

What the world needs now is Rob Zombie's 'Halloween' remake. No, really!

By Steve Palopoli


'A LEGENDARY tale," growls a trailer for Rob Zombie's opening-this-Friday Halloween, "as it's never been told!"

Uh, hasn't it only been told once before? Right, that would be John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic of the same name, which revolutionized the genre, carving it a new DNA out of suburban paranoia, teen lust, kill count and girl power. It paved the way for Jason, Freddy, countless B-to-Z-grade slashers, and of course, several sequels. However, none of the subsequent Halloween films—even Halloween II, which Carpenter himself did some work on—would ever be confused with the original, making the assertion that we've all been waiting on knives and cleavers for a radical retelling of a 29-year-old film a bit of a stretch.

Then again, maybe they're onto something. We're told that Zombie's remake is a "unique vision of a legendary tale." There are really only two questions to ask, then, in determining whether this film rises above the craposphere of useless, mechanical remakes like last year's The Omen and When a Stranger Calls or Gus Van Sant's Psycho—or the Carpenter remake from two years ago, The Fog—that are churned out for reasons purely financial or simply incomprehensible: Is it a unique vision, and is it a legendary tale?

We'll take the last one first. Fairy tales throughout history have often centered around monsters, and in the last 100 years horror movies have been upstaged only by comic books as American pop culture's most fertile ground for myth. Many of the earliest film horror icons came out of literature—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula—and no one bats an eye when these monsters' origin stories are restaged for each new generation. Some modern horror film antiheroes also had literary origins—Clive Barker's Pinhead, for example—but most were developed initially for the screen. In that way, their great-granddaddy is King Kong, a purely cinematic creation that captured the public's imagination. Kong has had his original story retold twice, most recently by Peter Jackson.

Michael Myers, of course, is a pup of a boogeyman compared to Kong, and perhaps not as obvious a choice for reinterpretation. But considering how ingrained John Carpenter's villain has become in our culture, you almost have to wonder how no one's thought to revisit his original story before. Looking at the same fairy tale from several different angles is not just a fallback for hack storytellers with "no new ideas," it's a process that we as postmodern thinkers demand. Have you ever seen Robert Englund interviewed about his role as Freddy Krueger? It's question after question about why Freddy does this or that or what Freddy means.

We're now an audience that always wants to know "what else?" As much as people complain about remakes, show me a three-decade-old cult film on the IMDb that doesn't have fans casting its update. Blame it, perhaps, on remakes like Dawn of the Dead and The Manchurian Candidate that turned out to be good enough to stand on their own, and certainly on the rare film like David Cronenberg's The Fly that was flat-out better than the original.

What's more, of all the modern horror favorites, Halloween most fits the Little Red Riding Hood mold, and as movies like Freeway and In the Company of Wolves taught us, there's no scary story that continues to fire the human imagination like big Red. But at this point, Carpenter's version is such an established piece of lore that it's being tweaked itself at feature length by films like Scream, 2004's satire Freak Out and last year's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Even if Michael Myers' story has passed into the realm of genuine myth, it remains to be seen whether Rob Zombie's "unique vision" is particularly well suited for this story. Certainly, I wish he'd gotten the opportunity to do the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake instead of producer Michael Bay, but his unofficial remake House of 1000 Corpses was about that many times better than Bay's grim and boring attempt. Zombie's debut proved that pastiche is his forte, and if his follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, fell short by trying to cram too many of the things he loved about '70s horror into one story, it has at least held up as a fascinating effort.

Zombie's Halloween wasn't screened in time for this issue, but it's clear that he's chosen to dig deeper into the story. Carpenter's 1978 film was so archetypal it couldn't afford to have any depth—its power came from surface tension and a larger-than-life kind of emotional resonance. The new version goes for grittier realism, a tricky proposition when it comes to myth and legend. But you gotta love that Zombie has chosen masks as his primary cinematic theme. His film then becomes the opportunity to ask not only "What's behind the mask?" but "Why are we fascinated by the mask in the first place?"

I would argue that's about as much reason to be as any horror remake can hope for. And hey, if the idea of Rob Zombie remaking Halloween still gets you down, just watch Escape From L.A. again and be glad Carpenter didn't decide to do it himself.


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