'Halloween' (1978) vs. 'Halloween' (2007): What Makes Zombie's Film a More Interesting Stab than the Original
42 years ago, a cinematic legacy was born. 1978 saw Michael Myers for the first time in John Carpenter’s Halloween...
...Carpenter would later become not only a father to the Halloween series, but the horror genre as a whole. There’s no denying that he is and will always be a vital force in horror. The man is a living legend, but I want to put a brief pause on all that and distance ourselves from the pedestal we put him on. Not to demean him, but rather consider something that is undoubtedly controversial, to say the least. I confidently and defiantly claim that Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is a more interesting film than Carpenter’s. Before we really dive into this trick or treat bag of unpopular—and some might say blasphemous—opinions, let me say that I’m fully aware that Zombie’s film would not exist without Carpenter and I’m not here to persuade you to think one is better than the other. Instead, this is an invitation to something you may have never considered. Many of us in the horror community have that one film we love, despite popular opinion. This is mine.
Aside from Carpenter himself, the connective tissue that ties Halloween together is none other than the character of Laurie Strode. Scout-Taylor Compton’s portrayal of Laurie could have been throw-away and secondary to the trappings of a modern horror film, but her performance is likeable, natural, and multifaceted. There’s a lot that separates Compton’s Laurie from that of Jamie Lee Curtis and that separation is good for a couple reasons. Laurie is written by Zombie and performed by Compton in such a way that it doesn’t imitate how Carpenter wrote her or how Jamie Lee Curtis played her. Laurie’s recreation and Zombie’s non-imitation of Carpenter in general show respect to the original by not pretending it should do the same things. The separation between both Lauries is also good.
I find Compton’s Laurie more interesting and dynamic. If you really take a good, hard look at the original film, Laurie is a very static, simple, and unchanging character. That would later change in future films, but our focus here is the first. Curtis’ Laurie is shy, timid, and puritanical. These aren’t undesirable qualities by any means, but they tend to be the only traits she displays in the film. Compton’s Laurie takes a very different approach; she’s spunkier, more free-spirited, and a bit of a prankster. In the morning before school scene, Laurie grabs a bagel and uses it to tell a sexual innuendo joke to her mom. In several scenes where she is babysitting Tommy Doyle (Skyler Gisondo), she pulls little pranks on him about the boogeyman and teases him about having a crush on his neighbor, Lindsey Wallace (Jenny Gregg Stewart). Curtis’ Laurie does joke around a little with Tommy, but it’s scarce and most of the time she’s concerned about getting into trouble, being a bit of a worrier. She never moves beyond those traits. What is great about Compton’s Laurie, is that she is a bit shy and prudish, but also fun loving, quick witted, and funny. There are several layers to her character. To be fair, her friends even call her “Mother Theresa” at one point and there is a cultural divide between the films because of the large gap in time, but I don’t think it explains away the simplicity of Curtis’ Laurie. Compton’s Laurie is relatable and could easily be someone we know. This is but one of the several ways Rob Zombie creates a Halloween that is more dynamic and interesting.
Now we’re on to the man himself, Michael Myers, or, if you prefer, “The Shape”. The argument I commonly see against the way Zombie writes Michael is that he removed all the mystique and intrigue of the original Michael in his remake. This is going to be completely dependent on personal preference, but I would argue that because Carpenter’s Halloween is so stark and ambiguous with Michael, it only makes sense that Zombie would go a different direction. They actually work in tandem with each other, because the original forms a list of questions in our minds about Michael and Zombie attempts and succeeds, in my opinion, to answer those questions. Zombie expands on the character of Michael by giving us a captivating backstory, which then forms Michael’s motivations.
My main problem with the original Michael is that his motivations aren’t clear. Again, I know to many this is creepier and preferable, but if we look at it logically Michael’s actions in the original don’t make a lot of sense. Michael and Laurie aren’t related in Carpenter’s film. He follows her because when she drops the keys off at the Myers house, she isn’t scared and gets very close in proximity to him. This is probably Michael’s first interaction with someone in a long time, so her being there auto-involves her with his bloodlust. She’s simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. This is neither very interesting nor is it plausible enough to create a connection between them. In the remake, Michael’s motivations are more clear and more importantly, more frightening. In Zombie’s incarnation, Laurie is, in fact, Michael’s sister. This adds motivation for Michael to find Laurie and reunite her with the rest of the family in death. It’s not clear at first why Michael is stalking Laurie, but during a conversation with Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie), and young Michael (Daeg Faerch), he asks when they will be a family again. We see that this is what he wants in a deranged, psychopathic kind of way.
Michael is immensely more terrifying in the remake. In the original, we do initially see some of the fatal aftermath that Michael causes, but there isn’t anything specific that tells us how evil and violently capable he is. In Zombie’s film, our first introduction to present day is in the sanitarium. Here, we witness him kill two depraved employees who rape a patient in Michael’s room (good one on Michael there), but then we see him kill his longtime caretaker, Ismael Cruz, played by Danny Trejo. This kill is vital; we see Michael kill a person who has looked after him for many years and shown great kindness, when, aside from Dr, Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), no one else would. This represents Michael’s complete detachment from humanity and indiscriminate lens he looks through when killing. To me, this makes for a far greater threat than an escaped killer wandering around Haddonfield. Again, to some, the lack of expectation of what Michael will do in the original film may be scarier, but I find the extra context provided in the remake much more unsettling. The sanitarium scene acts as a prelude of violence and pure evil that is to come and Zombie delivers on that promise in spades.
It all comes down to personal preference at the end of Halloween night. I do not intend to forcibly persuade anyone to like the remake more than Carpenter’s film, because as a person who circulates in fandom culture myself, I know that can’t be done. Horror fans are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet and what we love, we really, really love. I hope instead this piece allows you to take a more objective look at these two works. While I love John Carpenter, it’s very easy to accept a popular opinion because we’re either too afraid or embarrassed to share a different one. This is my big, bad, blasphemous unpopular horror opinion and I hope this might inspire someone else to come out with their own black sheep.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth