The Mental Abuse of Rob Zombie’s Halloween
As with a number of films within the popular horror franchise, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a polarizing experience for fans of John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 film.
Released in 2007, the film instantly became a hot topic for debate. Some fans praised Zombie’s brutal style and deeper character study while others criticized the film’s departure from the original, as well as its monstrous depiction of Michael Myers as played by the larger than life Tyler Mane, who towers above his victims like Frankenstein’s monster as opposed to blending into his settings like Carpernter’s chameleonic apparition.
But there’s one thing about the film everyone agrees upon: the film is emotionally savage and just plain brutal.
In its opening scene, Zombie drops us into a hostile environment where every single character surrounding young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) at the family breakfast table is verbally abusive towards one another, shouting one aggressive line after another, with liberal usage of insults such as “little bitch,” “whore,” and “cripples” and little regards to common decency and self-respect.
Michael’s stepdad, Ronnie (William Forsythe), is a vulgar excuse for a human being. He makes comments about his stepdaughter’s ass, rants about Michael being “queer,” and threatens to “skullfuck” his wife (Sheri Moon Zombie) after she gives him lip. When his baby daughter starts crying, he shouts, “Waaah! Waaah! That’s all that fucker does it cry!”
Every single thing this man says oozes with the grossest kind of human filth.
Michael’s sister, Judith (Hanna Hall), is just as cruel, with her uncomfortable, sexually-charged jabs towards her little brother. When Michael is in the bathroom (cleaning the blood after killing his pet rat, Elvis, unbeknownst to everyone else), she bangs on the door, “Stop jerking off in there.” Moments later, after he tells everyone he had to flush Elvis, she says, “What did you do, stroke him to death?”
Throughout this onslaught of aggressive yelling and trashy insults, the audience is left wanting to scream, “Will everyone please shut up!”
But they never do.
The assault continues as Michael goes to school. While using the restroom, he is confronted by three older kids, led by a boy named Wesley (Spy Kid’s Daryl Sabara), who says, “You know, I heard your sister was caught selling blowjobs in the bathroom.”
Wesley follows that with comments about Michael’s mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) being a stripper, tormenting him with an ad featuring her censored, but clearly nude body.
The queasiest, most invasive part about the first act is that everything about it, the endless shouting, the constant physical assaults, the pervasive harassment, it all feels reals, and we ourselves feel as harassed as Michael does.
What’s most curious about Rob Zombie’s version of the boogeyman is that even when we’re feeling the worst for him, young Michael Myers still isn’t innocent.
The damage to his psyche has already been done well before the film has started.
But to some degree, Michael remains the most relatable character in the first act, as we pity him for the environment he unfortunately was born into and consider the part it played in shaping the monster he later becomes.
The act concludes with a series of grizzly murders that feel as real and traumatizing as the verbal abuse depicted earlier. Each is distinct with their own form of brutality, but the worst kill to bear is the first, Wesley, whom Micheal beats to death.
As Michael assaults his bully, we feel every strike, every bruise, every broken bone as Wesley cries, pleads for his life, a moment that is echoed throughout many of the death scenes that follow.
As Michael Myers develops into the full-fledge killer that we know all too well, when he stalks and kills, he doesn’t blend in with the eerie atmosphere nor creep in from the shadows, but instead stomps into rooms, forcing his way in with a violent burst of rage that was no doubt bottling up after years of harassment.
Michael’s kills aren’t quick and painless, they’re slow and painful.
And they really hurt to watch.
This is the kind of mortifying violence people talk about when asking horror fans, “Why do you like scary movies?” Moments like this are hard for us to defend, but isn’t that the point?
Rob Zombie doesn’t want us liking what’s happening, nor applauding his version of Michael Myers the way we cheer on Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and campy slasher carnage as a whole. He wants us to hide our eyes, to feel uneasy; to feel angry, shocked, and upset; to even throw up, anything but having a positive experience with the grizzly horror.
In the following acts, Zombie introduces us to a slew of likable characters, such as Danny Trejo’s gentle orderly, Dee Wallace’s Cynthia Strode, Danielle Harris’ Annie Brackett, and Scout Taylor-Compton’s Laurie Strode.
Though a couple survive, Michael brings the same apathy and merciless punishment to these innocent souls as he uses on the film’s endlessly spawning crop of scumbags, such as a slimy orderly, played by Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, The ‘Burbs), who Michael kills while raping a catatonic patient.
It’s understandable why many fans were turned off by Zombie’s take on the lore. John Carpenter’s Halloween was moody, scary, but minimalistic on the violence. It’s also a well-made, suspenseful piece of cinema that’s happens to be fun to watch, which is why it has endured even with people who aren’t even fans of horror.
Zombie’s film isn’t fun per se. It’s aggressive, gruesome, unhinged, and when it’s all said and done, you swallow your spit to wash away the disgusting taste of filth while wiping your hands to rid yourself of the blood and dirt you can’t help but feel stained deep within your fingertips.
While John Carpenter’s Michael Myers, as Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis would concur, is a manifestation, an inhuman shape composed of nothing short of pure, mindless evil, Rob Zombie’s killer is a cruel, unstoppable force that is very much human. His monstrous acts are rage-driven bursts of violence birthed from the cruelty and barbarism he experienced as a child.
Inhumanity made him inhuman and now he’s nothing short than physical manifestation of mental abuse, a boogeyman for the 21st century.