Who would be crazy enough to remake “Halloween”? The 1978 John Carpenter classic is one of the quintessential horror films. It’s the movie that essentially gave birth to the slasher genre, spawned seven sequels and landed a spot in the National Film Registry, which preserves films based on historical importance.
Yet on August 31, a remake of Carpenter’s “Halloween” will open in theaters nationwide. And the man crazy enough to direct it is Rob Zombie. The heavy metal icon has carved out a second career as a filmmaker following his cult hit horror films “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” but “Halloween” represents his biggest project yet.
Contrary to any image conjured by his work, in person Zombie is no Prince of Darkness poseur. He’s thoughtful, focused and quick with a joke. He even has a sensible reason for tackling a remake: creating an extended backstory for franchise villain Michael Myers that takes audiences into Myers’ childhood and expands upon his relationship with child psychologist Dr. Sam Loomis (played in the remake by Malcolm McDowell, most recently seen as Mr. Linderman on “Heroes”).
The director sat down to discuss the challenges of a remake, balancing two careers and (following a surprise visit from one of his stars) his favorite recent movies. Like Zombie himself, they’re not exactly what you’d expect…
Where does the original “Halloween” rank for you among horror films? Was it a personal favorite?
One of the questions I always get asked every time I do an interview is “what are your top five horror movies?” and I would always say “Halloween.” I always thought it was one of the best horror movies, it was always a special movie to me.
When [producer] Bob Weinstein first asked you to do “Halloween” how did you react?
I didn’t know what to say, I had never thought about it before. They weren’t proposing a remake necessarily, they were just saying [the title] “Halloween.” Like, “what do you think?” I didn’t know what to tell them. It really was a great opportunity but I didn’t know exactly how it was a great opportunity. That’s when I went home, thought about it, and realized the only way I’d want to do it is if it was essentially a remake. I wasn’t going to do a “Halloween 9,” that would be silly. I thought about a remake with an hour’s worth of backstory we’ve never seen before.
What was your thought process for what this film had to be—what you had to keep and what you had to do differently from the original?
That was the constant journey. It almost would’ve been easier if someone had some guidelines about what to keep, but nobody cared. Bob didn’t even care if I kept the Michael Myers mask. He kept saying “make it different, make it your own movie.” So it was all up to me as to what I wanted to keep. I wanted to keep classic looking Michael Myers at some point in the movie. Without that you’d be asking “why even call it ‘Halloween’?” Part of the fun of a remake is revisiting Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode and figuring out how to approach these characters 30 years later. I decided to keep the John Carpenter moments in the third act and twist them around, and keep acts one and two basically brand new.
How about the decision to portray Laurie Strode as Michael Myers’ sister? That didn’t come in until the sequels.
This sounds really stupid on my part—yeah there’s nothing like that in the first movie, they brought that in in the second movie—but I totally didn’t remember that in the second movie. I’ve seen the first “Halloween” a million times. I’ve seen the second one, but it’s been like twenty years since I saw it. When I was writing I was thinking “this is a cool twist” and then realized “wait a minute…” At that point I’d already worked out in my mind what I wanted the journey of Michael Myers to be—by the end of the movie it’s him trying to, in his own crazy mind, put his entire family back together again.
Was anyone concerned about the scene where young Michael Myers kills another kid?
No, in fact that was always Bob Weinstein’s favorite part of the movie. I thought maybe the MPAA would have a problem with it. We didn’t have to cut anything.
Had you been looking to work with Malcolm McDowell?
I had written a weird, early version of “The Devil’s Rejects” that had another character that I wanted Malcolm McDowell to play. He doesn’t know this, I don’t think he cares. I rewrote the script a million times and it went away. But Malcolm was always on my list of people I wanted to work with. When [“Halloween”] came up he was the first name that came into my mind.
How did you decide to cast Danielle Harris, who had been in some “Halloween” sequels, as Laurie’s friend Annie?
Danielle came in for the part. My first response was that I didn’t want to cast her because she’d been in parts 4 and 5 and I saw that as a minus. Nothing against any of the people from the other movies, I love P.J. Soles and all those people, but I thought it might make it seem like not a real movie, like we’re doing some weird fan tribute to “Halloween.” But obviously [Danielle] has grown up a lot and she doesn’t look like a little girl anymore. I watched all the tapes of the girls who read for Annie, and Danielle was the best one.
You’ve said you’re not interested in making any “Halloween” sequels, is that true?
I wanted to make this movie have a real ending. No matter how you end a movie someone can figure out a way to start it back up again. But to me the movie ends.
What’s your next movie?
The thing I’m finishing up right now is an animated film, “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto” [an adaptation of Zombie’s comic book]. The animation is finally done, we’re finishing up the music and sound effects and that’ll probably be out early next year. I’m playing around with a bunch of ideas I’ve had for awhile. I told something to Bob Weinstein that he totally wants to make.
Another horror movie?
Kind of. I wrote this other script that’s not a horror movie that I kind of want to do too, but I’m not sure if it’s the right time. I want to wait to see when “Halloween” comes out and that’ll dictate what I do next.
What kind of genre is that other script?
It’s something more along the lines of a movie like “Ghost World.”
Do you think of yourself as a musician who moonlights as a filmmaker, or a filmmaker who moonlights as a musician?
At this point it’s kind of like 50/50. Being a musician is less work, I do that to relax. Filmmaking is much more intense.
Do you feel like you’re growing as a director with each new film?
I definitely think I’m growing and getting better. You always get better as you do things more, but films take so long to make. You wish you could make ten films a year and then you would get ten times better ten times faster. The first film was complete insanity, on the second film you go “ok I’ve figured out how to harness this insanity and make it more of a solid vision” and by the third movie you feel that you can really pinpoint the insanity and manipulate it. Basically a movie is manipulating images to get an emotional response from people.
[At this point Malcolm McDowell enters the room and attempts to surprise Zombie by whispering in his ear.]
Zombie: There he is. Drunk again!
[They both laugh as McDowell takes a seat behind Zombie.]
So how was it directing Malcolm McDowell?
Zombie: Well, the way I break it down is: Malcolm’s probably sober two hours a day. The early morning shoots were probably the best. After awhile, gone…
McDowell: We had fun.
Zombie: Yeah, it was great, we had a good time. It’s serious work because you want to do something good, but if it’s not fun then what’s the point?
Can you talk about the state of horror these days?
Zombie: I really don’t care about the state of anything. I just do my thing and go to the movies. I like some movies and don’t like some movies. I’m not really looking to be part of a movement or start a movement.
McDowell: It’s hard enough making any movie, isn’t it?
Zombie: It’s a miracle any of them get made.
What movies have you liked recently?
Zombie: [long pause] “Pan’s Labyrinth” was really good. I missed everything when I was working on [“Halloween”], I’m catching up on DVDs.
McDowell: “The Lives of Others” he liked.
Zombie: Yeah that was a great movie. I really enjoyed “Rocky Balboa,” I thought it was the best movie of the year.
McDowell: And that is the difference between us, right there.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun