Versus

Halloween (1978) VS. Halloween (2007)

One of my favorite features on any movie-focused blog or video channel is the compare-and-contrast gimmick where two properties that are similar but different are compared to each other to examine which is superior. As a new feature for Cinema Spotlight I decided to debut my own version of this fun concept with “Versus”, an editorial-style write-up that looks at two products, whether they are just similar, an original and remake or any other relationship, and decide which of the properties are superior based on five specific factors. Considering that the new “Halloween” movie comes out this weekend I thought this would be the perfect time to break out this new feature and see how it goes. I toyed with a couple of different options for this first edition of “Versus” but considering that this will be the third movie simply titled “Halloween” in this series I decided to focus on the previous films, the original “Halloween” and its 2007 remake. So let the battle begin. It’s time to find out which film is superior, John Carpenter’s original 1978 “Halloween” or Rob Zombie’s 2007 re-imagining of “Halloween”.

For this Versus match I compared both versions of the “Halloween” story, the John Carpenter original and the Rob Zombie remake, which both present Michael Myers’ in his first encounter with Laurie Strode. For this match I chose five categories to compare and contrast: the representation of Michael Myers himself, the representation of Laurie Strode, the atmosphere and style, the kills and, of course, the scare factor. Ties are not allowed thus at the end one film will receive a majority of the wins and be crowned the better film, at least in my opinion. Considering the popularity of the “Halloween” franchise I’m sure there will be plenty of different opinions on the outcome of this match-up so please feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments below and if you like this concept please like the post and feel free to share your thoughts on what match-ups you’d like me to consider for the future.

 

ROUND 1: MICHAEL MYERS

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Obviously the best place to start is with the film’s main antagonist Michael Myers. The masked killer has become a pop culture icon and one of the most recognizable horror villains in history so it’s no surprise that he has appeared in many different films especially sequels. In the two “Halloween” movies we get to see different perspectives on Michael’s character and motivations. One film leaves a lot to the imagination while the other delves much deeper into this killer’s psyche. Which one gives us a better version of the killer? Let’s examine:

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In the original 1978 “Halloween” we don’t see a lot of Myers outside of his killing spree. The film opens with a legendary POV experience where we see Myers kill his older sister and it’s revealed through an iconic unmasking that Myers does this as a young boy. However we never really find out why Myers is like this. The movie leaves a lot of that as a mystery which is part of its charm for a lot of fans. However, when Myers escapes and goes on his killing spree exposition worked into the script implies that Myers hasn’t spoken a word since he committed his crimes and that he has never left the facility since being incarcerated meaning he has the mind of a child stained by a bloodlust. What makes this interpretation of Myers so fascinating is it gives him a certain innocence. One could argue his killing spree is simply playtime and that he is corrupted by his minimal life experience combined with an implied mental health problem. The downside is that we’re never given solid answers behind his actions which makes Myers feel more like a faceless killer than a truly damaged human being. Later films try to fill in the blanks but for the sake of this battle the focus is on the first movie which gives us a more enigmatic Myers that we are asked to interpret in our own way.

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On the other hand the remake in 2007 presents Myers’ home life with pretty much the entire first half of the movie if not more completely devoted to delving into Myers’ mental state. We see he comes from a broken home with a stripper mother and a violent and abuse father as well as a sister with her own personality complexes. We get to see Myers deteriorate from all of these triggers until he finally loses it and kills his father and sister seemingly out of pure rage for his situation. Later we see him in a mental institution where we are actually privy to his session and when he’s all grown up we’re even introduced to his chaotic personality as he kills the one employee who has always respected him. Everything we’re led to interpret on our own in the first film we are spoon fed in the remake and for me it makes Myers feel more human and complex if I’m being honest. He’s a killer driven to insanity by real life factors and not just a random homicidal maniac with an unknown complex and a lack of maturity. We can relate to him more even if this version of the killer does make him feel much less intimidating since we now at least have an idea of why he is the way he is.

In the end both versions of this legendary character are pretty good and both provide an intimidating demeanor and threatening presence worth being creeped out about. For me though I felt like I understood the second interpretation of Myers more than the first. The original Myers is a scary killer to be sure, but is more a product of his time. The original take on the character is spooky and legitimately intimidating but the second feels better developed and more relatable making his kills feel like something done more out of passion and frustration than just fun and instinct. With respect to the legacy the first version left behind the first point in this battle goes to Rob Zombie’s more developed take on this iconic killer.

 

SCORE:  “Halloween” (1978) – 0     “Halloween” (2007) – 1

 

 

ROUND 2: LAURIE STRODE

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In both films Michael Myers targets a young woman named Laurie Strode as his victim of choice. To judge which Laurie is better it’s important to remember that this character has an interesting history. Depending on the continuity, Strode has been depicted as Michael Myers sister which establishes a connection between the characters. However the difference between the two “Halloween” movies is one does not establish this relationship until the sequel. The other has this relationship on the table right from the start. So which version presents Laurie best and which actress portrayed her better? Let’s take a look.

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In the original “Halloween” Laurie is played by Jamie Lee Curtis who became legendary for the role as the archtype for the Scream Queen and “final girl” in horror. Right off the bat Curtis gets points for giving us a vulnerable yet confident Laurie Strode who can hold her own but is just a delicate as any human would be if a masked killer tried to take them down. The depiction of Laurie in the first “Halloween” helps her stand out, especially when her friends are easily forgotten and dispatched by Myers, and the obsession Myers has with her is downright fascinating. Jamie Lee Curtis feels fully invested in this project and it’s hard not to respect her career-defining turn as the victim here. The fact that Laurie’s status as Myers’ sister (something being retconned as false in the new sequel) is unknown in this film makes her relationship with Myers all the more creepy because it does look like a killer is targeting her for no real established reason allowing viewers to understand and invest in her fear and survival as even she doesn’t know why she is a target.

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In the 2007 remake Laurie to me is more of a side character. We’re told she is Myer’s baby sister from the beginning so there’s no real mystery or suspense behind his motivations or her involvement. The biggest problem though is that Scout Taylor-Compton, a modern Scream Queen and an admittedly decent actress, is a forgettable Laurie. You could have replaced Laurie Strode with any other nameless character and aside from the fact that it’s Myers’ sister nobody would have known the difference. She’s not as memorable or even as strong willed as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie. The film does try to show some sort of kinship between she and Myers and their interaction does add to the dynamic somewhat. Myers decides to kill his sister after being rejected by her which plays into his family troubles from earlier in the film and further develops his character, but it does nothing for LAURIE as a character. One of the biggest differences between the original and the remake is that the original was more about Laurie and the remake is more about Michael and that definitely shows. Overall the second Laurie Strode is much more forgettable and bland. You can’t beat the original here. Point goes to John Carpenter’s “Halloween”

 

SCORE: “Halloween” (1978) – 1     “Halloween” (2007) – 1

 

 

ROUND 3: ATMOSPHERE AND FILMING STYLE

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For this round I looked out the overall atmosphere of the film and how style and the cinematography and presentation add to the product and overall experience. Both films take place in Haddonfield, Illinois and both occur on Halloween with the bulk of Myers’ actions experienced at night. So which film provides the most effective, memorable and stylistically appropriate take on Myers’ night of terror? Let’s have a look.

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The original film takes place mostly at night with the setup during the day leading up to Myers’ killing spree. The town of Haddonfield in this film feels perfect. It’s a small but not congested town giving Myers a perfect hunting ground and creating an awesome backdrop for all the action to take place. John Carpenter’s stylish use of darkness and creative camera angles put us right in the middle of the action and perfectly capture the chaos unfolding. This filming approach pretty much inspired the idea of people yelling for the character to look behind them while watching the movie especially in one iconic moment where Myers, thought dead, sits up while Laurie takes in what just occurred. The fact that most of the chaos happens at night and within the confines of Laurie’s home only makes it that much more fun and the fact that Carpenter could instill a sense of claustrophobia even when characters have an entire neighborhood to escape in only makes the first “Halloween” that much more effective and fun to watch.

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Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” has a bit more style especially in its set and decorations. Zombie embellished a lot more with the pumpkins and traditional Halloween décor to try and capture the spirit of the spookiest time of the year much more completely that Carpenter’s original. However this is pretty much where its superiority ends. The remake does have some great set pieces but a lot of its atmosphere is borrowed including using the same shooting locations the first film did. Taking the same elements and trying to make them scarier doesn’t make for a superior film. It only reminds us why we love the original. What the remake does add is a look at the insane asylum where Myers was kept which in itself is not very imaginative and much more of the film takes place during the day with even the night time scenes being much better lit and thus less spooky than Carpenter’s original film. Zombie chooses to use chaotic camera movements and close-ups to try and capture the insanity of it all but this only takes away from the experience especially when the original did such a good job doing so much with so little and using elongated shots and POV camerawork to perfection. In the end while the remake feels more like a seasonal Halloween film, the original feels more like a true horror experience with a great setting, fun camera work and awesome direction that Zombie just could not compete with. Point goes to Carpenter’s original “Halloween”.

 

SCORE: “Halloween” (1978) – 2     “Halloween” (2007) – 1

 

 

ROUND 4: THE CARNAGE/KILLS

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Regardless of any underlying substance the one thing pretty much everyone wants to see in any “Halloween” movie is the deaths and you’ll find both the original and the remake are bloody and fun in their own way, but while one has less kills that feel more realistic the other’s kills are more numerous and more brutal. Which one is the more fun gore fest? Let’s take a look.

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It’s surprising how controlled and held back the original “Halloween” is compared to its successors. With only five human’s killed by Myers’ hand Carpenter’s original has the least amount of deaths in the entire series but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to watch. The deaths are built up nicely giving us a lot of suspense as we await the result and we are given more time to feel the pain and tension of each kill. However, as I’ve said before, the original film is certainly a product of its time with less blood and death scenes that, upon more recent viewings, are more tame save for the famous pinned-th-the-wall death. Of course the most iconic death in this movie is Myers’ sister which we don’t really get to see but we do experience through Myers’ own point of view but even that has its flaws when you look at the film with a critical eye. The advantage is we feel these kills and are given time to imagine what that kind of death would feel like. For the time “Halloween” was considered excessively violent but considering how little blood and death is actually shown on screen even when compared to its contemporaries the original “Halloween” feels much more tame than many probably remember.

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The remake on the other hand goes completely all in with Myers’ violence and willingness to kill. Myers is credited with 22 kills in the remake, the most of any film in the series to date, including his father and sister as well as a compassionate asylum employee who actually tried to relate to him speaking to his unpredictability. What’s more his methods for killing are numerous and violent as well. One person he kills with a television, another he pins to a wall with his knife like the first movie only this time it’s a lot more gruesome and others he just stabs much more ruthlessly. Myers really does come off as a mad man on a killing spree and as the bodies pile up and he walks off bullet wounds and other injuries we get much more of a sense of how unstoppable this massive murderer of a man really is. Seeing the faces of police officers and others as they realize their fates are in Myers’ hands is classic and while the deaths may be much more embellished and over-the-top than its predecessor they are more numerous, more memorable and make Myers that much more intimidating in the context of this franchise. This is because this kind of violence was more acceptable in 2007 than in 1978 and the remake had a bigger budget, but in the end the remake edges out the original in terms of kill count and brutality. Point goes to Rob Zombie’s remake.

 

SCORE: “Halloween” (1978) – 2     “Halloween” (2007) – 2

 

FINAL ROUND: SCARE FACTOR

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We’re all tied up in the final round which brings me to the final battle, which “Halloween” movie is the better and scarier horror genre film, otherwise known as the “scare factor”. Both films offer their own sense of fright and suspense, but while one is much more controlled and spooky the other is more violent and assaults the senses on a much larger scale. So, which one creates the scariest experience overall? Let’s settle it!

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In 1978 John Carpenter’s original movie helped usher in the golden age of slasher films and took influence from other classics like “Psycho” and “Black Christmas”. We see that influence throughout the project as the tension is built to a fever pitch. While the first film didn’t earn the point for kills part of the advantage of having fewer kills was that we were given time to appreciate each of those deaths a lot more allowing us to put ourselves in the victims’ shoes making it a spooky concept because we could imagine ourselves in that situation. The same goes with Laurie Strode who we can relate to as just an average person seemingly randomly selected by a masked killer as his target. In a way all of the disadvantages I spoke about in this battle actually work in favor of the original “Halloween” by combining with its great atmosphere to produce a dark a suspenseful story that anyone could see themselves experiencing in real life. Even today the original “Halloween” is sufficiently scary with cringe-inducing deaths and a delightfully memorable villain who we feared more BECAUSE we didn’t understand him or know why he was committing his murders. Whether by design or due to the limitations of the time John Carpenter’s less-is-more approach was and still is satisfyingly haunting and leaves a mark seldom forgotten even after the credits roll.

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On the other hand Rob Zombie’s remake tries to inflict mental scars through imagery and intensity more than pacing and suspense. It also has the disadvantage of the viewers knowing what to expect whereas the original film was a very unique experience for its time and still feels just a unique. Zombie seemed to understand he couldn’t recapture the original’s more subtle approach so he went with an all out chaotic take on the violence and mayhem that depends more on assaulting the senses than leaving viewers spooked by putting themselves in the character’s shoes. While Michael Myers is more developed this hurts the scare factor because we know this is a man on a mission and not someone who could be anyone. Because Laurie Strode is a less relatable character we can’t put ourselves in her position effectively. Because the atmosphere is different the story feels less creepy and more like we’re watching a documentary of something that happened to someone else. While the remake is a whole lot of fun the harsh truth is it’s not the scariest movie in the world. It’s uncomfortable, cringe-inducing even in a good way, but it’s not scary in the same way its predecessor is. It doesn’t give you goosebumps or dig into the deepest, darkest fears of your soul. Instead it tries to pander to basic thrill seekers and give viewers what they want, but not what they need to have a memorable and effective viewing experience. So while the remake has it’s moments and can be a truly unsettling viewing experience, the original is much scarier and a lot more effective as a truly terrifying horror classic. The final point goes to the original “Halloween”.

 

SCORE: “Halloween” (1978) – 3     “Halloween” (2007) – 2

 

WINNER:

John Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween”

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And with that we have a winner. There probably wasn’t any doubt but the original “Halloween” is far superior to the remake even if Rob Zombie’s take on the story is still a fun and exciting horror thrill ride worth checking out in my opinion. In the end though the original has better atmosphere, a better protagonist, and is much creepier and scarier than the remake even though the remake provides more kills and creative deaths and delves more into Michael Myers’ backstory to give us a more developed and relatable villain. Regardless of which one you choose you can’t go wrong in my opinion, but when put side by side John Carpenter’s horror classic is still the one to beat.

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