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The parental Influence in Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ films

Halloween
Halloween

One of the most traditional tropes of the slasher film is the origin story. This is thematically important because of what it reveals us about both the world of the characters within the film, and also the world we live in outside of the film. Edmund Burke was famous for saying, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That idea is a popular theme in slasher movies: That evil and injustice, when allowed to go on unopposed, will breed more evil and injustice. This could almost be called the “Slasher Equation.”

Although there are certainly exceptions to this rule (Michael Myers in John Howard Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ comes to mind), it applies most of the time. Most Slashers have an origin story that explains who they are and how they came to be. The Slasher origin can be something as simple as a throwaway line from a character in the film, or it can be expressed through a prologue that sets up the rest of the movie.

It was originally meant to be the entire plot – ‘Halloween’ by way of ‘Batman Begins’ if you will. Rob Zombie’s first pitch to the studio was to make ‘Halloween’ as two separate movies. The first film would have been all prologue, documenting the rise and development of Michael Myers from a child to an adult, and would end with his escape from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium (the first scene in the original film). The second film would then be more of a traditional remake of John Howard Carpenter’s original, with Laurie Strode taking over for Michael Myers as the main character and final girl. Unfortunately, The Weinstein Company did not believe in Rob Zombie enough to allow him to realise his complete vision, and the result is a solid but somewhat uneven film that switches protagonists in the third act. That said, it is still probably one of the best slasher remakes ever attempted, at least until Franck Khalfoun’s brilliant ‘Maniac’ remade in 2013.

A portion of hardcore ‘Halloween’ followers baulked at the drastic changes that Rob Zombie made to the character of Michael Myers, but without those changes, the film would not work. I have said it a hundred times before and I will probably say it another hundred times, but there is no point in making a remake that solely apes the original. If you cannot or would not do something different or take the material in a different direction, then artistically, your film is dead in the water before the first frame is even shot. But Rob Zombie had the chutzpah to try something innovative and different. His remake introduced a previously unknown level of psychological realism to the character of Michael Myers, adding a melodramatic component to the character. Contrast this to John Howard Carpenter’s first, almost inhuman Michael Myers, who was merely described as a “shape” of evil incarnate. Only recycling that version for 2007 would not have distinguished the new ‘Halloween’ as a different film with different goals, and I applaud Rob Zombie for his efforts, which resulted in a film that one of the best of the series.

Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ and subsequent sequel both revisit another common trope in the slasher genre – parental influence passed down from one generation to the next. The influence of the parent upon the child is a legacy going all the way back to the first slasher films in 1960: Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’ (which focused on the destructive influence of the father) and Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (which explored the same destructive influence from the mother’s side). Rob Zombie’s Halloween is no different in this regard. The revealing of the Michael Myers origin story during the first two acts of the film exposes the authority of no less than four parental figures in Michael Myers’ life, who unwittingly shape the Slasher that he will become.

The first parental figure is influential under the lack of influence. This is Michael Myers’ father; primarily notable for his absence. We never meet Mr Myers; we never even learn his first name (assuming that Myers is his last name, but we do not even know if he was married to Michael Myers’ mother, Deborah Myers, or not). He is apparently dead before the film begins. The only clue to his fate we receive is from Michael Myers’ older sister Judith Myers, who tells her boyfriend, “My daddy is in Heaven.” As far as we know, her father has not been dead long, as the smallest child, Angel, is still an infant. His recent death, therefore, is a trauma to the family that is never allowed to heal and matures into a catalyst for the events that follow. The loss of the father has shredded a significant, bleeding hole in the Myers home. Not only is the family left without a head of household, passing all the financial and familial responsibilities onto the overworked and overstressed Deborah Myers, but the gap in the family allows the mean-spirited, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed, abusive and sadistic Ronnie White to move into the spot that Mr Myers vacated.

Ronnie, as Deborah Myers’ live-in boyfriend, becomes a sort of surrogate stepfather to her children and makes their home lives into a living hell. He salaciously lusts after Judith, alternatively neglects and shouts at Angel, and relentlessly terrorises Michael Myers, regularly berating him on a daily basis, calling him a “freak,” a “little bitch,” and “a queer,” in the most negative and malicious way possible. It is no surprise that when Michael Myers finally snaps, Ronnie is one of his first victims.

The third parental figure in Michael Myers’ life is his psychiatrist, Doctor Samuel Loomis. After the first series of murders, Michael Myers is sent to the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and placed under Doctor Samuel Loomis’ care. Samuel Loomis tries desperately to reach Michael Myers, but the boy continues to retreat further and further into himself. At first, he claims to not remember committing the murders. He also begins to fashion homemade masks. He dons them according to his mood, and they eventually become a substitute for verbal communication. They are simple at first, made from cardboard and coloured with markers. As Michael Myers gets older and becomes more inward-focused, the masks become more complicated and elaborate, fashioned out of more sophisticated materials like papier-mâché. Finally, Michael Myers stops speaking entirely and becomes completely silent. He will never speak more than one word for the rest of his life. After years of trying and failing to make any headway, Doctor Samuel Loomis finally gives up. As Michael Myers sits handcuffed to a chair, a barely contained mountain of a man, silent and motionless, staring through the eyes of his homemade mask, Samuel Loomis says goodbye.

Samuel Loomis was one of the last stabilising influences in Michael Myers’ life, and the last best chance Michael Myers had for a surrogate father. It seems to be no coincidence that Michael Myers’ escape from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and subsequent rampage through Haddonfield happens not long after he is abandoned by Samuel Loomis. Later, in the ‘Halloween II’ (2009), Michael Myers will feel betrayed when Samuel Loomis exploits his notoriety to promote his latest book, and will eventually direct his murderous impulses towards his final father figure.

The ultimate and most important parental figure in Michael Myers’ life is his mother. Deborah Myers and Angel are the only two souls in the world that Michael Myers feels affection towards. After he slaughters Ronnie and Judith, Deborah Myers finds him on the front steps of the house, covered in blood, cradling Angel (or “Boo,” as he calls her) in his arms, strangely content and happy. The implication is that Michael Myers’ greatest desire is for the three of them to be alone together in his ideal concept of the Myers family – a motivation that remains constant throughout both the remake and the sequel. This obsession with family, including an almost oedipal preoccupation with his mother, will become the driving force in everything that Michael Myers does; every life he takes. He will mercilessly and ruthlessly dispatch anyone who gets in the way of this goal, to the point of killing everyone in his sister’s life, so that she will have no one left but him.

While Michael Myers is still a child, locked up in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, Deborah Myers, unable to bear the shame, sorrow, stress, and stigma that Michael Myers has afforded her, elects to take her own life, leaving Michael Myers and Angel as orphans. When Samuel Loomis informs Michael Myers of this, he refuses to accept it. He insists that she will return and that he will see her again soon. For Michael Myers, this prediction does indeed come true in a way, for he apparently suffers a psychotic break soon after that, conjuring up hallucinatory visions of his mother. This apparition represents Michael Myers’ idealised view of Deborah Myers. She manifests as beautiful and serene, clad in shining white garments, emanating a beatific light. She appears alongside a radiant white horse, representing not only a gift she had given him before she died, but also “instinct, purity, and the drive to the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction.” In Michael Myers’ mind, the broken fragment of his psyche that he perceives to be his mother is feeding him positive reinforcement, justifying his crimes and placating any possible sentiments of guilt or regret. Michael Myers has invoked a sort of almost-holy icon of Deborah Myers as he wants or needs to see her. She becomes a catalyst through which his engages his inner dialogue, and a window for us as the audience to understand what is going on in his mind.

Michael Myers is described by Doctor Samuel Looms in the first film as the creation of “a perfect alignment of interior and exterior factors gone violently wrong.” It seems that while he was likely predisposed to inherit a mental illness, his childhood in a chaotic and dangerous environment facilitated a perpetuity towards extreme violence. The neglect and abuse he suffered as a child fuel his murderous rage, not only allowing it to go unchecked but shaping it into murderous intent and finally action. When he finally snaps and externalises his anger through violent homicide, he has trespassed past the point of no return, tripping headlong into the abyss. By the time he escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, he is no longer just a man, but a monster lets loose in the sleepy town of Haddonfield, Illinois, in the United States.

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