The Number One Movie in America: Halloween (2007)
By Sean Collier
October 18, 2019

Malcolm McDowell is always cool.

Until last year, the highest-grossing film in the “Halloween” franchise was a detestable, gritty remake most fans have forgotten. (Or at least tried to forget.)

The 2010s have seen the horror genre return to both quality and prominence. Excellent films such as “Get Out” and “It Follows” have reminded viewers that the genre can be as worthy as any; simultaneously, high-profile revivals including the “It” films and the Jamie Lee Curtis-led “Halloween” have proven that R-rated horror can ignite the box office, as long as the pictures are reasonably well-made and actually fun.

The preceding decade, however, was hit-and-miss — at best — for the genre. Divisive and middling gore-first franchises led the pack; watered-down versions of Japanese hits, including “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” did well. The genre mostly sputtered, however.

(Because nearly every horror film has devotees, and every movement within the genre has adherents, I’m sure someone will explain to me why this analysis is reductive and wholly incorrect. Let’s just assume you’ve already registered that complain and I’ve accepted it — politely but without changing my stance — and move on.)

Quite a few legacy franchises attempted to restart in the ’00s; “Friday the 13th,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Prom Night” all hit the reset button, and “The Exorcist” and “Silence of the Lambs” received prequels. (“Elm Street” was technically a few months into 2010.) While none of those films were exceptional, most were acceptable; none of those efforts reignited their respective franchises, but they kept them on simmer, at least.

“Halloween” was rebooted in the aughts, too. It was awful.

Off of the modest success of his first two pictures, Rob Zombie was handed the reigns to the storied franchise. Michael Myers had been dormant since the little-seen “Halloween: Resurrection” in 2002; in that film, a sequel to 1997’s “H20,” Myers killed Laurie Strode — and she was so recently resurrected, too — before dueling with a fresh crop of young foes (including, improbably, a lead character played by Busta Rhymes). No one saw “Resurrection,” thankfully; the film peaked in the fourth spot during its opening weekend and grossed less than $38 million.

That was far from a hit in 2007. Curiously, though, it’s nearly three times as much as Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” earned — and the rocker’s film was not much better received than “Resurrection,” or any of the lesser entries in the “Halloween” franchise. Yet the buzzword of the era was “gritty,” and Zombie’s films are lousy with grit. As a filmmaker, Zombie is preoccupied with the desperate, depressed fringes of society; he likes miserable people leading miserable lives and doing miserable things. Somehow, this was enough to convince Michael Myers’ handlers to hand their guy over to Rob Zombie and his ragged coterie.

Zombie’s “Halloween,” released in late August of 2007, is somehow both overly long and fatally rushed. Zombie, reportedly, wanted to make two films: the first a Myers origin story and the second a more direct re-telling of the 1978 original. Interference from the producers — two guys named Weinstein — forced rewrites, however, leading to a bifurcated film that dwells on Myers’ childhood for about an hour before switching to a truncated version of the Halloween-in-Haddonfield story.

Perhaps Zombie’s version would’ve had a better structure, but it still would’ve been a fundamental misstep. The only backstory or explanation you need for Michael Myers is, as Dr. Loomis put it in the original film, that he is “purely and simply evil.” His murderous drive should not derive from childhood mistreatment, as is depicted — in depressing and explicit detail — in Zombie’s film; it should come from nowhere. That lack of reason and empathy is central to the character; without it, you have a beast that is neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic, neither understandable nor mystifying — just wrong.

About all you can credit Zombie with is a certain sense of visual drama; he knows how to compose a shot. Malcolm McDowell, stepping into the Loomis role, brings a certain amount of wicked fun. Mostly, though, the 2007 “Halloween” is a film meant to appeal to no one. It’s not thrilling enough for horror hounds, not entertaining enough for casual audiences, not smart enough for franchise fans and not good enough for anyone. It’s a miracle that this film didn’t do what Laurie never could: Kill the character once and for all.

Zombie’s “Halloween” wasn’t what you’d call a hit, but — largely thanks to inflation — it earned more than any of its predecessors, opening with $26.3 million before falling off a cliff and netting $58.2 million domestically. It only barely managed to limp to Halloween weekend proper, finishing in a dismal 31st place during the Oct. 26-28 frame. (“Saw IV” won that weekend.) Zombie was permitted to make a sequel, 2009’s “Halloween II,” which grossed less than $34 million and silenced the franchise until the 2018 revival.

There’s endless mileage in Michael Myers and the hallmarks of his franchise — dark suburban nights, desperate chases, John Carpenter’s perfect theme song. The franchise has been revived every decade since its creation: 1988’s “Halloween 4” returned to Myers after the Shape-less spinoff of “Halloween 3”; 1998’s “H20” revived Curtis for a purportedly final showdown; Zombie ... tried in 2007; and the retconning sequel in 2018 became one of the top-grossing R-rated horror films of all time.

If the pattern continues, a fresh take on Michael Myers is likely to appear in the late 2020s. Whether or not that’s effective remains to be seen.

It will definitely be better than Rob Zombie’s version. It could be 80 minutes of Michael Myers sitting up and then lying back down, and it’d be better than Rob Zombie’s version.

Private Parts is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1982. Please listen and subscribe!

Next time: A smaller — in stature, anyway — killer goes on a rampage as our seasonal selections continue.