Trick-or-treaters may be ringing his doorbell en masse this year, because Zombie has done a daring and probably crazy thing by remaking the holiday's most essential scary movie, John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece Halloween — the film that gave us an unstoppable psycho killer named Michael Myers, his creepy blank-faced mask and seven bad sequels. In the new version (which the studio hasn't screened for critics to review), Michael once again stalks the sexed-up teens of Haddonfield, Illinois — but in a departure from the original, Zombie devotes the film's first half to the fractured, screwed-up family life that may be responsible for Myers's rampage to come. And despite appearances by horror-movie vets like Dee Wallace, Udo Kier and Brad Dourif in supporting roles, Zombie's Halloween isn't the wink-wink sendup it might have been. "That was my big thing," Zombie says, his voice gradually rising. "People would ask me, 'Is it campy?' No! It's not campy! That would be a nightmare. The first one's not the least bit campy."
Zombie researched the latest scientific thinking on the motivation of psychotic killers, yet despite the new backstory he's created, he clearly believes that Myers is beyond redemption. "There's a point when he's a kid where you look at him and think, 'He's insane — there's no helping this kid,'" Zombie says. "But I wanted to add those family dynamics, because things are much scarier when they have a foundation in reality."
It's funny to be talking reality with a man who has a suit of medieval armor standing in the corner of his dining room and demonic gargoyles perched ominously around his swimming pool. ("They shoot fake steam.") But Zombie, who cranes his head over a massive dining table as he talks, that great, long rock-star hair falling forward over his eyes, seems a man quite grounded in the here and now. You can see him thinking out every question; there doesn't seem to be a casual bone in his body. When I suggest that the sometimes-shocking violence of Zombie's films — particularly the undeniably gruesome yet rather extraordinary The Devil's Rejects — masks some surprisingly sophisticated filmmaking (in Halloween, Zombie and cinematographer Phil Parmet employ a different camera style for each of the film's three acts), he nods his head. "I think so much about everything. I'm obsessive."
Although he's referenced Carpenter's Halloween in his music videos, doing a remake was never part of Zombie's plan. "I wasn't thinking about it or looking for it." he says. "I'd had about a million meetings about what to do next, and I was like, 'I'm done having fucking meetings!' But there was one meeting left, so I said, 'Okay, I'm gonna meet with [Halloween executive producer] Bob Weinstein, and then that's it — I'm done. And, of course, that was the meeting that was great, where everything happened."
Making movies isn't a career that the 42-year-old Zombie happened on by chance; it's been his goal since he was a kid in Haverhill, Massachusetts, going to the drive-in with his mother and brother. For Zombie, there's a memory attached to every movie. "There were no VCRs or DVDs," he recalls, "and hardly any channels on the TV, so going to the movies was a memorable event — a life-changing thing. Go see Willie Wonka and you're like, 'Oh, my God, I can't think anymore!' Star Wars — I'm in complete disarray. Every movie just blew my mind."
So Zombie started re-creating them in his back yard. "I'd just be obsessed with a movie; I'd need more. So we'd make Super-8s at home. It's funny I should remake Halloween, because one of the movies I made as a kid in high school was a sequel to [Carpenter's] Escape From New York. Later, you know, I moved to New York to go to school, got kicked out, and worked as a bike messenger and on Pee-wee's Playhouse — and then started a band. Making movies seemed like, 'How do you do that? I don't even have money to eat — I'm not gonna make movies.'" Zombie pauses, sweeping his hair back over his head. "It's great now for kids: Make some goofy movie, stick it on YouTube and you're a hero. Back then, it was like, 'Man, I can't wait till I can save enough money to develop the film.'" The rocker turned Halloween director on demonic gargoyles, the drive-in, and growing up without YouTube.