Written and Directed by: Rob Zombie
Reviewed by: Brett G.
When Rob Zombie was announced as the director of the Halloween remake, I immediately recoiled. Mind you, this response wasn’t out of distaste for Zombie—in fact, I enjoyed his first two efforts (House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects). Instead, I was hesitant because Zombie’s previous output indicated that he was all wrong for a Halloween film. Whereas Carpenter’s original was built around subtlety, style, and suspense, Zombie’s films are gore-filled shock-fests that owe more to 70s exploitation than anything else. This reservation, combined with the fact that I consider Carpenter’s Halloween to be the most technically brilliant slasher of all time made me extremely pessimistic. Some might argue that any remake of Halloween would have had me feeling this way, and that might be a fair point. However, I did try to go into Zombie’s “re-imagining” with an open mind. If anything, I wanted this to be worthy of the Halloween moniker because I didn’t particularly feel like paying to watch a piece of crap.
My hopes for this were quickly dashed within the first few minutes, as we’re introduced to Michael’s white trash family in a scene that features more bombast than the entire original film combined. It’s abundantly clear early on that you’ll never mistake Zombie’s film for Carpenter’s original. Finally, we’re introduced to our new Michael Myers, portrayed here by Daeg Faerch. He’s obviously unbalanced from the moment we meet him, as he kills his pet rat off screen. This sounds repulsive, but if you followed the film’s production, you know Zombie had worse in mind (if the casting breakdown was any indication).
At school, little Mikey then proceeds to get in a scuffle with quite possibly the most foul-mouthed 12 year olds I’ve ever seen. Of course, this isn’t an isolated incident and the principal has had enough so he calls in a child psychologist named Dr. Loomis who looks like a hippy who just smoked a bowl, so I can understand why Mrs. Myers is kind of hesitant to deal with the guy. Of course, Mrs. Myers can’t believe her boy to be capable of the inhumane acts of killing and photographing animals. While these three bicker, Michael stealthily slips away and begins stalking one of the bullies from earlier.
It’s at this point that we’re presented with Carpenter’s original Halloween theme, and it sounds completely out of place here. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Zombie is forcing something completely new into a box labeled Halloween, and it only gets worse once Michael launches his assault on his tormenter. While this first death scene is no doubt visceral and disturbing, it feels completely out of place compared to the original Halloween (though it is something that might have shown up in one of the sequels). I was pleasantly surprised to see Zombie not linger on the gore, as he instead chooses to shoot the majority of the film from the victim’s point of view. Thus, it’s one of the better-conceived scenes in the film, as it’s violently disorienting. While it has no place in a Halloween film, I at least hoped Zombie would continue this trend later in the film because it at least matched up well with Carpenter’s aesthetic style of “less is more.”
Unfortunately, things begin to descend swiftly at this point, as it’s now time for Michael to embark on his Halloween rampage, but not before we’re treated to a montage of Michael sulking while his mom is out stripping. For whatever reason, Zombie decided that Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” is an appropriate soundtrack choice here. Anyway, where Carpenter’s original had Myers inexplicably kill only his own sister in cold blood, Zombie’s film features much more carnage, as Michael proceeds to kill everyone in the house. I’ll again give Zombie credit for the brutality involved in the death of Judith’s boyfriend—it’s absolutely visceral and actually had me cringing. However, I can’t say the same about Judith’s death, which features Michael stalking his sister in his signature mask. This might sound cool until you consider the fact that Michael is all of 4 feet tall at this point while the mask is adult sized. As a result, the scene almost plays out like a parody. The actual death itself is again handled well, but Zombie lost me by the time I was laughing at the unintentional comedy beforehand. After killing Judith, we seem to get a hint of Michael’s motivation here, as he visits his baby sister in her room and tells her happy Halloween. It would seem that Michael wants to literally remove all the unhealthy elements from his family’s life here, which would be interesting if Zombie had Zombie not let it fall apart later in the film (more on that later).
By the time all this is over, Zombie has taken more than 20 minutes to show us what Carpenter could show us in a few minutes in the original film. While I understand that Zombie was going for his own thing, it’s only natural to compare the two, and I find Carpenter’s treatment more effective. The effectiveness of Carpenter’s original film is further reinforced by the fact that Zombie’s second act details some of the years that are missing from the original. Here, we see witness Michael’s descent into an inhuman psychopath. In short, it would seem that Zombie tries to ground Michael further into reality by hinting that he might have a multiple personality disorder (as evidenced by a couple of lines and Michael’s multiple masks). Of course, the personality belonging to the inhumane serial killer emerges as the dominant one here. Once Michael offs a nurse with a fork, Mrs. Myers decides to commit suicide, which is one of the better scenes in the film.
The film then flashes ahead fifteen years, and we find out that Loomis has given up on Michael, who is now a hulking beast of a man. Later that night, Michael escapes from Smith’s Grove when a couple of guards decide to gang rape a mentally retarded patient in Michael’s room. Of course, Myers doesn’t take to this very well and slaughters both of the guards. In case you’re wondering, this scene is as tasteless as it sounds and serves no purpose other than to shock you. It should also be noted that the film starts to really fall apart here. See, it seems to me that Zombie was trying to show that Michael shows a semblance of compassion for those who extend some towards him. However, he decides to kill the only person who showed any such compassion towards him in Ishmael Cruz (a guard played by Danny Trejo). Some might argue that such an act shows Michael’s full descent into inhumanity, but I would also note that he decides to spare the aforementioned mentally retarded girl. At this point, I wasn’t completely enraptured by Zombie’s vision of Halloween, but I kind of respected that he was going through with a balls-out remake that bore no resemblance to the original film. While it was evident that this film was just another film with the Halloween name stamped on it, at least it wasn’t a shot for shot remake.
However, this all goes out the window once he arrives in Haddonfield because the film plays out like a Cliff’s Notes version of the original. Of course, Michael is somehow able to quickly single out the baby sister from earlier in the film and stalks her throughout the day. All grown up, Laurie Strode (portrayed by Scout Taylor Compton) is a normal high school girl who has no idea of her family’s sordid history. I’ve seen some people bemoan the fact that she isn’t exactly like Jamie Lee Curtis’s take on the character, but I actually found Taylor-Compton’s Laurie to be one of the bright spots in the film. Of course, Michael just happens to escape the night before Halloween as well, so Zombie is able to include all the touchstones associated with the holiday. Ultimately, this just seems to be another attempt by Zombie to force the name Halloween upon a film that doesn’t deserve the title. In Carpenter’s original, the film (via Loomis) made it abundantly clear that Michael waited patiently for fifteen years just to return on Halloween to continue his rampage. Here, Michael just happens to arrive in Haddonfield on this date by a happy accident (I will note that the theatrical version of the film is actually an improvement in this respect).
Of course, anyone who has seen the original knows what happens here, so I won’t bother to recap the story. I will say that the latter third of the film does feature some nice moments of Michael stalking; however, I will also say that the film really hasn’t earned them at this point because Michael has been anything but subtle throughout the film. Again, it just feels like Zombie felt obliged to give us “The Shape” at some point in the film.
In the end, the film ends up feeling like a disjointed mess because the setup of the first two acts doesn’t really seem to connect with the payoff in the third act. I feel like Zombie wanted to have his cake by doing something completely different with the Halloween legacy, but then he wanted to eat it too by doing a paint-by-numbers rehash of the original film. Honestly, it feels like Zombie made a completely original film with the first hour of the film but then realized he had to finish the story. In that first hour, it seems like Zombie had really hit on something by examining a young child’s descent into psychosis.
However, this is all tainted by the fact that he attributed the child the name “Michael Myers” and used Halloween as a title. While some might argue that the film’s quality isn’t contingent on its title, I obviously disagree. I’ll always stand by my assertion that there just isn’t an effective way to remake Halloween as there isn’t very much room for reinterpreting or re-imagining the story. The greatest strength of Carpenter’s original is its leanness; it’s like the great white shark of horror movies, as it’s remarkably efficient. Myers there needs no motivation—he’s simply the boogeyman who has come back to haunt his old town. The beauty is found in the simplicity. On the other hand, Zombie’s Myers is a tangled mess of distorted and twisted motivations, as it seems like Zombie just isn’t able to commit one way or the other to Michael’s character. At times, it seems like Zombie emphasizes Michael’s humanity by highlighting his mental illnesses; indeed, the explanation that he is just pure, unadulterated evil just isn’t enough for Zombie. However, Michael’s inexplicable ability to track down his full grown sister immediately leaves a lot to be desired, and it feels like it’s there just to rush the plot along. Thus, Zombie’s Halloween tries to hard to be completely different from, yet exactly the same as Carpenter’s original all at the same time (if that makes any sense).
Lest I only dwell on the negatives, I should probably note that almost everyone involved does a decent job acting wise. As I previously mentioned, I felt that Scout Taylor Compton does a wonderful job as Laurie because she comes off as very natural and likeable. I would have liked to spend more time with her to get more invested in the story, but Scout does a good job with the little time she’s given. Also, Halloween veteran Danielle Harris returns here in the role of Annie Brackett. Like Laurie, we don’t see Annie very much, but Harris also does a good job in her limited role. McDowell is ultimately forgettable as Loomis, but it’s hard to measure up to the legend of Donald Pleasence. Interestingly, only a few lines show up from the original film, and McDowell damn near butchers all of them because he lacks his predecessor’s subdued hysteria.
Something must also be said for Tyler Mane’s take on the adult Michael Myers. In all honesty, it seems like Mane is playing Jason Voorhees in a Shatner mask, as there is little to no subtlety in the role this time around. Obviously, Mane’s immense size is jarring in contrast with Nick Castle’s (the original Myers); as a result, the character is no longer “The Shape.” Instead, he’s more like “The Hulk” as he pounds through walls and grunts during his confrontations with victims. Most importantly, the adult Myers bears little to no resemblance to his younger counterpart, as if the two halves of the film weren’t discordant enough.
Ultimately, I would have to say that my initial fears about this film were fully confirmed once I finished viewing the final product. Zombie was, in fact, all wrong for Halloween. Yes, I realize that this film doesn’t alter or destroy the original (which will always be there), but I don’t feel like I should give the film credit just because it (half-heartedly) attempts to do something completely different with the franchise. In my view, that’s not something to be commended. However, I would have had kinder words for it if Zombie had decided to come up with a completely different third act that’s more in line with what he sets up early in the film. I think there’s a pretty decent movie in there somewhere, but I feel like that film absolutely should not be titled Halloween. The final product here certainly doesn’t deserve the name.
If you’re a horror fan, you probably do owe it to yourself to check it out, though. It’s currently available on DVD in its original theatrical version and in the unrated version reviewed here. Of the two, I would recommend the theatrical version if only because the escape scene there makes more sense. The DVD for the unrated version is as good as you would expect from a modern DVD release, as the anamorphic trailer faithfully reproduces the film’s look. The soundtrack will give all of your speakers a workout, as the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is more than adequate for your horror needs. Make no mistake, if you decide to give this one a look, you won’t be disappointed in the DVD quality. However, you might not say the same about the film itself, as it doesn’t nearly approach the brilliance of Carpenter’s timeless classic. If anything, there's plenty here for those of you who consider yourselves gorehounds and enjoy copious amounts of nudity in your horror flicks. Rent it!
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