Halloween (Unrated Director’s Cut) (2007)
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, William Forsythe, Skyler Gisondo, Danny Trejo, Hanna Hall, Brad Dourif, Jenny Gregg Stewart, Dee Wallace, Max Van Ville, Pat Skipper, Ken Foree
(out of 4)
Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a remake/re-imagining of the John Carpenter classic, with ramped up brutality and gore. Given Zombie’s fetish for the 1970s and white trash aesthetic, it works best when he focuses on these very elements (lower class family dynamics, ugliness, frustration, 70s rock). The problem is that he only goes halfway – the first hour of the film is his take on the Michael Myers character at age 10, a serial-killer-coming-of-age story that, surprisingly, works pretty well. Unfortunately, the second half of the picture is a bad pastiche of the original film (with the sister subplot of the 1981 followup thrown in) where the entirety of the 1978 Halloween screenplay is crammed and condensed into 50 minutes. With the moody atmosphere and subtext sent to the back burner, we’re left with badly written characters having no lasting impression beyond the nasty ways in which a now-grown-up Myers dispatches them. As in Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, the result of trying to mix two styles of film together is a movie that is uneven, and in the end, disappointing.
Little Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), in his KISS shirt, can’t catch a break. He is bullied in school, his mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper, his sister (Hanna Hall) a slut, and his stepdad (William Forsythe) a white trash talking, abusive, insulting asshole of the first order. On top of all that, Mikey has a thing for torturing and killing animals. When school officials find a dead cat in his schoolbag, they bring in psychologist Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). It’s a little too late for an intervention; Michael storms off and beats a bully to death in the forest in his first “official” kill. Later, on Halloween night, he massacres some family members while wearing masks, which he says “hides the ugliness”. Institutionalized at Smith’s Grove, he makes more masks, speaks less, and eventually grows up into some kind of hulking giant with long, stringy hair. After two redneck hospital employees bust in to have a little raping party with a fresh female inmate (a rather disturbing scene, even by Zombie standards), Myers finally gets his opportunity to kill everyone in the building and escape to Haddonfield, Illinois, in a desperate search to find his only surviving sister (a grown up Laurie Strode, played by Scout Taylor-Compton).
The first few scenes depicting little Mikey’s dysfunctional family life and his twisted psychopathy work for the most part, because they reflect the director’s particular touch. Granted, I have to suspend some kind of disbelief (redneck trash in the middle of an Illinois suburb, for example) and Michael’s relatively easy transition from animal killer to serial killer happens too quickly. The director starts to lose me once Michael moves out of the neighborhood and into the asylum. As for the character of Loomis – well, I like McDowell as an actor, but in Halloween he is simply awkward, and can’t bring to the role the determination, obsessiveness, and confidence that Donald Pleasence did. In this version, Loomis isn’t much of a shrink. A simple procedure to stop Michael from retreating within himself behind masks would have been to throw away his masks, but the doc doesn’t even consider it. Michael is never forced to confront his ugliness, so what exactly did Loomis do for him in 15 years of incarceration? Once Michael has escaped to find his sister (who, being adopted as a baby, has no knowledge of her family history), we are treated to an almost shot-for-shot, dialogue-for-dialogue retelling, like Gus Van Sant did for Psycho. The flaws of the movie become apparent here, as Zombie cannot compose his shots, deliver dialogue, or give dimension to characters like Carpenter and crew once did.
The first mistake was to give his teenage female parts to a trio of girls who cannot act (Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, Scout Taylor-Compton). The dialogue they are forced to spew doesn’t work, and it seems to me that these are just Hollywood versions of how real teens behave. Even Taylor-Compton’s turn as Laurie is not particularly distinguishable from the other two, save for the fact that she never gets nude or fucks anyone, although I got the impression that she wouldn’t have a problem doing it. But when you get down to it, the only reason Harris and Klebe are in this is because of their hot bodies and willingness to waive their non-nudity clauses; Taylor-Compton must have been cast for her ability to scream loudly and consistently, which she certainly does. Again, I must point out that on a certain level I admire Zombie for his willingness to get dirty and wallow in the muck – perhaps if he had truly made his own film instead of half of one I might have enjoyed it more. Instead, he tries to compete with the original but is ill-prepared to do so.
There are moments to savor. You can see in Halloween elements of Zombie’s other films, like his reverence for family (no matter how dysfunctional or monstrous). Witness Michael’s quest to find his sister and reunite his family in an attempt to recapture, I suppose, his past. There is also the parade of cameos for fans (Danny Trejo, Brad Dourif, Richard Lynch, Clint Howard, Udo Kier, Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, Sybil Danning) and the prurient glee of mixing sex, nudity, and blood harking back to stuff like The Toolbox Murders (see: Kelly Nichols). But there are problems when he tries to combine realism and the supernatural. Michael Myers is either a humanized psychopath, or an unstoppable manifestation of evil. Attempting to mix these attributes doesn’t work. When Donald Pleasence talks of his belief in the bogeyman, I believe it. When Malcolm McDowell says it, I don’t buy it for a second. Zombie has undeniable talents, and they are better served, I think, by working with original screenplays and not remaking movies like Halloween.
- Bill Gordon