August 31st, 2007
Before anyone takes a dump all over Rob Zombie's remake of the John Carpenter classic "Halloween," let me remind the picky bastards out there that the last time we saw Michael Myers on that big screen, he was trading karate chops with Busta Rhymes. Yeah, now this update doesn't seem so bad, does it?
As the troubled child in the Myers family (including Sheri Moon Zombie and William Forsythe), Michael (Daeg Faerch) has used his isolation to create a horrifying inner world where he tortures animals and uses masks to accept his evil nature. After slaughtering his family, Michael is sent to a mental hospital where he’s put in the care of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). After years in his cell, Michael has grown to hulking proportions (now played by Tyler Mane) and manages to escape, heading to his old hometown of Haddonfield to locate his baby sister, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), for his final act of brutality.
Now, to be fair, Zombie’s take on the The Shape has nowhere near the quality, durability, or effortlessness of Carpenter’s 1978 creation. That being said, there’s much to appreciate in this merciless reimagining, but it requires great effort to clear away the expectations that come with a typical “Halloween” movie.
Having been an outspoken critic in the past on the ugly business of turning our screen monsters into misunderstood kittens just to find a new angle to mine for genre gold, I was surprised to find Zombie’s attempt to establish a psychological backstory for Myers so engaging. In the new “Halloween,” Myers is no longer a mysterious, unstoppable creature of indeterminate sadistic hunger; he now possesses the profile of a classic serial killer, humanizing him to a point where his acts of violence do not emanate from a vague need to scare, but of uncontrollable impulse to destroy. It’s a slippery slope to chase this narrative tail, but Zombie shows remarkable tenacity, setting aside the film’s first 40 minutes for the effort.
The result might royally piss off fans, but the reward is a transformation for the Myers character after decades of lousy sequels that have rendered the killer a joke (again, Busta Rhymes). However small the amount, Zombie still manages to breathe some life back into the franchise with his curiosity, restoring some fright to the masked man as he chases the core of evil, and adding a death wish arc to the Haddonfield expedition that impressed me. Other horror prequels and sequels have only taken mild passes at psychological examination, but Zombie seems truly interested in how Myers came to be, slowing his film down to show the audience where the menace was branded.
Zombie also uses his time with “Halloween” to further his exploration of the white trash heart. Large sections of the picture seem like outtakes from his 2005 humdinger, “The Devil’s Rejects,” with heavy attention on cursing, borderline-comedic bickering, and classic rock songs. Again, this distance from Carpenter is appreciated, and I must admit, Zombie is incredibly good at capturing the seedy chaos of an uncontainable dysfunctional family.
Also fun for fans of “Rejects” is Zombie’s continued casting of genre icons, returning the likes of Ken Foree, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Dee Wallace Stone, Clint Howard, Sybil Danning, Udo Kier, Sid Haig, Brad Dourif, and even Mickey Dolenz to the big screen. Each actor makes a strong impression.
While a claustrophobic, deliberately stretched experience right from the get-go, once “Halloween” starts to resemble the earlier film, with the introduction of Laurie and her yappy high school buddies (Danielle Harris and Kristina Klebe), it really hits home how brutal and angry Zombie’s take on the material is. The filmmaker turns up the volume on Myers’s warpath, staging excruciating scenes of death as Michael struggles to locate his beloved sister in the clueless suburbs. If the new “Halloween” lacks any stylistic panache or detachment, it makes up for it in sheer rage, dishing up some disturbing, yet completely bewitching moments of expiration and unnerving anguish. Carpenter might be the king of the scare, but Zombie is awfully good at this in-the-moment torment stuff. His Myers is a runaway train of pain, making quick, wet work of the poor souls that dare cross his path.
There’s little doubt that a good 10 minutes could’ve been shaved off the climax of Zombie’s movie; the filmmaker perhaps overcompensating in the suspense department to give the picture some added fright meat. However, that’s a minor qualm in what I found to be a terrific horror rebirth, topped off with an outstanding ending that boldly states “NO SEQUEL.” Purists will undoubtedly scoff, but the trick is to look beyond the nature of the remake to see what Zombie was attempting here. It’s a scrappy, semi-brilliant reawakening of a fabulous horror icon, and the best part about it? No Busta Rhymes.
My rating: B+