Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I wish this were as simple as “Man, this sucks the original’s a$$!” or “Dude, this so kicks Carpenter in the nuts!” Either option would have meant a far less complicated review to write.

Right from the film’s opening though, which gives us an intimate account of life in the Myers home (stripper mom, deadbeat stepfather, slut sister), it’s clear that Rob Zombie’s reimagining of John Carpenter’s Halloween aims to be a different animal than its predecessor.
So harrowing is the environment, that we can clearly see anyone who was raised there would quite possibly go, at worst, fantastically insane, or at best, require decades of therapy; there’s certainly no fun in the dysfunction here.
With this section bleeding into Michael’s incarceration in Smith’s Grove and his psychiatric treatment under Samuel Loomis (this time out played by Malcolm McDowell), Zombie’s Halloween is as much about the tragedy of the Myers family and the relationship between Loomis and Michael, as it is about Michael’s eventual return to Haddonfield and his reunion with baby sister Laurie (this time out played by Scout Taylor-Compton from Wicked Little Things).

This is where Zombie’s version is quite possibly the strongest.
Though one could argue that this section demystifies the horror icon, the fact remains that this is territory Carpenter did not chart in his original, so this was clearly Zombie’s opportunity to deliver to the modern audience a vision that would not have the shadow of John Carpenter falling so heavily upon it.
And Zombie makes the most of it, crafting a riveting and frankly unsettling portrait of a psychopath in the making, a maniac who goes into a silent, fifteen year hibernation, and comes out the other end as the man who was Sabretooth, Tyler Mane.
Mane, of course, is a towering physical presence, so his Michael is a looming monolith of sinister intent. And though I initially felt irked at the early reveal of the Shatner Halloween mask, the payoff is rather effective, as is the mask fetish, which serves to hide his self-professed “ugliness.”

At around the same time as said payoff occurs, we are introduced to this Halloween’s Laurie, and it’s around this time that Zombie’s ride begins to sputter.
It’s not that Taylor-Compton is necessarily a bad actress, it’s just that this Laurie isn’t the Laurie that made such an impression nearly three decades ago. This is not Jamie Lee Curtis.
This Laurie has more of a sense of humour, this Laurie feels like less of a nerd, this Laurie feels less haunted.
And it’s not as simple as this Laurie doesn’t feel like Laurie either, but rather that this Laurie doesn’t seem as interesting as Curtis’ Laurie; this one seems a lot more ordinary.
And to be completely fair, it isn’t all Taylor-Compton’s fault, as, unlike Carpenter’s Halloween, which focused largely on that specific Halloween night, in Zombie’s redux, we have that pre-Haddonfield section that takes up a substantial portion of the film’s running time, so we don’t really get to spend all our time with Laurie and her friends.

On the plus side though, the performances by Kristina Klebe and Danielle Harris as Lynda and Annie, respectively, are better than the originals. (I’ve never made it a secret that I feel the one laughable element of Carpenter’s original is Nancy Loomis’ “performance” as Annie, so seeing Harris take on the role was honestly a high point of this version. It’s also a nice bit of casting, as Harris is a Halloween alum, having appeared as Michael’s niece Jaime in Halloweens 4 and 5.)
Ironically, as much as Taylor-Compton’s Laurie makes less of an impact than the original’s, Annie and Lynda here feel slightly more real than their earlier counterparts.
Regardless though, the characters just aren’t interesting or involving enough to warrant our attention or invested sympathy.

Another problem of the latter portion of Zombie’s take is that it’s certainly not as rife with tension as the original. It does, however, come alive when Laurie and Lindsey (Jenny Gregg Stewart, who can certainly scream up a storm) discover the bloody mess Michael’s left Annie and Paul (Max Van Ville; Big Momma’s House 2) in.
And when I say “come alive,” it does in a rather loud and shrill way, as everyone seems to start screaming their fool heads off at this point.

And though Zombie takes an interesting tack with Michael’s initial intent regarding Laurie, the film’s climax deteriorates into a lengthy, dragging sequence where Taylor-Compton is made to suffer for her paycheck, as Laurie’s mental and physical health are pummeled to a messy, quivering pulp.
Ultimately, it’s this Haddonfield section that left me terribly dissatisfied. Despite some potentially intriguing beats and the curious sense of pathos Zombie manages to invest his Michael with, the section that comprises “the night he came home” just doesn’t feel very solid.
Also, as much as I love Malcolm McDowell, the classic Loomis lines were just a whole lot weightier when Donald Pleasance was spouting them. (As much as this version allowing us to get to know Michael a little more was interesting for me, getting to know Dr. Loomis more wasn’t, as we see that not only is he a horrible writer, but he seemed rather all-too-willing to make a quick buck off his decade and a half with Michael.)

And while key riffs from Carpenter’s original score—including of course, the signature theme—are intact and used to good effect throughout the film, the blood and gore here is a veritable tsunami compared to the suspense over violence approach of the original. Additionally, the viciousness with which characters are dispatched, is only offset by the depiction of a great many of them as filthy, horny, potty-mouthed miscreants. (I think the nicest characters in Zombie’s Halloween are Laurie’s adoptive parents, played by genre faces Dee Wallace (as it was so famously put in Scream, “E.T.’s mom”) and Pat Skipper (Scully’s brother on The X-Files). Sadly enough though, being nice doesn’t really help them all that much anyway.)

In saying all of that, I believe I’m also saying that Carpenter’s version kicks Zombie’s in the nuts, though honestly, I really don’t think anyone expected otherwise.
Still, that doesn’t totally discount Zombie’s effort.
The intent was there, surely, to give us a Halloween that wasn’t necessarily a retread of the original, to explore different avenues left untravelled by Carpenter, to give us a Halloween that had more of a reason to exist than simply to make some easy money off a previously established brand name.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, in laying down the disquieting dollop of reality in the film’s first half, Zombie defused any inexplicability that may have informed the second half, the way it did so magnificently in the original.
What we have in the end is the uncomfortable and protracted destruction of a family, which takes just over two hours (in the unrated version) to reach its bloody, violent conclusion, far too long and excruciating a journey to make it worth the while.

Parting shot: There are, however, some bright spots: genre stalwarts Udo Kier, Brad Dourif, and the aforementioned Wallace make welcome appearances. This, however, made me both happy and sad; Kier and Dourif are given precious little to do, and Wallace… well… that just got me real upset…
There’s also an interesting appearance by Sybil Danning, who, amusingly enough, starred in a Howling movie (the second and horrible Howling II: …Your Sister Is A Werewolf), just like Wallace (the original and excellent The Howling).

Parting shot 2: Reviews of the original Halloween, Halloween II, and Wicked Little Things can be found in the Archive.

(Halloween OS courtesy of wildaboutmovies.com; images courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)

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