When it was announced that Dimension films was planning a remake of John Carpenter’s 1979 slasher classic Halloween, I among many others just sighed at the folly of the enterprise. The original Halloween was one of the most influential horror movies of all time. The movie still holds up today; aside from some 70’s style clothing, hairstyles, and slang one would hardly realize it was old. The original is still watched annually by me every October 31st, I didn’t need a new Halloween and I was ready to miss the remake when it hit theaters. Suddenly though I was struck with a ray of hope, Rob Zombie was going to be sitting in the director’s chair. Rob is a director who has had a certain integrity and creativity during his horror movie career, I didn’t see why he would be making this if it were the debacle I had envisioned. Unfortunately, Rob Zombie has completely disappointed me, the remake of Halloween is just as bad as I feared.
The film begins in 1989 where a young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a troubled youth living is a deeply dysfunctional redneck family. His father (William Forsythe) is clearly abusive, and his loving mother (Played by Rob’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper. Michael finally snaps and murders a school bully, his father, his sister Judith (Hanna Hall), and her boyfriend. Following this quadruple homicide Michael is put into a maximum security psychiatric ward. Michael’s mother commits suicide, leaving behind a baby girl. Psychologist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) tries to work on Michael for seventeen years without any success. The adult, and mysteriously buff, Myers (Tyler Mane) naturally escapes from prison seeking blood.
Rob Zombie (real name: Robert Cummings) began his entertainment career in music, as the lead singer of the groove metal band White Zombie. Zombie, who had been interested it kitch horror movies since a child, brought a sense of macabre theatricality to his music, especially in is live performances and music videos. In 2003 Zombie expanded his work into film directing with The House of 1000 Corpses, a movie that ultimately failed but had its moments. There was promise in Corpses, but I was completely unprepared for how good its sequel The Devil’s Rejects was. Rejects was a rollicking good time of violent kitch, not a true horror movie, but a violent tribute to everything Zombie seems to love. Rejects was actually a movie that owed a lot to Quentin Tarentino of all people. The film actually did the same thing Tarentino does: borrow from a whole lot of other movies the director loves and mix them interestingly into an original story. Rejects wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was one of the most enjoyable movies of its genre in a long time.
The Devil’s Rejects is the one thing that convinced me this remake would be worthwhile. Zombie seemed to know what he was doing, the casting of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis seemed perfect. I defended Zombie even when it was announced he was going to be revealing additional back-story about Myers, a move many (correctly) thought would de-mystify the character. Unfortunately my initial instincts about this project were correct, a remake of Halloween has proven to be completely unneeded. The project is also unsuited for Zombie, whose previous work was effective because it embraced a certain campy fun that is completely absent from the original Halloween.
The remake makes a futile attempt at telling the back story of Michael Myers. This is futile first because everything here actually was covered in the original, just in a much faster and far less boring way. Michael’s childhood murder for example, was taken care of during a five minute sedi-cam shot. Here it is covered by a twenty minute sequence, but what new does this twenty minute sequence accomplish? Well there are four victims instead of one, which helps the film’s blood quotient, but otherwise doesn’t change the Myers character one iota. Additionally it turns his family into a completely dysfunctional entity in a futile attempt to explain Myers behavior. But isn’t it more frightening for Meyer’s behavior to come out of ordinary circumstances? The original managed to avoid all this by writing off Myers as simply being the personification of evil, this not only moved the story along but also added a creepy aura to Myers that contributed far more to the fear the character evoked than his butcher knife. The remake is robbed of this aura and is completely slowed down by this new material. Also boring, is the extended period Myers spends in prison, which again, slows down the story and takes away Myers aura. The movie does get a little better once we get to the contemporary story, if only because it follows the original’s story more closely.
The casting of both the young and the old Michael Myers are poor. Daeg Faerch is boring and one note as the young Michael Myers , his line readings are poor and his “spooky stare” needs work. I don’t want to be too hard on a ten year old actor, but we’ve seen dozens of better “creepy kids” throughout horror movie history. Tyler Mane as the adult Michael Myers is even more problematic. Many would assume that the role of a masked killer could be played by anyone regardless of talent, and that’s true, the original Myers was basically played by an unpaid intern and has been played by various stuntmen ever since. Mane isn’t to blame for his presence, he’s simply miscast, this former pro-wrestler is a huge behemoth who more closely resembles Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series than the Michael Myers we all know and love. This Myers is more of a brute force than the original who seemed to have a more stealth oriented approach to things.
For what it’s worth, the rest of the cast isn’t half bad. I rather like the girls cast as Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe), in fact I think they are about the only improvement here over the original. It may seem like heresy but I don’t really think Jamie Lee Curtis was all that good in the original, she gives a lot of bad line deliveries and despite only being 21 at the time, didn’t look at all like a teenager. The new trio of friends however did feel like a real set of teenage girls. Some may find the way these teens act and talk annoying, but it really is authentic way modern teenage girls act and talk. Malcolm McDowell felt like perfect casting as the crazy old man Dr. Sam Loomis, his performance however is a bit of a disappointment. McDowell is all right, but he doesn’t live up to Donald Plesence’s take on the character in the original. The rest of the cast is made up of cameos by the cast of The Devil’s Rejects each of whom brings brief, fun, presences in their scenes.
The violence in the original Halloween is surprisingly restrained in retrospect. It’s R-rated stuff, but it was also mostly bloodless. Knowing Rob Zombie’s body of work I knew that wasn’t what we were in for here. This movie is incredibly bloody and violent; this alone isn’t a problem, I am a fan of The Devil’s Rejects after all, but it doesn’t work at all here. Those seeking the kind of over the top, almost fun gore seen in 80’s slasher films like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street provided will be disappointed. The violence in here is of an extremely brutal nature. The first kill for instance involves a young Myers beating another child severely with a log, pausing to listen to the boy plead for his life, only to finish him off. There are twenty one more brutal killings to go after that, I wasn’t remotely scared or even put in a state of suspense by any of this, it was simply disturbing for the sake of being disturbing. It really wore me out by the end.
The movie is amazingly dark, in the sense of lighting that is. At least 80% of this movie must take place at night. My eyes began to strain by the end of the movie. Between this and the unrelenting violence I was quite relived to walk out of the theater into sunlight. The story amounts to nothing, the violence is needlessly sadistic, it fails completely to live up to the original, and it is also devoid of any suspense. With this disaster I have lost a lot of faith in Rob Zombie as a film maker. I’ve always felt he deserved better than to be lumped into the so-called “splat-pack”, but I’m beginning to think The Devil’s Rejects was a fluke. Remaking Halloween was a massive lapse in judgment from someone I once had a lot of respect for. Rob Zombie should have known better than to make it, I should have known better than to see it, and unless this movie ends up being the fluke of his career I may soon be turning in my “Rob Zombie apologist” card.
* out of four