Two thousand seven was a black year all around. Spider-man jumped the shark, the Fantastic Four died, and Michael Bay sodomized the Transformers amidst a shower of derision and money…mostly money. As if that weren’t depressing enough, in the midst of it all some brain-damaged soul looked both ways and said: “I know! We’ll remake Halloween!” He was promptly run through by the heretofore-unseen masked killer standing directly behind him. In accordance with his last will and testament, the remake was greenlit, with Rob Zombie set to write and direct. The result is a 2007 version of the 1978 film that’s probably been ripped-off, re-imagined, re-purposed, retconned and reanimated more than any other film ever. I might as well start wearily sighing now.
Rob Zombie is an interesting case. For awhile he seemed a harmless purveyor of butt rock, mining a career out of kitschy spookhouse iconography and instrumentation that only stood out against a crowd of screaming pseudo-rap excreted by white, frat-boy douchebags. But having apparently taken the music industry’s premature declaration of its own demise at the hands of dread internet pirates (ARRRH!) seriously, Zombie jumped ship in 2003 and took his vision to Hollywood, unwittingly stumbling right into my trap. I couldn’t write a pop music review to save the lives of kidnapped orphans…but I can reduce films to greased smears on the information superhighway. So here we go.
As a writer/director, Zombie’s “visions” seem to revolve around portraying psychotic lower class-Americans from Texas. Haddonfield, Illinois, is his first cinematic foray outside the former-Lone Star Empire. As the film opens we see the old axiom proved once again: you can take the boy out of Texas, but…the boy will graft Texas into any story he tells, come hell, high-water, or studio interference. Nominally a revisionist reimagining, Halloween spends its first hour with the child psychopath Michael Myers and only gets down to actually remaking Halloween after forty-five minutes elapse. As with any remake, the urge to Be Faithful clashes with the instinct to say “fuck it all,” and make the Monster a Designated Hero in what’s known as “the De Laurentiis Strategy.”
In that spirit, we open with an abbreviated introduction to White Trash America, courtesy Zombie. It’s as if these Myers are refugees from Planet Bundy, finally escaped Chicago’s exurban sprawl to bring their own brand of swearing and sexual innuendo to Small Town America. Michael’s stepdad (William Forsythe) is a drunken lout fluent in the language of Hick Verbal Abuse. Mama Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper of some notoriety. Sister Judith (Hanna Hall) is Jailbait with a capital J. Michael (Daeg Faerch), with his clown mask and his bookbag full of dead cats, fits right in…just like this sequence would fit right into either of Zombie’s previous films.
These first twenty-five minutes are Halloween‘s strongest for all their cliched simplicity and one-note characterization (more hallmarks of a Zombie script). Presumably we don’t need to know much about the Myers…es…since they’re all fated to die. But given Zombie’s choice of focus here, I wonder what a full-fledged, honest-to-God Halloween prequel might’ve looked like. Zombie could’ve begun with the birth of baby Laurie and ended with Michael’s familial massacre. You still could’ve called the film Halloween...and it would’ve had more to do with the original than Season of the Witch.
Instead, after Michael showers in family gore, we spend the next thirty minutes watching Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) try and fail to reach through the boy’s apparent-amnesia, eventual muteness, and life-long obsession with making masks. “To hide my ugliness,” he says in one his last lines, and one of my last glimmers of hope for this film’s worthiness.
Fifteen years down the flash-forward, Michael escapes. Teleporting himself back to Haddonfield, he once again meets and stalks the now-sixteen-year-old Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) after she once again slips a key through the mail slot of “the old Myer’s house.” Because she’s (sigh) still his sister. Sure, Halloween, go ahead: piss away you’re best chance to jettison that half-assed plot contrivance in thirty years.
“Oh, but I know,” screams the idiot who came up with all this in the first place, having been reanimated by a flying canister of T-virus ejected from the back of a speeding truck with the Umbrella Corporation logo emblazoned across it. “This time we’ll cast younger actors and have them scream more. It’ll be golden. What could possibly go wrong?”
It could feel like another rush-job Halloween sequel, rightly dedicated to long-time series producer Mustapha Akkad. His spirit haunts the film more than any other, what with the second half being so goddamn typical. Laurie’s two friends, Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe), once again exit courtesy The Shape. Dr. Loomis once again (temporarily) saves the day but you can’t kill the Bogeyman, after all…unless you’re the Final Girl.
Cynical as that sounds, cosmetic differences between the original film and this film’s back end abound, but none of them matter so much as the back end’s complete failure to pay off on a rather-nice hour of build-up. There’s a bit forty minutes in where Dr. Loomis tells Michael, “In a weird way you’ve become like my best friend. Just shows you how fucked-up my life is.” No, doctor – it only tells us. Had the film actually shown us that it might’ve become something other than an exercise in watching teenagers kick the bucket for having too much damned fun.
But we know where Zombie’s creative interests reside. Just look at the death of special-guest star Danny Trejo, who plays one of Michael’s jailers. “Mikey” repays him for fifteen years of fair-dealings by drowning the poor man in a sink. Zombie films this kill from a drain’s vantage point, meaning we look straight into Danny Trejo’s face as he gradually drools out an ever-greater amount of blood into the water. Eventually the shot becomes a cloudy, morose, blackish-crimson. It’s a decent enough…but it’s also a mean-spirited trick shot that does nothing to advance the story in any way, form, or Shape. Seemingly realizing this, or just frustrated at the character actor’s continued insistence on living, Michael drops Trejo to the floor and introduces his face to the nurse station’s TV…like it’s the victim’s fault you’re too impatient to drown them properly. Sheesh. And I’m supposed to believe Zombie’s improved as a writer/director since 2003?
Perhaps he has, but here he’s obviously pulling against Carpenter’s film rather than using it as a jumping-off point to tell his own bloody story. Scout Taylor-Compton sure seems an engaging protagonist, and she’s got more screen chemistry than anyone else in the cast, including McDowell. But both seem like they’re phoning it in here because there’s fuck-all for them to do until Michael ruins their Halloween. It’s like Laurie and Loomis are stuck in fast-forward because, by the time they show up, we’re an hour out from the end and Zombie’ll be damned if he’ll give his “normal” characters the same loving attention he lavished on the Myerseses.
In that end, this Halloween has no reason to exist outside of allowing Dimension to cash in on the fact that certain idiots (including Michael Bay, through his outfit Platinum Dunes) remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in ’03…the same year Zombie made the hillbilly-psychopath genre controversial again with House of 1000 Corpses…coincidence?
Yeah. “Totally.” But there’s little else to discuss here. It’s got more gore than its source material, but that’s a foregone conclusion. These days you can’t make a horror film with less than a half-gallon of fake blood. This Halloween also seems dumber than its predecessor thanks to the first hour’s over-reaching ambitions. If Michael’s so obsessed with making his family pay for How They Did Him Wrong, why murder Laurie’s friends? Have at her foster family – properly handled, that could’ve been a film in its own right, and it would’ve at least hung together better than this. You’d still have to address little dangling threads…like how Michael knows what Laurie looks like these days…or how he got to Haddonfield in the first place…or what, exactly, he expects to accomplish by dragging Laurie back to the old Myer’s homestead, other than set-up the film’s Climactic Battle…
This is the problem with all Halloween sequels: the more you shoehorn into Michael’s back story the more questions you bring up. Carpenter tossed his hands up and laid it all on Fate and Evil but here we are, thirty years later, trying to humanize his Monster. Michael Myers was never designed to be a dynamic protagonist. For one thing, he’s mute, indestructible, and a weapons fetishist. That works in video games, but on film your actors must convey their characters to the audience. And what can you convey when your character boils down to “hold butcher knife and stride purposefully toward nearest teenage girl”?
Jason Voorhees gets away with this because his is a simpler kind of spree killing, more akin to territorial pissing than Michel’s methodical familicide. Freddy Kruger can speak (and he will – at length if you let him) so he’s got no problem making his motivations understood. Shame Michael, first of the Slashers, wound up with the short shift.
Attempts to fix that, Rob Zombie’s remake only adds more mud to waters Moustapha Akkad spent the last twenty years using as his personal latrine. There’s a bit where Laurie (sigh) once again wedges herself into a closet, the better to build tension as Michael stalks her through the crumbling remains of Casa de Myers. After apparently-careful consideration, Michael does what I predicted he’d do and begins smashing through the closet wall. Camera pulls back…to reveal Laurie’s discovered her own Offscreen Teleportation powers and now stands in the hallway, shivering but unharmed. For all the questions that brings up (Offscreen Teleportation must be genetic), this bit reveals what Halloween could have been: a real genre-defying, balls-to-the-wall revision, giving the Slasher film a much needed shot in the arm by saying, “Fuck you,” to its genre conventions. The kind of film Scream wanted to be when it grew up (and never did). Instead, we have a pretender that started off strong only to crash, like an Olympic sprinter who paused mid-race to sever his own hamstring.