Scream and Scream Again
As the release date of Rob Zombie's remake of the slasher classic Halloween grew closer, I found myself becoming more iffy about the project than I felt when it was first announced. Why? Because the movie was released on the same weekend that Neil LaBute's updating of The Wicker Man hit theaters a year ago -- and turned out to be one of the most laughable cinematic messes in recent memory, despite its pedigree. I started worrying that Zombie's take on the legendary John Carpenter picture would end up the same way.
Thankfully, the man behind The Devil's Rejects pulled through, using his own filmmaking style to deliver a take on Halloween that's not exactly necessary but not altogether unwelcome either. Instead of setting his focus upon doomed babysitters, Zombie opens Halloween by plunging viewers right in the middle of the unpleasant world of 10-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch). Between intense bullying at school and psychological battering from his mom's boyfriend (William Forsythe) at home, Michael is leading a painful existence for someone at such a young age. But the world is about to realize the extent of Michael's rage when the tyke moves from torturing animals to wiping out nearly his entire family, save for his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and baby sister, on a bloody Halloween night.
Michael is sent to a sanitarium, where, even with the best efforts of kindly Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, good here but not even a fraction as great as Donald Pleasance), the evil inside him dwells as he grows into a hulking, silent beast of a man (now played by Tyler Mane). Seventeen years later, as another Halloween approaches, Michael busts out of his prison, hell-bent on returning to his hometown and finishing the massacre he began all those years ago.
This Halloween compares to the earlier film in the same way Charlie and the Chocolate Factory does to the original Willy Wonka. Both original movies are classics in their respective fields, and the driving force behind both remakes more than likely involved the pursuit of a few more greenbacks. Still, they're not bad movies. After all, the Halloween franchise was in the midst of a swan dive, and after the watchable but misguided Halloween: Resurrection, the studio's only logical alternative to being embarrassed with yet another sequel was to start the series all over again. The result is pretty much Halloween Mark-2, essentially the same tale but told a little bit differently, in a way that helps the movie come across as something other than another useless remake.
Zombie, who obviously has great admiration for horror films, uses the approach of helping viewers get to know the antagonist more than the they are used to. He did the same thing to great effect in The Devil's Rejects. The lines aren't as blurred here (i.e. Michael is a stone-cold killer, and just about everyone else is set on stopping him), but the way Zombie explores Michael's past, picturing him as an already troubled kid pushed to the breaking point not long after the movie started, is a nicely-done alternative to Carpenter's approach of depicting the character as pure, unexplainable evil.
Unfortunately, Halloween's gears slow down when Zombie starts covering Carpenter's territory. Such moments tend to pull the viewer back to earth and make them question the reasoning behind why a remake had to be done at all. Nevertheless, Zombie's style still results in a gripping gorefest, highlighted by Mane's fearsome performance as an even more unbalanced Michael than we've seen before as well as by Scout Taylor-Compton's excellent job of stepping into Jamie Lee Curtis' shoes. Also deserving of praise is Sheri Moon Zombie (Rob's wife, usually cast as a vixen in his films), who offers an unexpectedly sweet turn as Michael's mother.
All in all, Halloween is nothing to make a big fuss about. There have been better horror movies in 2007 (28 Weeks Later), but worse ones (Captivity) have also been released this year. In the end, all that matters is that Rob Zombie's Halloween delivers thrills and chills to both regular gorehounds and dyed-in-the-wool fans of the franchise.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Dimension Films and rated "R" for strong brutal violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.)