Friday, September 07, 2007

Movie Review – Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)

So I went into this with really, really high expectations. I came away with some of my expectations met, and some disappointment.

I liked the movie, I liked it a lot. But part of me is still glad that I can, when the mood strikes me, pull out John Carpenter’s classic original and revel in the simple elegance of one of the greatest horror movies of all time. That said, I do have to caution anyone going to see this movie - go into it with the intention of seeing a revision of the idea, and not necessarily an improvement.

So – what happens? As Rob Zombie’s said in interviews, he was fascinated with the time between when Michael kills Judith, ends up in Smith’s Grove, and then comes back 15 years later. And Rob does a great job of filling in this gap and showing how Michael became Michael.

The film opens and we see Michael as a chubby, long haired kid with a KISS t-shirt. He lives in a fucked up household with his stripper mother (played by the ever lovely Sherri Moon Zombie), his sister Judith, his baby sister Laurie, and mom’s abusive, drunk boyfriend Ronnie (played by the delightfully profane and intense William Forsythe). This scene establishes right out of the gate that this isn’t Halloween as you remember it. There’s plenty of Rob Zombie style cursing and dialogue, which – truthfully – I love. I honestly like the way he writes, it reminds me of Kevin Smith’s style – just with a whole lot more dirty words, if one can believe that!

We learn that Michael is a budding psychopath – complete with all of the beginning signs like killing animals and social issues. We also meet a long-haired, optimistic, and dedicated Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. We learn that Michael is fascinated with masks. And then we see him make his first kill. I’m beginning to notice that Rob likes to refer to his past movies, and this flick does it the most. His first kill is reminiscent of Otis’ tree branch carnage in The Devil’s Rejects, but seems so much more focused and disturbing.

From here, Michael goes on his fateful killing spree at home with chilling efficiency and deliciously gory results. The movie then shifts to Michael’s stay at the Smiths Grove Sanitarium where Loomis tries to reach him and heal him, only to see that the boy is slipping away and a monster is coming to be. As the years go on, Loomis becomes more jaded and cynical, Michael retreats into silence and an obsession with masks, and his mother kills herself in depression at his worsening condition.

Fast forward 15 years, and we see that Michael is now grown, hasn’t spoken in 12 years, and is as big as a professional wrestler (which he is, being played by Tyler Mane and all). The night before Halloween, Loomis quits as his therapist and the state decides to move him to another facility. Obviously, things go horribly awry and – in a chill inducing scene reminiscent of the one when Hannibal Lector escapes in Silence of the Lambs, Michael smears the halls and wall of Smiths Grove with the blood of the hospital staff. This was a great scene – and I refer to Silence of the Lambs – because Zombie does a great job of building the suspense and horror. There is a palpable sense of, “Oh fuck. I’m trapped in a locked hospital with a remorseless, amoral killing machine.”

After this, we veer into familiar territory as Michael returns to Haddonfield and begins the stalking and killing of dumb teenagers who have sex. I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my undead cheek. Killing nubile, sexually active teens became de rigueur in 80’s slasher flicks, so much so that one could watch a movie and know who was going to die based on who was getting boinked. It''s important to bear in mind, though, that this genre necessity was first established by Carpenter’s original Halloween. Just one more way that Halloween set the rules that defined the genre.

So – where was I? Oh yeah, Michael comes to Haddonfield. Michael kills teens. Loomis runs around warning everybody. Nobody believes or groks that Loomis might actually know what the fuck he’s talking about. Michael gets stabbed, shot, and impaled repeatedly. You know, basically just like the original. In this case Laurie is played by the really, really hot Scout Taylor-Compton, and her friends Annie and Lynda are played by Danielle Harris and Kristina Klebe respectively. And We must at this point take a moment to bask in the joy and wonder that is the very hot and delicious Danielle Harris. The very, hot, delicious, and totally topless Danielle Harris. Sigh. (Danielle, by the way, played Laurie’s daughter Jamie in Halloween 4 and 5. How awesome is it that Zombie managed to get her into this film?!?)

What worked about this flick? Well, I have to say that Zombie didn’t disappoint. He understands horror and gets what makes us squirm uncomfortably in our seats. He’s a real horror fan and it shows in his devotion to the craft. I also liked the pre-Halloween material. It was a fascinating look into an otherwise unknown facet of the Halloween mythos. And Zombie’s style seems to be evolving and getting better every time he gets behind the camera. The best part is that there were just some great cameos in the film. Sid Haig makes an appearance, as well as Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Udo Keir, Richard Lynch, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, and Dee Wallace. Best of all was an appearance by the cool as all hell Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett. Brad Dourif (Chucky from Child’s Play, Worm Tongue from LOTR, and Doc Cochran from Deadwood) was totally unexpected and any movie with him in it is a slice of fried gold, bitches!

In addition to this, we see more of Zombie’s homage to his prior work. Tommy Doyle’s Halloween costume is the same that Otis wore at the end of House of 1000 Corpses, as well as also had painted on his steel mask in The Devil’s Rejects. And as always, Zombie did a great job with the soundtrack. In all of the commercials (and also when I saw Zombie in concert last summer) - I kept hearing a reworked, horror-metal version of Carpenter’s original score. My biggest fear was that they would scrap the original music and theme. Surprisingly, they kept it in the movie. Big kudos to Rob for recognizing that the score from the original was one of the reasons that Halloween worked so well. Carpenter’s plinking, eerie, synthesized piano theme is a distinctive, integral part of the suspense of this movie, as well as a piece of horror history. (Admittedly, I’m a little biased here. It’s the damned ring tone on my phone, for chrissakes!)

Finally - Malcolm Mcdowell as Loomis. Pure casting genius! If any actor could convey the almost mad desperation of Donald Pleasance's original performance, Malcom McDowell is that man, me bonny droogs! And he does a super job here. He is probably the best casting choice Zombie made, hands down!

But all this leads to the inevitable question of, "What didn’t work?" For me, what didn’t work was when we get back to Haddonfield and Zombie recreates entire scenes from the original. From Lynda’s irritating use of “Totally!” as an all purpose indefinite article (this is a pet peeve of mine from the original. PJ Harvey’s use of it still annoys the ever living crap out of me. Mrs. Zombie laughs because I totally make fun of Lynda whenever we, like, totally watch the original. Totally.); to the recreation of the scene where Loomis goes to the graveyard to find Judith’s missing headstone. Zombie even recreates one of the pivotal murder scenes where he lifts and - ka-chunk – nails Bob to the wall with his butcher knife. When you can’t bear anymore of this, though, Zombie goes in a completely different direction with the story and changes the ending significantly from Carpenter’s masterpiece. So there is some redemption.

And as awesome as the early years stuff was, Zombie made an error in making Michael Meyers care about his baby sister (Boo in the early years, Laurie later - after her mother’s death and adoption by the Strode’s). This is my biggest gripe about the film. Zombie did everything he could to make Michael an inhuman, monstrous, killing machine; but then gives him this emotional pathos as it pertains to his sister. Even the abortions that were the later Halloween sequels understood that the only reason Michael kept coming back was to kill Laurie (and later his niece, Jamie). His inhuman, methodical, bad as hell sociopathy is somehow lessened by making him act tenderly towards Laurie.

All that being said, I held off on writing this review because I wanted some time to think about the movie and whether or not I liked it. Now, with some time and perspective, I can say I honestly enjoyed it as a stand alone movie. In fact, when held up to the rest of Zombie’s work, it is by far the best, most mature, most well put together of his movies. It is in no way as good as the original Halloween, but it was good on it’s own merits. He added to the series and did so with some great, gory, horrific scenes. So I liked it. I liked it a lot. And I will most definitely own it and recommend it to others as a great movie. I will also - undoubtedly - watch the hell out of it. (Please dear, dark, pagan gods - give us an unrated version!!!)

But - and I hate to say this - I suspect that sometime this October I will be revisiting Carpenter’s original as I gear up for the wondrous holiday that is Halloween. Not because it is better, but because it still stands the test of time.

Sorry, Rob.

Doctor Zombie’s rating: 4 out of 5 Chomped Brains!!!

1 comment:

Phronk said...

Sounds good. I feel lucky that I haven't seen the original in several years, and wasn't totally smitten with it when I did see it. So hopefully I can enjoy this remake as another kickass Rob Zombie movie without comparing it to the original.