Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, Skyler Gisondo, Danny Trejo, Bard Dourif, Dee Wallace, Pat Skipper
R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Now that Hollywood has virtually drained its list of horror properties that people vaguely remember, they’ve turned their sights on classic staples of the genre. Rob Zombie takes the helm of John Carpenter’s bogeyman template Halloween.
The story varies significantly from the original, taking instead a historical approach to the material rather than being presented as a straight-out slasher flick. While it has many of those elements, the film is ostensibly about Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) as a young boy and his descent into temperamental madness that ultimately leads him to become one of the genre’s undisputed slaying machines (surpassed only by Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th series, but that’s for another remake review).
Exploring the psychological repercussions of his childhood slaying of his stepfather, his sister and her boyfriend, much of the film takes place in the psychiatric hospital where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) explores the boy’s emotional state and tries to keep him from slipping into stony silence. Interspersed with these scenes, the story follows his lone surviving relative, sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), as she lives out a peaceful life in the relative obscurity that most teens inhabit. Now with the surname Strode, Laurie knows nothing of her past, kept secret from her by means explained late in the film.
Once Michael escapes from the hospital in a gory display of physical superiority, he sets his sights on his old home town where he begins killing anew, strangely drawn towards Laurie and her friends, each suffering grim fates at the hands of a mad killer.
What I like most about the film is this internal examination of Myers’ psychosis. Explaining his need to wear a Halloween mask and his emotional attachment to the community that neither he nor his grown sister could explain, but which is left up to the audience to understand. It’s the lone improvement over the original and manages to keep the film from conforming to the worst slasher memes.
What is most puzzling is the amount of unnecessary violence. Of course we should expect a bloodletting on line with the more popular films of recent years, but there’s almost an excessive amount, vast sections of script written simply to allow such. It gets tiring after awhile.
The film also willfully and pathologically ignores one of the key tenets of the genre in the 1970s, and even of Myers himself, that certain individuals shouldn’t be targeted. It used to be that those who were targeted for death were those who engaged in risky or inappropriate behavior: pre-marital sex, drug addicts, women abusers, etc. The pure and innocent were often left to survive in some manner. While there is a small amount of this in the film, those instances are few and far between and some are entirely unnecessary.
For its faults, Zombie’s work on Halloween has several instances of enlightenment. He is fully aware of the language of the camera, using it to great effect in scenes at the sanitarium, placing characters close or far apart depending on the emotional connections of the scene. He also avoids scenes of gore that might be more obvious to other directors, allowing the audience to form an image in their own minds. Then there are those scenes where the violence is excessive and graphic, the camera bounces around unnecessarily and erratically and scenes that are so rapidly cut that it’s impossible to understand the action. All in all, I respect much of what Zombie does here, but not everything.
Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are unable to be rivaled. Comparing their performances in the original to their counterparts would be simple and unnecessarily reductive. Looking at McDowell and Taylor-Compton on non-comparative measures shows they deliver solid performances, but nothing exceeding that. McDowell plays Loomis as too much of a narcissist. Loomis should be an affable, father-like figure that could act in that capacity for Michael. And while he certainly tries in those scenes, he still comes off as a miserable old sot.
Taylor-Compton on the other hand doesn’t get much opportunity to explore her character. She’s a rather simple figure to understand and her motives are as stereotypical as those of her three friends, one of which doesn’t even merit real development. Taylor-Compton has promise to become a better actress, but she must break out of the teen mold in order to explore those aspects of her craft.
The remaining characters are mostly simple cliches built so that audience can easily understand their motives, but even so, it is the female characters that get much of the screen time and the boyfriends are virtually stamps just pasted into the film, existing merely to be slaughtered by Myers as he moves to kill the women. Even Dee Wallace, who is no stranger to the genre, manages to end up charming but ineffective as Laurie’s adoptive mother. She has the capability of being much more than that, and might have been better placed as Jason Vorhees’ mother in the Friday series.
Zombie isn’t much of a screenwriter. While he nails much of the psychological discussions and concepts, the remainder is pointless window dressing. I would have liked more development of the non-Myers characters than we got, but as a horror flick in a modern era of “how much more bloody and creative can we be than the next guy”, Halloween is surprisingly reserved. Much better than I expected, but nowhere near a paean of genre.
September 18, 2009