Runtime: 1 hr 49 min
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch
Zombie's artistic touches continue to defy his inexperience and reputation.
Review by: TomElce
Added: 7 years ago
Rob Zombie's radically uneven Halloween movie is a bizarre beast, simultaneously divorced and indebted to the John Carpenter classic that it owes its existance to. It's a strange experience watching Zombie ditching the bloodlessness of the '78 suspense masterclass for unmerciful brutality (he imagines the adult Michael as a giant of a man, much unlike the everyman parable Carpenter and Debra Hill originally envisioned) only to have his cast of characters bring about the obligatory reminders of the source material through dialogue exchanges. Malcolm McDowell notably fills the boots left by the late Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis and gets to utter a few of those lines we associate with Pleasence's series mainstay. "As a matter-of-fact, I do believe it was," he utters when Laurie Strode (here played by Scout Taylor-Compton) cranks out the boogeyman line, right in between the movie's two climactic chase-cum-bloodshed sequences. These tonal shifts might sound like the attributes of the dreary movie generally described by the movie's critical thrashing, but here's the catch: Zombie's film works.
Maybe it's the visual style combined with the excellent Tyler Bates score that wins you over to the musician-turned-director's third feature, these praiseworthy touches bringing atmosphere and technical reward to even the most rote kill sequences Zombie concocts in this no-holds-barred slasher. As a filmmaker, Zombie's artistic touches continue to defy his inexperience and would-be schlocker reputation. Debut film House of 1000 Corpses was marred by his apparent need to shoehorn in every contrived element of his original dream, but The Devil's Rejects was an altogether more brilliant beast - a lively and explicit road movie bringing to mind Hooper's classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the good way that pukeworthy also-rans like Skinned Deep can only dream of. In Halloween, one of the standout sequences finds a young Michael Myers' (Daeg Faerch) pre-murder moping curiously intercut with seductive shots of his stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie, defying her own critics) mid-routine, all of which is sublimely scored to Nazareth's "Love Hurts." It's a mesmeric sequence that naysayers to the film's appeal wish did not exist.
Or maybe his total rejection of rinsed repeating of the original Halloween is what makes the movie such a joy (albeit an admittedly flawed one) to watch. Though his depiction of the making of his central monster - a process inspired by tormenting bullies, a white trash family, being an out-and-out loner - flirts with Serial Killer 101, it's an extended and thoughtful prologue to the story proper, as it were. Daeg Faerch is excellent as the young Michael Myers, alternately sympathetic, creepy and cruel when the screenplay calls for him to be either. He ranks well alongside his more experienced co-stars, negatively including an over-the-top William Forsythe (basically magnifying his Devil's Rejects persona in the guise of Michael's homophobic and abusive stepfather Ronnie White) and positively including a Moon Zombie turn - that's more heartfelt and believable than you'd anticipate - that justifies her continued participation in her hubby's filmography. If the build-up to the quickie slashathon of the latter half lacks in some subtlety, the atmosphere Zombie brings to it makes good on such shortcomings.
Of course, the problem here is the general needlessness of a backstory to explain the adult Myers' (Tyler Mane) massacre. He was created as a spontaneous madman by the first film, while attempts to explain his motivations for continued familial pursuits in the sequels (here's looking at you The Curse) fell flat. If superfluousness is another factoid that numbs the first half, the saving grace must be that didn't face-palm to the extent that previous series think-pieces did. There's no ominous man in black, no constellation-worshipping cults and no p shaped tattoos on show. As a slasher movie whose aspirations might have never equalled a masterwork of a finished product, the execution of its parts - not the need for them - should be the deciding factor. In crafting his own history for a character seemingly done to death by the previous seven films in which he starred, Zombie competently makes him his own.
And then there's the man's return, fifteen years after disposing of the bulk of his family at age 10, to hometown Haddonfield, Illinois just in time for Halloween. How he gets there isn't so neatly explained as in Carpenter's original, but his arrival there is what the latter segment of the film's all about. What follows is a wilfully threadbare journey through familiar slasher territory, boosted by the noteworthy cinematography, game acting performances and violent murders that satisfy those demanding both of gore and visceral effect (they're certainly different things). In Haddonfield waits an oblivious Laurie Strode, who - along with friends Annie (Danielle Harris, returning to the franchise that made her name) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe) - are about to get sucked in to Zombie's thrashing monster of a horror ride. There's barely time for them to take a breath as Michael loudly announces his arrival, nor the time for a guilt-ridden Dr. Loomis (by now Michael's former psychiatrist) to get to the same place before bodies begin to pile up. It's a 180 from the former half, whiplashing where the other portion was slow-burn - and it has (and will) turned some viewers off.
No longer are the trio of teenage friends fleshed-out characters victimized by an unknown, unexplained force. Zombie's flipped things - the man with the knife is the deep one, the girls comparatively one-note. As such, the latter half of Halloween amounts to something of a nihilistic experience, sure to put many off as did Eli Roth's similarly underappreciated Hostel: Part II. No matter, for those who stay the developments here are almost as enjoyable as the preceding minutes of intense build-up. Stalk scenes are integrated to an inspired degree: The technique gets an inspired twist when a bloodied Annie pays witness to Michael's silent arrival in a house but cannot express the rapidly worsening situation to Laurie, who, in the next room, telephones for help unaware of his presence. It's another of Zombie's well-honed sequences, one that's accompanied by the slasher familiarities we'd expect - in another scene, Michael pops up from just outside the camera's field of view to slash one character's throat.
For their part, the actresses playing Laurie, Annie, Lynda and Annie's father Sheriff Brackett do good in the roles assigned them. Scout Taylor-Compton is no Laurie Strode, but she's one of the better lead heroine's the ongoing age of needless remakes has given us. Kristina Klebe is, as Lynda, capable even if she's asked to portray noone more than a teen tart existant to give Halloween one of its three main boobies moments. Brad Dourif arguably surpasses his '78 counterpart in playing Sheriff Brackett, while Danielle Harris makes a welcome and, yes, triumphant return to the Halloween franchise following her role as Jamie Lloyd in Halloweens 4 and 5, the former of which still ranks as my favourite entry after the one that started it all. Harris beats out original part-player Nancy Loomis in her portrayal of Annie, and would arguably have made a better lead than Compton's Laurie, provided her character were given greater depth of course.
I've yet to stumble across an argument that states a remake of Halloween was warranted, but there's a good one to be made for the end result experienced even if many are averse to making it. What makes Zombie's Halloween such an experience is its radical difference to the already-existing entries into the franchise. In terms of cinematography, films bearing the name of the October-capping holiday have never been so visually welcoming. Nor have they been as extreme or foul-mouthed (this latter element is something the director certainly overdoes). It's a welcome change of direction after the unintended horrors of the intolerable Halloween: Resurrection, climaxing with a seemingly endless scream that far outranks the lame post-kung fu jump scare that brought forth the end credits to that nonsensical eight installment. The series had grown long-in-the-tooth before Zombie arrived to jazz things up. Like the finished product or not, you can't deny the invigorating flavour this Grindhouse-loving director has brought with him.