Tuesday 8 July 2008

Halloween (2007)

Tuesday 8 July 2008
Writer & Director: Rob Zombie (based on a screen-story by John Carpenter & Debra Hill)

Cast: Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Samuel Loomis), Daeg Faerch (Young Michael Myers), Tyler Mane (Adult Michael Myers), Hanna R. Hall (Judith Myers), Adam Weisman (Steve), William Forsythe (Ronnie), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda Van Der Klok), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Brad Dourif (Sheriff Brackett), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey Wallace) & Max Van Ville (Paul)

A pre-pubescent killer, kept in a mental asylum for 15 years, returns to his hometown as an adult -- to track down his now-teenaged sister...

If your name is Rob Zombie, you're predestined to become a rock singer or horror film director. Unfortunately, Mr. Zombie's surname also aptly describes the end-result of his remake of John Carpenter's 1978 original: a pale, shambling imitation, oozing with puss, that needs shooting in the head...

However, while Halloween '07 stumbles into problems common to every remake of a horror classic, I can understand some of the creative decisions Zombie made -- even if they prove unwise and deconstructive to any sense of terror. In case you don't know, Halloween '78 heralded the spiritual birth of the modern slasher flick, with psychopath Michael Meyers (imprisoned as a small boy for killing his family), escaping from his asylum and returning to his hometown of Haddonfield as a white-masked bogeyman to kill babysitters. Zombie's remake is the same story, but with an emphasis on detailing the "birth" of psycho Michael himself (essentially mixing in Halloween II's plot), to spend nearly an hour in young Mike's company before he goes on his killing spree...

While this hour of back-story means Halloween '07 isn't a brainless scene-by-scene retread, it crucially destroys all sense of primal fear in Michael as an unstoppable killing machine. In '78, Michael was commonly referred to as "The Shape" -- his motive, abilities and identity kept vague. It all added to our nightmarish fear, as heroine Laurie Strode (a young Jamie Lee Curtis) struggled to survive such obstinate, faceless, determined terror...

But now, thanks to Zombie's step-by-step guide to what made Michael (Daeg Faerch) go nuts -- a cocktail of prostitute mother (an excellent Sheri Moon Zombie), hateful father (William Forsythe), bitchy sister (Hanna R. Hall), and bullying schoolmates -- all that mystique evaporates. Consequently, Michael Meyers become less supernatural monster, more sympathetic nutcase. There is one scene when he miraculously survives certain death (Jason Vorhees-style), but Zombie generally presents Michael as a normal, deranged man-child with a mask fetish. Which is fine. It's just nowhere near as scary when the villain's psychology is explained to us, and the good-guys are reduced to minor roles. Seriously, Zombie's Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) doesn't appear until the second half of the film -- and just runs around wondering why she's been targeted.

Beyond Michael, the only character with much screen-time is Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael's appointed psychiatrist -- played by Malcolm McDowell, in the role originated by Donald Pleasance. It's a good bit of casting. McDowell's presence in a movie no longer guarantees the quality of If and A Clockwork Orange, but he has cult appeal and a strong vocal identity (like Pleasance). Essentially a father figure to Michael, he's the film's only engaging character -- partly because he's around the longest and has dialogue.

Elsewhere, Daeg Faerch isn't too shabby as Young Michael; a greasy-blonde tyke with a dysfunctional family and a Polaroid collection of tortured animals, who mopes around home wearing a clown mask. It's a shame Faerch isn't talented enough to make you see the moment Michael "snaps" and goes from cat-killer to man-killer, but the film's certainly more enjoyable in this first half -- when it least resembles the '78 Halloween.

Tyler Mane (X-Men's Sabretooth) plays the Adult Michael, a purely physical role he accomplishes well enough. You certainly believe in his strength, even if you never see Michael bench-press or lift weights during his 15 years in the nuthouse. As I mentioned, "heroine" Scout Taylor-Compton is the film's biggest flaw -- bland and left on the sidelines, because Zombie's more interested in the bad-guy. Therefore, when Michael starts going after Laurie (Haddonfield; where nobody notices a crazy, masked man in daylight!), the cat-and-mouse scenario lacks pretty much everything that ensures the original still makes top 10 lists 29 years later. It's like watching Scream, after a documentary explaining Ghostface's childhood pre-Drew Barrymore phone call...

Overall, it's competently filmed and decently-paced, with nearly all of its problems lurking in the script's intention to humanize its monster. Zombie thankfully refused to dish out the same film with better production values, but the changes he makes unravels all sense of tension. Still, it's a masterpiece compared to other horror updates and probably Zombie's best film.

Budget: $15 million
109 minutes