by Mel Valentin
What’s this about Halloween in August? Oh right, we’re actually talking about Rob Zombie’s ("The Devil's Rejects," "House of 1,000 Corpses") remake of John Carpenter’s "Halloween." Why now instead of October nearer the holiday it’s named after? Apparently, the "Saw" franchise has taken over October, essentially blacking out other genre films from being released anywhere near the next installment. That leaves Zombie’s remake more or less in limbo. Horror releases rarely work during the heavy, blockbuster season, and any earlier, and they run the risk of being ignored. Which more or less leaves the fall, Oscar-bait season (minus October, of course). Whatever the reason, Zombie’s prequel/remake/reboot of the thirty-year old "Halloween" franchise isn’t likely to succeed where so many other horror films have gone before. Bad timing is certainly part of the reason why, but more importantly, "Halloween" is a muddled, overwrought, backstory-heavy, exploitative mess.Only ten, Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), is already abusing and killing animals, a sure sign of the psychopath he’ll become as an adult. While his mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), treats Michael with affection, her abusive boyfriend, Ronnie White (William Forsythe), showers Michael with verbal abuse. Michael’s teenage sister, Judith (Hanna Hall), treats him with disdain. Older, bigger boys also bully him at school. After a particularly bad day that just happens to be Halloween, Michael follows one of his tormentors and beats him badly. From there, the oft-ignored, often-abused Michael seeks retribution on everyone except his mother and infant sister. Too young to be imprisoned, Michael is sent to a state psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Loomis’ attempts at treatment prove ineffective.
"Or Michael Myers: The Wonder Years."
Flash forward fifteen years. The now adult Michael (played by Tyler Mane) is a hulking, silent brute who hides his face under a mask. Escaping during a transfer, Michael slashes and dices his way back his hometown, Haddonfield, Illinois, motivated by the irrational desire to meet his now teenage sister, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton). A typical teenager, Laurie lives with her adopted parents, Cynthia (Dee Wallace-Stone) and Mason (Pat Skipper) Strode, and spends her free time with her best friends, Lynda (Kristina Klebe) and Annie (Danielle Harris). To make some extra cash, Laurie baby-sits a neighbor’s preteen son, Tommy Doyal (Skyler Gisondo), as does Annie. Annie’s father, Lee (Brad Dourif), also happens to be Haddonfield’s sheriff. Michael, of course, won’t be denied, stealing blue overalls from a trucker, Big Joe Grizzley (Ken Foree), and recovering his favorite mask from the abandoned house he grew up in. And, oh yeah, the kitchen knife he uses as his principal weapon to dispatch his victims.
Hoping to put his personal stamp on the Halloween franchise, Zombie starts at the beginning, literally, expanding on the brief set-up scenes in Carpenter’s original into almost fifty minutes of backstory, all of it woefully, achingly clichéd. We see Michael as an occasionally sweet natured, often sullen and uncommunicative boy. Of course, there’s the matter of him torturing and killing animals and the abuse he suffers at home to consider, but that’s just Zombie trying to have it both ways: Michael’s a sociopath when we first meet him, but becomes a murderer thanks (or no thanks) to the abuse he suffers at home and at school, leaving us to split the difference when it comes to feeling anything for Michael when he finally turns on his tormentors. Any sympathy disappears once we flash forward to the adult Michael. He’s not only withdrawn and uncommunicative, hiding his face permanently behind a mask, but he responds violently to caretakers at the psychiatric hospital who treat him kindly. In other words, Michael Myers is a monster, a human monster, but a monster nonetheless.
Essentially, Zombie has taken away what makes Michael Myers a compelling cinematic villain: the mystery surrounding who and what he is. Certainly, Carpenter showed Michael as a boy, but only briefly. Michael never spoke as a child or an adult. As Carpenter’s film reintroduced an adult Michael and sent him into the world, he became an unstoppable, conscienceless killing machine. He was practically supernatural (but the actor playing him was nowhere near as tall as Tyler Mane is). The less moviegoers knew about Michael Myers’ purpose, nature, or abilities, the more terrifying he became in their imaginations. Having Dr. Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance in the original) step in on occasion to expound on Michael’s nature was a smart move, feeding various ideas to moviegoers hungry for an explanation as to who or what Michael really was, but without giving them a definitive answer. Here, though, Loomis serves little purpose, since we’ve spent almost fifty minutes watching Michael turn into a conscienceless killing machine.
Contrary to what Zombie has said in interviews, his Michael Myers is just as indestructible as other serial killers in the slasher sub-genre. Myers gets stabbed at least once (given the placement of the knife, he should collapse from blood loss only minutes later) and shot at least five times (including four from a .357 Magnum that should have, at minimum, left large holes in his back and chest), but still manages to shrug off them off and continue his pursuit of his long lost sister with a seemingly superhuman ability to heal from what should be mortal wounds. In short, Myers fits the clichés of the slasher sub-genre to a T. It’s disappointing, of course, as is Zombie’s sloppy storytelling that leaves important questions (e.g., how Michael can identify his sister years later, how he finds out where she lives, or why he slips into houses quietly one moment or come crashing through the front door the next) unanswered.
To make an already weak remake worse, Zombie crams character development for Laurie, her family, and her friends into a few, underwritten scenes before Michael Myers shows up to wreak havoc. Instead, Zombie expects moviegoers to connect Laurie and her friends across two different versions and thirty years. Laurie is still virginal, unsure among boys her own age. One of her friends sleeps around and the other one wants nothing more than to ditch her babysitting gig so she can hang out with her boyfriend. Picking up where the original began and countless others followed, Zombie follows the sex=death formula. Have sex and you die. Almost have sex and, at minimum, you’ll get a severe beating for giving in to your libido. It’s not exactly a progressive take on sex or gender, but Zombie’s desire to pay homage to the original apparently got the better of him. He also pays homage by setting the first half of Halloween in the late seventies (no actual date is given) and, apparently, the second half in the early to mid-1990s.That said, it sounds like "Halloween" doesn’t have much going for it. Story wise, it doesn’t (and that’s not even discussing all the plot holes Zombie fails to address), but on the plus side, Zombie shows talent when it comes to directing suspenseful stalk-and-chase sequences (minus extreme close-ups and shaky cam), especially once Michael Myers find the object of his twisted desire, his sister. Plus gore, lots and lots of gore, although impact shots were obviously held back from the theatrical cut, most likely to get an “R” rating from the MPAA. Of course, that means "Halloween" fans will be able to purchase an “unrated” cut on DVD three months after "Halloween" ends its run in movie theaters. That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s not much to hang a nearly two-hour film on. Ultimately, we end barely care about characters we know next to nothing, and care next to nothing, about.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15531&reviewer=402
originally posted: 08/31/07 18:25:31