In reviewing this film, I have no qualm comparing Zombie’s Halloween with Carpenter’s Halloween. In fact, I think that anyone that watches this film will inevitably suffer through the same comparison. To those of you that say the two films should be judged independently of one another, I say there is no way to dissever the two. You don’t “re-imagine” a film and hope that it stands as on its own. If you want to create something that stands on its own, you create something new.
Review: Rob Zombie’s Halloween
There’s a reason why in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) Michael Myers is referred to as “The Shape” in the end credits. The film starts out from the perspective of Michael Myers, the audience sees what Michael sees. No explanation, no narration, no words are provided in order to ease the viewer into the film. We are given a date (Halloween) and a location (Haddonfield), nothing else. Through his mask’s eye-holes, we see Michael Myers murder his sister. Immediately after, we see him standing outside, unmasked and holding the murder-weapon, surrounded by his perplexed parents. The first few minutes of film leave you in the dark feeling clueless, helpless, and disturbed. The first crucial moments make it painfully clear that you will not know why he murdered his sister- that’s not what Halloween is about. Halloween sets up a simple premise: there are monsters out there, real bogey-men (and bogey-women) and we don’t always know who they are. Carpenter’s Halloween attempts to scare on a visceral level, and to this end a mindless, motiveless, and faceless monster devoid of any morals, remorse, or a conscience is required.
The original Halloween’s Shape is vessel, a blank canvas where the viewer fills in the blanks. Rob Zombie’s “re-imagining” of John Carpenter’s slasher classic attempts to fill-in the canvas with broad and sloppy strokes of cliched psychological motifs. Zombie’s Halloween suffers from weak characterization, unnecessary exposition, and shoddy plot pacing. These failings render the movie unwatchable and amateurish.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween attempts to fill-in the history of Michael Myers’ early years. His mother is a stripper, his step-father is a over-sexed, crippled, verbally abusive drunkard, and his sister is, well, she’s a lot like the father, only less drunk. Myers is the target of the local school bully, a verbally abusive… I think I see a pattern here. Well, you get the idea.
Eventually, Michael Myers decides to get psychiatric help and begins to heal his battered Psyche. Oh, wait a minute. Actually, he ends up murdering everyone with the exception of his little sister and mother. Michael Myers is a psychologically scarred murderer that grows up to be a hell-bent murderer. After escaping from the mental institution where he’s spent thelast seventeen years (no doubt pumping iron -more on this later) in therapy with Dr. Loomis (Malcolm MaDowell), Micheal Myers returns to Haddonfield to murder his only remaining family member. Michael’s sister, Julie Strode, has since been adopted and does not know about her family’s gloomy past. Somehow, she must survive her stalker/brother’s wrath.
That Zombie’s Myers’ early life is depicted through serial killer cliches is simplistic and lazy writing. The back-story is predictable and unsatisfying. The writer/director drains any real sense of suspense that is inherent in the original. Instead, what we get is an exercise in tedium, one that feels rushed and amateurish. Early on in the film, we get a glimpse of Myers murdering a pet rat, a scene that is meant to be foreboding, I guess. Zombie forgets that given the Halloween movie franchise’s ubiquitousness, movie-goers already know that little Mikey Myers will one day become The Shape. There is no question if Mikey Myers will become a murderer, (the audience already knows the answer) the real question is “will ‘he Shape succeed and kill Laurie Strode?” That is what gave the original film its momentum and Michael Myers’ his determination and obsession. Zombie takes that unnecessary if and stretches it out for a painful hour or so. The other if (Will Laurie Strode survive Halloween) is shoe-horned into about forty-five minutes. That’s right, the original story-line of Carpenter’s Halloween is rushed through and handled with all the skill of three year-old trying to carve a Jack O Lantern. To play with this analogy a bit further, the film ends-up being a mess of pulp and blood.
The latter half of Halloween is basically a compressed version of the original. Laurie runs around, Dr. Loomis tries to catch-up with Myers, and some blood is shed. There is really nothing new or innovative in this part of the film. Zombie should replace the second half of the film with one of those 30-Second Bunnies version of the film (www.angryalien.com). At least then, it’d be funny for all the right reasons.
Zombie’s Halloween is also about time-travel. Of course it’s never mentioned or explained, but what other reason could there be for all the inconsistencies in the timeline? The film, starts off in the seventies. The kitschy way people dress, Mikey Myers’ Kiss t-shirt, the distinctive music (BOC’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”), all point to the late-seventies. When the exposition of Myers’ past having been plodded through, the film resumes seventeen years later. Let’s say the first part of the film ends in 1979, seventeen years later would make it 1996. Yet, in the latter part of the film we see cars from the year 2006 in the background, teenagers using modern cell-phones, and teenagers wearing clothes and hairstyles that could have easily come from todays youth culture. I might be nitpicking, but this lack of attention to detail reeks of carelessness and disregard for the audience.
Another puzzling aspect of this film is Zombie’s choice of the actor behind The Shape. Tyler Mane is huge, he’s a mountain of a man. As The Shape, Mane is just far too massive. Zombie’s decision to make The Shape into a huge, hulking, long-haired beast of a man seems unnecessary and over-the-top. Making the character bigger doesn’t necessarily make it scarier or more threatening. Carpenter’s The Shape has a tall but otherwise normal physique. In fact, it can be argued that Carpenter’s take on the character is far more menacing. When the original Shape survives a fall from a second-story balcony, the audience is left feeling uneasy and creeped-out. When Zombie’s muscle-bound Shape survives a similar fate, the audience is expecting nothing less from the seemingly super-human killer. Zombie’s Halloween is riddled with these type ofawkward, stumbling characterizations.
There are some names associated with this movie that would be recognizable to most horror fans, especially those of you that have seen Zombie’s previous work. Sherri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, and Sid Haig all have parts in yet another Rob Zombie film. I was suspect of Sherri Moon Zombie’s performance given that she is Rob Zombie’s wife, but her acting was not half-bad -It was all bad. Malcolm McDowell disappoints as Mikey Myers’ psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, playing the role without any passion or real insighton the character. For Halloween Zombie searched high and low to include B-movie star cameos by Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), Dee Wallace (E.T.), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), and Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) among others. Sadly, this inclusion of such cheesy, competent, and under-appreciated actors was the high-point of the film.
Ultimately, Zombie’s Halloween does not crawl out the original’s shadow. Carpenter’s Shape embodies fear, death, and is a stand in for the faceless, ordinary-looking murderers that roam the earth. That’s why he wears a plain, white mask that is devoid of any expression or features. He can be anyone out there. That is the real horror of the original, that murderers comes in all forms: they are our neighbors, the baker down the street, the friendly businessman that dresses up as a clown, the charismatic lawyer. Serial killers are everywhere. And when they start killing, their victims don’t care about how they became they way they are. Carpenter’s Halloween plays on this motif, unraveling a tale of suspense and primal fear that strikes a chord with audiences. Zombie’s Halloween, on the other hand, fleshes out Michael Myers with such inept, cliched writing that the Shape is rendered powerless and nothing more than a musclebound, mundane caricature of the original. Rob Zombie aptly called this a re-imagining of Halloween —I just wish it would have stayed in his imagination.