September 10, 2007

All Trick, No Treat

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It’s been almost 30 years since Michael Myers first terrorized babysitters and moviegoers alike in Halloween. Now he has returned in Rob Zombie’s remake of the same name. As a big fan of the original and as someone who loathes the seemingly endless parade of usually awful horror remakes, I wasn’t so sanguine about this film. But, I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s last movie, The Devil’s Rejects so I managed to keep an open mind about this movie. Sadly, I still ended up disappointed.

This new version of Halloween begins at the breakfast table of the Myers household. Immediately, we are introduced to a family so dysfunctional that the clan from Little Miss Sunshine looks normal by comparison. The dialogue, especially from Michael’s father (William Forsythe) is so profane and over-the-top that we’re not sure whether to laugh or be horrified. Little Mike (Daeg Faerch) spends his spare time torturing animals and wearing clown masks, neither of which can be a good sign.

The extended backstory is a new and intriguing addition, but works against the film. In making this iconic villain a product of bad parenting instead of the embodiment of pure evil, Mr. Zombie abandons the earlier film’s far more frightening characterization for one that is more psychologically satisfying.
This iteration of Halloween manages to pull of the neat trick of being both a remake and prequel. Technically, only about half the film is a remake: the first 45 minutes deal with Michael’s upbringing and institutionalization while the remainder is a compressed version of the first film. The two halves of the film coexist uneasily, and this leads to serious pacing issues. By the time we finally meet Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in the original), there is hardly any time left to develop her as a compelling character. This lack of character development, especially for the females in the film, is a major problem.
Personally, I found that I didn’t care which of these girls survived; I found all three to be annoying. Scout Taylor-Compton in particular fails to make Laurie the sympathetic heroine she was in the original, and she is practically interchangeable with the rest of her — self-proclaimed — “bitchy” friends. Likable main characters are especially important to have in horror films and the lack of any here is a large problem.

This film distinguishes itself from the original in its enthusiasm for bloodshed. Those who’ve seen Mr. Zombie’s previous work will not be surprised by the carnage, nor will anyone who’s taken the time to notice the film’s R-rating for (among other things), “strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout.” That’s three adjectives in a row!
The film is indeed nasty, but still pales in comparison to films like Saw and Hostel. Though the body count is high and gore abounds, none of the murders are memorable. Even the film’s best death scene, a vicious throat slit, has been done before, in From Hell.
So, is the movie scary? Not particularly, unless you have an intense clown phobia. Mr. Zombie insists on keeping Michael visible in the background too often, keeping us in suspense not over where the killer is hiding, but only what body part he’s going to stab next. Gone are the relentless stalking shots through Michael’s eyes.

Drained of tension, the movie compensates with blood. Luckily, the film is not all bad, and there are even some improvements — namely, fun cameos by recognizable cult horror actors and Rob Zombie regulars, a far superior escape scene and the casting of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. Mr. Zombie wisely uses John Carpenter’s original theme music, though he only samples it sporadically, complementing the soundtrack with an unmemorable score from composer Tyler Bates.

When Gus Van Sant was asked why he remade Psycho, he answered, “So no one else would have to.” In that regard, I’m glad that if anyone was going to make Halloween, it was Rob Zombie, a man who loves horror movies and clearly respects the source material.

But while the original film had a permanent impact on the horror genre, Mr. Zombie’s doesn’t say anything new. It can’t hold a jack-o-lantern’s candle to the original and is only a little better than most of the recent slew of horror remakes (talk about damning with faint praise). If you haven’t seen it already, rent the original Halloween. If you want to see a violent and well-made Rob Zombie movie, rent The Devil’s Rejects. And if you absolutely must see a movie in theaters, just go see Superbad again.