GENERAL INFO:Director: Rob Zombie
Studios: The Weinstein Company, Alliance Films
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Danielle Harris (!!)
Tagline: Evil Has A Destiny; Evil, Unmasked
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murdererScare score: B+
Plot overview: In this version, one Halloween night, 10-year-old Michael Mysers (Daeg Faerch) acts on his psychopathic desires and brutally murders the school bully, his sister’s boyfriend, and his whole family except for his loving mother (Moon Zombie) and innocent baby sister. Claiming to be unaware of these crimes, Michael is nonetheless placed into a mental health institution where he is put under the careful watch of Dr. Samuel Loomis (McDowell). As his mental state steadily deteriorates, Michael’s mother commits suicide, Loomis abandons the case, and Michael is considered hopeless. 15 years later, Michael (Mane) has grown into a very large and still dangerous inmate. On a particularly gory night approaching Halloween, Michael escapes and makes his way back to his home to find his baby sister and complete what he began so many years ago. Meanwhile, in Haddonfield, Illinois, Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) is a typical senior in high school. Typical, that is, until Halloween night comes around and she finds herself the target of “the boogeyman,” the masked Michael Meyers himself. Before the night is through, Laurie must do anything she can to save her own life, including trying to end his.
I remember seeing this movie in theaters and enjoying it, even to the point where I was laughing with delight during some of the murder scenes and my friends refused to talk to me afterwards. It was a pleasure to see a Halloween film in theaters, especially one that mainly stayed true to the original series in plot, script, and even soundtrack. Let’s start at the beginning.
I appreciate Zombie’s attempt to give a clearer backstory to Michael, helping the audience almost to sympathize with him (Zombie would) while still showing his clearly ruthless, psychopathic side. Regardless of what we personally think, this film forces us to question: Nature or nurture?, not only in terms of Michael, but perhaps in the cases of actual serial killers. Zombie slightly overdoes the anything-but-healthy home environment that the young Michael comes from, what with a kind hearted stripper for a mother; an abusive, chauvinistic, recently handicapped, alcoholic stepfather-boyfriend-jerk figure; and a sexed-up, taunting, sleazy sister. The movie is [overly] chock-full of cursing, sexual references, and nudity— though I suppose that’s where the horror movie might be headed today.
The soundtrack of this movie is pretty fantastic. While half of it seems straight out of Dazed and Confused (setting the ’70s mood right from the start), there is also a modern feeling about the majority of the film; still, who could do without John Carpenter’s haunting original musical theme? Moreover, the inclusion of “Mr. Sandman” is a beautiful touch, taking careful viewers back to the original series.
I am so happy, as I was when I saw this in theaters, that Zombie kept many secondary characters the same as they were in the original. Laurie’s friends always cracked me up, and while in this remake they are modernized and even more sexed-up (remember, premarital sex = death), the astute viewer will note, for example, things such as Lynda’s constant usage of the word “totally,” a beautiful homage to the original film’s script and characterization. Also, what a treat it is to see Danielle Harris (from several of the original films) come back to the series all grown up. For all this and “Sandman,” I would love to say thank you thank you thank you to Rob Zombie.
The whole mask motif is another way that Zombie attempts to add depth to our unstoppable killer, who, in his silence and behind a plain, emotionless face mask, is often left without emotions. Open a psychology textbook and you will see the whole development of young Michael feeling more comfortable “hidden” behind his masks gives the audience a clearer understanding of his psychosis as well as his choice of costume for the rest of the film. I did enjoy that the mask he wears when escaping from the mental hospital as it seems to resemble a jack-o-lantern. Very Halloween slasher-chic. Furthermore, the introduction of his iconic mask is done pretty nicely earlier in the film on the night that he kills his family.
Let’s talk about the iconic mask. It’s okay in this remake. It’s not the best mask we’ve seen, but it certainly isn’t the worst one either. I found myself able to accept how it was dirty, worn, cracked, and almost veiny. Still, I think it showed too much emotion for Michael, as compared to the original film. This wasn’t helped by how much more sadistic Michael is made in this movie— lots of new, ingenious ways to kill people, and what was with him letting seemingly everybody keep crawling away? Since when did Michael Myers do that? I guess Zombie wanted to further demonstrate how Michael enjoys watching his prey suffer, but I can’t say this is the true nature of the Michael we have come to know and love (in a terrified way, of course). Unfortunately, for all the time we are left watching Michael watch his victim’s slowly crawl away (some even survive…), we have to deal with the fact that Michael’s mask sometimes makes him look too contemplative or even confused, especially when he does that little cocked-neck thing. On a whole, the mask is still great.
More on Michael. He is pretty creepy in this film. I love how he lingers and lurks: outside windows, across the street, in dark hallways, and especially behind doors. I think some of the scariest scenes in horror movies are when we know the killer is just feet away from the next victim, waiting there, but the characters know nothing. Showing the killer in the background of a shot is one of the most thrilling tactics a horror movie can do. Very well done.
Unfortunately, I did not love Dr. Loomis in this movie. Throughout the original series I think Donald Pleasance does a pretty great job. In this film, McDowell sheds a more negative light on Loomis, though this is certainly intentional on behalf of the creative team as we see the ‘good’ Doctor is also corrupted in his own ways: failed marriages, failure with Michael, receiving “blood money” from publishing a book about his work with Michael, etc. I think all the lines are there, but unfortunately McDowell just does not deliver.
18-year-old Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty great as Laurie Strode. We watch as the young, virginal Laurie turns into a terrified and powerless yet willful female protagonist who must learn to fight back and perhaps even kill in order to survive. Obviously Zombie also wanted to explore more of her psyche, the interesting and no doubt scarring effects such an ordeal must have on its survivors… I hate to admit I haven’t seen the 2009 sequel, but I have heard that this film further explores not only Michael’s, but also Laurie’s mind after the events of this first film are over.
There was an interesting recurring theme I couldn’t help but notice throughout this film that I wonder if Zombie was trying to stress. Michael Myers is an unstoppable killing machine, a masked catastrophe waiting to happen every year come October 31st, and although in some films we see him as a poor, even trapped soul (“Uncle!”), we can know no more about him. Since we know Zombie was exploring his background, psyche, and psychosis further in this film, I couldn’t help but ignore the theme of homophobia. Michael grows up in a home where his abusive step-father-figure insinuates he’s gay, his overly promiscuous sister taunts his sexuality, and only his mother is there to comfort him. At school he meets a similar fate, with the bullies constantly calling him gay through their own derogatory terms. Michael’s vulnerability in the homophobic society he lives in is certainly a key factor in his ultimately snapping, as he first beats the bully to death (speak softly and carry a big stick), and then moves on to the members of his family who mocked him (and then some). Even as an adult, Michael’s sexuality and potency are mocked first by the graveyard shift hospital guards, and then again by the extremely masculine trucker at the truck stop (none of whom meets a happy ending). When Michael is not killing, and especially when we see him as a patient, he does seem to be a confused, even gentle soul. Perhaps the stick, aluminum bat, and of course the iconic butcher knife each becomes the phallic source that allows him to demonstrate his own power over those who get in his way. Or perhaps Horror Buff is overanalyzing the situation and contexts.
I enjoy the more widespread panic and general killings in the original film, but the subtle terror (only known to the immediate victims, Loomis, Laurie, and the children—who are awesome child actors, by the way—is also moving. This film has a beautiful motif of contrast: The brutality of the inside hiding from the seemingly calm outside. Not only do we see this through the mask theme (Michael hiding his rage behind his mask), but until the very end of the film we fail to see any terror outside of the walls of any house or hospital. There are several terrific scenes in which, in the midst of sheer panic and murder inside a house, a character tries to escape outside, but Michael drags them back in and the door is slammed shut, leaving the viewer in the cold, quiet darkness of the street. The resulting inside vs. outside theme is brilliant.
The whole “rape hospital patients who can’t defend themselves” thing was done in Kill Billand it was disturbing then. I hate to say I think Zombie merely threw it in to this film for the sake of sexual brutality, perhaps to show the wickedness of the two male perpetrators who Michael proceeds to kill. We do not know what happens to the female patient, but I for one do not think Michael kills her. Furthermore I hold a personal vendetta against this film for breaking my cardinal rule, because I once promised a room full of friends that there would be no rape in any horror movie we watched, so as soon as this scene passed they had had enough, leaving the room (and probably horror movies in general) behind them.
Fun fact: Co-writer of the original film, Debra Hill, was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, thus giving the Halloween franchise its classic location of Haddonfield, Illinois.
Final critique: As far as remakes go, this one did its job and then some. There was great gore throughout the movie, even to the point that Horror Buff had to cringe (I will never look at aluminum baseball bats the same way again). The deaths are realistic, as far as I can only imagine certain deaths might go (twitching, etc), and this shows great progress since the cheap-o fake deaths of the ’70s/’80s. With a scary and sturdy plot already set, Zombie was wise to not make any major changes but instead to add background to the story we have all come to know. The acting is great all around, except for Dr. Loomis, which I found to be a great let down as he is such a key figure in his Van Helsing-esque position. Overall, those who are squeamish or easily frightened should stay away. Stick to the original series for a good scare, and only once your stomach is stronger should you attempt to watch this remake (even then, consider keeping the lights on, windows closed, and friends close).