Yarrr...here there be spoilers.
Once upon a time, when I learned that Rob Zombie was making a film called House of 1000 Corpses, I was nothing but wide-eyed enthusiasm. Judging by his stage persona, his general aesthetic, and his famous love of the genre, I thought Here's the man who will save horror from the post-Scream tedium! If Rob Zombie can't make a scary movie, then who can? Then I went to see House of 1000 Corpses in the theatre, and I came out so very close to walking out. Simply put, I really hated it. The characters were irritating, the humor was decidedly frat-boy, the longer it went the less sense it made, and above all else, it sure as shit wasn't scary. I was hugely disappointed, so much so that the bad taste 1000 Corpses left in my mouth was still strong years later; strong enough that I stayed far away from The Devil's Rejects a couple of years later, despite the fact that it was generally getting decent reviews. Even people who loathed 1000 Corpses as much as I did. I held strong against it, but a few months back I gave in and gave the DVD a whirl. I steeled myself against the anticipated pain and...
...it was better than 1000 Corpses, but I still didn't like it. There was no character development in what could be considered a "road movie"- the characters were unceasingly irritating. Far too many scenes full of that frat-boy humor..."torture" scenes that were just dull...and again, it wasn't scary. The film does have its moments- Leslie Easterbrook and Priscilla Barnes rocked the fucking house, the first 10 minutes were great, and Bill Moseley was fantastic despite the fact that he had nothing to work with. Watching The Devil's Rejects was like having a 90-minute out-of-body experience; as the film progressed, I found myself outside of the action, thinking about the action: okay, I should be laughing here...alright, I'm supposed to find that horrifying...yes, I know that during this 15-minute "Free Bird"-flavored denouement I'm supposed to feel pathos and sympathy for the Firefly family, but I really, really don't. I like the look and feel of Rob Zombie's films- not his filmmaking style, necessarily, but the general package wrapping up the proceedings. However, there's always a serious emotional disconnect between me and said proceedings, and until that chasm is closed, chances are I'm not going to be making out with Rob Zombie's films.
So was I predisposed to disliking Halloween? Perhaps, but I don't think so. My hopes weren't high, certainly...but I had hopes. In fact, I desperately wanted to enjoy this film. I don't want to watch shitty horror movies, even if they're remakes of films I adore. If anything, I give remakes a shot- I was predisposed to disliking the Dawn of the Dead remake, and it ended up rocking my face off. I can say, however, that I came out of Halloween the way I came out of The Devil's Rejects: there were a couple of good performances, there were about 10 great minutes, and I felt a complete emotional disconnect from the characters and proceedings.
And it sure as shit wasn't scary.
Halloween is essentially divided into three major acts: a bit from Michael's childhood, leading up to the night he killed his sister Judith; Michael's years at Smith's Grove Sanitarium; and Michael's return to Haddonfield.
Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) suffers a terrible childhood. His older sister Judith (Hannah Hall) makes fun of him, his mom's boyfriend Ronny (William Forsythe) makes fun of him, his baby sister "Boo" coos when Michael kisses her, and his mom Deborah (Sheri Moon-Zombie) is a stripper who really loves him and tries really hard to be a good mother...I mean, it's no wonder that young Michael has taken to mutilating and killing animals, including his own pets! Honestly, Dawn "Wiener Dog" Wiener had more reason to turn psychopath than young Michael.
But turn psychopath Michael does. When a fellow student makes lewd comments about his stripper mom, Michael follows the boy into the woods and beats him to death with a large branch. Halloween arrives and poor Michael is forced to go trick-or-treating by himself when Judith and her boyfriend spend the night in bed. After pouting and inhaling candy corn to the strains of Nazareth's "Love Hurts", Michael dispatches Ronny, Judith, and Judith's boyfriend in short, bloody order.
Michael is sent to Smith's Grove, where he begins to develop a relationship with Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Michael spends his time at the sanitarium making masks and visiting with mom once a week. Eventually he decides to stop talking, and one fine afternoon he snaps and kills a nurse. Deborah is so distraught she goes home and kills herself.
Fifteen years later, chubby little Daeg Faerch has morphed into the hulking muscle-bound Tyler Mane. Michael Myers spends wordless days in his cell, surrounded by hundreds of his hand-made masks. Dr. Loomis has long since given up on Michael; he simply can't get through to him, despite the fact that upon his arrival, Michael was practically feeding Loomis "psycho-speak" from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Treating Sociopaths: "My masks hide my ugliness!". Loomis decides to write a book called (no, I'm not kidding) "The Devil's Eyes" and go on the lecture circuit, cashing in on the Myers family tragedies. During a routine patient transfer, Michael breaks free and heads back to Haddonfield in search of Boo.
Boo, however, was adopted long ago and she's now Laurie Strode. The last act of Rob Zombie's Halloween is essentially a compressed recreation of John Carpenter's Halloween, and we all know how that goes. Stalk, stab, evil.
Halloween is remarkable in that the violence is exceedingly brutal, yet it's not at all explicit. Zombie films the violence in such a way that I found myself shrinking down in my seat, but I thought I was seeing more than I actually was. The early scene where Michael kills his classmate, in particular, was exceedingly harrowing, and it was one of the film's highlights.
Unfortunately, Zombie can't marry this sort of...violent restraint and masterful touch to his dialogue, and this is where, in my opinion, Halloween was a total failure: the characters. Mr Zombie seems only to be able to write in caricature- Ronny is so over-the-top he's a joke...Laurie, Annie, and Lynda are indistinguishable from one another. Dr Loomis, in particular, is given the short end of the stick; Malcolm McDowell, one hopes, does the best he can, but his dialogue is simply dreadful. He never once comes across as actually being frightened by Michael, never mind obsessed with his subject.
The first half of the film seems to treat Michael like an ordinary, if murderous, young boy. He kisses his baby sister, he eats candy corn, he's excited about Halloween night. To then go on and insist that he's 'the boogeyman', the embodiment of pure evil, simply doesn't match up: why does Michael go back in search of Laurie? Why does Michael follow her friends around, murdering them? How does Michael know that "Boo" is now "Laurie Strode"? Despite the attempts to explain, we're left with more questions than we were in Carpenter's film, and what's worse, I couldn't care less.
That said, there were some things about the film I enjoyed, among them Ken Foree's scene-stealing turn as a truck driver, Dee Wallace and Pat Skipper as Laurie's parents, and, shockingly enough, Sheri Moon-Zombie's turn as Deborah Myers. The iconic Michael Myers mask was flat-out frightening and fantastic, undoubtedly the best one that's been on-screen since the original.
What I'd really like is to see Rob Zombie direct a film written by someone else. He can do violence, he can create intriguing aesthetics...but I'm not a fan of his writing. I've seen worse than Rob Zombie's Halloween, to be sure, but a week after watching it, I'm already forgetting it.
And honestly? The biggest travesty of this film, in my opinion, came in the credits: Halloween is dedicated to Moustapha Akkad, the late producer of every Halloween film save Zombie's...yet there's no mention at all of the late Debra Hill. She produced and co-wrote Halloween and Halloween 2...she co-created Michael fucking Myers and she's ignored in the credits? Poorly played, Mr Zombie.
Film Club Coolies! post your links in the comments, and add them here, I shall.
Look Back In Anger
Light, Bright and Sparkling
Divinely Wounded: Pierced By God
Nightmares and Midnight Wanderings
Evil on Two Legs