Halloween (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When it comes to remakes, I no longer ask "why?" but merely accept the inevitable. The reason always has more to do with greed and a lack of originality than a desire to re-create something out of affection or as an homage. To a certain extent, a remake of Halloween is as welcome as it is expected. Over the years, bad sequels have bled the concept so dry that it has become almost impossible to remember what it was about the first movie that made it such a touchstone of modern horror. The 2007 version of the film, while vastly inferior to John Carpenter's 1978 original, lets us travel back thirty years through the corridors of memory. Watching the new edition, we re-connect to the brilliance of the old one, even if what's on screen now is only a faded echo. This is not a good movie but, considering what Halloween has evolved into over the course of seven sequels, it's perhaps better than it has a right to be.

Although it's not saying much, this is director Rob Zombie's most impressive outing behind the camera. The film's flaws are plentiful, but Zombie does something here he was unable to do in his previous efforts - make a movie that keeps an audience involved for nearly two hours. There's nothing special about Halloween. It's a standard-order slasher film with a camera that has an epileptic seizure every time a murder is about to happen, but it's not an insult to a ticket buying customer - assuming he (or she) knows what they're in for. And how could anyone paying so see something called Halloween not know?

This version of Halloween tells the same story as its 30-year-old predecessor but plays with the time line. The prologue (initially set in the early '60s and now in the early '90s) has been expanded from about 10 minutes to 45 minutes, thereby providing us with more backstory. However, the meat of the tale - Halloween night in Haddonfield today - has been condensed by about one-third. This has the unfortunate side-effect of rendering the characters as poorly realized copies of their original selves. Worse still, Zombie abandons the tense, atmospheric tone of the original for something more plodding and savage. Halloween ('78) was characterized by suspense and terror; there are few, if any, scares to be found this time around.

When we first meet Michael (Daeg Faerch), he seems an ideal future candidate for a Columbine-type incident. He is bullied at home and at school. His mother, Deborah (Sherri Moon Zombie), is not an ideal parent and her live-in boyfriend, Ronnie (William Forsythe), is no better. One Halloween day, Michael loses it. He puts on a clown mask - he has a mask fetish - and ambushes a school nemesis. Next, he uses a kitchen knife to eliminate Ronnie. Following that, he takes a baseball bat to his older sister's boyfriend. Finally, it's upstairs to sink a knife into her abdomen. The only ones to survive the massacre are his mother, who isn't home at the time, and his infant sister, Laurie. Michael ends up confined for life in the Smith's Grove Sanitarium under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Loomis at first tries to reach Michael but, as the human boy retreats behind a curtain of darkness, he realizes there is no hope.

Fifteen years later, on Halloween, Michael (now Tyler Mane) escapes from Smith's Grove and heads for Haddonfield. There, his sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), is scheming with her friends about all the naughty things they'll do that night. Laurie and her best buddy, Annie (Danielle Harris), are both babysitting. Since virginal Laurie has no boyfriend, Annie decides to pawn her young charge off on Laurie so she can have some alone time with her beau. Things turn ugly when Michael shows up, with Loomis hot on his heels. Michael racks up an impressive body count before he finally comes face-to-face (or should that be "mask-to-face?") with his beloved sister. The reunion is hardly characterized by familial love.

The freshest material in Halloween is the new stuff - the white trash family drama that unfolds before Michael makes his first kill and the scenes in Smith's Grove. Often when Zombie is recreating material directly from Carpenter, it feels obligatory. Many of the memorable scenes and lines are there: the "ghost" haunting Lynda (Kristina Klebb), Laurie's flight from Michael to the locked door, Dr. Loomis' warning that "death has come to your little town," and Laurie's question about whether Michael is the bogie man. All of these serve only to remind us that Zombie's vision is inferior to Carpenter's. Added to that is a feeble, overwrought ending and an annoyingly shaky camera that can't stay still whenever Michael swings into action.

The acting is unimpressive across-the-board, sometimes bordering on embarrassing. The worst offenders are Daeg Faerch, who's fine until he has to utter dialogue; Scout Taylor-Compton, who won't make anyone forget Jamie Lee Curtis; and (surprisingly) Malcolm McDowell. Part of McDowell's problem may be that the script doesn't know how to handle Loomis. The character is 50% Carpenter and 50% Zombie, and the two visions don't mix. Carpenter's Loomis (brilliantly played in the original by Donald Pleasance) saw himself as an avenging angel sent by God to take out the Evil that was Michael Myers. Zombie's Loomis is more kindly and sympathetic. McDowell has the unenviable task of trying to wed these two personalities into one individual. It doesn't work.

Zombie makes liberal use of Carpenter's Halloween music (both the main title and the secondary themes). However, one could argue that he doesn't use it enough. The contributions by Tyler Bates are out-of-place. His work is generic action movie music and doesn't belong in a horror film. Every time a Carpenter composition plays, it feels like Halloween. The rest of the time, this could be any run-of-the-mill slasher film. Bates could have learned a lesson from Alan Howarth, who composed installments #2 through #6, and did an excellent job of melding Carpenter's music with his own. Howarth's work in Halloween 4 is noteworthy.

Zombie provides plenty of familiar sights to go along with the recognizable music. Michael's mask is a slightly grungy version of the same William Shatner one he donned all those years ago. Haddonfield looks much the same as it did in 1978. And Danielle Harris is once again screaming as she runs away from Michael. As the child in danger and pint-sized protagonist of installments #4 and #5, she was forever fleeing the unstoppable killer. Some things never change (although she's old enough now that she can do it topless).

So where does Halloween go from here? Dimension has given it a vote of no confidence by releasing it on the worst movie weekend of the year. Don't believe the spin - it's not arriving on August 31 to build anticipation leading up to Halloween (it will be long gone from theaters by then) but because the filmmakers didn't want it going up against the hipper and hotter Saw IV. Saw is what Halloween was. If there's enough box office, and there doesn't have to be much because these films are cheap to make, Michael will return. But in what form? A sequel to the remake? A remake of the sequel? Who knows? Who cares? All that matters is that The Night He Came Home isn't close to what it used to be. Zombie's Halloween is more of a curiosity than a movie and is intended only for those to whom Michael is an indestructible icon.

Halloween (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-31
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1