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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Halloween  (2007)
1.5 Stars
Directed by Rob Zombie
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, Danielle Harris, Tyler Mane, Kristina Klebe, Brad Dourif, William Forsythe, Hanna Hall, Danny Trejo, Skyler Gisondo, Jenny Gregg Stewart, Dee Wallace, Pat Skipper, Daniel Roebuck, Ken Foree, Daryl Sabara, Lew Temple, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Adam Weisman, Max Van Ville, Clint Howard, Richmond Arquette, Courtney Gains, Sybil Danning, Micky Dolenz, Tom Towles, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier
2007 – 109 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody violence, sexual content, nudity & language)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 31, 2007.

When a reimagining/remake of "Halloween" was announced roughly a year ago, there was comfort in knowing that Rob Zombie was attached to write and direct. Even attempting a redux of the beloved 1978 original—to this day, still my personal favorite horror film—would seem like a bad idea, but Zombie more than proved with 2003's "House of 1000 Corpses" and 2005's "The Devil's Rejects" that he was as talented a filmmaker as he was a musician. Being an impassioned fan of the first picture himself, it would seem like this cinematic update was in as good of hands as it possibly could be. If anything, it would certainly be a step up from the series' low point, 2002's "Halloween: Resurrection," which infamously climaxed with Busta Rhymes kung-fuing evil incarnate Michael Myers.

Try as one might to leave memories of John Carpenter's magnum opus at the door, it is impossible to watch the new "Halloween" and not be dumbstruck by just how disastrously off the mark Rob Zombie is. Gone are all signs of the quietly mounting tension, entrancingly deliberate pacing, moody atmosphere, subtly creepy mise en scene, elegant camerawork, and precise character work that made the original such an enduring and groundbreaking horror masterpiece. For this alone, the film is like a nasty holiday trick in and of itself, a punch in the face to anyone who had faith that Zombie would treat the source material with the respect it deserved. His plot expansion and deeper exploration into the masked killer is not the problem; if anything, it is the early sections featuring a 10-year-old Myers (Daeg Faerch) that are most successful. What is a problem is his supreme misunderstanding of what makes this series a classier step up from many of its more violent and insipid slasher clones. Alas, this new "Halloween" is more like a "Friday the 13th" sequel, only with less personality and nuance. You read that right.

Episodic in its storytelling, "Halloween" is broken up into what amounts to three short films. The first, taking place completely on the namesake holiday with a prepubescent Michael, details his collapse of sanity and the initial killing spree that claims the lives of four people, including verbally abusive stepfather Ronnie (William Forsythe) and slutty teenage sister Judith (Hanna Hall). Surviving the ordeal is caring stripper mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) and baby sister Laurie. The second part of the story moves to Smith's Grove Sanitarium, where psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) tries to care for Michael even as he witnesses his young patient little by little slip behind both literal, handmade masks and a figurative veil of darkness.

Switch forward fifteen years, a grown and long-since silent Michael (Tyler Mane) escapes the hospital following a brutal bloodbath and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield. His central motive would appear to be tracking down his little sister, an adopted and now-17-year-old Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), although it is never explained how he knows where Laurie is or what she looks like. Nevertheless, the movie suddenly moves from prequel territory to full-on remake mode, with Michael stalking the quiet town on Halloween night and primarily setting his knife-clutching sights on Laurie and best friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe). Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis knows all too well the danger about to befall Haddonfield and goes about trying to track Michael down with the help of Annie's dad, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif).

2007's "Halloween" is superior to the aforementioned "Halloween: Resurrection" almost by default, but it is shockingly worse than all six of the other sequels. The film is a screenwriting mess, prematurely thrown into production before clearer minds (whoever that might have been) prevailed. The opening thirty minutes exhibit some style and nerve-jangling grittiness, culminating in the first of several murdering sprees and the only one to ratchet up a palpable level of terror. Daeg Faerch, making his auspicious feature-film debut as the young and disturbed Michael Myers, is excellent as he depicts his character's slide into madness, and Sheri Moon Zombie (wife of Rob) is touching in her scenes as worried mom Deborah.

The decision to make the Myers clan white trash, however, is the first mistake in a movie with too many to count. Although writer-director Zombie does not neatly explain Michael's sociopathic tendencies—the character is supposed to be pure evil, after all—it is an incalculable error to present most of his family members as low-class citizens who are less likable than he is. As he goes around slaughtering a school bully (Daryl Sabara) before returning home to kill Ronnie and Judith, the viewer does not fear him as one should, but is left to actually care about Michael and root for him to do away with the unpleasant others. The proceeding sequences set at Smith's Grove play like filler, particularly once a decade and a half passes by and all that is left to do is show the gruesome deaths of the hospital's guards and nurses at the hands of Michael Myers.

Flawed though the first half is, it does not begin to suggest the creative and directorial calamity that occurs once the focus shifts to Laurie Strode. For the next hour, Zombie rushes like a marathon runner through the events well-known from the original without stopping long enough to develop the new characters or invest in their fates. Scene-to-scene cohesion is tossed out the window, as is any sense of continuity; one character's head is smashed in and his eyes cruelly gouged out, and in the next scene there isn't a speck of blood on him. The film suddenly becomes one death scene after the next, with a few of the victims inconsequentially and mean-spiritedly attacked for no good reason, and all of them meeting their maker before the viewer has gotten to properly know them. If they were at least endearing within the span of their limited screen time, that would be one thing, but the teens are written as snotty and annoying and nearly exempt of all sympathy.

One of the joys of the 1978 version was in the way average teens Laurie, Annie and Lynda were captured naturally going about their daily lives as a monster lurked underneath their noses. Sometimes he would unpredictably show up in the background of shots, sometimes he wouldn't, and the frights came from the audience knowing that the masked Michael Myers could be hiding around any corner—something that the leads perilously did not. In the 2007 edition, Michael abruptly shows up and wastes no time in dispatching of his prey. Suspense and scares are nonexistent, and this, coupled with a total disregard for timing and smooth editing, is the death blow from which "Halloween" never recovers.

Daeg Faerch and Sheri Moon Zombie are standouts, while the other performances are passable within the framework of what they are given to do, which isn't much. Malcolm McDowell essays the role of Dr. Sam Loomis, initially created by the late, great Donald Pleasance, and there are a handful of quiet moments where we get to see how distraught he is over having "failed" Michael. Scout Taylor-Compton (2004's "Sleepover") is very much a modern recreation of Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode, which means that she is more conservative than her friends but otherwise has none of the same distinguishing traits. Taylor-Compton screams with the best of them, and that's it. She is belittling and irresponsible in the way she treats and mocks baby-sitting charge Tommy Doyle (Skyler Gisondo), and isn't handed a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of the viewer before she is running for her life.

As Annie Brackett, Danielle Harris (1998's "Urban Legend") arguably should have been cast as Laurie. Harris, a talented veteran who previously headlined the role of Jamie Lloyd in 1988's "Halloween 4" and 1989's "Halloween 5," is a more captivating presence onscreen (at least here she is), which makes it all the more unfortunate that Harris is stuck in the part of a one-dimensional victim. Newcomer Kristina Klebe, as the free-spirited Lynda, displays some spunk and nicely recalls the work of P.J. Soles in her performance, but has no more than five minutes of screen time before she is strangled. It would take a lot for me to label a film as misogynistic, but there is something to be said when all three of the ill-fated teen girls—Annie, Lynda, and Judith Myers—die either after or in the midst of sex and with little or no clothes on. What, exactly, is Zombie's purpose in this, or in the pointless montage of Deborah pole-dancing at a strip club? That all women are whores whose only purpose is to disrobe and be eviscerated? Whatever the case may be, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Sadly, even the '70s-laden soundtrack and brilliant music score by Tyler Bates (2007's "300"), which contains most of the recognizable Carpenter themes, are poorly and awkwardly placed within the action. When even those simple but chilling "dum-dah-dum-dah-dum" piano chords fail to raise a viewer's pulse, you know you're in trouble. As for the prolonged climactic Laurie-vs.-Michael chase set-piece, it is forgettable and even dull, not helped by a camera that in this sequence and others is often too shaky and reliant on close-ups to decipher a lot of what is going on. Finally, the title holiday is ineffectually presented, in need of a larger scope, canvas and atmosphere than what is shown. Heck, Zombie did a better job emanating Halloween in "House of 1000 Corpses."

Myself and the "Halloween" franchise share a passionate history together, and one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger supporter of the series. This so-called reinvention doesn't cut it by a long shot. It is a foul-mouthed, soulless, low-rent slasher flick that mistakes graphic violence for genuine thrills and sex scenes for character development. When Rob Zombie signed on the dotted line, he proclaimed that all of the sequels sucked and he was finally going to make Michael Myers scary again. The depressing truth—something that it pains me to type—is that Zombie's film is the one that sucks, and Michael Myers has never been less imposing or threatening. Ultimately, some films don't need remakes because there is nothing to improve upon. "Halloween" cements this point to the nth degree.

Addendum (8/27/09): While still not wholly successful, the unrated cut of writer-director Rob Zombie's "Halloween," available on DVD and Blu-Ray, is superior to the theatrical cut. Running twelve minutes longer than the R-rated version, the unrated edition adds much-needed beats, scenes and character moments to the second half that keep this section of the film from feeling overly rushed, in a race to the finish line. There is a creepy scene where Laurie is walking home from school, sensing that she is being followed, and a nice moment soon after this where she helps mother Cynthia (Dee Wallace) put up a Halloween decoration in the front lawn. Laurie also does not come off quite as abrasive in this version, benefiting from some additional scenes between her and babysitting charges Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace (Jenny Gregg Stewart). The abrupt change from daytime to nighttime in the editing is rendered a non-issue, too, with the simple insertion of a white-on-black title card reading "Trick or Treat." This is such a simple solution that one wonders why it wasn't in the hastily thrown-together theatrical cut. Please note that most of the other criticisms in my original review still stand, however. The unrated version of "Halloween" earns an upgraded two-star (out of four) rating.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman