Sheri Moon, William Forsythe, Daeg Faerch, Scout Taylor-Compton, Taylor Mane
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Satan is among us.
With these four words, writer/director Rob Zombie's re-imagining of John Carpenter's legendary horror film "Halloween" becomes as much a sociological horror film as it does an ultra-gory, intensely graphic slasher flick.
In Rob Zombie's "Halloween," Satan is borne into the body of 10-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), a young man living a trailer trash existence in seemingly idyllic Haddonfield. In this post-Columbine era, young Michael Myers is a tragedy waiting to happen with his loving, but dysfunctional stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), her abusive disabled boyfriend (William Forsythe), a trashed out sister (Hanna Hall) and a school filled with misunderstanding teachers and taunting bullies. Besides the glimpses of love he receives from his mother, the only remotely positive person in young Michael's life is his baby sister, Laurie, whom he affectionately calls "Boo."
What amounted to 10-15 minutes of plot exposition in John Carpenter's 1978 original film, is a good 45 minutes of diehard character development in this 2007 remake. On a certain level, Zombie accomplishes with "Halloween" what failed so miserably in the recent "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning." While that film intended to "explain" how the evil began, the "explanation" never felt like much more than a manipulative plot device designed to justify yet another sequel.
It's different in Zombie's "Halloween."
While Zombie's explanations aren't always convincing or remotely logical, Zombie does succeed in soundly creating a world in which the actions of Michael Myers make sense...they aren't, by any means, justified. However, they do make sense.
One need only watch young Michael's body language, listen to his words, observe his reactions as his psyche' is battered day after day by the environment in which he lives to fully surrender to the idea that the evil that Michael becomes was created by us.
Satan is among us.
Whereas Carpenter's original film stressed atmosphere and psychological horror over graphic violence and gore, Zombie's "Halloween" is a less frightening, yet more horrifying vision of the same scenario. While Zombie's film is undeniably more graphic, as one could easily expect from the director of "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects," the violence never feels gratuitous and falls immeasurably short of the recent horror-porn offered by Eli Roth and others.
Zombie's film isn't really more horrifying because of its explicit violence, but because of how Zombie allows his characters to literally rest inside their horrifying circumstances. In these days of slash-and-dash horror, Zombie shows remarkable patience that feels both more authentic in its realization and subsequently more and more horrifying as Michael's evil unfolds.
Perhaps realizing that he couldn't turn "Halloween" into epic filmmaking, the intelligence and patience Zombie displayed throughout the film's first hour quickly gave way to a return towards traditional slasher pic form once young Michael's animal-killing ways are discovered and Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is brought in by the school to help Michael.
This episode quickly gives way to multiple killings with only his at work mother and baby sister surviving. 10-year-old Michael is convicted and shipped off to Smith's Grove Sanitarium for what he will soon learn amounts to eternal damnation on earth.
At an even quicker pace, we race through Michael's 15-year sanitarium stay interspersed with scenes of therapy, random acts of violence, maternal visits and enough mask-making to make even the most diehard recreational therapist nervous. Once Michael realizes he is destined to never leave Smith's Grove, he becomes nonverbal and renders Dr. Loomis useless. Loomis, in turn, essentially resigns himself to failure, writes a book and leaves Smith's Grove.
Anyone feel a massacre coming on?
While it is largely at this point that Zombie's "Halloween" flips over to more traditional, mainstream slasher flick, Zombie does attempt to maintain that awkward balance between Carpenter homage and loyalty to his own horror sensibilities. There is a scene during Michael's escape from Smith's Grove involving a sympathetic guard that is among the most horrifying scenes ever captured onscreen due to its utter depravity and simultaneous believability.
Anyone remotely familiar with "Halloween" knows that Michael heads immediately for Haddonfield in search of the now teenage sister (Scout Taylor-Compton) who has largely forgotten her traumatic past after being adopted by a family with no clue of this beautiful baby girl's dark secrets.
It likely goes without saying that once Michael arrives in Haddonfield, the killing will begin again.
While the character development lacks considerably as the film winds its way towards the inevitable brother/sister reunion, I can't deny that I experienced something in Zombie's "Halloween" that I almost never experience in a horror film...I cried. Twice.
The first time I cried, perhaps not so surprisingly, was the final scene involving Michael's mother. It is a simple scene brought vividly and painfully to life by Moon's marvelously authentic performance.
The second scene was, perhaps, a bit more surprising. As Michael and his sister, Laurie, come face to face one can almost feel Michael's desperate search for humanity within a mind that has become consumed by violence. He offers one simple gesture of humanity that is quickly rejected by his terrified sister...it was, perhaps, Michael's last chance at ever returning to humanity.
Along with Moon's surprisingly multi-faceted performance, Taylor-Compton shines in the shadow of Jamie Lee Curtis's widely acclaimed performance in the original. While Taylor-Compton certainly doesn't reach Curtis's emotional depths, she most assuredly offers the finest performance the "Halloween" series has seen in quite some time.
In casting that feels almost as obvious as that of Crispin Glover in the "Willard" remake, Malcolm McDowell fleshes out a fairly underwritten role as Dr. Loomis. As young Michael, Daeg Faerch is appropriately menacing while only occasionally crossing over into caricature.
Zombie manages to fill "Halloween" with a wide variety of cameos from "B" movie and horror icons, "B" list stars and others including notorious bad man Danny Trejo, Sybil Danning, the aforementioned William Forsythe, Clint Howard, Danielle Harris (who appeared in "Halloween 5" and "Halloween 6" before taking a central and topless role here!), Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Dee Wallace, Daryl Sabara, Mickey Dolenz and others. As familiar as many of these faces were, credit goes to Zombie for interspersing them beautifully into the action in such a way that only Howard's performance felt a bit out of place.
With a fairly modest budget of $20 million, "Halloween" largely maintains a simple, smalltown look consistent with Carpenter's original film, though the use of subtitles and, at times, the cinematography felt more blurry than atmospheric. Likewise, Zombie occasionally suffered from the Uwe Boll syndrome and felt a need to add pointless camera effects to dramatic scenes that only served to lessen the drama. In perhaps his greatest tribute to Carpenter's original, beyond the maintaining of the basic storyline, Zombie significantly utilizes the original's haunting score from Carpenter, however, he mixes in a not-so haunting variation of it offered by Tyler Bates.
Destined to be ravaged by critics and hardcore fans of Carpenter's horror masterpiece, Rob Zombie steps up to the door, rings the bell and slashes home a surprisingly intelligent and effective re-imagining of "Halloween" by both humanizing and de-mystifying Michael Myers.
Sometimes, nothing is more horrifying than the truth.
Satan is among us.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic