The Rob Zombie nasty, in-your-face remake of Halloween is not one of those Gus-does-Psycho-frame-by-frame recreations. It is a re-imaging of the story with a stronger
focus on Michael's childhood, and as such it invites us to have some compassion
or at least understanding for the killer who was just an aloof masked icon,
almost a ghost, in the original film. Yes, he's still a vicious killing machine
in the remake, but now we get some handle on why that is true.
Childhood life in Michael's white trash home consists of nothing but incessant
screaming and arguing. School life isn't any better, since Michael gets bullied
regularly and taunted about his promiscuous sister and his stripper mom. The
cumulative effect of bullying from schoolmates and his
lowlife stepfather finally causes Michael to snap one Halloween when he bludgeons
a bully to death, then slaughters his stepfather. While he's settling his
scores, he also kills his slutty sister and her
boyfriend, for no other reason than that they are teens having sex in a slasher
film. If you ever wake up and find yourself cast as a teenager in a horror film,
make sure you're the one who wants to study for the priesthood.
Although Michael takes no responsibility for his crimes and even denies that he
committed them, institutionalization seems to go along peacefully until Michael
kills a member of the hospital staff, whereupon his mother realizes her sweet
little boy will be in the loony bin for life, and kills herself. The loss of his
beloved mother causes Michael to snap into yet another state of consciousness
and he spends the next fifteen years as a virtual vegetable, working quietly in
his room painting and gluing mask after mask.
That changes one night when two redneck warders rape a new female inmate in
Michael's bed as he glues his masks together. Something about the violence of
the incident rouses Michael from his virtual coma, and he goes on a killing
spree inside the institution, then escapes and heads back to his childhood home,
in search of the baby sister he can barely remember. She's now living as Laurie
Strode, the original Jamie Lee Curtis character.
Once Michael arrives in his home town, the film assumes more or less the same
direction as the original Halloween, with the madman killing promiscuous teenagers by
the busload, coming ever closer to Laurie while the local sheriff and the
psychiatrist try to figure out his next move.
One of Rob Zombie's most interesting casting choices was to use Danielle Harris
as one of the horny teenagers who gets attacked. This provides some continuity
with the earlier Halloween films, because Danielle played a pre-pubescent kid in
Halloween 4 and 5. "Wait a minute," you might be thinking, "How could she have
been 12 years old in 1989, and be playing a teenager in 2007?" Fair enough
question. She did play a high school senior in Zombie's film, but she's actually
30 years old. She has an unlined face, she's very tiny, and she handled the
lines right, so she pulled it off. To tell you the truth, I never gave her age
any thought while I was watching the film. I completely bought in to her
performance as a high school girl. It was only afterward, when I was preparing
to write my comments that I looked at the math and realized that something was
Danielle's casting was one sign among many that Zombie is a real horror fanboy
who knows his screen history. The background cast includes just about everyone
who has ever made a B movie and is still alive: Leslie Easterbrook, Danny Trejo,
Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Malcolm MacDowell, Dee Wallace, William Forsythe, Brad
Dourif, Sybil Danning, Sid Haig, Ezra Buzzington, Mickey Dolenz ... the list
goes on. I read somewhere that Adrienne Barbeau was also in this at one time,
but appears to have been left on the cutting room floor.
Zombie has delivered all the genre requirements and followed the genre
traditions meticulously to make Halloween an old school horror film in the
70s-80s style. For example, is is de rigueur for teenagers who have sex
to get killed, but not before we
see them naked.
Unfortunately, although Halloween offers guilty pleasures to enjoy, you will
need to ignore some of the details along the way, because the script is not
punctilious. For example, Michael has attained almost superhuman strength
despite having sat in the same chair like a vegetable for 15 years. For another
example, Michael is somehow able to determine instantly that the adopted child
Laurie Strode is his long-lost sister, even though virtually nobody knows that,
including the psychiatrist who wrote a book about Michael.
Those penny-ante plot points didn't really bother me, but something else about
the film did. The biggest change from the original film is that the new script's
re-allocation of screen time refocuses the story significantly. The original
film had a very short back-story and focused on the Halloween night murders. The
new film is about 1/3 childhood, 1/3 escape night, and 1/3 home-town Halloween.
The cumulative effect of that is to make Michael the main character while
pushing Laurie Strode into the background, which in turn reduces audience
involvement and identification with the characters. There is nothing to like
about Michael, Michael's family, or the psychiatrist. The characters in the
escape night sequence are all strangers to us, and we don't much like what we do
know of them. And we don't meet the teenage version of Laurie until the film is
past the halfway mark, so we do not establish a strong empathy for her either.
That leaves the film with a void where its core should be - in establishing some
kind of bond with the audience.