Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Exfanding Review: Rob Zombie's Halloween

I'm gonna pick up right where I left off yesterday, and I've even included the text from that post so you don't have to go clicking around...

Also, just to be clear--there are spoilers in here about both John Carpenter's original film and the Rob Zombie remake, so if you haven't seen one of them, please tread lightly.

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So I watched Rob Zombie's reboot of Halloween. Keep in mind here that the original Halloween is one of my favorite films of all time, and it's certainly my favorite horror film of all time.

So when I first heard about this reboot several years ago, I was skeptical. And I like Rob Zombie--I'm a fan of his music and his filmmaking style.

But he has a tendency to go (way) too gory in his films and he uses the show of violence rather than the threat and implication of violence used so effectively in John Carpenter's original film.

I know fans of the series were kind of split by the news of the reboot--some loved the idea, others feared the worst.

I was in the middle. I figured I'd see the reboot eventually, but I wouldn't run out to the theaters to do so.

Well, as with most things with me, "eventually" turned out to be just about five years later. Still, I happily sat down to watch the film yesterday and I had high hopes for it.

As I mentioned, I'm a fan of Zombie's style, and his Halloween just...well, it just looks great. Really a killer (haha) cinematic look to the film.

And while that fact is in itself the complete antithesis to the original, I liked that this looked polished and expensive and new. Because it separated the two films right off the bat--Zombie's Halloween is not Carpenter's Halloween, and while Zombie certainly pays homage to Carpenter (and co-writer Debra Hill), Zombie manages to make his reboot something completely different and new.

And, frankly, quite good.

There are moments in the reboot where I wish the director had gone a different route--I prefer subtle horror rather than the kind of horror that (quite literally) mashes you over the head with extreme situations--but one cannot deny that Zombie has delivered a new and interesting Halloween for a fan base that has seen some clunkers in the years since Carpenter's original.

The best choice that Zombie makes in this new version is the different take on the series' most beloved character, Dr. Sam Loomis. Played here by Malcolm McDowell, we see Loomis in a new light. McDowell's Loomis almost struts around, proud and cocky, and is in direct opposition to Donald Pleasence's classic portrayal of the character.

While Pleasence plays Loomis as a man haunted by his failure to connect with a young Michael Myers and possessed by his singular mission of catching the adult Michael Myers, McDowell's doctor has some ulterior motives.

Yes, he is utterly concerned for Michael's well being and Loomis does all he can to help the (world's most) disturbed child. But this new Loomis has also written a book about his time with Michael, an act that adds in a bit of a wrinkle to the unwavering goodness that is Loomis in the early films.

Let me back up a bit, though.

In Zombie's film, we see Loomis as a younger man tasked with treating a 10-year-old Michael Myers after the child has murdered a school bully and then, on Halloween night, his father, sister, and his sister's boyfriend.

Zombie does what Carpenter did not--he shows us how Michael Myers became.

And here's another contentious aspect of the new film. This trip back to Myers' childhood turned off a lot of Halloween fans, because as Carpenter showed brilliantly in the first film, it really doesn't matter how he becomes what he becomes.

He just...is. He's pure evil, and there's no explanation needed beyond that.

But in Zombie's film we end up sympathizing with the murderer because we see the household in which Michael Myers was raised.

He grows up dirt poor, with a father (or step-father? That actually wasn't clear to me) who is a vile, hateful, abusive drunk, an older sister who shows nothing but contempt for her younger brother, a loving but utterly incapable mother who is trapped in an impossible situation, and a baby sister for whom Michael shows genuine affection.

The home--if you want to call it that--is a collection of real-life horrors, and watching the interaction between father and son makes you wonder how a child in that situation even has a chance at normalcy.

Watching it all play out, you know exactly what is going to happen to these characters on Halloween night, and frankly you don't mind watching it happen. There's my biggest problem with the flick.

In the original, Myers murders his sister for no reason whatsoever. He does it because, even as a child, he is the embodiment of evil--that is the horror movie monster John Carpenter created.

Here, though, we see that Myers is a perfect storm of both internal and external forces pushing him towards his eventual mania.

While I'm not big on this aspect of the film, I have to admit that I found the next part of the film quite interesting. We see Loomis working with young Michael in a psych ward and we see that Loomis cares deeply for this lost child who claims to have no recollection of Halloween night.

The relationship--which is hinted at in the early films--becomes evident here. At the beginning, Loomis connects with Michael. After a while though, Myers descends into his own madness and completely detaches from the world, and from Loomis.

After 15 years of an unresponsive patient, Loomis gives up and walks out on a now-grown Myers and goes off to sell his book on his most famous patient.

From there, the film dives into expected territory--Myers, who develops into a hulking 7-foot monster--escapes on Halloween night, yadda yadda yadda. We all know that part, and the last third of the movie (introduced by a blackly comedic title screen that reads, "Trick or Treat") falls into typical slasher movie mode with some genuine jump moments and some cliched horror film violence.

This Michael Myers, though, is scarier than previous incarnations. Maybe not psychologically scarier--nothing beats the creeping, supernaturally suggested terror of the first film--but certainly this Myers (played by the enormous Tyler Mane) is physically more imposing.

The Myers of the original Halloween has become very much like a Universal Studios monster of a time now past. Spooky, yes. Keep you up at night scary? not so much anymore. On the other hand, Mane's Michael Myers is huge, and strong, and believable when he breaks through a door.

I've heard that the sequel to Zombie's Halloween portrays Myers as more of a supernatural killing machine as opposed to just a very large, disturbed man who is capable of lots of damage. That's unfortunate, because Myers works incredibly well in this film.

Overall, I enjoyed the remake. I liked Loomis, but I didn't like the new depiction of Laurie Strode--Jamie Lee owns that role, and her turn as a self-assured, intelligent, capable young woman is certainly preferable to the horror movie screamer we get in this new film.

On that note, there's also way too many "naked and bloody girl crawling away from Michael Myers" shots in Zombie's film--it's as if the director can't help himself. He has to show the violence from beginning to end.

Even when the scarier route is to close the door and let the viewer's imagination run wild with what might be happening behind that closed door, Zombie still takes you inside the house and makes you watch everything.

However, it is also clear that there are scenes in this film that Zombie has had in his head for a very long time, and they are effective and brilliantly shot. There's one in particular that was especially striking.

After Laurie and the kids sprint up the stairs, the front door closes slowly and creakily. Because I was so focused on that door shutting and what that symbolized, I didn't notice Michael Myers standing in the corner, behind the door. When he appeared there, I jumped.

It was an iconic shot of an iconic horror character.

And since this review has gone on long enough, I'll leave it on that positive note. And I'll wrap things up by saying that I liked this film. However, unlike the original, I will not revisit Zombie's Hadonfield each year when the leaves turn colors.

If it's on TV I'll watch it; but I won't set my October clock to it as I do with Carpenter's Halloween. All in all, though, I enjoyed the film and I was more than pleasantly surprised with the final product.


zharth said...

I think it's a credit to Rob Zombie's abilities that he can do the sorts of things other directors have tried to do in remakes to great failure, but make them work. For example, I went to see the remake of Bob Clark's Black Christmas (which I still prefer to his A Christmas Story as the annual go-to movie to watch on Christmas Day), and the new director insisted on giving the killer a back story, and well, it was altogether a horrendous movie.

On the other hand, there is Rob Zombie's Halloween II, which seems to deviate quite a bit from the source material, presumably eschewing it in favor of the Halloween-derived story Zombie wanted to tell, and which, in my opinion, was pretty terrible (and I'm sad to say that Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode's characters both take a drastic turn for the worse), especially given how good Zombie's first Halloween was. I guess the marriage of his talent and sensibilities to the remake of the story was an excellent pairing, but one that ends there.

AJG said...

I've heard that about Zombie's second Halloween. I think I'm going to avoid watching it.