*. Oh boy. Here we go again.
*. Not just another instalment in the long-lived Halloween franchise, but another remake of a classic slasher film for the twenty-first century.
*. This cycle of remakes — which includes, but is not limited to, franchise “resets” Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, Black Christmas, and I Spit On Your Grave — is characterized by films that tend to be uglier, darker, and more ponderous than their originals. They are unpleasant without being scary. I think the only one I really cared for was Aja’s Hills Have Eyes, which for my money was better than Wes Craven’s wretched version.
*. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is very much part of this same movement, and shares the same basic sensibility. Michael Myers is no longer a child of the middle-class ‘burbs but a bit of white trash just one step removed from the trailer park, being raised in the neo-American Gothic squalor of a dysfunctional household we are meant to recognize from Jerry Springer.
*. The shift that’s occurred from 1978 to 2007 can be attributed to a couple of things. In the first place, it’s a move into Rob Zombie’s comfort zone, which is far more Texas Chain Saw than it is Halloween. He really digs these feral family situations.
*. The other reason for Michael’s downward mobility is that Zombie wanted to give him a fuller personal back story. And what sort of environment would a monster like Michael Myers come out of? It had to be bad.
*. This leads to a curious split. The thing about these horror franchise resets is that they want to be grungier and more “realistic” than their more whimsical originals, but, at the same time, they want to play up the mythic quality of their now legendary villains (indeed the villains were often first conceived as being something out of urban legend, as Myers was by Carpenter). And so Michael is more grounded in this film, but gets to remain a superman as well. Not only does he keep coming back from serious injury, but just minutes later he seems none the worse off for any of the punishment he endures. He is a comic book character, blessed with the mutant healing powers of Wolverine.
*. Or, to go from low to high, the nature of Michael Myers might be debated in much the same way as the early Church fathers argued over the essentials of Christology. God or man? Human or divine? Two beings in one nature?
*. I criticized Carpenter’s film because it left Michael as a cipher, so I can’t be too hard on the way he’s given such a developed history here. He even speaks for the first time!
*. Unfortunately, the psychologizing is pretty facile, and the scenes between Michael and Dr. Loomis, with the tape machine running between them, recall Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. And who would want to be reminded of that?
*. Then it’s fifteen years later and we’re back on more familiar ground. Which is where the movie grinds to a halt. There is no suspense but only a perfunctory series of murders, presented without intelligence or originality. There aren’t even any “good kills” with inventive gore effects. Laurie screams and Michael implacably pursues.
*. In his essay on the original Halloween, David Thomson got in a zinger about the countercasting: “there’s one joke in having Donald Pleasance (not always the sanest actor in sight) as the doctor in charge.”
*. I liked Pleasance as the demented psychiatrist too, but how to one-up his loony Dr. Loomis? With Malcolm McDowell, that’s how! Talk about a guy who is rarely the sanest actor in sight!
*. And Zombie doesn’t let the countercasting go with that one either. Brad Dourif as the town sheriff? Danny Trejo as the asylum guard? Sid (Spider Baby) Haig as the gravekeeper (identified in the credits as “Chester Chesterfield”)? Udo Keir as the head of the asylum? With authority figures like this, you know the world’s gone mad.
*. Again we have the very peculiar business of Laurie being locked inside the house at the end (something that mystified me as well in the original). How many houses have doors that lock on the outside?
*. I mentioned that Zombie is more Texas Chain Saw than he is Halloween. You really get that disposition coming out in the number of scenes here where we track injured and bloody women crawling on the ground, trying to get away from killers hunting them down from behind. I couldn’t help but see Marilyn Burns in all of these.
*. How strange is it that after nearly thirty years, and all the criticism leveled at the original, this movie seems to have an even more exploitative attitude toward women? Do we need to see Lynda and Annie running around topless so much?
*. How strange is it that after nearly thirty years a hugely successful film that had a lot of stuff cut out of it and so exists in several different versions was remade into a movie that also had a lot of stuff cut out of it and which exists in several different versions? If you compare the two endings Zombie had for this movie you have to conclude that he really didn’t have a strong sense of what he wanted to do.
*. On the strength of the first part of the film, the parts with young Michael, I’d rate this one of the better of the new-millennium horror remakes. You may think that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I’m not sure it even counts as praise. Take it how you will. Worse was to come.