As an admitted horror fan I’ve made a point of seeing virtually all the Halloween films (I skipped out on Resurrection, and have a feeling I’m the better for it).While I was too young to experience any of them in the theatres, back in the pre-Fox TV days, WUTV, one of the Buffalo stations, made a point of broadcasting Friday night and weekend horror flicks, and I’m fairly certain that’s where I caught the earliest ones in the series, including the original John Carpenter film that introduced Michael Myers. I even recall catching Halloween III: Season Of The Witch on tv and kind of enjoying it. But even with the history, I was never emotionally invested in the series, so when word came out in 2006 that Rob Zombie was directing a remake of the original, I didn’t throw my arms up in disgust like so many other geeks and diehards did. I pretty much figured the worst he’d do is make a bad movie, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really matter, since the original will always be available for us to watch (it also seems to be a film that will be endlessly repackaged; a five disc box set is due in stores any day now).
When I watched Rob Zombie’s Halloween in the theaters just about a year ago, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was very stylish, violent but not to the point of gratuitousness (something many would argue is a Zombie-as-director trait). The film is carried by a decent performance from Malcolm McDowell, who stepped into the trench coat of the late Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, the psychiatrist treating the psychotic Michael Myers, played as a adolescent by Daeg Faerch and as an adult by former wrestler Tyler Mane (both actors do good jobs too, though Mane doesn’t have to do to much except hulk around). I walked out thinking that I’d definitely pick up Halloween when it hit DVD, which I did months later when it was released in an “unrated director’s cut” version. For whatever reason, I never got around to watching it until this week, when I decided to revisit the film during the Halloween season and see how it held up.
That may not have been such a good idea.
First the good news: the first half of Halloween really is a reinvention, a prologue where you see the elements that could make a boy become a psychopath, and remains captivating and uncomfortable. It’s totally unique from the original film and it’s where Rob Zombie seems to have put his heart into it. He takes his time and develops both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis. Fans and critics alike debated whether Zombie should have given his main character any sympathetic traits when he’s supposed to simply be an unstoppable killing machine. Watching Halloween a second time, I think it was a great move on the director’s part. While we do feel bad for young Michael initially, Zombie makes sure there’s no mistaking any lingering innocence in the character with a brutal hospital murder scene that might be the best in the film. It’s certainly one of the most disturbing, in my mind.
The above performances are still solid and the film remains stylish, with Zombie giving Halloween’s first half an authentic 70’s vibe with grainy hues and a quintessential soundtrack (cue Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult) while also making generous use of John Carpenter’s original score. As for the scares, they’re still there, and there are scenes that made me jump, even on second viewing. I also noticed a lot more of the cameos throughout (I can’t believe I missed Mickey Dolenz the first time).
Unfortunately, it’s the film’s second half, which strays close to the original that feels by the numbers and just didn’t hold up on second viewing. At no point did I ever care for the nubile teenage girls whose sole purpose seems to be eye candy. There’s no character development at all for them; Scout Taylor-Compton’s Laurie, first essayed in the original by Jamie Lee Curtis, is cute, but her personality never grows with you. But to her credit, Taylor-Compton does have a great final few seconds in the film in her final showdown with “the Shape”. But when you don’t care about the characters and you know what’s coming, it’s hard to feel involved with a film.
The unrated version of Halloween features the addition of a rape scene, first seen in a leaked work print of the film but which was expunged when the film hit theatres Labour Day Weekend 2007. It’s a gratuitous and brutal moment and not one I needed to experience. But with that scene back in the film, Michael’s escape from the psychiatric hospital is much more plausible than in the theatrical version, so its return is a double edged sword.
Upon my return to Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I suppose I was expecting to as impressed as I was when I first saw it in the theaters. But sitting on one’s couch, with the potential of myriad distractions, the film just didn’t hold up or hold me how I’d hoped. It certainly didn’t sully the original, but it didn’t improve upon it either.
Or did it? Find out in the coming days when I revisit the original Halloween 30 years after it first hit theaters.