John Carpenter's original 1978 Halloween was a slumber-party spook tale about a mask-clad bogeyman hacking his way through a sleepy Illinois suburb. Rob Zombie's remake wants to be all that and a case study as well, devoting its first act to the childhood of the future serial killer Michael Myers, a chubby, sweet-faced, socially awkward boy whose mental illness is transformed into murderous rage by school bullies and a home life of Dickensian squalor.
Unfortunately, the spook tale and the case study are incompatible storytelling modes. Zombie's movie, which he wrote and directed, wants us to care about Myers - who busts out of a mental institution 17 years after murdering most of his family and goes home to reconnect with the baby sister he spared - even while it depicts him as a mute, literally faceless grim reaper. The two impulses cancel each other out.
That's too bad, because the case study part of the film re-establishes Zombie's status as modern American horror's most eccentric and surprising filmmaker.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF VIE VISION
Like Zombie's first two features, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, this Halloween is unusually at ease among white, working-class characters who drawl, curse and like their fun loud. Between the movie's classic rock soundtrack, the screenplay's lively characterizations and Phil Parmet's chaotic camerawork, Zombie often seems less an heir to Carpenter and other 1970s horror filmmakers than a sociologist who happens to make horror movies: the John Cassavetes of splatter.
Zombie lavishes attention on the killer's sad origins to the point that his film suggests a boy's answer to Brian De Palma's Carrie. Young Michael (Daeg Faerch) is cursed with a frazzled mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director's wife), who has a newborn daughter and a job as an exotic dancer, a sexually active older sister (Hanna Hall) and a loutish stepfather (overacted by William Forsythe) who taunts the boy.
Michael wears masks all the time and acts out his buried anger by killing animals, warning signs that his family ignores to their peril.
The boy's equivalent of Carrie's prom detonation is his Halloween night rampage. It begins with a touching montage that cuts between Michael brooding alone in his neighborhood and his mother sliding around a strip-club pole to the tune of Love Hurts, and climaxes with a killing spree that alludes to suppressed Oedipal and incestuous desires.
Alas, once Michael is locked away in a mental institution under the care of Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), the movie starts to spin its wheels. When Zombie reintroduces Michael as a long-haired giant (Tyler Mane) pining for a reunion with his now-teenage sister, a spunky baby sitter named Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), the film's energy and originality dissipate.
Michael's escape from the asylum and his knife-wielding, door-smashing progress through his old neighborhood are competently handled but tedious. Parmet's lighting and compositions link the adult Michael to Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, but the film's obligation to serve up the expected body count prevents Zombie from laying the groundwork for the explosion of tragic feeling that the movie's finale deserves.
The new Halloween has sympathy for the Devil, but not enough.
DIRECTED BY: Rob Zombie
Tyler Mane (the adult Michael Myers), Sheri Moon
Zombie (Deborah Myers), Malcolm McDowell (Samuel
Loomis), William Forsythe (Ronnie White), Hanna Hall
(Judith Myers), Daeg Faerch (the young Michael Myers),
Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode)
RUNNING TIME: 97 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
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