If you’re going to watch Rob Zombie’s version of HALLOWEEN, I’ll advise you pick up about half way through, when the second movie starts. Confused? Okay, Rob Zombie directed two different hour-long movies here, and stuck them together. The first film is “Why Michael Myers Became the Shape” and it’s absolute, unwatchable trash. The second is “Hey, I’m Remaking John Carpenter’s Film,” and though it’s still got a trashy aesthetic, it follows the rails that Carpenter laid down with his classic, and though nowhere near classic itself, at least it’s fun.
Welcome to White Trash Haddonfield. In the first half of the flick Zombie gives us an adolescent Michael Myers who kills animals and beats the school bully nearly to death with a tree branch. His mom is a stripper, his stepdad is a lewd, foulmouthed dolt, and his sister likes having sex upstairs when the whole family’s home. When Michael decides to hone his blade skills on the homefront, he’s institutionalized under the care of Dr. Loomis. Lengthy therapy sessions occur between the two, the kid makes lots of masks, and then we flash forward to a grown up Michael. He’s still disaffected by the dull sessions, and roughly the size of Hulk Hogan. When some interns decide to double rape a patient, Michael goes on Killing Spree #2 and heads back home to finish business.
This fails on all cylinders. I know I’m supposed to judge a remake on its own terms, but Zombie does such a colossal job of missing out on how Carpenter made Michael Myers an icon that it would be impossible not to comment here. Carpenter’s Myers is so enduring because there’s no reason for him to be a homicidal sociopath. Haddonfield is everyday America, the Myers an all-American family alongside all its other families. It’s the last place in the world one would expect Myers to call home. Zombie turns this on ear, giving little Mikey a dysfunctional family that he mostly destroys, and then having Loomis try to coax out of him why he’s turned out this way. Carpenter’s monster is the faceless evil that hides in every little community in the country. I prefer it that way. I don’t want to hear that society made poor little Mikey a monster. Given his catalogue, I gather Zombie views all America as a trash heap, and all of us as trash.
Then the second film starts, and it’s much better. An abbreviated version of Carpenter’s film, it hits all the same notes, and satisfies as Carpenter lite. If Zombie had started here, expanded things and adjusted them to fit his vision, he would’ve had a much better film. Even if he had used the second half as his core and made radical changes, I might’ve bought into it. He does make one change that doesn’t happen in Carpenter’s Haddonfield until HALLOWEEN II, and it’s interesting at least. But it’s far too late by the time he gets past explaining Michael Myers’ childhood problems away, and if I didn’t have chapter skips on my DVD, I would probably never watch this disc again.
The film’s greatest joy is Zombie’s cast. It seems like he’s hired every person ever to star in a horror movie. The best is Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. He makes the character his own, and his Loomis is less spooked than Donald Pleasence’s, which makes it easier to swallow that people would believe him. Danielle Harris returns to the franchise as Annie Brackett, and I found it very pleasant to see her running around naked at one point, despite the terror of the circumstance. Dee Wallace is so at home playing moms, and delivers another nice performance as Laurie Strode’s. Genre faves such as Sybil Danning playing a nurse and Ken Foree in a memorable turn as trucker Joe Grizzly add some nice touches, as do many other actors you’ll be sure to notice.
The greatest casting problem is Scott Taylor Compton as Laurie. Compton is a lightweight actress who doesn’t have the everyday girl appeal that the character requires to draw my sympathy. Though Zombie doesn’t help in how he designed the character. He mentions on the commentary that nobody would believe a Jamie Lee Curtis-type Laurie today, so he decided to make her more “normal.” Of course, that means Zombie’s version of normal, which is a girl who fingers a bagel in front of her mom and whines a lot once things break down. Apparently Zombie’s not a sailor, because that’s another boat he missed by a mile.
One important note: I’m reviewing the unrated version which showed up on DVD as a separate package from the theatrical version. I know Michael’s means of escape differs (no rape scene in the theatre, thankfully), and there are bits of stuff and characters which were removed or replaced. I have never seen the theatrical cut, but there’s no way in Hell that I’m ever sitting through it, given I can’t stand the first half of this version.
If you pick up the unrated version, there’s plenty of extras 2-disc set. Zombie’s commentary is interesting even in the first half, as he describes why he did things in certain ways and the problems in remaking an iconic film. There’s a multi-part documentary that’s solid, interviews with the actors, screen tests and a bevy of other stuff. If you’re buying this film, it’s worth it to get this package (though I have no idea what the Blu-Ray offers, or if it differs from the two cuts available on DVD).
Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN will always be a tale of two movies, why Michael Myers did what he did followed by Michael goes and does some more just like Carpenter had him do. Plenty of people saw it when it was out in 2007, but even so, it divides fans of Carpenter’s classic, and remake fans alike. I’ll make a case and recommend you check it out from the 49-minute mark in, bypassing the first half of the film. White Trash Haddonfield is much better once the past is in the past. And it’s the only half with Dee Wallace playing a nice mom.