4 out of 5
Directed by: Rob Zombie
This surprised me. Mainly because I’m not a Rob Zombie film fan, and because of having read reviews from many, many (in my opinion) reputable sources that seemed to pick out things that I would likely also take issue with with the flick, and then absolutely because the first half hour or so of the movie seemed to confirm all of those pre-biases…
And then, suddenly, it starts to work. It sounds like the theatrical cut would enhance the negative aspects of the movie, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to comparing the director’s cut I’ve viewed to it (or to the “work print”), but once we’re past the wholly Zombie-indulgence of the opening act, which is all forced schlock style and fuck-laden dialogue with characters that are 100% wastepots of overt sexualization and shock-value dialogue and shitty living in general, Halloween gets to its segueing sequence of Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a kid, Tyler Mane as an adult), youthy killer extraordinaire, growing up in a locked-down mental ward under the extended study of child psychologist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and… I was interested. And I don’t think I’ve ever actually been interested by a Zombie film before. I’m missing having seen some flicks from his oeuvre, but after seeing but 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects in the theater and being more bored by them than anything else, a ‘style over substance’ assumption hung over each subsequent Rob movie I’d watch, and that held true and truer with every movie (including those made after Halloween) that I’ve seen. That said, I believe in his competence as a filmmaker in general and passion to get his projects made. Stemming back to my impressions of him as a musician, there’s intelligence and skill in his performance, and the stylistic pursuit seems purposeful – I just have accepted that I don’t like it, even if we’re both coming from a place of, like, loving Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But Halloween – once we’re past Michael’s abusive homelife and the extra (relatively) bad day that kicked his already violent tendencies into stabby, family-killing overdrive – is different. It’s not some holy ground of elevated scripting, but Zombie’s weaving in of a psychological reasoning behind Myers’ use a of a mask – he begins to wear handmade variations more and more during his incarceration – is well done, and helps to shade his earlier behaviors beyond an exercise in grindhouse filmmaking, as well as informing the last half of the movie, which is when it shifts in to a steadier remake of Carpenter’s original, albeit flavored with Zombie’s visual sensibilities – though still tempered to vibe with Carpenter! – and expanded to include what I honestly felt were some appreciated updates to the story. Setting aside one’s feelings on how giving Myers a background affects the fear factor of the character, there were some shots and concepts that always felt a little shaky (or done for budget / runtime commodity purposes) in the first flick, and Zombie sets those right, suggesting that we were of a like mind on those matters…
Criticisms have been leveled towards the performances, which I was expecting as per, again, previous experiences with the director’s movies, but another surprise: when not writing in exploitation mode, his dialogue actually comes across pretty well. The teenage girls really sounded like modern teenage girls to me (and acted like them as well, including Scout Taylor-Compton’s take on Laurie Strode); the parents sounded like parents; McDowell came across as believable versus Donald Sutherland’s classic, though humorously overwrought, Dr. Loomis. Daeg Faerch is stuck in the despicable part of the movie alongside Sherri Moon Zombie and William Forsythe, so their performances are hard to judge through the Rob Zombie filter, but Tyler Mane’s Myers was fantastic, especially coupled with how Rob – in the director’s cut – guides him into being a completely remorseless opportunity killer. He’s frightening; he’s powerful; and the senseless psychoticness behind his actions emanates through the mask he wears. (Which, to add, is the best looking fucking Michael Myers mask; this thing has never looked very good unless hidden in shadow, but it works here.)
And although I’m mainly knocking the movie for its opening portion, I can allow that its affectations might be intentional: that we open up in stereotypical Rob Zombie to sort of clear the tables of any remnant Halloween 1978 thoughts, only to transition to a very clean, clinical section in the hospital. Then, a Zombie-esque inciting incident (seemingly not used in the theatrical cut) cues Michael’s escape, and the beginning of the “real” film, which is a synthesis of tribute to the original and an update. It’s possible if I listened to Rob’s commentary on the movie he might say something totally contrary to what I’m suggesting, but this flow was, potentially, a way to find a balance between remake and a new take. I’d also say that the gratuitous nudity during the latter section wasn’t necessary – lots of teens having sex and pausing with their boobs out – as this felt more like a relic of a different kind of film than the one Zombie gets around to making, although at the same time, the over exposure of Halloween IV and V star Danielle Harris is almost subversive.
Now I’m interested to listen to the commentary.
It’s a weird world.