Review Date: October 30, 2010
Released by: Alliance
Release date: October 21, 2008
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 2.35 | 16x9: Yes
Remaking John Carpenter’s Halloween
was always going to be a contentious proposition. A perennial favourite and one of the most revered and beloved horror films of all time, Carpenter’s slasher classic is one of the few indisputable scared cows of the genre. When it was announced that Rob Zombie had been hired not only to direct the remake but to write it as well, it seemed like Malik Akkad was hell bent on reinventing the series from the ground up, for better or worse. There are few directors working in the genre today as controversial as Rob Zombie. The former (and still occasional) shock rocker has an undeniable enthusiasm for the genre as evidenced by his lyrics, videos and stage shows, so the idea of him directing a horror film should be a natural fit.
be isn’t always what winds up happening.
His first feature, House of 1,000 Corpses
, was a plotless, Day-Glo coloured Texas Chainsaw
homage (if by “homage,” you mean rip-off). His second film, the execrable Devil’s Rejects
, was a grimy exercise in 70’s era grindhouse excess. The man has talent and a vision but lacks restraint, judgement and a sense of good taste. The early drafts of the Halloween
redux script that leaked onto the Internet seemed to confirm everybody’s worst suspicions: Zombie’s vision of Haddonfield Illinois was excessively violent, foul-mouthed and completely wrong-headed in conception. This
was the man chosen to reinvent Carpenter’s classy exercise in suspense and restrained violence?
, 1981 in Haddonfield Illinois. Young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch
) has a rough life; growing up in abject poverty, his family’s large home fallen into disrepair, his sister Judith (Hanna Hall
) the school slut. By night, his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie
) does what she can to keep her kids off the street, stripping at the Rabbit in Red lounge. By day, she suffers verbal (and most likely physical) abuse at the hands of her shiftless boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe
). Only his mother and his baby sister “Boo” bring any light into Michael’s daily life. This dysfunctional home life is already taking its toll on Michael: when we first meet him, he’s washing his pet rat’s blood off of his hands. Michael’s school life isn’t any better: he’s the subject of brutal bullying by the older kids and after nearly getting into a fistfight in the school bathroom Deborah is called to the school for a meeting with the principal. Michael’s pet rat Elvis wasn’t the first victim of his bloodlust: a search of his backpack yields a dead cat wrapped in plastic and Polaroid pictures of mutilated animals. Child psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell
) is called in to consult and offer counselling. Michael slips away before any counselling can take place and ambushes one of his bathroom tormentors in the forest behind the school, brutally beating him to death with a stick.
That night, with his mom at work, Ronnie passed out drunk in front of the TV and sister Judith upstairs fornicating with her sleaze ball boyfriend, Michael goes into action. He tapes Ronnie to his easy chair and slits his throat, beats Judith’s boyfriend to death with a baseball bat as he makes a post-coital sandwich and repeatedly stabs Judith to death while wearing a distinctive mask.
Claiming no memory of the incident Michael is remanded to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium under the care of Dr. Loomis, who begins an intensive round of treatment. Though the boy seems pleasant Loomis can see the tempest brewing beneath the surface. As therapeutic progress slows to a halt, and Michael’s repeated inquiries about when he can go home are rebuked, he becomes more and more withdrawn in to his own world, taking refuge behind a series of crude masks. It becomes clear that Michael will never leave the confines of an institution when, on the day of one of his mother’s visits, he viciously murders a nurse. Soon after, Deborah commits suicide and “Boo” is sent to live with an adoptive family.
Fifteen years later, on the eve of Halloween
, a sleazy orderly (Courtney Gains) and his cousin Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple
) decide to rape a female inmate in Michael’s cell. They drag the terrified woman into Michael’s cell, leaving the proverbial keys in the door. Michael escapes, killing everybody that crosses his path including Ishmael (Danny Trejo
) the kindly orderly who was one of the few people to treat Michael with compassion and Big Joe Grizzly (Ken Foree
), a trucker taking a break in a truck stop bathroom. Michael’s heading: the family home in Haddonfield, now abandoned and boarded up. In the basement he finds the mask that would become his trademark and that night, as the children of Haddonfield hit the street in search of candy, Michael hits the streets in search of blood and a long lost family connection.
Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton
) and her friends Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris
) and Lynda Van Der Klok (Kristina Klebe
) are blissfully unaware of the malevolent presence stalking them. Annie and Lynda scheme about how they’re going to spend Halloween
night with their boyfriends, while Laurie has not only committed to babysitting Tommy Doyle (Skylar Gisondo
), but has also been suckered into looking after Lindsey Wallace (Jenny Greeg Stewart
) while Annie skips out to visit her boyfriend Paul (Max Van Ville
). Lynda, on the other hand, plans to spend Halloween
rutting with her boyfriend (Nick Mennell
) in the upstairs bedroom of the abandoned Myers house.
Meanwhile, Doctor Loomis arrives in town to warn Sherriff Bracket (Brad Dourif) about Michael’s return and the danger that it poses. At first resistant to the idea, Loomis’ books on Michael Myers did not endear him to local law enforcement, Sherrif Brackett eventually comes to realize Michael’s purpose in returning to Haddonfield, but the revelation may come too late for the three young girls being stalked by the relentless killer.
The most egregious problem I have with Zombie’s film is how wrong headed in concept it is. He envisions the Michael Myers saga as a deconstruction of a serial killer, trying to root the story in psychology. The problem arises when he tries to humanize a seemingly unstoppable, indestructible monster. Zombie wants to have it both ways: assigning human explanations to Michael’s madness, then having him demolish a house with a 2x4 after taking six magnum slugs to the back at close range. The beauty of Carpenter’s film was its simplicity: it was scary because it operated on the idea that bad things happen to good people. That one day, out of the blue, a seemingly normal young boy would just up and murder his family. Shading the film with supernatural undertones, yet still keeping it rooted in reality, Carpenter’s film is a masterpiece of subtlety and elegant simplicity.
Zombie’s, on the other hand, is a sloppy pastiche of element from Carpenter’s film and whatever his particular fancy of any given day on set was. He tries to assign reasons and motivations where none are required, and spends half the film telling us things that are best left unsaid. It’s the same mistake they made with Halloween 6
: trying to explain the myth. The appeal of the Halloween
mythos is the mystique. There was no reason why Michael killed beyond the fact that he was pure evil. The closer they got the explaining his motivation, the further the film got away from being scary. Whether it’s druid cults or white trash upbringing, Michael is scariest when he’s hazily defined. There’s a reason that, once his mask was on, Carpenter referred to him as “The Shape.”
Zombie clearly has affection for Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, but little interest in anything that deviates from that grimy aesthetic. Everything in Zombie’s world is dirty: the Myers home is overgrown with dying weeds, the hallways of Michael’s school are littered with trash, and everybody in his world are obnoxious, foul mouthed assholes. There’s little for the average person to identify with. Zombie’s brand of white trash freakshow horror is repulsive, but it simply isn’t scary.
It is intense, however. Even Zombie’s most fervent detractors have to credit his ability to stage brutally effective sequences of violence. Again, though, it doesn’t seem to fit. Like Wes Craven, Zombie claims that he doesn’t want to cheapen life by making violence slick and entertaining. Unlike Craven, however, he cheapens life by exploiting people in every other way possible: with few exceptions, the women in Zombie’s films are sluts and the men are brutal misogynists. It’s the general happiness he denies his characters that really sticks in my craw. In 1978, Lynda was killed after a bout of acrobatic and orgasmic sex; in 2007 she’s not even allowed to get off before she’s killed off.
Both House of 1,000 Corpses
and The Devil’s Rejects
were marred by this particularly nasty and hateful brand misogyny. The women in those films were even less fully developed characters than the cardboard cut-outs of your average Friday the 13th
film. They exist purely for the purposes of being tortured, humiliated and degraded. Men are murdered, but the worst treatment is reserved for women. A particularly senseless scene in Rejects has Sid Haig punching P.J. Soles in the face for absolutely no reason. A suiting metaphor, don’t you think?
Looking at his first two films, it’s no secret that Zombie casts his lot with the villains. He identifies with the freaks, the outcasts and the weirdoes. In that context, it’s not surprising that he makes his Halloween
into a biopic of Michael Myers rather than focusing on, say, Laurie or Dr. Loomis. Michael is born of such hateful squalor that it’s no surprise that he becomes a psychotic killer and giving him such a disturbed upbringing means that the average person has no entry point into the series.
Most auteurs have a stable of actors they like to use and Zombie is no different. By this point, though, it seems more like Zombie is playing spot the cameo rather than casting actors in the right roles. Sid Haig in a nothing role as the cemetery groundskeeper isn’t clever; it’s distracting and takes us out of the film. Likewise, Sybil Danning, Danny Trejo, Courtney Gains, Tom Towles, Udo Kier and many others are all there to greater or lesser degrees of distraction. The film runs a bloated, totally unnecessary 121 minutes and Zombie’s insistence on making sure every one of his usual day players get their five seconds is a big reason why.
The second half of the film, after Michael escapes from the institution, is like a fast-forward remake of the original. The film hits all the expected notes and covers all the expected set pieces, but at such an accelerated pace as to preclude any possibility of suspense. In 1978, Michael stalked his victims from the shadows and picked the perfect moment to strike. In 2007 he follows them around, three feet in back.
Zombie’s indulgences and tonal shifts get tiring, but just when I was about to write the film off entirely, then the films slows down a bit for scenes of Scout walking down the same streets Jamie Lee did, the amber autumn sun kissing her flaxen locks with the gentle plinking of Carpenter's minimalist score in the background. In these moments Rob Zombie’s Halloween
feels like it has legitimacy, not just as a film in its own right, but as a rightful entry into the series.
There are some major things Zombie does right. The casting of Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis is nothing short of inspired. It was the first sign I had that Zombie’s remake might not be a total write off after all. When I heard about the reboot, one of my biggest questions was: who would be a suitable successor to Donald Pleasance’s iconic role? When I heard Malcolm had been cast, it was one of those moments when I smiled and nodded my head because it just felt right. The good news is that he was as good as I’d hoped he’d be and is one of the film’s few genuine bright spots.
It was also a great idea to cast Danielle Harris as Annie. Harris is an appealing screen presence and a fantastic actress who we had seen too little of between her Halloween
outings. The scene Harris shares with Brad Dourif when he finds her bloodied body is fantastic: understated and totally believable. I was ecstatic beyond belief that Halloween
gave Danielle’s career a shot in the arm. That she takes her top off is a bonus I’d been waiting for since I started crushing on her as a kid in 1989. Of course, being Rob Zombie film, she’s only naked for a second before she’s brutalized and covered in blood. Despite being forced to recite awful, lewd dialogue that seems intent on making them as bitchy and unsympathetic as possible, the trifecta of friends from the original rounded out here by Scout Taylor Compton and Kristina Klebe, are still appealing and largely sympathetic characters.
The things that Zombie does right in Halloween
, he does so right that he almost buys enough goodwill for me to gloss over its deficiencies. The problem is that the mistakes he makes are so insufferable that I can’t bring myself to do it. Time and time again Zombie is his own worst enemy, taking scenes too far and padding the film with too much excess. That said, he showed marked improvement from Corpses
and again from Rejects
. Only time will tell if this pattern of improvement continues.
Whatever issues I have with the film itself I can find little, if anything, to complain about the video presentation. There’s a bit of graininess inherent in the film itself but that’s entirely in keeping with Rob Zombie’s aesthetic. Blacks are rock solid and detail is still visible even in the darkest of scenes. The few bright colours Zombie allows into his palette pop. His ever moving, handheld camera doesn’t result in excessive motion blurring or ghosting. I noticed no colour banding, pixelation or any other compression related issue. If I had to find fault, I’d suggest that contrast could be a smidge stronger but really, this is one of the best looking horror Blu-rays out there.
The audio is almost on par with the video. Presented as a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track, the sound for Halloween
is as aggressive and in your face as the movie itself. It’s well balanced so dialogue is never difficult to understand and you won’t find yourself applying your receiver’s artificial filters or processors to try and improve any element of the track. Screams are ear-piercingly shrill, the low end rumbles with deep bass, Tyler Bates’ riffs on the classic John Carpenter score are eerie and atmospheric and all the foul profanity is lovingly reproduced.
This Blu-ray release ports over all the features of the 3-disc collector’s edition DVD. All of the material on disc one was included in the original 2 disc release of Halloween
; the 3 disc version was just the two disc edition with an added third disc containing the documentary “Michael Lives.” It’s a huge and exhaustive collection of material, marred only slightly by a couple of notable omissions.
First up is the commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie. Despite his reputation as a shocker rocker, Zombie is actually quite soft spoken. He’s articulate and interesting, though occasionally his contempt for his actors can be sense. He spends a lot of time bending over backwards to defend his creative choices, which suggests to me that he at least subconsciously recognizes when he goes too far.
A collection of Deleted Scenes (22:19) is presented with optional commentary from Zombie where he places the scene in context of the film’s chronology and rationale behind its deletion. There’s not too much of note here. Zombie’s free-form, improvisational style of directing means that a lot of material will cut the cutting room floor. There’s an Adrienne Barbeau cameo (she’s featured on the theatrical poster, but doesn’t appear in either version of the film) and a funny joke by Tom Towles.
Separate from the deleted scenes is an Alternate Ending (3:45) also with optional commentary. This is the ending that was scripted and featured in the leaked pre-release work print version of the film. I actually think it’s a better ending than any of the official ones: it actually kind of poignant and gives the film a sense of closure that’s lacking from the other versions. Of course, the characters aren’t quite brutalized enough in it, so Zombie obviously needed to go back and have Michael crush Loomis’ skull while throwing Laurie out of a window.
An atypical Blooper Reel (10:18) is included. I say atypical because unlike the usual collection of flubbed lines and grips walking into shots this collection is actually pretty funny. A large portion is just Malcolm McDowell hamming for the camera, improving goofy lines with dead seriousness in hope of getting the other actors to blow their concentration. His back and forth with Brad Dourif is a real highlight.
One of the things Zombie did right with this new Halloween
that I failed to give him credit for in the body of my review is getting the look of Michael’s mask absolutely right. The Many Masks of Michael Myers (6:26) details the process that led to the creation of the new mask. I may question his judgement on a lot of things, but the mask is absolutely vital to the success of the film and he was savvy enough to realize that. Kudos.
(19:11) is a three-part behind the scenes documentary rendered entirely redundant by the inclusion of Michael Lives. Skip it.
Meet the Cast (18:16) has Rob Zombie and Producer Andy Gould offering their perspective on the casting. Pretty blah, but I was struck by just how personable and radiant Sheri Moon Zombie is in real life, and how completely different she is from the characters she plays.
Casting Sessions (29:52) is a collection of raw video tape footage of select cast members’ auditions. One or two make a point, Scout’s audition is particularly impressive, but like Rob’s movies themselves, this feature winds up being an exercise in overkill. Yeah, the principal cast’s auditions are interesting to watch, and occasionally feature lines not in the shooting draft of the script, but we don’t need to see casting tapes for anybody who has 40 seconds of screen time.
Scout Taylor Compton Screen Test (7:47) offers more of the same, though I never tire of watching Scout Taylor Compton. Your mileage may vary.
The nicely cut together Theatrical Trailer (2:00) is also included, complete with overcooked voice over.
Lastly, there’s an option for BD-Live features, though clicking on it brings up a message that online features are forthcoming. Considering that this release is two years old, I think it’s safe to say that no online features are forthcoming.
There’s only one feature included on the second disc, but what a feature it is.
Michael Lives: The Making of Halloween
(4:20:00) is probably one of the most detailed peeks behind the scenes you will ever get for any movie, much less a relatively low budget horror film. It’s a massive undertaking to watch. I’ve never been able to sit through it in any less than three sittings. It consists largely of handheld behind the scenes footage and informal, on-set interviews, starting with location scouting and ending with the last day of shooting. You also get to see elements explored in pre-production and were shelved only to make their way into Zombie’s follow-up, H2
(Michael’s hooded hobo look, for instance). You get to see Zombie at work – he’s actually quite an impressive director, very good with his actors and very clear and uncompromising with his crew about what he wants.
It may sound like picking nits just for the sake of doing so, but I can’t help but feel that Michael Lives is a bit incomplete: although there’s a wealth of material here, there’s almost no time spent on the pre-shooting creative process, or on post-release perspective.
Not included at all are the two other versions of the film: the theatrical version or the leaked workprint version. The decision not to include them makes this release, although packed with a bulk of material, feel incomplete. Additionally, as this is the third incarnation for a lot of this material and, a lot of the behind the scenes features on disc one are pretty stale and almost totally redundant.
John Carpenter’s Halloween
is my all-time favourite film and I enjoyed the sequels (with the exception of Resurrection
) to varying degrees. I didn’t expect to come out of Zombie’s re-imagining loving it but I sincerely wanted to like it. It’s a tough call. Even at its best, Rob Zombie’s Halloween
is a mixed bag. Because Zombie is talented there are genuine moments of brilliance that shine amongst, but are unable to mitigate, the excessive bits. I’ve never really seen a movie that’s left me as ambivalent as Halloween
did. I can’t in good conscience recommend it but I can’t really give it a pan, either. To somebody who has a mind to own it, however, I have no compunctions about recommending the Blu-ray. Although it only includes the unrated director’s cut, the presentation is excellent and it comes packed with features. The four and a half hour making-of documentary alone is enough to justify the surprisingly low sticker price. It’d be worth buying this release even if you never planned on watching the feature itself.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 2 hours and 1 minute
- Not Rated, 18A
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Commentary by Writer/Director Rob Zombie
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary
- “The Many Masks of Michael Myers” Featurette
- “Re-imagining Halloween” Featurette
- Meet the Cast
- Casting Sessions
- Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test
- Theatrical Trailer
- Blu-ray Live
- “Michael Lives: The Making of Halloween” 4˝ Hour Documentary