Monday, October 1, 2012

Halloween (2007) (Unrated)

What better way to kick off an entire month of horror reviews than with part of a classic franchise?  Well, I suppose starting at the beginning of that franchise, but I already did that.  Howzabout the reboot?  I've actually really wanted to see Rob Zombie's take on Halloween for a while now, but never did because...well, most reboots suck.  Hard.  Still, of all the horror directors of the last decade, Zombie was probably the best choice to fix Halloween as a property.  Because, let's admit it, that shit got broke.  Zombie had experience making movies about soulless killers, he clearly respected older horror movies, and his movies aren't torture porn.  They're just...stabby.  So, yeah, I was excited when I rented Halloween (2007).  That excitement was tempered a bit, though, by the biggest Michael Myers fans I know, my cousins-in-laws; I remember asking them how the movie was, and I just got sighs and snorts of disgust.  But really, how bad can this reboot be when you compare it to Halloween: Resurrection
It could be adorable!

Halloween (2007) can be broken into two parts.  The first part is the origin of Michael Myers, and the second part takes place about fifteen years later, and is about Laurie Strode.  In part one, we meet Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), a soft-looking chubby kid with hair down to his shoulders.  Honestly, he looks like an unattractive girl.
Lil' Michael, with an even less attractive woman
Mike has a history of wearing masks when he's out of school.  Not cool masks, like Corey Feldman made in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter --- we're talking little-kid-costume masks, like the ones made of cheap plastic with a rubber band around the back of your head.  We get a look at his life and his tendencies; when he eventually decides to put on a mask and murder several people (including his older sister), it's not that big of a shock, because he's obviously messed up.
Rob Zombie obviously wants to remake Killer Klowns From Outer Space next
Most of the hallmarks of serial killers are present in Lil' Mike's life.  He tortures and kills small animals.  He gets bullied at school.  He doesn't have a good family life; his older sister treats him like the plague and his mom's boyfriend is just a generally nasty sumbitch.  His mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), cares about him, but is forced to be a largely absentee parent because she has to support her entire family by stripping.
It's only fair, since Rob Zombie supports Sheri Moon Zombie's acting career by casting her
When the fateful day arrives (SPOILER ALERT: it's in the title) and Michael goes on a prepubescent killing spree, he is apprehended by the police and sent to a mental institution.  There, we see Michael under the care of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell); we see and hear snippets of treatment and medical opinions, as Michael spirals further and further away from being a normal child and closer to a full-time psychopath.
He was always a very promising part-timer
After 38 minutes of Lil' Mike, the film finally jumps forward fifteen years to modern times.  Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) has not spoken during all that time and spends his days in the mental institute making awful papier-mâché masks and getting far larger and stronger than it would seem possible for a mask aficionado. 

Who let Michael listen to Slipknot?  And take steroids?
Michael eventually breaks out of the mental ward and returns to his childhood home, where he hid the mask he wore when he went on his adorable murder spree.  While there, he catches a glimpse of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) on her way to school.  From that moment forward, Michael seems obsessed with Laurie and is more than willing to share his love of sharp objects with anyone who gets in his way.
Especially dainty brunettes

The acting in Halloween (2007) isn't bad, especially for a horror movie and especially for a horror remake.  Daeg Faerch was shockingly good as a young Michael Myers.  He looked like a wuss, but things got creepy fast whenever he showed off his "dead-eye" gaze.  Sheri Moon Zombie gave her best performance to date as Michael's mother; she was good, but that is also comparing it to her annoying previous roles.  I also liked Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis.  He isn't as demanding and abrasive as Donald Pleasence was in the original Halloween (1978).  Instead, he showed a lot of compassion and emotional investment in Michael's progression, which actually made him feel like a credible doctor.  I also liked the raw physicality of Tyler Mane as the adult Michael.  The character would have been effective if played by a normal-sized man, but Mane's huge build and body language made the mere sight of him frightening.
Which one would you be scared of?
Scout Taylor-Compton was decent as Laurie, but playing the Girl Who Lived is rarely a role that makes an actor look good.  Her friends, played by Danielle Harris and Kristina Klebe, were fairly inoffensive; Harris did a good job being a victim and Klebe balanced an obnoxious character with full-frontal nudity.  The rest of the cast is (not surprisingly, given the popularity of the original film) jam-packed with recognizable actors.  William Forsythe was good as a complete bastard of a father figure, Lew Temple was repulsive as a rapist security guard, and there was a small bit of the ol' Sid Haig-special (which is just another way of saying Haig is always gross).  As for actors that were not in The Devil's Rejects, Clint Howard and Mickey Dolenz had to be the most bewildering casting choices in the movie.  Udo Kier also has a cameo, but at least he seemed a little creepy.  Rounding out the cast, Danny Trejo was a kindly guard who may have given Michael the wrong advice, former Spy Kid Daryl Sabara was solid as a jerk bully, and Brad Dourif was adequate as the town sheriff.  When the film was finished, I was surprised at how competent the acting was.  I wasn't impressed by anyone but Daeg Faerch, but I didn't laugh at or hate any of the actors for their work, which is quite a feat in a slasher pic.

Rob Zombie wrote the screenplay for this Halloween remake and directed it.  As far as direction goes, I thought Zombie played it pretty safe with his style.  If you don't like a grainy look to your slasher movie, then you would have been irritated by the less-than-gorgeous shots and occasionally too-dark-to-see sequences.  I didn't really mind, but I know that bothers some folks.  Zombie worked well with his cast, getting performances that matched their characters surprisingly well.  I genuinely dislike his use of slow-motion and freeze frames, but they were used sparingly here.  As far as the script goes, I thought Zombie did a great job turning this movie into something different than just a remake.  The focus on Michael's childhood was definitely the most unique and interesting thing this movie had to offer.  I liked some of the smaller nods to the original movie (like the thick-rimmed glasses on a boyfriend) and I loved the added value the story gave to Myers' iconic mask.
Yeah, that's the one

The violence in this remake was definitely grislier than in the original Halloween.  Part of that has to do with the fact that five people were murdered by a child, sure, but this was not a film that flinched from violence.  This isn't a splatter-gore movie, though.  It's just intense.  The scene with Danielle Harris laying at the bottom of the stairs was particularly gruesome, and her character actually lives!  The kills were not particularly creative (this franchise has never made that a priority), but Tyler Mane's strength made the violence seem much more realistic; his portrayal made this the most intimidating Michael Myers since the original film.  There were also a lot of dead bodies in this film; I counted nineteen on-screen deaths, with several more implied off-screen.  When you crunch the numbers, Halloween (2007) seems like it should be a winner.  It has full-frontal nudity, a lot of kills, and solid violence.
This one didn't even happen on-camera, and it still looks good!

And yet, Halloween (2007) isn't a very satisfying movie.  Franchise purists probably point to the extensive origin sequence as the biggest flaw, since that is the primary story difference between this and the original.  That's not the problem, though.  Others may point to how closely the rest of the plot followed that of the original movie, which stripped the film of any suspense.  That's not it , either.  The rest might complain about the shallow pop psychology stereotypes present in the script, but that's still just a minor issue.  There are two problems that handicap this technically impressive effort: 1) awful characters and 2) focus.

Rob Zombie, as a writer, has never written a likable character for the audience to identify with.  As a horror fan, I imagine that he (like so many of us) prefers the monster over the victims.  The problem with identifying with the killer, though, is that you rarely make frightening movies when you understand and care about the villain; you might be able to make a disturbing film, but that familiarity makes suspense and genuine scares nearly impossible.  With Halloween (2007), we meet a wide array of characters and at least a quarter of the dialogue comes from awful, repulsive characters (and keep in mind that adult Michael doesn't speak).  Are we supposed to be horrified by the deaths of these terrible people?  In several cases, their deaths are at least understandable (William Forsythe, for example) and perhaps even justifiable (Lew Temple's idiot rapist).  Granted, the scale of Michael's violence prevents (most of) the audience from truly identifying with him, but the added insights into his childhood makes it clear that he is the most sympathetic character in the story.  And that's a problem.
Who am I supposed to be rooting for, again?  The quiet one, or the whiny one?

The other problem with Halloween (2007) is the story's focus.  It's not enough that the supposedly normal characters are abrasive and cruel ---the origin story makes Michael's evolution almost tragic.  In and of itself, that's not a bad thing; the greatest villains are the ones who have understandable motives.  That origin story shifts the focus of the movie, though.  As I noted in my plot summary, the origin of Michael Myers focuses on young Michael.  For the rest of the film, the story is ostensibly about Laurie Strode; we follow her life and see how Michael hunts her down, as well as seemingly anyone she knows.  However, the film is still following Michael at this point; we are trying to figure out why it was so important for him to leave the mental home and come back to scenic Haddonfield, Illinois.  This shift in focus is the main difference between Halloween (2007) and Halloween (1978).  In the original, there is little attention paid to how Michael spends his time and absolutely no explanation for Michael's actions; Laurie doesn't know why she is being hunted, and neither does the audience, which is why it is so scary.  In this remake, we have an incomplete understanding of Michael's motives, and that means that we are following him a lot more often and have some clues as to why he is doing what he is doing.  Remember the suspense and terror from the original movie?  That's been replaced by grim fascination in the remake.
Although this picture is, admittedly, pretty fascinating

Individually, the shift in focus and the unsympathetic characters would not sink a slasher movie.  When you combine the two, though, they create a vortex of audience indifference and boredom, and that makes for a sucky experience.  It's too bad, really.  There are some great moments in this movie, but the tone was all wrong for the story being told.  When Rob Zombie was focusing on the new elements that he created, the movie had promise, but when he conformed to the plot of the original film, this remake became almost a grind to get through.  Would it have been better for Zombie to depart from the original even further than he had?  Probably, although the story is what makes the original such a classic.  Zombie should have just scrapped the whole "reboot" idea and just made this into a study of an all-new psychopathic killer.  Halloween (2007) isn't an awful movie, but it is definitely disappointing because it has the potential to be great.

Check out this promotional poster for the movie.  It highlights the best parts of the movie, which in turn shows how for the focus has shifted from that of the original.  Still, it's a pretty sweet poster.

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