Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Debra Hill, John Carpenter, Rob Zombie
Starring: Bill Moseley, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Danny Trejo, Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, William Forsythe
REVIEWED BY ROSS HUGHES
When I put the remake of my favourite horror of all time at number 20 in my worst horrors of the noughties, I caused a bit of a stir, especially among those who are rock star Rob Zombie’s biggest fans. Do I regret it now, well no, because like most Halloween films, the remake has a history of two versions floating around and I was one of the unlucky ones who saw the first draft.
I did just not get or gel with what I originally saw. I had never felt so much anger towards a film before, from the opening Monster Mash theme music, to a good ten minutes before the title Halloween appears, in which the film freezes in mid flow. From characters disappearing never to be seen again, to a terrible set piece involving rape in which an adult Myers escapes, to a climatic showdown that was over way too quick, I detested every single frame of it and I still feel angry and bitter when I am writing this. I vowed never ever to watch it again, and for those who complained that Halloween was at number twenty should be lucky that it was not at number one, such was the feeling of hate running through my veins.
Then one day, probably a year and a half later, even after I bought the film just to complete my collection (but never opened), I came across the film on a movie premiere satellite station. It was cold outside, the kids were in bed, and I had just settled down, and for some strange reason the urge to watch a film with Michael Myers proved too strong, despite knowing I be letting myself down after making such a strong vow. Then something happened, the title Halloween appeared straight away, the opening music had changed, and I was taken aback. Intrigued, I started to get in to it, characters that went missing, had their goodbye moments, the rape scene was still there but was directed better, even the final showdown was longer and much better. Before all Zombie fans jump on the bandwagon and say I am being harsh with the original version of his film, then watch the commentary on the dvd (which I have now opened), everything that I thought that was wrong with the version I originally saw, Zombie changed and in his own words was “glad to do so!”. Small Touches like the added scenes of Danny Trejp virtually enhanced the picture, and for a film that I had given a zero rating had instantly shot up to a three, and while there be those who may seem that is still low, I do actually have valid reasons.
Lets start with a positive, and time has been kind to the Haddonfield redo. Having watched the dire and awful remakes of Jason and Freddy which both seemed so tired and out of touch with the modern audience, Halloween 2007 does manage to create a bridge in which old and new fans can cross. and meet in the middle. The love that Zombie has for the original shines throughout, and I have to give Zombie a lot of credit for giving the Sandman theme song from the original sequel a redo which actually freaked me out more than the John Carpenter score that still dazzled after all these years. He also understood the feeling of disgust from all fans of the franchise when they got rid of Jamie Lloyd, so cleverly he brought back original actresses Danielle Harris for the role of Annie, the babysitter friend of Laurie Strode. Yes, I may be well known for criticising Zombie and what he done to Halloween, but I can also give the man credit, and there are moments and imagery in this film that I can only marvel at!
I get to some of those in a minute, but being a remake, what actually does Zombie offer to a well worn and very know storyline. Well, to defend him, there was only one way to go to separate the old from the new, and that was to extend the opening scene which John Carpenter done beautifully in 1978, a set piece that involved the murder of Judith Myers. Unlike the old in which it lasted for only ten minutes, Zombie extends it to a good half of the film, which while I can see why he went into this direction, it also brings the main reason for me in why Halloween 2007 does not quite work. The family that Myers has are simply the most ugly set of characters you can think of, we have the slut daughter with the foul mouth, the drunk step dad who verbally abuses the young Michael at every opportunity, and a mother who puts up with it all and strips for money. Its a typical cliche horror family and maybe it is the fault of Zombie because along with House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil Rejects, it seems the man can only write about characters like this. The fact they are played by the basically the same people who starred in those two films, goes to show only way way of thinking by Zombie and poor young Michael Myers is placed right in the middle. To suggest that horror gets born in this environment is basically wrong and I would have loved to have seen a film in which the young killer was just a normal lad who one night decided to kill his sister. I firmly believe that simple basic approach would have created a different slant on the story, a young boy who was just born evil, because here, Zombie offers a little bit of sympathy for someone who for the fans, should never receive.
When the Step dad screams at the boy who is played quite wonderfully by Daeg Faerch, then you can not wait for this future killer to start his slaying. By being on the side of the Bogyman is not ideal for an horror film and you don’t need a Billy Loomis Scream rant to tell you that having a motive is a bad thing. Zombie loses focus of a character that was just called the shape, a human that was pure evil, that seemed Supernatural but wasn’t. By doing this back-story and the way it was portrayed, loses all the power that Myers had over the audience, which was basically thin anyway after numerous sequels.
Again though while I complain, I have to give Zombie a massive thumbs up for a wonderful set piece that is the highlight of the film. The ingenious idea of it being Judith’s boyfriend bringing in the most famous mask in horror history into the house, is still a thrilling highlight and when young Myers snaps and thinks “that is enough!”, Zombie is in his element with the chaos he directs. One again though I have to disagree with many Halloween fans who dismiss the logic that the only reason Myers killed in this picture was because his sister failed to take him trick or treating. I have had many debates over this, but Zombie drops enough hints before the event to suggest there is something quite not alright with this young boy. When Dr Sam Loomis played here with great style by Malcolm McDowell, turns up at school to warn his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) that he is showing signs of a murderous nature, its a sign that Myers has had this violent urges for a while, and when he produces pictures of dead animals in which Myers tortured and killed, you do not need to be a huge fan of TV show Dexter to know that this is not a very good sign!
What I see is that the night his sister lied to their mother that he would take him out for the some candy and instead went upstairs for a bit of sex, was the moment Myers turned to the dark side and what follows is well executed by Zombie. The Step dad first, then the boyfriend, its quite creepy watching this young lad silently move around the house, and then we get to the scene in which Zombie does the Halloween brand proud, the killing of Judith Myers. By the time Myers enters the room, he sees the mask that he will be forever associated with and puts in on. He then stabs Judith who screams and stumbles out of the room and across the hallway. Its this exact moment that I feel Halloween 2007 reaches a peak and does not recover from because its pure Zombie before he sells out to the Carpenter name. When Judith is struggling to reach the stairs, the camera pans towards the bedroom and out steps Myers with mask on and the Halloween music in full swing. Its surreal imagery seeing the mask on such a young lad, and its brilliantly done, especially when he walks ever so slow towards her. Every time I see this scene I wish Zombie had the balls to go in another direction, maybe set his vision of the story, especially in the first film, of this young boy going on a rampage. He could have made a two parter in which the sequel saw Myers much older escape from his imprisonment. What I hate about this remakes is they feel the need to follow in the blueprint of what we have seen before, which for me makes the idea totally pointless. Why watch a new version when we can see the old one. I mean, does Norman Bates masturbating in the remake, enhance the Psycho film, course not, does making Jason run fast make the Friday redo a much better film?, heck no! and the biggest shame of Halloween 2007 is that for this brief moment, Zombie is clearly loving this extended play on the original theme. Its like all the shackles are off and he is going for it and even I must admit, it is quite wonderfully done, but he ruins it all by then selling out, but I get to that in a minute.
Because before we enter that stage, Zombie still has fun with the young lad, and we now get to see Loomis spend the time with him before he grew up which was always suggested but never shown in the old sequence of films. I loved this moment, because you see this young lad go from a normal lad with no knowledge to what he has done to being confused, then angry to finally silent. Its thanks to these moments that you get a good feel out of McDowell’s portrayal of Loomis and a part of me wishes that Donald Pleasence had a chance to do these scenes in any of the sequels (a flashback maybe!) While McDowell sometimes acts the Loomis we all know of, he also brings out a more sense of frustration that this young lad is beyond help and there is one outstanding moment in which his Loomis finally says enough is enough and abandons him. Zombie himself added the extra scene of Loomis just walking away and its another great moment before we reach the slump! The need for Myers to hide his face is also explained here and while we then get to see what happens to his mother Deborah, its then the film switches to the Fifteen Years Later and with it the quality starts to disappear.
We see Myers now a seven foot giant (what the heck are they feeding him) who has not spoken a word for many of years. In the first version I saw, his escape was met by an ugly scene of rape which I thought had no part to be in the Halloween brand, but while its still here, its filmed in a better way, not so brutal or dare I say it ugly! We also see the reapperance of Danny Trejo who has been the only friend of Myers in the asylum since he was child. In the version I saw, Trejo just vanished from the picture but here he gets to meet the escaped Myers and believing they are friends, tries to help him! This is the only moment in the entire film that portrays Myers like he should be and grabs the full essence of the monster. He does not care who is who, has no remorse, just a rage and for a cameo, Trejo’s character fully brings out the evil in this man and quite rightly we lose some of the sympathy we gained for when he was a child with such an terrible upbringing!
With this different approach to the escape that we witnessed back in the original, Zombie is still in full flow, even when we get to a truck pit stop and Myers has a brutal fight with a truck driver played by Ken Foree, the film still manages to sizzle, with a great bust up in which they actually fought like lions in real life. The camera shakes violently with each thump of the body hitting the toilet cubicle, but Myers wins and manages to change into the clothes of his latest victim.
It is at that point, Halloween loses its almighty vibe, because when daylight hits, Zombie sacrifices quite wrongly his unique style and tries to match what Carpenter succeeded so well. Any originality that Zombie injected into the new plot vanishes has quickly as it came, with the last half of the film being nothing more than an updated scene of the 1978 classic, and like all the recent remakes, smack of pointless. Its like Zombie wanted to make it all a complete different picture, one that suits his style and love of horror, but knew he had to sell out to please the Halloween fanatics. So somehow we end up with a film of two halves…..one a remake that dares to do something different and then a remake that just does everything you have seen before. Carpenter’s trick was showing less to the audience, he did not need a good half hour for the set up of the Judith murder, instead we are treated to a kind of Peeping Tom homage of this girl being brutally stabbed and then the reveal that it was a young boy behind the mask. Zombie’s all out assault to extend everything of the story, works in the first half, simply because its new to the Halloween fans, but when he copies the last half from the original, then the film loses its way quite drastically. You can not go from one to another. Halloween 1978 was a mean lean horror film with a simple premise of a mad man trying to kill some babysitters, Halloween 2007 is a story of how a young boy became so evil and spent time in an asylum before escaping and then going after some girls in which he may have an hidden motive.
When the two trends from each film cross over like they do here, then the film becomes bloated very quickly and its a shame that Zombie felt the need to go this way. One another problem and its a big one with the film here, is that all the fans know the story, and Zombie relies on a massive plot hole to help the plot run smoothly. When we meet Laurie Strode played like a foul mouthed daughter by Scout Taylor Compton, we see here match the scene of the original in which she walks with young boy Tommy Doyle (Skyler Gisondo) to deliver some mail in the still empty Myers house. Its here we see once again Myers look out from the house and sees Laurie. He picks up the mail in which she drops and “sniffs” the letter! This is the only part of the film that I can see that this is how Myers knows that Laurie is his long lost sister. He sniffs her scent? Now please, I do not buy this notion at all, I mean he is a serial killer not a super sniffer but at no time does this film explain how Myers knows that Laurie is his sister. Now before all Zombie fans jump on the bandwagon and scream that it was the same in the original……well it was not. People seem to forget that in the Carpenter’s film, Myers was referred to as a shape, a monster with no motive who just targeted these three girls. It was scary because we had no explanation to why he was doing this. The sister angle was only mentioned at the end of Halloween II which even for this biggest fan I still find it hard to accept that this information was kept from Loomis for so many of years.
Once again though I will defend Zombie because he was trapped in a story that had to be retold, there was no surprises left and when we hit the night of Halloween its a case of going from A to B and the main thread of the plot that Carpenter had no need to add to his original, hovers over the entire remake!
The problem that makes this remake so pointless by the time we hit Haddonfield is that it plays like a greatest hits showing of Carpenter’s film but without the tension that was full of anticipation. In 1978 we watched stunned has Myers hunted his prey, watching from the outside as these three babysitters went on with normal life. As the killings took such a long time to develop, we were on a road in which path was unclear because we did not know if the likes of Laurie and Annie would survive. By the time we have hit the Fifteen Years Later segment of this version, Myers has already killed five innocent people and that does not include the other lot during his escape from the asylum. As its painfully obvious Zombie lacks the Carpenter touch of developing suspense, he makes up for it with buckets of blood and mayhem. Of course this will work for the new modern audience who love this current trend of all things gore, but Halloween fans of old will just see it has a worthless exercise lacking the class of what made the film they loved tick.
Some Positives! Compton is pretty effective has Laurie Strode, she plays it different to Curtis because Zombie towards the final showdown changes the plot so that it seems that Myers is not actually there to kill her but to reunite the family. There is a strong hint that the reason he tracks her down is simply because he sees her as his redemption, the only person in his life that has never let him down, this theme runs currently throughout the film, to his mothers abandonment and of course to even Loomis turning his back on him. When a confused Laurie rejects him its here that the rage comes back and it sets off the usual slash and stalk finale. But here is a spoiler* When Laurie has the gun at his head after the fall from the balcony, Myers grabs the gun but seems to steady her hand so it aims for his head. I did not notice it at first but its a good moment that Zombie created because it shows the human side of this psycho who either wants his sister to end his suffering or to pull the trigger and become what he is*
Wisely Danielle Harris underplays the role of Annie, which makes a lot of sense considering her association of the franchise but you still get a kick when she has a showdown with Myers. Tyler Mane lacks the supernatural vibe that the original Nick Castle managed to create with Michael, but he is one powerful figure and his brutal killings make him one of the better Myers. McDowell lacks the screen presence of Pleasence but the earlier scenes of the film in which he tries to interact with the boy brings the best out of him and his portrayal, because like the film, soon as he is running around Haddonfield the memory of Donald is too hard too ignore.
The end of the day, it was always going to be impossible to remake Halloween. How could you better a film that so many horror fans love with all their heart. Zombie does have a massive cult following but his horrors do not quite reach the mainstream audience so it was always a gamble to get him to write and direct this movie. For some parts he succeeds. While I disagree with the way he went about the Myers family, the moment the killings start with Myers as a child, is pure Zombie and I can fully relish those moments that are really good and should be proud to be associated with the name of Halloween. Its just a shame that Zombie lacked the courage to go with a new, I mean this was a chance to take a franchise dead in the water and make something different. But by respecting Carpenter, Halloween 2007 comes across as a decent remake but with many like myself thinking “what was the point!” when as suggested by some wonderful scenes, this new model should and could have, had its own unique identity…..
OVERALL: Much better than the dire Resurrection and there are some moments that even better the Scream alike H20, but the shadow of Carpenter hangs over it for all its running time and while many will despair at the more gore, compared to the recent redo’s of Freddy and Jason, it can hold its head up high in the murky waters of the remake trend