When it was announced that John Carpenter's Halloween was going to be remade, fans were understandably in a bit of an uproar. After all, the film stands as a sacred cow of sorts, in many ways untouchable as one of the finest examples of cinematic suspense ever made. While the various sequels haven't ever come close to touching the original, they too have had their moments and as such, Michael Myers has become a pop culture icon of sorts, standing alongside Freddy and Jason as one of the few instantly recognizable horror movie characters. Putting Rob Zombie in the director's chair gave some fans hope - he's proven himself a genuine fan of the genre and showed some serious potential with his first two films, House Of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. Unfortunately that hope proved to be false.
When the film begins, we meet ten year old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch). He's picked on at school and his home life isn't much better. His mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper, her live in boyfriend, Ronni (William Forsyth), is drunken trash and his older sister, Judith (Hanna Hall), will sleep with any boy she can. Because of these problems, Michael is a little... odd. He likes to wear masks and torture animals. The only person he seems to like is his newborn sister.
Altercations at school lead to the involvement of Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), who tells Deborah Myers that her son has obviously got some serious problems. His warnings aren't heeded and soon enough, Michael has snapped and before you know it he's locked up in the local mental hospital under Loomis' watchful eye. Myers grows into a massive brute of a man (former professional wrestler Tyler Mane) but his mental growth doesn't seem to match his physical development - the treatment he undergoes seems to be pretty much ineffective, as he doesn't talk to anybody, instead he sits around and makes different masks. Even Loomis abandons hope, turning his attentions from Michael to writing a book about him.
Michael seems to be more or less forgotten until one night when two guards rape a female patient in Michael's room. Michael quietly makes his mask and once it's finished butchers the two guards and makes his escape. He returns, on Halloween, to the town of Haddonfield where he spent his childhood years to track down his sister (Scout Taylor-Compton)...
It's easy to have mixed emotions about this film. Zombie made it clear from the start that he was going to explain the origins of Michael Myers, something that hadn't really been done in the films made before this remake. This could have made for interesting viewing but at the same time, it could also take away from the character's mystique, which is exactly what happens in this film. The story explains away his ominous behavior by placing the blame on his poor upbringing and white trash roots and the first half hour of this film almost feels like it was ripped out of The Devil's Rejects. Making matters worse is that once Michael has escaped and begins his inevitable killing spree, he's not the quiet calculating killer we know from the Carpenter film but is instead a hulking brute who smashes through doors and who doesn't seem to know the meaning of subtlety. Where Carpenter's Michael would stand quietly in the background, meaning that we could see him whereas his victims could not, Zombie's Michael smashes into the room and the audience sees him at the same time as his victims. This sucks much of the suspense right out of the film. There's no anticipation here and while sometimes the pay off is solid (the kill scenes are well done) without the build up they just don't play as effectively.
On top of that, there are some rather large logic gaps in the storyline. How on Earth are a pair of guards able to get away with raping a female patient in another patient's cell, without anyone else noticing or caring? Why does Deborah stay with her boyfriend when he's such a jerk? How is it that Michael knows exactly where and who his sister is when even Dr. Loomis doesn't know? How is it possible that he even knows her name? And if he does know this, why does he go around killing off her friends before cutting to the chase and going after her? Why are the streets of Haddonfield empty? Why are the cops so slow? Shouldn't there be trick or treating going on? It's hard not to question these things as the film plays out and because of that, our suspension of disbelief flies out the window.
Zombie also seems to have gone the 'novelty casting' route with this film. While it's fun to see the likes of Sid Haig, Sybil Danning, Dee Wallace, Mickey Dolenz, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree and the immortal Udo Kier all pop up in bit parts, none of them are really given much to do. Kier in particular is completely wasted here. Brad Dourif is good in his small part as the sheriff but neither Scout Taylor-Compton, Kristina Klebe, or Danielle Harris set the world on fire as the trio of teenage girls in peril. Sheri Moon Zombie was likely cast only because of her relationship with the director and William Forsyth overacts. The saving graces of the cast are performances from Malcolm McDowell who is quite fun as Dr. Loomis and, surprisingly enough, Daeg Faerch as the young Michael Myers. Faerch is both convincing and sympathetic in the role and while it seems unlikely that this slightly chubby little kid in a KISS t-shirt could grow into the massive figure who is the adult Myers, his performance is strong.
In terms of pacing, the first half drags a bit and by the time we get to Michael's return to Haddonfield, we're left wondering what took so long. Character development is a good thing, obviously, but here Myers' mystique has been blown wide open so what should turn out to be the 'scary part' of the movie instead becomes little more than by the numbers slasher film material. There's very little here, besides the familiar mask and musical cues, to remind us that this is a Halloween film and not a Friday The 13th movie. Aside from the fact that a couple of kids are in costume, the film really has nothing to do with Halloween at all - it could have taken place on any day of the year, it would have made no difference.
To this film's credit, it does look good. Zombie has a knack for filming violence effectively and the kill scenes here, as prolonged as they are, carry some impact. He's also not afraid to throw sex back into the slasher film, ensuring that those promiscuous teens get their due while the sole virginal character is rewarded for her chastity. This is hardly unique but it is a return to the genre's roots and for whatever inexplicable reason, those of us who were raised on slasher movies tend to gravitate towards those themes. Zombie has also made sure that his film looks good. The cinematography and lighting is top notch and the film has a nice, dark, shadowy look to it that goes a long way towards making us think it's much scarier than it actually is.
As a generic horror film, Halloween is at least a decent time-killer. It delivers the sex and violence you'd expect from the genre and it does so with a fair bit of style. As a reworking of the genuinely scary, suspenseful and inventive original, however, it isn't much to write home about. The origin story is a cliché, the performances unremarkable and the frightening moments more or less limited to a few well-timed jump scares and as such the film has no impact. Horror devotees will want to see it to satiate their curiosity but really, Carpenter's film deserved better than this completely predictable and uninspired remake.
Notes About The Unrated Version (mild spoilers): Some of the differences included in this unrated version include the rape scene in Michael's cell and his subsequent escape. The scene containing cameos from Bill Mosely and Leslie Easterbrook that was in the theatrical cut of the film is not included in this version, nor is it found in the deleted scenes on the second disc. The theatrical cut of the film is available for purchase separately. It would have been nice if Dimension had put both versions in the same set for completists, but such is life.
Dimension presents Halloween in its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer that, for the most part, looks pretty darn good. The last half of the movie is very dark and so some fine detail does get lost there but aside from that this DVD does a good job of replicating the look of the film even if there are some scenes that are suspiciously blurry. Color reproduction (keep in mind this is an intentionally drab looking film) looks accurate and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to report. Any edge enhancement that shows up is minor and there isn't any heavy aliasing either. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and black levels stay pretty solid without getting too murky. There are some scenes where the colors have been intentionally muted or altered a little bit but this is obviously a stylistic choice and not a problem with the transfer itself.
Audio for Halloween comes courtesy of a rock solid English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track with optional subtitles available in Spanish and closed captioning provided in English. There's nothing to complain about here, the surround sound mix is quite strong. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Rear channels are used quite effectively in a few scenes and even if things could have been a little more active in this regard, they do help with the atmosphere and the mood. The score sounds quite good and you'll notice some decent response from your subwoofer during a few key scenes.
The only extra on the first disc, aside from chapter selection and animated menus, is a commentary from writer/director Rob Zombie. Regardless of your feelings on the film in general, this is an interesting discussion as Zombie talks about his experiences on set and what it was like working with some of the actors. He covers McDowell's approach to on set improvisation and Ken Foree's ineffectiveness as a corpse (he kept visibly breathing!). He talks about some of the re-shoots that were required and why and how various aspects of the script were changed during the production. Zombie starts off by staying he's going to 'talk through the entire movie' and that's pretty much what he does. There's very little dead air here and Zombie states that while it looks like it's set in the 70s that the film really has no specific time frame. Zombie delivers the track with a good sense of humor (he refers to KISS as the Knights In Satan's Service) and he talks about how Forsythe got into an accident before the film (explaining the leg cast) and how Forsythe's voice soothes screaming babies. He talks about the working relationship between Sherri Moon Zombie and Daeg Faerch and he talks about how certain scenes were better off set at night than during the day and how changes were made during shooting to accommodate this. Zombie talks about how he remembers watching TV specials and episodes of Geraldo that allowed him to justify the way that the mental patients in the film are treated by hospital employees, and how shooting the rape scene was mentally exhausting. Say what you will about the film, the commentary here is honest, interesting and entertaining and it gives us a pretty 'down to Earth' look at what went into getting this film off the ground and finished. His take on what happened during Danny Trejo's death scene are quite interesting as Zombie gives a few fun Trejo stories and also talks about his casting process a bit. There's virtually no dead air here at all and Zombie has a lot to say about this project and it's history which makes for a really interesting listen.
The rest of the supplements are included on Disc Two, starting off with an alternate ending and a wealth of deleted scenes (the deleted scenes and alternate ending are available with or without commentary from Zombie). The deleted scenes are as follows: Rabbit In Red, Quickdraw, End Of A Long Night, Rainy Evening, Not A Monster, You Seem Sad Today, The Media, Xmas Gift, Parole Hearing, Night Shift, and Very Young. In the commentary Zombie tells us why these scenes were excised (almost all of them were cut for pacing reasons) and where they were to fit in the final version of the film. A lot of the cuts here just show various characters coming and going and many of them just don't go anywhere and while they may provide some minor bits and pieces of character development and the Parole Hearing scene in particular should probably have been left in. That said, for the most part this material is minor (though it is neat to see Adrienne Barbeau show up here!). When it's all said and done, there's just short of 22 minutes worth of material here.
The alternate ending (3:38) starts off with moments we see in the final version of the film, but as Zombie explains in his commentary, Laurie doesn't get enough to do, she's always in a state of terror and confusion. The alternate 'beauty and the beast' ending is interesting in that it plays with that and Zombie expresses his appreciation for it but explains that he chose the other ending for 'Laurie based' reasons.
A selection of Bloopers (10:16) are up next, primarily focusing on McDowell's tendency to tease many of his co-stars. McDowell cracks wise in almost every scene (telling Sherri Moon Zombie 'your son is a f*cking nutter!) and the rest of the cast more or less follows suit showing that most of the performers involved in this shoot were obviously having a good time on set, McDowell (who seems to like fart jokes based on his 'turkey' comments) and Dourif in particular. Some interesting guest stars pop up in this material - definitely check it out.
The Many Masks Of Michael Myers (6:13) is up next. This documentary explores the different masks that we see the central character wearing during the film. Zombie talks about how important the masks are to the film and why, and Tyler Mane talks about what it was like to wear the mask in the film. Zombie also talks about the importance of Daeg's role and how Tyler played off of what he did in the film to bring the same presence to the later part of the movie. We hear from the effects guys who made the Meyers mask and we learn how the masks were made, and we learn why duplicates were made during production. The significance of some of the other, less recognizable masks is also explored in this reasonably interesting featurette.
Re-Imagining Halloween is a documentary split up into three parts: First up is From Camera To Screen (6:04) which shows us some interesting on set footage and photographs and which allows Zombie to talk about his experiences on the film and about talking to John Carpenter before making the film. Zombie talks about how he tried to make the movie his own and how making a shot for shot remake of the original would have been a waste of time and he also talks about how the studio wanted him to make Halloween more of a 'Rob Zombie movie' even if he himself isn't entirely sure what that means. Production Design (5:35) is the second part and it lets the production design team talk about the work that they did on the film and how Zombie had a very clear idea of what he wanted and how he wanted it to look from the get go. We learn about the challenges of shooting in February, and how that can lead to a lack of fall leaves, and we get a look at some of the art department's work in terms of how the Meyers house was aged and made to look a certain way. The third part, The Make Up Effects, Props and Wardrobe (7:!8), is, as the title implies, a look at the make up, props and wardrobe used in the film. We learn about how the gore effects were done, and how Zombie strove for realism and we learn how the effects team worked with latex to create many of the effects. From there we learn about the different knives that are used in the film as well as the different costumes worn by various characters. All in all, these three segments give us a fairly interesting look at the making of the film by way of interviews, behind the scenes footage and production artwork.
Meet The Cast (18:20) allows Zombie to talk about the casting process and what he looks for when casting a film. We hear from Malcolm McDowell and Daeg Faerch about their work on the picture and Zombie in turn sings their praises. Tyler Mane is talked about and Zombie talks about how he wanted him to play the part because of his presence, while Sherri Moon Zombie's part is covered as well with Rob Zombie talking about how happy he was to see her get a 'normal' part. Scout Taylor-Compton shows up and talks about what she wanted to bring to the part (and how she didn't want to be Jamie Lee Curtis) and Danielle Harris, Kristina Klebe, Sid Haig, and Brad Dourif show up to talk about their respective parts as well. Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace and a few other supporting players also show up to cover their work on the film.
Casting Sessions contains fifteen screen tests, one a piece for Daeg Faerch (3:20), Scout Taylor-Compton (3:21), Danielle Harris (1:45), Kristina Klebe (1:56), Hanna Hall (1:39), Adam Weisman (1:33), Skyler Gisondo (4:05),Jenny Stewart (0:40),Daryl Sabara (2:00),Pat Skipper (1:15), Clint Howard (1:28), Nick Mennell (1:08),Max Van Ville (2:18),Mel Fair (0:29) and Courtney Gains (1:32). While these are moderately interesting to see, they get repetitive fairly quickly and don't have much replay value. Also included here is the full Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test - Laurie Strode (7:39) that includes not only screen test footage but also some test footage of the actress in character.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc are some animated menus and the film's original theatrical trailer (2:01), presented in anamorphic widescreen, and 'sneak peeks' for a few other Dimension horror DVD releases. All of the supplements on the second disc are in English only with optional English closed captioning. All of the supplements are in anamorphic widescreen.
While the presentation and the extra features contained on this two-disc set are great, the film (even in its 'unrated extended edition') has too many flaws to really work. The picture has its moments and it would seem that Rob Zombie had his heart in the right place but as it stands Halloween is overlong and lacks any of the suspense that made the original a classic in the first place. Devotees of the series will snap it up regardless, everyone else should rent it first. Dimension has done a nice job with the package, but you really can't polish a turd.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.