Before anyone takes a dump all over Rob Zombie's remake of the John Carpenter classic "Halloween," let me remind the picky bastards out there that the last time we saw Michael Myers on that big screen, he was trading karate chops with Busta Rhymes. Yeah, now this update doesn't seem so bad, does it?
As the troubled child in the Myers family (including Sheri Moon Zombie and William Forsythe), Michael (Daeg Faerch) has used his isolation to create a horrifying inner world where he tortures animals and uses masks to accept his evil nature. After slaughtering his family, Michael is sent to a mental hospital where he's put in the care of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). After years in his cell, Michael has grown to hulking proportions (now played by Tyler Mane) and manages to escape, heading to his old hometown of Haddonfield to locate his baby sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) for his final act of brutality.
Now, to be fair, Zombie's take on the The Shape has nowhere near the quality, durability, or effortlessness of Carpenter's 1978 creation. That being said, there's much to appreciate in this merciless reimagining, but it requires great effort to clear away the expectations that come with a typical "Halloween" movie.
Having been an outspoken critic on the ugly business of turning our screen monsters into misunderstood kittens just to find a new angle to mine for genre gold, I was surprised to find Zombie's attempt to establish a psychological backstory for Myers so engaging. In the new "Halloween," Myers is no longer a mysterious, unstoppable creature of indeterminate sadistic hunger; he now possesses the profile of a classic serial killer, humanizing him to a point where his acts of violence do not emanate from a vague need to scare, but of uncontrollable impulse to destroy. It's a slippery slope to chase this narrative tail, but Zombie shows remarkable tenacity, setting aside the film's first 40 minutes for the effort.
The result might royally piss off fans, but the reward is a transformation for the Myers character after decades of lousy sequels that have rendered the killer a joke (again, Busta Rhymes). However small the amount, Zombie still manages to breathe some life back into the franchise with his curiosity, restoring some fright to the masked man as he chases the core of evil, adding a death wish arc to the Haddonfield expedition that impressed me. Other horror prequels and sequels have only taken mild passes at psychological examination, but Zombie seems truly interested in how Myers came to be, slowing his film down to show the audience where the menace was branded.
Zombie also uses his time with "Halloween" to further his exploration of the white trash heart. Large sections of the picture seem like outtakes from his 2005 humdinger "The Devil's Rejects," with heavy attention on cursing, borderline-comedic bickering, and classic rock songs. Again, this distance from Carpenter is appreciated, and I must admit, Zombie is incredibly good at capturing the seedy chaos of an uncontainable dysfunctional family.
Also fun for fans of "Rejects" is Zombie's continued casting of genre icons, returning the likes of Ken Foree, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Sybil Danning, Richard Lynch, Sid Haig, Brad Dourif, and even Mickey Dolenz to the big screen. Each actor makes a strong impression.
While a claustrophobic, deliberately stretched experience right from the get-go, once "Halloween" starts to resemble the earlier film, with the introduction of Laurie and her yappy high school buddies (Danielle Harris and Kristina Klebe), it really hits home how brutal and angry Zombie's take on the material is. The filmmaker turns up the volume on Myers's warpath, staging excruciating scenes of death as Michael struggles to locate his beloved sister in the clueless suburbs.
If the new "Halloween" lacks any stylistic panache or detachment, it makes up for it in sheer rage, dishing up some disturbing, yet completely bewitching moments of expiration and unnerving anguish. Carpenter might be the king of the scare, but Zombie is awfully good at this in-the-moment torment stuff. His Myers is a runaway train of pain, making quick, wet work of the poor souls that dare cross his path.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), the image on the "Halloween" DVD preserves Zombie's goal of filth and misery. The film's manipulated color scheme is crisp and detailed, while heavy nighttime sequences survive with strong black levels and holiday atmospherics.
With a soundtrack of classic rock tunes and a cacophony of gurgly sound effects, "Halloween" is an audio treat, with plenty of surround attention and frontal-assault sonic force. Dialogue is easy to distinguish and separated pleasingly from the mayhem. Tyler Bates's punchy score also blends into the mix with satisfying simplicity.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Included on this DVD is the Unrated Director Cut of the film. Unfortunately, the supplements make heavy references to scenes in the Theatrical Cut, sure to leave newcomers in a state of confusion. To add insult to injury, the end credits on the film are for the Theatrical Cut as well.
The ultimate selling point of this latest DVD release is the inclusion of "Michael Lives: The Making of 'Halloween." What's so special about this documentary? Well, it's not a documentary; it's an around-the-world voyage of production information, with an astounding runtime of 259 minutes.
Yes, 259 minutes.
So what does one get with a 4 hour documentary? The works. Starting with pre-production location scouting, casting panic, a good-humored table read, and a generous dosage of nerves, the doc soon plunges into the shoot itself, tracking every single day of production (38 in total). More a diary than a tightly directed overview, "Michael Lives" covers everything imaginable, showing a diligent Zombie at work with his cast and crew. Taking the story day by day, the viewer becomes involved with the crew: learning personalities, eavesdropping on awkward small talk, watching the consumption of cake after cake, tolerating the sugar-rush antics of the younger cast members, observing nearly every set being coated in blood, and monitoring Zombie's unwavering patience level.
It's a remarkable document of "Halloween," and even with a few image quality glitches and zero discussion of post-production woes (the five reshoot days are included without much explanation), the scope of this creation is outstanding, putting shrill, useless promotional devices that normally fatten DVD extras to shame.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Rob Zombie is a treat. Introducing himself as a chatty fellow, Zombie launches off into a wonderful dissection of his own movie. Discussing his motivations and working conditions, the listener is allowed a deep understanding of "Halloween," along with renewed appreciation for Zombie's efforts. Indeed, it's a breathless discussion and an informative one.
"Deleted Scenes" (21:58) observes some strip club banter, mental hospital conversation and holiday celebration, a parole hearing, a book signing with Loomis, and more Michael madness, including one strange bit in the daylight at a cemetery. The scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Zombie.
"Alternate Ending" (3:47) is a sympathetic twist on the conclusion of the film. It can be viewed with or without commentary from Zombie.
"Bloopers" (10:17) is an extensive collection of screw-ups and camera-ready horsing around. The bottom line? Don't hire Malcolm McDowell if you hate to laugh. He's a wily one.
"The Many Masks of Michael Myers" (6:28) covers the meticulous creation of the iconic facial disguise, along with some conversation with the actors who brought the white latex to life.
"Reimagining 'Halloween'" (19:04) is more of a standard making-of featurette, interviewing cast and crew on the film shoot and how they approached remaking a horror classic. Fine stuff, but not 259 minutes fine.
"Meet the Cast" (18:17) greets the colorful roster of actors, isolating bits of inspiration to discuss with Zombie and his troupe. It's congratulatory, but it's interesting to hear the actors out of character.
"Casting Sessions" (29:52) showcases uneasy videotaped audition footage from the major players in the cast. I'm actually amazed some of these people found jobs after committing such lukewarm effort to tape.
"Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test" (7:48) is an extended clip of the actress trying to win the role of Laurie Strode. Lots of screaming and tears ensue.
And finally, a Theatrical Trailer has been included on this DVD.
There's little doubt that a good 10 minutes could've been shaved off the climax of Zombie's movie; the filmmaker perhaps overcompensating in the suspense department to give the picture some added fright meat. However, that's a minor qualm in what I found to be a terrific horror rebirth. Purists will undoubtedly scoff, but the trick is to look beyond the nature of the remake to see what Zombie was attempting here. It's a scrappy, semi-brilliant reawakening of a fabulous horror icon, and the best part about it? No Busta Rhymes.