Rob Zombie starts off his revision of the Michael Myers "legend" with a detailed plod through the downtrodden trailer trash boyhood of everyone's favourite incarnation of unfathomable evil. Zombie had evidently determined to make this otherwise routine career-enhancing gig a highly personalised affair, penning a screenplay that places the fair-haired, puddin' faced Myers in a world which fans of the writer-director will recognise instantly as essentially that of his previous paean to '70s drive-in splatter, "The Devil's Rejects". As in that film, this is a world set in an unspecified, presumably near-contemporary era, but with a heavy '70s aura. The young, podgy Michael (Daeg Faerch) wears a retro-70s KISS t-shirt and lives a wretched life with his prostitute mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), her abusive greasy-haired lay about boyfriend, Ronnie (William Forsythe) and his "slutty" teenage sister (Hanna Hall). The opening portrayal of Michael's grim white trash domestic set up is peppered with Zombie's characteristically literate, semi-comic and thoroughly scatological dialogue. The man is rapidly becoming the Tarantino of Horror. The trouble is, long scenes of clever word sparring is not a virtue the average teenage splatter fan, most likely to be targeted as this film's core audience, is particularly renowned for appreciating. Never worry. Zombie also likes prolonged, bloody, vicious violence and lots of T & A (preferably at the same time), and this film certainly has plenty of both those, as well!
This isn't just a straight make over of the original John Carpenter movie from 1978, then. As most will know by now, its basically a complete overhaul of the entire Halloween mythos, as imagined by Rob Zombie. Not only are we given a prequel and a remake of the first film combined, but the plot point, only developed in Rick Rosenthal's 1981 sequel, that the 'last girl', Laurie Strode — originally played by Jamie Lee Curtis — is, in fact, Michael's little sister, becomes the centre of the story from the very beginning. While the pressure of life with his dysfunctional family and school strife (Michael is habitually bullied by bigger lads, and victimised by unsympathetic teachers) forces him to withdraw further and further into a sullen but scathingly angry shell, the boy continues to dote on his baby sister. When eventually he snaps, and slaughters his good-for-nothing father figure (duct-taping him to his arm chair while the man drools in a drunken stupor, and slitting his throat with a carving knife), his nympho sister and her slacker boyfriend — moving with condensed haste from a plastic clown mask (in Carpenter's original, the young Michael is dressed in a clown costume when he murders his sister) to a creepily, outsized version of the iconic "Shape" mask in-between killings — his spree is brought to an end when he spies the innocent baby Laurie, gazing up at him wide-eyed from her cot.
Perhaps keen to prove he has more to offer than endless pastiche of backwoods '70s exploitation flicks, the next segment sees Zombie essay a passable impersonation of, of all people, Stanley Kubric, as the ten year old Michael finds himself apparently the only inmate of a large psychiatric institution. Shot in a series of static wide shots, the film takes on something of the icy clinical austereness of "The Shining", all spotless whitewashed wards and spacious, empty grounds.
Enter Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Samuel Loomis.
As far as the film's efforts to retool the original concept goes, Zombie's rewrite of this character, and McDowell's portrayal of him, is probably the most successful outcome of the whole project. McDowell is always compelling to watch and brings a laconic, easy charm to Loomis which is a million miles away from Donald Pleasence's clipped, dour puritan. If rather doom-laden, Pleasence's Loomis was always a rather uncomplicated 'good guy', whose character seemed more or less determined by his being required to provide the back story for the plot. But here, he's transformed into a much more three-dimensional personality — and a flawed one at that. At first filled with flower power hippy ideals of reforming Michael, and coaxing him out from behind the countless home-made paper masks which he uses to submerge his person, the floppy haired psychiatrist later becomes a slightly jaded character, his cynicism created by his abject failure to stop Michael becoming the completely dehumanised vision who, later, kills a nurse. He writes a book called "The Devil's Eyes" in which (with a rather clever allusion to the supernatural element which became an major part of the original film) he suggests that Michael is possessed by evil, using the kind of hysterical language often found in such best-selling biographies of serial killers and the like, mythologising them with language that hints at the supernatural, in order to sell more copies.
Next, the film flashes forward a few years to find the full grown Michael now a hulking football player-sized lunk, looming behind a mass of stringy hair. Zombie returns the material to his habitual stomping ground now; grotesque characters take over once more — cackling prison guards who abuse the female inmates after lights-out at first make Myers seem sympathetic in comparison with their vile deeds. Roused to murderous excess by his tormentors, Myers escapes and, after dispatching Ken Foree's OTT trucker in a toilet cubicle, sets out to track down his 'baby' sister.
This, of course, is where the film goes from 'prequel' mode into 'remake' territory. And Myers now becomes the unstoppable killing machine of yore. The trouble with this is that there seems an obvious disjunction between the Michael we've seen thus far — the withdrawn, troubled but still human Michael — and the possessed, blank-faced slayer, more familiar from the original film and its countless sequels. With Loomis on his trail it's almost as if the sensationalised, 'Devil's child' that the author has created, making his fortune and producing a best-seller in the process, has crawled from the cheap paperback pages into reality, to call Loomis to account for his lapse from his original idealistic standards of medical practice. If this is an intended theme, it is only really dealt with in passing, evident in the surprise on Dr. Loomis's face when Michael really does rise up again after being pumped full of bullets, only to carry on as though nothing had happened! This does create a rather big problem for Zombie though, in that it runs counter to everything we've learned about Michael's background up to then!
This fifty-minute second half now crams in all the salient points from the original film, feeling more like a rushed version of it. The new Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is a rather generic teen protagonist, not especially sympathetic. Haddonfield still looks like its original '70s counterpart, shot in warm nostalgic tints (as was the 'childhood' section at the start of the film) and the houses and layout of the streets looks exactly the same as in Carpenter's film. For Zombie now simply rehashes many sequences and even specific shots from the original (admittedly with a lot more blood and a huge amount of gratuitous female nudity) while emphasising the fact that the 'shape' is really only looking for his sister (a fact not invented until the original's sequel). But the film undoubtedly loses a lot of impetuous in the final half hour. The ending seems rather perfunctory, as though there is really nowhere to go; and so, instead, we essentially get a rehash of the ending of Tobe Hopper's "Texas Chain Saw Massacre". It all seems to add up to nothing more than a massive shrug, and although he doesn't screw up exactly, Zombie's reverence doesn't really achieve any great revival for this franchise either.
The director's cut DVD from Paramount includes new scenes and lengthier versions of scenes included in the theatrical cut, and adds yet more deleted scenes (with optional commentary) as extras . The director proves a proficient narrator in a dry but informative commentary track, and there are several short behind-the-scenes making of featurettes to round off a fairly standard DVD release of a competent but unessential remake.