Being a big fan of Rob Zombie’s reimagining (God, I hate that word) of Halloween, I was anxious to see what form the film would be in when it hit DVD. Having seen both the theatrical version (twice) and accidentally stumbling into a crowded, smoke filled room where the workprint was being shown (ahem), I found that both versions of the film each had their various pluses and minuses, and felt that, as a whole, Zombie had all of the elements of a nearly perfect remake, albeit scattered across two films. With the inevitable release of a director’s cut forthcoming, I held out hope that Zombie would, somehow, weave the best bits from each version of the film into one ultimate whole.
And he almost did. In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, Zombie only “missed by that much.”
If you haven’t seen the film and are looking for a synopsis, check out my previous review over here. This review will focus on the changes from the theatrical release, so read no further if you want to avoid any and all spoilers (of which, I promise, there will be many).
First off, one will notice a slightly deeper level of characterization, especially during Michael Myers’ early years in Smith’s Grove. Zombie wisely chose to reinstate some seemingly innocuous scenes that focus on the interaction between young Michael and Loomis, with some nifty segments of “super 8” accompanied by a clinical voiceover, a few quiet scenes where Myers and Loomis simply sit in frustrated silence, and also a key line (at least in my opinion) that lends some emotional resonance to Michael’s murder of a nurse. When I first saw these scenes in the workprint, I was truly puzzled why the director would remove them as they really heighten our emotional investment in the film’s two main characters; something one wouldn’t expect to say about…well…a Halloween film.
Zombie has also changed Michael’s method of escape, wisely returning to the “controversial” rape scene that had some test audiences up in arms, apparently. This scene, while difficult to watch, makes far more sense than the convenient “prison transfer” sequence of the theatrical release, and, while it may lower the body count (as well as deny Zombie fans the pleasure of seeing Tom Towles, Leslie Easterbrook, and Bill Moseley as Myer’s escorts), Zombie merges this scene with the residual carnage that followed the theatrical escape rather than just have Myers stroll off into the night.
Those are the most noticeable differences, but little changes pop up throughout, with a few of them being glaring examples of elements I didn’t like about either version. For example, Zombie has decided to reinstate a silly and awkward exchange between Laurie (Compton) and Mrs. Strode (Dee Wallace) in which Laurie makes vulgar gestures with a bagel. In the commentary, Zombie wonders why everyone hated this scene from the workprint, and includes it here because he feels it establishes his Laurie as a hipper, edgier new take on Jamie Lee Curtis’ mousy original. Fingering a bagel and moaning orgasmically in front of your mother does not make you edgy; it makes you an asshole. It also doesn’t work because Laurie never again exhibits this sort of behavior, so it feels even more out of place.
More problematic than what is added here are the things that weren’t taken away. For example, in the workprint, Loomis first meets Brad Dourif’s Sheriff Brackett at the cemetery investigating a missing headstone (which, of course, turns out to be Judith Myers’). The theatrical version, in which Loomis accompanies Sid Haig’s cemetery worker to Judith Myers grave and discovers the disemboweled fox/coyote thing reeks of stunt casting (which, to be fair, is something of a hallmark of Zombie’s oeuvre) and feels clumsy and specious in comparison.
My biggest complaint about the theatrical version of Halloween, however, was the film’s ending, which featured a protracted chase sequence, culminating in Laurie straddling Michael and shooting him in the face with Loomis’ revolver. The film ends with Laurie, face covered in blood, screaming madly ala’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The workprint ending (which is featured in the extras, alongside many of the alternate takes I’ve touched upon) was simpler and, perhaps, less suspenseful, but just made sense to me, especially given the history Zombie establishes between these characters.
In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed both versions of this film, but, up until now, favored the workprint. For the most part, it seems, so did Zombie, as many of the cuts and additions here go a long way toward bringing the film back toward what was obviously his original vision. On the other hand, there were a few things about the theatrical version that I preferred over the workprint, and most of those, thankfully, made the cut, including a nod to one of Carpenter’s original’s classic kill scenes.
Halloween slashes its way onto Blu-ray with a very attractive 2:35.1 1080p AVC encode that is bursting with depth and detail, and embraces the aesthetics of Zombie's unique color palette used here. Golden hues, cool blues, and institutional whites are vibrant, but blacks are, at times, a bit washed out and bluish, making this an only slightly less than perfect transfer.
The 5.1 TrueHD track is quite impressive, with deep, booming bass and crystal clear highs, wonderfully articulated dialogue, and a competent surround mix. It's a nice 360 degree aural assault, especially heightened by the film's schizophrenic score, which alternates between Carpenter's classic theme and a cacophany of gut-rumbling loops, industrial FX, and pained cries.
All of the extras on Disc One are presented in standard definition, and welcome carry-overs from the original DVD release, including a Zombie commentary; nearly thirty minutes of deleted scenes w/ commentary (including the superior alternate ending); five featurettes - The Many Masks of Michael Myers, Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test, Re-Imagining Halloween, Meet the Cast, and Casting Sessions; bloopers, and a theatrical trailer.
Disc Two sports a 4 and 1/2 hour making-of documentary, Michael Lives (SD), that, like the wonderful 30 Days in Hell doc that accompanied "The Devil's Rejects", offers an exhaustive look at everything from pre-production to the film's release. It's fascinating stuff that documents Zombie's dealings with producers, chronicles his own fears surrounding the film, and serves as a sort of "fly on the wall" look at the making of the movie. This supplement, alone, is reason enough to buy this set!
I'm a big fan of Rob Zombie's Halloween, and, while I'm not certain the director made all the right choices in terms of the material chosen between the theatrical and workprint editions to represent his "director's cut", this compelling 2-disc set offers myriad reasons as to why Zombie made the choices he did. From the already plentiful and informative extras included from the previous DVD to the astoundingly in-depth Michael Lives documentary that makes up Disc Two, Dimension and Zombie literally left no stone unturned in compiling supplemental materials for this film's fans. Add that to a very nice transfer and fantastic HD soundtrack, and you've got yourself a must-own Blu-ray for horror aficionados.