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11th Oct 07
It's Halloween - you know the plot.
This 're-imagining' of JC's seminal classic was shrouded in mystery in pre-release months. It's quite difficult to work out why, because all Rob Zombie has done is to make a film that is one part prequel and one part remake. What's so special about that? I know, I know, the studio wanted us to salivate, to imagine that something truly special was going to occur here, and, given Zombie's output gradient when judged on his movies thus far, there was a glimmer of hope that this might be a horrific treat. Then we watched the trailers. They looked promising. It was reassuring to see that the old Myers mask was in place, and it looked better than ever. Well, better than it did anytime after 1978 - the year this movie begins.
Young Michael (Daeg Faerch) is an unhappy kid. No shit. His step dad (William Forsythe) is a lazy drunk, his older sister likes to party with boys and tease him, but isn’t that what older sisters are meant to do? His mum (Sheri Moon) loves him dearly, but unfortunately she earns her living on exotic dancing stages or on her back. Mrs Myers' seedy profession is no secret to the kids at school, who taunt and bully young Mike until, you know, he just can't take it no more. Then the head teacher finds dead cats in young Myers' bag, which is when he calls upon the local shrink Dr Sam Loomis for his advice, but it's all a bit late. It's Halloween. Wearing a clown mask (which he is clearly very fond of), psycho boy lays in wait for one of his young aggressors, finally pouncing on him and beating him to death. Then it's off home for Michael, his mum off to work, his no-good drunk stepfather taking the piss, and his older sister refusing to take him out trick or treating so that she can get some quality skin time with her boyfriend.
Michael for some reason breaks at this point, gaffer-taping the sleeping drunk firmly to his armchair and cutting his throat. He then movies on to his sister's boyfriend, who happens to possess a strangely familiar Halloween mask which Michael adorns for the first time. Wearing his newly adopted face, Michael then slaughters his sister, then waits outside for his mum's return home. Some months later Michael remains in therapy with Dr Loomis at Smith's Grove sanitarium. Loomis gets nowhere with his young patient - Michael behaves as if nothing ever happened, and continues his obsession with Halloween masks. After he brutally murders a nurse during a visit from his mum, the distraught Mrs. Myers goes home and blows her brains out, and Michael never speaks again. Fast forward 17 years, Michael escapes. On Halloween, don't you know.
At this point the 'semi-remake' aspect of Zombie's film comes into play. Everything begins to look very familiar and generally, the movie follows in the footsteps made by JC in '78. Same characters, different actors. And what actors they are. This is one of Zombie's greatest strengths, even more so than in his previous work - everyone is someone here, casts do not get better than this. To list the names is futile (there are way too many to mention!), but one of the real stand-outs is Ken Foree as the toilet victim, who threatens to get tough with Michael when he rudely interrupts him "dropping a load". Bard Dourif also shines in his own lovably kooky way as Sheriff Lee Brackett, while other familiar faces like Adrienne Barbeau tend to let lost in the cameo crowd. And let's not forget our very own Malcolm McDowell as Sam Loomis. He gives it a fair stab, at times churning out Pleasence's original rants verbatim. Perhaps my favourite scene in the entire movie is the moment in the gun shop, where we get to see him getting tooled-up with a 357 Magnum to stop "the Evil". At times he is superb, having even fashioned the exact same beard as Pleasence in the original film - but overall, it's one hell of a tough legacy to live up to.
The same can be said for the entire project. Rob Zombie has stated in interviews that he took on this assignment because he was sure he could make it work, and on a certain level, it does work. It's no disaster - we've seen much worse than this - but there is something inherently pointless about the whole affair. The prequel aspect fails for different reasons - in the original, we fear Myers because he has no motive, when there is no analytical explanation for his behaviour. He just does what he does, and Dr Loomis' lovably miniminal explanation is that he is "pure Evil". Here, Zombie attempts to explain why he is this monster. Problem is, he doesn't explain it enough - it just doesn't wash. Any scenes that promise to lead somewhere in terms of exploring Michael's darkness tend to fall annoyingly short, then cuts to the next scene.
It's a tough call for Zombie. If he submits a carbon-copy remake, he would have been criticised (not to mention being artistically unfulfilled), so he adds more flesh to the original screenplay. The story of young Michael was wide open - there really is no other route so perhaps he made the right decision, but, despite its over-long running time (mostly spent needlessly lingering in dark corridors), there isn't enough depth. It isn't even relatively scary. It's hard to be objective with a film like Halloween - JC has always been my number one (even though he has now lost his touch), but his original, along with stuff like Psycho, is the blueprint for the mechanics of fear in the modern horror genre, and judging my girlfriend's reaction in the theatre last night confirmed what I already knew - the fear factor just isn't there. Sure, the killings are more brutal than before, but Zombie has obviously employed some restraint here, presumably focusing on atmosphere and chills, but again, it simply falls short of the mark.
In his favour, the soundtrack works a treat. He sets the opening 1978 tone perfectly with the KISS track 'God of Thunder', and manages to feature Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear the Reaper' (used in the original movie) not once but twice. Perhaps more importantly, he employs JC's iconic masterpiece of a score - the main theme is used effectively a couple of times, and incidental staples, such as the one-note piano chase theme, as well as Laurie's Theme, are welcome additions, but the question remains, even with this music - why doesn't it scare?
Truth be told, no-one out there was better qualified than Rob Zombie to take this project on. House of 1000 Corpses was an impressive enough debut, but The Devil's Rejects was a modern horror classic - brutal, relentless, and endearingly retro. He is clearly a man in love with the genre and until now, seemed to know exactly what he was doing. I think it's fair to say that we can still expect great things from him, but this definitely isn't one of them.