The best that can be said about Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake is that he makes it his own, though the considerable alterations only flatter John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher-pic template. In contrast to that spare, suggestive genre classic, this bloodier, higher-body-count version leaves nothing to the imagination: Michael Myers is always right there in plain sight, committing mayhem sans suspenseful buildup or mystique. Brand recognition should initially help combat a recent downturn in horror B.O., but pic might as well cash in its DVD chips by the time actual All Hallow’s Eve comes around.
The original leaned not so much on graphic horror as on the terrible waiting for something bad to happen. Carpenter’s hypnotically fraught atmosphere let one suspend disbelief toward the unstoppable-killing-machine nature of “the Shape,” less man than supernatural force.
Here, however, literal-mindedness rules. The brief, eerie 1978 version prologue, which left 10-year-old Michael’s homicidal motivations disturbingly blank, is now a half-hour-plus wallow in the kind of dysfunctional white-trash family theatrics Zombie seemed to be at least partly parodying in “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.”
Little Michael (Daeg Faerch) lives in the one dump on an otherwise pleasant small-town Illinois lane. A scraggly-haired, plump-faced junior headbanger, he gets nothing but abuse from trampy big sis (Hanna Hall) and their leering, drunken stepdad (William Forsythe).
Mom (the lovely Sheri Moon-Zombie, the helmer’s wife) is nice, but she’s also a stripper, providing another reason for school bullies to torment Michael. When it’s discovered Michael’s been torturing and killing animals, the kid decides to go for broke, taking down enemies at home and elsewhere on Halloween. (He spares ma and a baby sis.)
Michael is sent to a maximum-security sanitarium under the care of child psychologist Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). But Michael doesn’t make progress — or even acknowledge his crimes.
Fifteen years later — during which period Michael hasn’t spoken a word — the authorities are dumb enough to try moving him on Halloween, just after Dr. Loomis says their relationship is over.
Natch, the perp escapes, leaving the halls strewn with dead hospital staffers. After a gratuitous interlude at a truck wash, he heads straight back to the family home, now a shuttered ruin. He somehow figures out in no time that baby sis Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has been adopted, then sets to stalking, then killing her best high school friends Annie (Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe), their boyfriends and anybody else nearby. Meanwhile, Loomis and Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) search for the fugitive.
Beyond predictably ramped-up violence, T&A and editorial testosterone, what scenarist-helmer Zombie brings to the revamped tale is a penchant for pointlessly crass “Jerry Springer Uncensored!”-type dialogue (even after the lowlife prologue, most characters talk like drunken sailors), high energy but few real scares, and a disinterest in character and credibility.
Virtually every non-teen in the supporting cast will ring a horror-fan recognition bell, though many make blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em appearances. Actual adult parts, however, range from naturalistic (Moon-Zombie, Danny Trejo as a sympathetic guard) to broad caricature to blandly undemanding of usually colorful thesps.
Donald Pleasance was stuck with all the worst lines in the original; his successor, McDowell, has it even worse. Where the 1978 juveniles had real personality, here they’re barely distinguishable from each other: Taylor-Compton sure can scream; Klebe is the regulatory blonde slut; Harris is, er, the one with dark hair.
Despite variations on scenes from Carpenter’s film (as well as heavy use of his creepy music theme in Tyler Bates’ score), it’s all sound and fury with little kick. The literal-mindedness not only demystifies the destructive force, it leaves one questioning logic that didn’t matter before (like, how did he get so massively strong sitting 15 years in a padded cell?).
End result is a hectic, professionally assembled pic that just about cancels itself out on every level by the end. Surely this is not the end of Michael Myers — but let’s hope the franchise picks up next where it left off last time, rather than sequelizing this lame new “beginning.”
Pic is dedicated to the memory of Moustapha Akkad, producer of all prior “Halloween” entries (his son Malek inherits that role here), and whose death in 2005 somewhat delayed production on this latest chapter.