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Arts & Culture

Halloween

In Zombie's film, half the screen time is spent with the young Michael Myers and then the second half of the film condenses the material of the original film involving the adult Myers stalking some teens on Halloween night.

Sheri Moon Zombie and Daeg Faerch in Halloween (Dimension)

Zombie's film opens on Halloween day but no year is given. It could be the 70s but maybe the 80s, it's deliberately non-specific. We find ten-year-old Michael (played by Daeg Faerch) dissecting a rat in his room. His slutty-sexy stripper mom (played by Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's wife) fights constantly with degenerate, wheelchair bound Ronnie (William Forsythe) and Michael's older sister (Hanna Hall). Home life, to say the least, is not pleasant, and at school, little Mikey gets picked on by bullies. So he decides to move from killing animals to killing people. The bloody mayhem he causes on Halloween night gets him locked up in an asylum where Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell taking over the role that Donald Pleasance originated) takes on his case.

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Seventeen years pass and we come to another Halloween. Myers escapes from the asylum and heads back home. That's where Zombie's film picks up the storyline of the 1978 original. Now Myers dons the famous William Shatner white-faced mask and begins slicing and dicing some promiscuous teens.

Zombie's Halloween doesn't surpass Carpenter's original and part of the reason why is that there is no way a remake like this could possibly surprise and horrify us in the way the original's film did back in 1978. The indestructible masked killer/boogeyman has now become a horror movie cliche but when Carpenter created Michael Myers and let him loose on unsuspecting teens, it was a fresh idea. Plus Carpenter was working on a low budget film and had the creativity to use that to his advantage. He composed a stark, creepy score and implied more than he showed (check the original, there's hardly any blood yet you think you've seen a lot). Carpenter's film caught audiences by surprise and jolted them.

But with a remake we can't help but know what to expect, at least in a general sense. That means Zombie is working at a disadvantage. So Zombie's decision to focus on Myers as a kid turns out to be a wise choice. Daegh Faerch is key in making these early scenes work. He delivers a truly chilling performance as a surprisingly sweet, soft and feminine looking ten-year-old Myers. His physical appearance contrasts with his brutal actions and it's only in his eyes that you perceive his true nature. Zombie gives an early murder extra creepiness by having little Mikey try on the Shatner mask which proves to be way too big for his pre-teen body, the absurd but lethal figure he cuts has a surreal quality. But then Faerch's Myers can be like a normal kid one minute and a monster the next. These early scenes don't explain why Myers became what he did. Sure his family life was screwed up, but we see that his mom loved him and that some people were nice to him but none of that matters. Myers is presented not as a kid who goes bad but rather as a kid who's evil from the start and just gets worse.

One of the things that Zombie does well is that he actually makes some of the victims sympathetic. Myers begins by killing people that you almost applaud him for taking out but later he kills people who treated him well, are innocent victims and some who are even truly good people. That's actually daring on the part of a filmmaker. Too often the victims are throwaway characters that are either obnoxious (so we cheer on the killer) or careless (so we can feel superior to them) or just too insignificant to even think about. But by making Myers' victims increasingly likable we realize how just purely evil Myers is. There's no psycho-mumbo-jumbo to explain his behavior, excuse it or make him some victim of society. He is simply evil. Yet he's not exactly the boogeyman of Carpenter's film. He's something more human but equally lethal and unfeeling. Zombie's take on the Myers character is where the real "re-imagining" comes in.

If you are expecting Zombie to simply reshoot the original film, than this will be disappointing. But if you go in with an open mind, you will find that he has tweaked some of the original elements in an interesting way. In contrast to Carpenter, Zombie spills quite a lot of blood, which is not to say that he's gratuitous but he's certainly not squeamish about showing the damage Myers inflicts. Zombie's approach makes the film grittier and more gorey, but not necessarily more scary. The film doesn't really build tension as much as it makes you feel the inevitability of what's to come. Zombie doesn't scare us in the something-jumps-out-of-the-dark tradition but rather he scares us by showing us someone who just kills without emotion. Myers doesn't even seem to derive pleasure from the killings, he just kills. And it's the other characters' inability to comprehend that that allows him to keep on killing.

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Michael Myers' new victims? Halloween (Dimension)

This new Halloween also brings a more overt sexuality back to horror. Sex and horror have always gone well together--both offer something that seems forbidden. For awhile Hollywood was making a lot of PG-13 horror films that cleaned up both the sex and the gore. But Zombie adds them bot back in.

Zombie also sprinkles some clever cameos throughout his film. You'll find longtime B-movie actor Richard Lynch as the principal, Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree as a trucker, Andy Warhol fav Udo Kier, exploitation queen Sybil Danning as a nurse, E.T.'s Dee Wallace as an adorable mom and Child's Play's Brad Dourif as the sheriff. This fun casting makes small roles memorable and helps to make us care about some of the victims who are sometimes barely onscreen for a couple minutes.

Since Halloween wasn't a project that Zombie initiated, it doesn't seem to be entirely his own in the same way that The Devil's Rejects was. I have to confess that I hated Zombie's first attempt at film horror, House of a 1000 Corpses. That film committed the worst offense of any horror film--it was bland and boring. But The Devil's Rejects showed improvement by leaps and bounds. It impressed me and made me think that Zombie was not only serious about horror but he also had a flair for it. Halloween doesn't do anything to make me think any less of him but it falls short of what he accomplished in The Devil's Rejects. And I think that's because The Devil's Rejects was his baby and he invested in with more of his own style. Halloween , while it bares his mark, also feels like an homage to the original. Zombie doesn't put the first film up on a pedestal but there are definite moments when Zombie pays respect to Carpenter's original film.

Halloween (rated R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language) may cause a rift amongst horror fans. I'm sure there are many who hold Carpenter's Halloween in such high regard that they will have nothing but contempt for Zombie's remake. But there will be other horror fans who will embrace Zombie's bigger budgeted, more grisly rendering of Michael Myers. The original and the remake need to stand alone and apart, and Zombie's film has merits of its own that should be appreciated. I just hope he does less work as a hired gun and more projects that he originates.

Companion viewing: John Carpenter's Halloween, Halloween II, The Devil's Rejects

You can check out all the sequels at Halloween Movies and Rob Zombie's own MySpace Halloween Page.