At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Halloween “07”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, Steve Boyles, Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, Skyler Gisondo, Jenny Gregg Stewart, Hanna Hall, Kristina Klebe, Adam Weisman, Dee Wallace, Max Van Ville, Nick Mennell, Pat Skipper, Daryl Sabara, Richmond Arquette, Ken Foree, Sybil Danning, Micky Dolenz, Daniel Roebuck, Mel Fair, Sid Haig/ Runtime: 110 minutes

I would just like to say before I go any further in this review that I do give props to iconic film helmer Rob Zombie for having the courage to go and try to do his own thing on what is, for all intents and purposes, sacred turf for horror fans: the 1978 horror masterpiece from legendary film helmer John Carpenter that is Halloween. Indeed partly a re-tooling, partly a straight-up remake, and partly a much more immersive exploration into just what made the bipedal nightmare that is Michael Myers, it should be noted that although Zombie’s attempt does have its freshly stabbed with a kitchen knife heart where it should, it still doesn’t quite make the material work on the level that Carpenter did. Yes Carpenter made the character more sinister by giving him as little of a backstory as possible, but Zombie makes Myers actually tragic in a way with a backstory that works surprisingly well even as it does take away a fair amount of the mystery and darkness surrounding the character. Thus even though yes Carpenter created a film that will most assuredly stand the test of time as one of the most iconic horror films of all time, Zombie has created a film that will last as long as people either A) have a desire to see his interpretation, B) can accept that the third act does, with a few wrinkles thrown into the mix, play like the original, C) are prepared for a much darker and more brutal ride, or D) all of the above.

The plot is as follows: Rob Zombie’s stab on Halloween begins by introducing us to a young man in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois by the name of Michael Myers whose life is being influenced by the chaos and general sense of rotten to the core mood and atmosphere surrounding his life at home. Yet despite all of that Michael really does seem like he does his best to be normal in the highly dysfunctional world around him….if normal constituted going to school, wearing a clown mask, and torturing and killing small animals. However, no matter how rotten to the core things may be, Michael still manages to find solace in both his loving mother and his baby sister; the former he finds himself having to defend nearly daily from a merciless bully at school who he later deals with in a manner that seems almost like a prelude for worse things to come. Sure enough things soon come to a head when on, what else, Halloween night, our young psycho-in-training, is left on his while his mom goes to work, her abusive sloth of a boyfriend takes up space in front of the TV, and his older sister “entertains” her significant other upstairs and decides to “get in the Halloween spirit” by donning a William Shatner mask and butchering everyone in the house save for his baby sister. Upon his grisly crime being discovered, we soon see Michael detained, arrested, and ultimately sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where is placed in the care of a warm, caring, and decent young doctor by the name of Samuel Loomis.  However, despite Loomis and Michael’s mom’s best attempts to help him battle his demons, Michael over time grows into a true giant of a man who is fixated on masks, and who refuses to speak. 15 years later and we see that, of course, Michael is able to escape his confinement at Smith’s Grove and immediately, with Loomis in pursuit, heads home to Haddonfield hunting for a young woman by the name of Laurie Strode who, unknown to her, has a secret tie to the knife-wielding, and not-so-jolly or green giant whilst also mercilessly and ruthlessly butchering anyone and everyone who gets in the way of him finding her….

Now this film begins, in a vast departure from the original, as a character analysis of sorts as we are given an inside look at the tipping point for Myers’ psyche which also tries to explain the merciless, obsessive, and quite homicidally psychotic man that he eventually becomes. Indeed it is this significant amount of exposition, more so than any other ingredient to be found in this movie, which sets this version apart from the iconic one made back in 1978 whilst also serving as both the strongest section of the film and the foundation on which it is built. Indeed, instead of just offering us the same beginning where we see a young Myers butcher his sister and then jump ahead by about 15 years for the remaining 95% of the film, Zombie instead chooses to stay in this section for a fair amount of time and really dwell on just how all the factors in Myers’ young life managed to create a perfect storm from which a psychopathic young man could emerge (though I guess you could make the assumption that since he has been killing and torturing small animals for a while before the film starts he already had some kind of twisted psychosis brewing inside him like a Keurig making a cup of coffee). Yet even though to many people, this section of exposition is often hard to stomach due to how corrosive, spiteful, and just destructive all but 2 of his family seem to be toward him and the world in general, Zombie still manages to achieve what he is aiming for here and that is to show just how a young man could rapidly tumble down a rabbit hole of madness. In fact, if I’m being honest, Michael finally deciding to tap into his murderous rage almost feels like a breath of fresh air from the dirtiness and despicability of nearly all the other characters in this movie, and it is also in this moment where the movie finally starts to acquire shape, pun intended, and begin garnering some brutal intensity to it. Indeed the vicious attack on the bully from school is just a hint of where this film is prepared to go as we see that the subsequent butchery Myers assails on his family takes on a vibe that is both horrifying and unreal as we see him conduct these killings with the brutal yet chillingly nonchalant manner that the character, even in Carpenter’s film, is fond of utilizing. Finally it is also in this sequence where we see a young Michael first put on his infamous mask even if it’s, at the time much too big for him to wear properly. Yet it is in seeing this child wearing this emotionless and pale mask that is way too big for him which conjures up for the viewer a grim and bloody prediction of just who this young man is meant to become. Suffice it to say then that, Zombie does a decent job of approaching this part of the film with an integrity-laced sense of relentless brutality thus making this the highest the film manages to go.

This then takes us into the second half of the film which serves as a reimagining of the original, but more visceral and brutal than what you may remember though it does keep quite a few ingredients from the original in play to appease those of us who know and love what Carpenter and co did with the original. Now in my mind dear reader, this is the very definition of a good and bad type situation. By that I mean it is good that this film has the level respect for its older counterpart that it does, but where this becomes problematic is when a lot of the elements from the original are cherry picked and the others just tossed onto the garbage pile. As a result, we get a very befuddling and oddly designed second half which is incapable of figuring out if it’s what we know from 1978 or something new and distinct. I mean iconic scenes are being left out whilst superficial characters are finally introduced, such as Annie’s boyfriend Paul, some of the deaths are more drawn-out and new ones are tossed into the mix and if that doesn’t sound confusing I don’t know what does. In all of this, I guess the one thing though besides the cast that surprises me dear reader is the fact that the gore was not, as is typical in Zombie’s other films, all over the place and actually felt restrained like it was in the original. I mean don’t get me wrong: this franchise never needed that much in the way of blood and guts in order to scare you, but to know that Zombie of all directors was willing to keep that tradition alive proved to be a delightful surprise.

Now in regards to any technical positives that this film has going for it, I feel that if nothing else it should be said that in this film, Rob Zombie does employ sound effects, or lack thereof, fairly well. Indeed there are a few moments contained in this movie where either dead silence, or an emphasis on one sound whilst overwhelming or taking of the picture completely all other sounds signal a new twist in the road or in the announcement that gloom and doom lies dead ahead. Perhaps one of the finest examples of this comes when a young Michael butchers a nurse in the sanitarium. Indeed as everything becomes jumbled together, we see as the pain, the cries of shock and horror, and the general terror of just what has occurred all are overwhelmed by the wail of an alarm from within the hospital. Indeed you might not have been able to pick up on it during your first watch, but I am inclined to believe that this sound was put in the film to symbolize the end of Michael existing as a person and the beginning of his time in this world as the inhuman monster who, despite his mother and Loomis’ best attempts, has finally given in to the evil that has been locked in combat for his soul, or rather what was left of it. Thus Michael is gone, “The Shape” is born, and now the stage is set for Haddonfield, and the world, to bear witness to one of the most horrific mass murderers in the history of horror in cinema. Also, in addition to using songs you might be familiar with Zombie actually has the decency to incorporate the iconic original theme from the first film into this one. This was a good idea dear reader because the theme is perhaps THE thing that most fans remember about this series, besides of course the mask, and honestly for this film to work on even remotely the right level it had to be inserted in here and I’m just thankful that Zombie remembered to do so. Finally I guess I should also contribute some dialogue here about the performances that this film contains, both big and small, and honestly I’ll level with you: I am surprised by them dear reader. Not because they all suck, but because some of them are actually fairly well-done. For example I love Malcolm McDowell and his work as a thespian, but even I was a wee bit nervous when he was announced as Loomis due to my immense love for what Pleasance brought to the part. Thankfully, McDowell not only doesn’t take away from Pleasance, but also puts his own unique spin on the part which I wish hadn’t been so thoroughly trashed in the sequel yet I digress. Indeed everyone in this from Scout Taylor Compton, as an intriguing update of Laurie for the millennial in all of us, returning Halloween 4 & 5 actress Danielle Harris who does good in her update of Annie, horror icon Brad Dourif who I actually think I like just a tad more than Charles Cyphers as Sherriff Brackett to bit parts played by Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, and Sid Haig all manage to provide work in this that is actually decent. No it’s not awards-worthy, but it’s also not a complete slap in the face to everything that came before either.

All in all at the end of the day dear reader, I am sadly, but unsurprisingly here to tell you that the 2007 Halloween is way more in the realm of being a miss than it is a straight up hit though I suppose that is what happens when one tries to aim for the god-level challenge of even matching up to if not having the remote slim to none chance of surpassing some of the finest that the horror genre has ever given us in the form of the original Halloween by John Carpenter. Indeed whenever a movie takes on a cornerstone of modern-day horror, I am starting to think that maybe the best they can hope for is to just construct upon the foundation set up previously and then pay their respects in some form or fashion. In that regard, I will concede that Zombie’s movie does do that though that is not exactly a surprise to me. You see dear reader, for all the guff I have given him in this review, I do feel that Zombie is a unique helmer in the world of horror cinema who does have a distinct style, a thirst for gore, and an ear for a particular type of both dialogue and character alike which he manages to combine together to make a cinematic experience that is dark, grim, ruthless, brutal, and extremely visceral all rolled into one. Yet despite all of those coming to play here as well, I think it can be said that although the 2007 Halloween is not Zombie’s best by a long shot, it is also not as terrible as people may think. Indeed it is a curiously decent extension to the iconic original, offers a fair amount of replayability and decent work from the cast, and offers gore hounds their fair share. Yes the second half of this film does wilter a fair amount, but this is because nothing and I mean nothing can top the nightmare that first came home all the way back in 1978. On a scale of 1-5 I give Halloween “07” a solid 2.5 out of 5.