Wednesday, August 26, 2009


You’ll have to look long and hard to find a remake more reverential to its source material than director Rob Zombie’s version of the 1978 John Carpenter classic “Halloween.” Before Zombie took on the daunting task of making “Halloween,” he had two fairly decent but horribly depraved epic under his belt with “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.” I preferred “Corpses” over “Rejects,” and I didn’t have high hopes to the blasphemy that he would visit on the first Michael Myers outing. Surprising, Zombie’s take on Carpenter’s “Halloween” is just about the best remake that anybody could have dreamed. “Halloween” (**** out of ****)doesn’t even look like it was helmed by the same guy who made either “Corpses” or “Rejects.” Sure, Zombie made some heavyweight changes to the story, but everything comes together without a hitch. Despite all of the freaky problems that Zombi recounts on the commentary track to the unrated & uncut “Halloween,” this remake should make John Carpenter feel great and anybody who like the original “Halloween” should have a soft spot for Zombi’s remake that he not only directed but also wrote. The casting choices for the new “Halloween” are right on the money, too.

The original “Halloween” contained a brief prologue about murderous Michael Myers, but Zombie devotes almost 40 minutes to setting up the action that takes place some 15-years after Michael breaks out of person. Actually, apart from the extended prologue that scrutinizes Michael’s early years, Zombie doesn’t make any radical departures from the John Carpenter & Debra Hill screenplay. As the story unfolds, we find ourselves in a battlefield of a household with Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombi of “The Devil’s Rejects”) preparing breakfast for young 10-year old Michael (Daeg Faerch of Dark Mirror”), her second husband Ronnie White (William Forsythe of “Once Upon A Time in America”), her teenage daughter Judith (Hanna Hall of “Forrest Gump”), and her infant daughter Laurie. Ronnie is a foul-mouthed reprobate who cannot give his stripper wife a hard enough time and he has nothing but contempt for young Michael who he constantly refers to as a faggot. Although Zombi doesn’t go into details, Michael slices up his pet rat in the first scene before Deborah dispatches Judith to bring him downstairs for breakfast. If the merciless barrages of profanity that Ronnie launches at him are not enough, Michael has to endure ridicule from school bully Wesley Rhoades (Daryl Sabara of “Spy Kids”) who shows him a newspaper strip joint clipping about his mother and makes several sickening comments about her to his face. This fracas in the boys’ restroom attracts the attention of school principal Chambers (Richard Lynch of Cyborg 3”) and Chambers later discovers a dead cat in a plastic bag in young Michael’s locker.

An angry Deborah comes to the school at Chamber’s request and refuses to believe that her angelic son could be a sadistic little brat who tortures helpless animals. Later, Michael stalks the slimy Rhoades and attacks him the woods with a big stick and beats him to death. Back at home, Michael wants to go trick or treating, but nobody wants to take him. Mom has to strip at the joint and Judith wants to make out with her boyfriend. Again, Michael must suffer through another profane barrage from the evil Ronnie. Eventually, Ronnie runs out of steam and falls asleep in his recliner. Zombi does a splendid job of showing young Michael’s dejection as he sits outside the house and watches other trick or treat while his mother has to strip to support her family. Zombi uses the pop tune “Love Hurts.” Michael snaps, goes back inside, duct-tapes Ronnie to his recliner and slashes his throat. Meantime, Judith’s boyfriend shows her his Halloween mask, which is a replica of the one from the original “Halloween.” Later, Michael stabs the boyfriend to death and finishes off his sister. Naturally, Deborah is devastated when she comes home. Earlier, at Michael’s school, a psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell of “If”) had been called in by Chambers.

Michael is sent to a mental asylum where he endures hours of interviews with a sympathetic Loomis, but Michael gradually retreats behind the masks that he makes rather than discuss his life. Deborah gives up all hope and commits suicide while watching home movies of Michael. At this point, about 40 minutes has elapsed and Zombi has done a simply brilliant job of providing Michael’s back story. Fifteen years elapses and Loomis has to throw in the towel where Michael is concerned but not before he authors a book about the evil that is Michael. The next time we see Michael, he has grown into a powerful, seven-foot man. Mind you, in the hands of anybody else, this sudden transformation into a walking redwood tree would be hilarious, but it actually works for Zombi. Michael (Taylor Mane of “Troy”) escapes after a couple of crazy redneck attendants invade his room with a catatonic female inmate and brutally rape her while calling virginal Michael a faggot. Michael snaps again. He kills both of them and then massacres everybody else, though we never see him kill the female patient. Any sympathy that we might have conjured up for Michael vanishes when he kills the one orderly, Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo of “Con-Air”), by drowning him. Michael sets out to track down Baby Boo who has grown up to become Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton of “Sleepover”) who lives with her foster parents, Cynthia Strode (Dee Wallace of “10”) and Mason Strode (Pat Skipper), back in Haddonfield.

The asylum alerts Dr. Loomis about Michael’s escape and he heads to Haddonfield to alert Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif of “Dune”) who doesn’t believe a word. At this point, Zombi makes some minor changes, but basically replicates Carpenter’s “Halloween,” even with the scene involving the boyfriend wearing the white sheet like a ghost as he has sex with Brackett’s daughter. Meanwhile, Laurie has no idea that she is being stalked until all hell breaks loose and Michael comes after her. Before he embarks on his second killing spree, Michael recovers the mask from his old home and takes his mom’s cemetery tombstone. He catches Laurie’s friend but he doesn’t kill her in a refreshing change of pace. The last 20 minutes are simply tour-de-force with Michael stalking Laurie and Loomis hot on their trail. The cast is superb, even in the minor roles with “Monkees” star Micky Dolenz playing a gun salesman and Sybil Danning as the asylum nurse that young Michael slaughters with a fork. A number of other good thespians flesh out the cast in minor roles with effective performances. Look for Sid Haig and Bill Moseley in cameo along with Udo Kier and Clint Howard. The music is pretty much the same and you can see excerpts from Howard Hawks “The Thing” and Bela Lugosi from “White Zombie.” One of the ironic scenes occurs after Michael returns to Haddonfield and he gets to watch the ending of “The Thing,” the same movie that he started watching on the night he snapped and went on a murder spree. Here he invades another house and watches the scene without a word while a little girl sits in front of him watching the movie without a clue that hulking Michael stands within an arm’s reach of her. Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween” is nothing short of brilliant and he deserves to have praised heaped on him. He shows incredible restraint in duplicating Carpenter’s legendary chiller and looks as if he were deliberately soft pedaling what could easily have been a savage yarn.