September 6, 2007

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Halloween (R)
Rob Zombie breathes new life into an old horror series with Halloween, a rebooting of the John Carpenter series.

OK, maybe “breathes new life” is over-stating it. Maybe it’s more like “electro-shocks the monster back to animation.”

Michael Myers begins at the beginning here, just a 10-year-old boy (Daeg Faerch) being raised by a stripper mom (Sheri Moon, also known as Mrs. Zombie) and a violent, layabout stepfather (William Forsythe) who doesn’t bother trying to hide it when he leers at Michael’s 17-year-old sister Judith (Hanna Hall). Michael loves his baby sister Boo but doesn’t think much of the rest of them, running out on his mom and the principal when he’s caught with a dead cat and pictures of other likely-tortured animals.

Dead pets are quickly eclipsed, however, when Michael beats to death the bully who had tormented him and then, after his sister declines to take him trick or treating in order to stay home and have sex, when Michael kills Judith, her boyfriend and his stepfather. When Mom Myers gets home from pole dancing, she finds Michael and (an alive) Boo sitting on the front steps and a blood bath inside.

Though sent to an institution and put under the care of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), Michael doesn’t seem to improve and, after his mother finds him just seconds after he’s stabbed a nurse probably to death, Momma Myers shoots herself in the head.

Nearly 20 years later, Michael (Tyler Mane) is a speechless, faceless (he wears a mask at all times) behemoth who, someone decides, needs to be moved from one prison to another. Naturally, the pitiful force sent to guard him is no match for years of pent-up rage and a thirst for blood. After making short work of the prison guards, Michael heads off into the night. It takes Dr. Loomis mere seconds to guess he’s headed back to his home town.

When he gets there, Michael quickly zooms in on Laurie Strobe (Scout Taylor-Compton). He follows her as she prepares to babysit the neighbor kids on Halloween, covering for a friend who wants to have sex (thus, as we learned in Scream, making her ripe for victimhood).

Admittedly, my memory of the original Halloween is dim and is crowded out by its many stupid sequels. But I suspect that if you liked the original, you’ll have at least an interest in this remake. Zombie, whose House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects I’ve been less than delighted about having to watch, does actually have the right sensibility for this kind of movie. He likes the low-rent atmosphere of 1970s malaise and uses it to up the creepy factor of his movies — it’s like a visit to the land before CGI when a severed arm didn’t look like a bad piece of computer clipart but an actual sawed-off limb (sometimes, a fake sawed-off limb, but still, there was some physicality). He enjoys finding the dregs of society and fleshing them out with extra sleazy personality traits. Before Michael even spills human blood, we start rooting for the step-dad to get it. The first characters to meet their demise are just horrible enough that we’re well into the killing before we really feel bad about it (though, personally, I was rooting for Danny Trejo’s janitor character).

To its benefit, Halloween is scruffier than its modern counterparts — the Saw movies and all those girls-in-peril torture fests that have filled the theaters this summer. It was this movie’s occasional dip into that torture porn pool with scene of girls (sometimes in states of undress) begging for their lives that bothered me the most about Halloween. I realize gore is necessary in these movies but how about more equal-opportunity head-lopping and less submissive girls begging and wailing? There’s a nasty misogynistic quality to all this torture porn which can turn off someone who is otherwise supportive of movie violence.

In the roll call of recent horror movies, though, Halloween is one of the lesser offenders when it comes to laying on the girl-hating. The movie, though not great, is a solid entry in its genre. C+

Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language. Directed by Rob Zombie and written by Zombie from the 1978 screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Halloween is an hour and 49 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by MGM Distribution Company.