As the release date of Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 (H2) approaches, I will review his reimagining of the horror classic, Halloween from 2007. Be warned, this review is full of spoilers. So skip to the Recommendation section at the bottom if you want to stay spoiler-free.
I make recommendations of films on the following scale: Skip It, Rent It, Buy It.
Plot, Characters, Comparison with Original Franchise
Rob Zombie's Halloween is a brutal, troubling film. It's not really as suspenseful as John Carpenter's 1978 original and it's not really a slasher film like the series of sequels that followed. It's really more of a tragedy with no hero to root for.
Zombie's Halloween assumes the audience knows the basic back story and chooses to retell the tale this time from the point of view of the killer — the infamous Michael Myers. Fans of the franchise know he killed his sister, was institutionalized and treated by a psychiatrist (Dr. Loomis) who comes to the conclusion that he is evil incarnate, he escapes and terrorizes young women in his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Most of that is in place here but a considerable amount of time is now devoted to Michael at that young age and through the first years of his treatment following the murders.
Zombie's take on this franchise is indeed his own. In Carpenter's version, we know nothing about Michael and that makes him very frightening. Zombie chooses to introduce a vastly different origin story for Michael than what was assumed in the original. His family is rooted in baseness and dysfunction conceptualized in a very disturbing manner from set dressing to performance. It's a difficult thing to watch and swallow. Michael's mother, played by Sheri Moon-Zombie, is a stripper struggling to raise him, his tramp-in-training older teenage sister, and a baby. Along for the ride is a deadbeat, loser, foul-mouthed, guy-of-the-month type (played by William Forsythe) whose sole purpose is to spew hate at everyone in the house. Michael (played by the talented and very creepy Daeg Faerch) is disturbed and scary just in his own right before his rampage begins. (It is implied and later revealed that he has a habit of torturing and killing pets.) His school life isn't much of a relief. He's bullied, targeted by the school principle, and even referred to counseling (a great way of introducing the Dr. Loomis character early in the story).
Early, Zombie hits us with a particularly disturbing sequence where Michael finally takes his stand/revenge against the school bully and beats him to death with a large branch mere hours before trick-or-treating. Zombie doesn't intend to scare us with this kill; he intends to shock us with every bone-crunching blow in order to establish just how "bad" Michael is when he wants to be. What happens next is an expansion of the original story's murder of the sister. Michael systematically and mercilessly kills everyone in the house. First is Forsythe's deplorable character, second is his sister's boyfriend (from whom he acquires the trademark mask), and lastly is his sister. He ends by removing the mask and playing with the baby sister while waiting for his mother to come home from stripping and discover the carnage.
Act 2 of the film revolves around Michael's institutionalization and treatment with Dr. Loomis (played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell). Finally, for possibly the first time in the series, Loomis has a purpose in the story other than exposition about Michael's evilness. We see his attempts to reach Michael and his failure to do so. We see Michael visited by his mother multiple times and we see him slowly withdrawing from reality. In one scene, he asks about everyone back home and when he can go home. Those scenes are gut-wrenching because what we are watching is a descent into complete dissociation and the catastrophic toll it takes on Michael and his mother. One of Zombie's best turns in the film is Michael's final transformation when he stabs a nurse to death while his mother watches from another room. From then on, he is The Shape — Carpenter's vision of the blank, emotionless, ruthless embodiment of evil.
It is worth noting that Michael is portrayed by larger actors than before. Both Faerch and Tyler Mane (who plays the adult Michael) are above-average sizes and it gives Michael a different screen presence. He's no longer the everyman — he really looks like an imposing monster. We see the scene where Loomis tells Michael he can no longer work with him (shortly before writing a book about his experiences) and we see Michael denied parole or transfer to minimum security. All of which he takes with a shrouded, scary, silent stare. Depending on which version you watch, we see Michael's escape. In the theatrical release, he breaks his chains while being moved by armed guards and in a flurry of action-movie sequences dispatches his way out of the institution. In the unrated director's cut, Michael witnesses two orderlies attack and sexually assault a female patient (even going as far as to take the act in front of him in his cell) and he retaliates by killing them both and securing keys to the doors. Either way, he makes his way to a truck stop to gather the trademark jump suit (in a great fight scene with Ken Foree) and then making his way to Haddonfield. (On the commentaries, Zombie states that Michael does not drive as he did in the original film, but rather walks or stows away on some sort or ride to get home.)
The last portion of the film, Act 3, is basically a remake of the original film's focus on Laurie Strode and her friends being stalked by Michael. Laurie's friends are basically the same as before. Lynda (Kristina Klebe) is the semi-air-headed cheerleader scheming to find a way to hook up with her boyfriend on Halloween night. Annie (played by Danielle Harris who was the protagonist of Halloween 4 and 5) is the quick-witted, equally mischievous gal pal as the original. Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is no longer the shy, virginal innocent that Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed. Zombie writes her as a smart-mouthed, irreverent, spunky (his word) teenager. However, we still get the sense that among her group of friends, Laurie is the "good girl" of the group.
Michael catches up with Lynda and her boyfriend and kills them both in callbacks to the original film's killing of both (boyfriend stabbed and hanging on the wall, Michael disguised as a ghost in a sheet strangles Lynda). Annie is attacked, stabbed, tossed about like a rag doll, but ultimately survives although seriously wounded. In the original, Michael was after Laurie with the intent of killing her. Here, he is trying to relate to the last piece of his humanity — his baby sister. That secret is revealed in a conversation between Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and Loomis. The audience is aware of this connection (if you've seen the original series) and what is surprising is how Zombie uses this. Michael finds Laurie, takes her to the basement of his old house, holds out a picture of himself with her (from his childhood) and removes his mask in an attempt to relate to her. She doesn't catch the connection and uses the opportunity to stab him and run away quickly. Michael returns the mask to his head and is now in full-on "Terminator" mode.
Loomis intervenes but only slows Michael's pursuit of Laurie and has his eyes gouged by Michael before being left for dead. A violent chase ends with Laurie and Michael falling off of the balcony to the ground below. Beat to hell and weary, she retrieves Loomis' gun (which she was pointing at Michael before he threw them off the balcony together) and clicks the trigger waiting to find a shell. His hand grabs her wrist and she fires a shot presumably into his face. The final scene of her screaming, face covered in blood as the sounds give way to the iconic theme music is a most satisfying conclusion.
Final Thoughts & Recommendation
This is a brilliant picture but it is not for those expecting a traditional reboot of the franchise (like the one Friday the 13th received in early 2009). Zombie supplies Michael with motivation that is not easily accepted. In the original, we know very little if anything about Michael's motivations (most of that came in the sequels) and it made him very scary. In Zombie's film, we get reasons and insight into his sociopathic dissociative personality and how coupled with the depraved environment, he becomes the ultimate monster. Zombie doesn't intend for Michael to be scary, but he's not sympathetic either. What's scary are the scenes in the institution where we watch Michael's final descent. The adult Michael is just a force driven almost completely by rage and it shows on the screen.
I firmly believe, as do many other fans of the film and series, that Zombie intended this to be a one shot, all-encompassing film. In that sense, it works most effectively. However, the knowledge of a sequel (the DVD is scheduled for release January 12) changes some of my feelings about a film I thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone entry.
I recommend a BUY IT for this film. Which version? Well, the Unrated Director's Cut runs 121 mins and comes with two discs of every kind of extra you could want including a four and half hour making of documentary. The Theatrical Cut runs 109 mins. and the two-disc special edition includes some of the other features. The biggest difference in the time is taken up with scenes at the institution and the different escape scene. Neither of those vastly alter the story.
For fans of the franchise, I think this is a must-see and is one you should add to your collection if you are so inclined. For those new to the franchise, this is not a good place to start, but is still something that should be seen. It is not for young viewers. In fact, I'd say no one under 18 should see this thing no matter how mature they may be. When it says "intended for adult audience," this film really means it.