Fear of the unknown is something that is hardwired into everyone. That fear of vague shapes that go bump in the dark is what drives director John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween. With its pale-masked killer moved silently through the new, killing his victims with impassive, almost unnoticing eyes, the film spawned a franchise of an additional eight installments of varying quality.
But despite, or maybe because of the series long popularity, the producers have taken a cue from last year’s James Bond franchise reboot Casino Royale, they have brought in rocker turned writer/director Rob Zombie to take us back to the formative years of Michael Myers and retell the story of Michael Myers’ first night of murder. The result is a film that is much a psychological horror film as it is a straight forward slasher. But is this what fans want- Michael Myers, figuratively and at one point nearly literally, on a shrink’s couch?
Using the film’s entire first act as an extended prologue to show audiences what forces formed the famous screen slasher, Zombie gives us Michael, played with a disturbing conviction by Daeg Faerch, as the middle child in a rather fractured family living in the suburbia of Haddonfield, Illinois. His father has died some time earlier and in his place is a drunken abusive man his mother is involved with. While his older sister is supposed to take care of him while mother Myers is at work, she ignores him in favor of having sex with her boyfriend. While his mother tries to keep the family together, her job at the local strip club brings a separate set of problems for Michael at school. It is this combination of factors that slowly erode the young 10-year-old’s soul until one Halloween night he brutally and coldly kills his step father, his sister and her boyfriend.
Following a trial, Myers is committed to a sanitarium where Dr. Dam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) tries to heal the boy’s shattered psyche. Over time he realizes that there is no help for the boy and sees to it that Michael remains incarcerated for the rest of his life. Fifteen years pass and Michael Myers (Taylor Mane) grows up to be a hulking, now mute, behemoth. He manages to escape and immediately makes his way back to his hometown in search of his sister (Scout Taylor-Compton) with Loomis in hot pursuit.
By now a seasoned horror vet, Zombie displays a fairly restrained hand here compared to his much higher stylized House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005). He still makes several interesting choices. Two highly emotional scenes in the film’s first half are allowed to play out almost in pantomime while sirens blare on the soundtrack. Another scene, set on the evening young Michael Myers will kill part of his family, Zombie shows the boy sitting alone on the curb, while the other neighborhood children enjoy their night of trick-or-treating around him. Is he asking us to sympathize with young Myers as we are made privy to the last moments of humanity slipping away from the child?
But this film is not all reinvention. Several key elements and set pieces from Carpenter’s original remain. Unfortunately, once the adult Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield, Zombie follows the original a bit too closely. Audiences familiar with the original will find the similarities undercut any sense of tension Zombie is trying to build. But still, Zombie knows his material, and the by extension the horror genre in general, quite well and packs his cast with many genre vets, even pulling better-than-usual performances from some.
While interesting and an often energetic revisit to the original material, Zombie’s Halloween is no threat to the classic status of the original. There are several holes in the script’s logic that stand out. Zombie spends plenty of time establishing why the young Michael Myers would kill the family members he does, but makes sure to show that Myers spares his baby sister, due to her innocence. Then why is his first act upon escaping from the sanitarium to return to his hometown to kill his now-teenaged sister? For that matter, how does he even identify her? How does he gain access to some of the houses he commits his murders in?
While the dark, unknowable Shape of the original Halloween delivered plenty of scares, the spotlight that Zombie shines on it to reveal a much more dimensional Michael Myers is equally scary in its own way. Unfortunately, that light also illuminates some other faults that keep this new version from reaching the same heights as Carpenter’s original.