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23 February, 2008

DVD Review: HALLOWEEN (2007) Unrated Director's Cut

Title: HALLOWEEN (2007) Unrated Director’s Cut

Year of Release—Film: 2007

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: Dimension Home Entertainment


THE MOVIE

Rob Zombie is one of the most promising of the new generation of Gore-masters, directors who are following in the footsteps of Hooper, Craven, and Romero. 2003’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, his directorial debut, was easily my choice as Movie of the Year, against some very good competition. While the follow-up, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), wasn’t quite as good, it still exceeded most of what Hollywood churned out that year in terms of both quality and gore. This stunning 1-2 punch cemented Zombie’s reputation as a rising star in Horror, and led him to tread into deeper, more dangerous waters.

Thus it was that the Horror community greeted the news that Rob Zombie would be helming the remake of the greatest Slasher film ever, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, with a mix of emotions. For those who were too young to have memories of watching that landmark film in a crowded theater, or for whom Carpenter’s trademark theme music holds no special meaning, the reactions were fairly positive; they knew Zombie, and liked his work.

But for those like the Unimonster, who still harbors vivid memories of seeing this film for the first time on the big screen, or whose cell phone ringtone is that haunting theme, the news of a remake, no matter who was directing it, was much less welcome. There are some films, wonderfully conceived but poorly executed, that should be remade; that are ripe candidates for improvement. HALLOWEEN was not one of these. John Carpenter’s masterpiece was a perfect execution of a perfect conception, and no remake could ever hope to exceed perfection.

Zombie did approach it in the right way, however. Rather than simply reshoot Carpenter’s original script, as a less imaginative filmmaker might, he started from scratch with the basic storyline, then fleshed it out in ways that Carpenter had not. The result was perhaps a better story, but without the elements that had made the original so effective.

Where in the 1978 film Michael Myers had been an enigma, a cipher, (he was even listed as “The Shape” in the credits…) here Zombie gives depth and humanity, albeit flawed, to Michael by exploring in great detail his troubled childhood and incarceration. What was only alluded to in the original is played out over the entire first act here, bringing us into Michael’s world, and letting us get to know him. It is not an equitable trade.

Part of what has made the original HALLOWEEN such a classic of the genre was that mystery, that air of the unknown that cloaked Michael Myers. When Donald Pleasance, as Dr. Loomis, describes Michael as a being of pure evil, it’s easy to understand, and believe, the good doctor. When Malcolm McDowell says the same thing in his performance as Loomis, the words sound hollow and overwrought, and we wonder whom he’s trying to convince.

I wanted so very much to dislike this movie, lest I should feel unfaithful to one of my favorite films… but I can’t. Not totally.

It’s hard to point to one specific change Zombie has made and say, “That’s wrong” or “That’s no good.” The cast, mostly Zombie regulars and B-Movie veterans, turns in excellent performances all around, with the possible exception of Malcolm McDowell. Especially noteworthy is Daeg Faerch, who plays the young Michael, and Scout Taylor-Compton, who plays Laurie Stroud, the role that made Jamie Lee Curtis a household name. Also worth mentioning is Danielle Harris, who continues her long-running association with the franchise here. The thirty-something Harris, who began her relationship with Michael Myers as Jamie, Laurie’s daughter (and Michael’s niece…) in HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989) is now playing 17-year old Annie, best friend of Laurie.

The rest of the production is realized just as well, and with Zombie in charge, there was never any doubt the gorehounds would be happy with it. I have heard complaints about the level of violence and gore present in the film; all I can say is… It’s Rob Zombie! What else would you expect? You wouldn’t hire Tarantino to direct and expect not to see women’s bare feet, would you?



THE DISC

I’ll say this much for Dimension, they do know how to put out a quality DVD, and this is no exception. Beautifully packaged and designed, with a full range of audio options and subtitles, this is the standard that DVD buyers have come to expect from the major distributors.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

As has become the norm for DVD releases of Zombie’s films, this disc is well stocked with bonus features, including deleted scenes, an alternate ending, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and other fascinating tidbits from the twisted minds of Zombie & Co. Though there are too many of these peeks inside the production to list them all, a few do stand out.

One of these is “The Many Masks of Michael Myers”, a look at the efforts that went into recreating the iconic mask from the original film, as well as the scores of masks Michael creates while incarcerated, and the clown mask he wears while a child. It is truly amazing to see the effort that went into the clown mask, for example. The Production Designer found the perfect mask on eBay, but when they received it, it was in far too fragile a condition to use. They had to make molds of the mask, cast duplicates, and hand-paint each to match. Another describes the differing camera styles used to set the varying moods of the film, such as using a hand-held camera to convey the disorder and chaos of Michael’s home life. These touches are subtle but effective, and demonstrate Zombie’s growth as a director.

Another feature worth discussing is the alternate ending. While slightly more faithful to the ending of the original, Zombie decided to scrap it in favor of getting the character of Laurie more involved in the story. Though the alternate works, there’s no doubt that it’s weaker than the ending used, and the finished movie is better off for the change.



IN CONCLUSION

As I mentioned earlier, I truly wanted to dislike this movie, yet I couldn’t… at least, not completely. Nor can I enthusiastically recommend it. It is a well-acted, well-directed Horror Film, with just about all the ingredients that Horror fans look for in a movie. It also fails miserably to stand up next to it’s namesake for comparison.

Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN was, and is, one of the most effective Horror Films ever made. I have sat through that film at least fifty times, and every time I’m left with the same questions… because the film gives you no answers. At the end, you’re left with the same question that Laurie asks Dr. Loomis—“Was that the Boogey-Man?” Every time, you can’t help but agree with his response—“Yes… I believe that it was.”

Zombie’s version, however, leaves no questions behind… because they’re all answered before the movie really begins. No matter what the characters on the screen may say, you know it’s not the “Boogey-Man”… because that creature of the night surely never had a childhood, no matter how abnormal or dysfunctional. In Carpenter’s version, our first view of Michael comes after he’s brutally murdered his sister; we’re not allowed to form a concept of Michael as a child, even a disturbed one. He’s already made the transformation to monster before we meet him. Nor does anything appear out of the ordinary in the Myers household. From all we can see, it appears to be a clean, well-kept, normal American home… which makes Michael’s actions all the more horrific.

In the Myers home as envisioned by Zombie it’s easy to understand how Michael became what he did. It’s not shocking, or surprising. It engenders no sense of Horror, only one of despair. We meet Michael, and are even made to feel sympathy for him, as we follow him along the textbook path to becoming a spree killer. Zombie makes sure he ticks off every box along the way: Abusive father-figure; broken home; sexually promiscuous mother and sister; delights in hurting animals, bullied in school… we see them all.

I guess, by way of recommendation, all I can say is that this is not a bad movie. It’s even a pretty good movie.

But that’s not Michael Myers, and it’s not HALLOWEEN.







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