Before I get to the business of calling Rob Zombie’s Halloween the worst movie of the year so far, let me talk about the usage of that phrase. First of all, it should be obvious that I am talking about it being the worst movie I have seen this year; while Jason Statham and Jet Li’s War may be an overall worse film, I was smart enough to avoid it thus far. Secondly, the fact that Halloween is the worst movie of the year so far doesn’t 100% mean it’s the most bad, or that I’ll give it the lowest numerical rating of any film this year. There may have been other films that were more technically inept or more painful to sit through (although I did consider checking out of Halloween on multiple occasions during my screening), but none of them brought their terribleness together in quite the same way that Rob Zombie has managed to do here.
There’s something else that must be addressed before proclaiming Rob Zombie’s Halloween to be the worst film of the year: the idea that my stance on this film comes from an inability to let go of John Carpenter’s original film. The people who believe this will likely be of the opinion that Zombie has made a film that exceeds Carpenter’s; these people are morons. So while I’ll talk more about this later in the review, lets’ get this out of the way: Rob Zombie’s Halloween would have been awful garbage even if John Carpenter had never been born.
But while we’re talking about Carpenter’s movie, it’s interesting to note how much Zombie doesn’t seem to actually understand that film. What was scary about Michael Myers in the original was the idea that he sprang, fully evil, from the bosom of suburban complacency. The Myers family, in the few moments we see them, appear to be just another group of happy white people in middle class bliss. In the year 2007 this concept is stronger than ever – the idea of Michael Myers as some kind of John Walker Lindh, a tumor growing inside our familial unit, resonates. As does the idea that Michael Myers is just evil; we live in a time of Dr. Phil nonsense to the extreme, where every bad kid has a litany of environmental excuses to explain why he set the cat on fire. But what if there’s no reason? What if you’re a good parent and your kid just happens to be a soulless embodiment of carnage? What if there’s nothing you can do to keep the evil out of your life because the evil is already living there?
You know that Zombie misses this crucial aspect of Myers’ iconography when he opens the movie not only with young Michael engaging in pretty standard, Dahmer-esque animal abuse, but he shows us that this kid lives in a house that couldn’t be more toxic if it was located in Love Canal. Mikey’s mom is a white trash stripper, his sister a whore and his stepfather an abusive, crippled drunken asshole (who gets the best line in the movie. I don’t take notes in movies, so I don’t know the exact line to quote it, but it involves skullfucking). Looking at the breakfast table milieu of filth and debauchery that Zombie creates, how could anyone be shocked that Michael turned to a career in the Slaughtering Arts?
I don’t know if Rob Zombie thinks this white trash stuff is funny – he keeps coming back to it in his films – or scary or cool or what, but he holds our faces in it for the first act of Halloween. I have to give him and his art director and set decorators credit in that they’ve created a truly repulsive atmosphere in the Myers home. Unfortunately it’s a cartoonish one; it reminded me of the house in Running With Scissors, where things were so extremely fucked up that I just couldn’t buy into the basic reality of the situation. Am I supposed to feel for Michael Myers? It’s hard to tell when he’s living in an upscale version of Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel’s shack (more on Zombie’s confused treatment of Michael later).
We do thankfully get out of the house for a little while, when Mike goes to school and gets bullied. A dead cat is discovered in his locker, and Mommy Myers is brought in for a meeting with a hilariously swinging Dr. Loomis. Depressingly increasingly hacky Malcolm McDowell gives a career worst performance here (well, maybe it’s not as bad as Heroes), but never again in the film comes close to being as bad as he in this first scene, wearing a terrible wig and quite possibly boozed to the gills. Confronted as a budding sociopath (shades of my own career day!), Michael escapes the school and then the film gets its one and only disturbing moment. Let’s give that moment its own paragraph.
Michael waylays the kid who bullies him and beats him to death with a big tree branch. This scene works – it’s among the best and most horrifying murders I have seen onscreen in years. Zombie doesn’t make the violence too graphic, but the way the bully moans and pleads for his life and the way Michael does not react is terrific. It’s a visceral scene, and it’s scary because we’re not seeing some kid blundering over the line or being forced over it, but rather taking a very calculated step from fucked up child to cold hearted killer. At this point I began to think that maybe Zombie’s new take on the classic could have something to add.
Rob Zombie wasn’t about to let me think that for long. That night it’s Halloween, and Mama Myers has to go pole dance, so she leaves Mikey in the custody of his slutty sister Judith, who bangs her boyfriend instead of taking the kid trick or treating. This leads to a moment so unbelievable that I began to rethink this movie, wondering if it wasn’t a massive practical joke being played on us all: Zombie has Mike sitting on a curb, dejected, intercut with his mom dancing… all set to the song Love Hurts. It’s a break-up scene between a mother and her murderous child. It’s like something out of a Zucker Bros remake of Psycho, frankly, and it’s the kind of moment that makes you wish for a time machine so you could go back to visit Rob in the editing room and find out for yourself first hand just what the fuck he was thinking when he saw this ridiculous footage cut together.
So there’s the murder at the Myers house – except this time it’s Rob Zombie, so it’s the murders, and the step dad and the boyfriend all buy it as well. Young Mike gets shuffled off to the sanitarium (leave me be) where he’s in therapy with Dr. Loomis, looking less mod now. Michael claims to not remember the killings and doesn’t seem to know that anyone is dead at home. Loomis is doing talk therapy with Michael, which is all well and good until he stabs a nurse to death with a fork; after that he never speaks again and transforms into Tyler Mane. It was at about this point that I began to find my groove with Halloween 2007; it was obvious that Zombie just didn’t get the original, but it was becoming apparent to me that this take was something very different, and I realized I needed to stop comparing this Michael to the character created by Nick Castle. While I may not have liked it, it seemed like Zombie was in fact doing his own thing with the property, and hey, good for him.
But just like that scene with Mike killing the bully, Rob Zombie stepped right up and proved me wrong! When the asylum weirdly decides to move him in the middle of the night before Halloween, Mike breaks out in a bloody melee and heads to Haddonfield, where he grew up. At this point the film becomes a beat for beat remake of the first Halloween, but taking one third of that film’s time. Zombie even has Michael re-enact kills from the first film – like the kid getting nailed to the wall with the knife – completely. Lines of dialogue are lifted directly from the original. Characters are introduced who will only have interest for people who remember those characters from the original, where they were actually given personalities or even things to do besides get killed.
This is a monumental disaster, and while the first two thirds of Zombie’s Halloween was bad, it’s this speeded up carbon copy of the original film (think of when Weird Al does those medleys of hits set to super fast polka) that just sinks the rickety ship. Up to this point the film has been annoying and unengaging; from here on in it’s actively boring to people who know the original film. And if you don’t know the original film you’re just not going to understand the sudden change in the Michael Myers character and you’re not going to care at all about his victims.
It also seems like the movie requires Michael Myers to have seen the original Halloweens; he blows into Haddonfield looking for his baby sister, completely aware that she’s been adopted. How? Zombie spends two thirds of the film’s runtime expanding on the first ten minutes of the original and he couldn’t have fit in a simple explanation for this? Why ground Michael Myers in all this realistic psychotherapy bullshit if you’re going to just make him a supernatural DNA sniffer? And why does he even care about his sister at all? It isn’t like Mike had strong motivations in the first film, but that was sort of part of the point. Here Zombie is trying to lay him bare… until it’s time to just reinsert him into historical re-enactments of the first film.
Not helping matter s is the cast; it feels like the casting director went around the autograph hall at a Fangoria Convention and rounded up as many C-level horror types as possible. There’s a certain point where having Udo Kier (even if he’s in it for just long enough for you to recognize him and then disappear), Clint Howard, Tom Towles, Danny Trejo and Bill Mosely all working at the same mental health facility makes you wonder how you could ever cast lunatics to play against these people. Ken Foree, Sid Haig, Dee Wallace Stone and Halloween 4 and 5 star Danielle Harris, among others, just complete the illusion of this having been shot behind the San Diego Convention Center during a lunch break.
What makes it even worse is that none of these people (well, except for Ken Foree, who really does have the best scene in the movie) do good work. Sherri Moon Zombie redefines terrible as Mike’s mom, and no one else has a moment that even approaches credible or real. None of this is helped by Zombie’s script, which bounces between inane and stilted and grotesquely over-stylized (that skullfucking line, while great, comes across as something that Zombie typed and then sat back with his hands behind his head and smiled about). Reigning over this mass of thespianic criminality is McDowell, delivering lines so bad that they’re almost parody in a style that screams, ‘Give me my paycheck, and perhaps a cruller from the craft services table.’ To be fair, Tyler Mane’s pretty good at hulking about, but even the silent guy gets the short end of the script: Zombie makes him spend what feels like twenty minutes smashing walls looking for heroine Laurie Strode. He crosses the line from homicidal maniac to contractor right there.
What’s most frustrating about the third act of Halloween (besides the fact that you come to realize that you’re still in the theater watching this shit) is how the character of Michael Myers just disappears. After breaking out of the asylum, Mike gets his hands on the Shatner mask (set up back in act one, where young Mike wears it while killing his sister and looks like a big fucking bobblehead) and becomes The Shape. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but the movie spent so long dealing with this human character that to just ditch him, and suddenly shift the whole film to Laurie Strode’s POV, is irritating. All of the ‘new’ stuff Zombie threw in has nothing to do with the meat of the story, and it all feels like fanfic that you’ve been forced to sit through.
Apparently this wasn’t always the case; the workprint that leaked online this week shows that at one point Zombie was making a more sympathetic Michael Myers, even giving the kid a reason (not a good one, but a one) to kill that nurse in the asylum. The escape scene was also different, and motivated – two guards were raping a retarded girl and tried to get Mike in on it. Of course I don’t know what impact this would have had on act three, where Michael tears through a group of Haddonfield teens without rhyme or reason*. This is the ultimate cop out of Zombie’s main conceit, which was to humanize the monster – he humanizes him until he becomes a monster and then just lets the movie go where it will. Or where John Carpenter took it, anyway.
There’s a lot more to complain about this film – the continuity is horrific (in one scene a character’s head is squished and blood comes out of his eyes; when he drops to the floor he’s without blood. Is the guy dead?), the kills are boring (at least three people get stabbed by Michael, crawl away in agony and get stabbed more and/or pulled back by him. It’s like his MO), and the film is without suspense or tension (Mike doesn’t creep around the film, he just keeps standing in the background of shots. He seems to be playing the role of that guy who is drawn to a live on the scene newscast, that guy who stands in the back and just waves. Spooooky, as Count Floyd may have said). Halloween is, objectively speaking and without thinking about the original, a crummy film. As a remake of the Carpenter movie it’s a heinous abortion.
What bugs me is that the film didn’t need to be this way. Supposedly Dimension told Zombie they didn’t give a shit what he did with the property, and he could have reimagined it more or less from the ground up. And Zombie’s not a bad filmmaker – I’ve grown to be quite the fan of The Devil’s Rejects, and I do think that Zombie has talent. He’s just not showing it here.
After seeing the film my friend Brian (who is a huge Halloween fan) and I compared notes, and I think that Halloween 2007 may be the worst entry in the franchise. Yes, that means I like Bustah Rhymes kung fu fighting Michael Myers better. Yes, that means I like the mystical mumbo jumbo with Druids and Paul Rudd better. Yes, that means I like the one with Tom Atkins and no Michael Myers better. Brian’s gone back to see the film and will probably revisit it this weekend, but I can’t imagine sitting through this jumbled, poorly thought out mess ever again. I can only urge you not to make the mistake I did and to stay away from Rob Zombie’s Halloween at all costs.
*He also kills adults. In one amazing scene he finds Laurie’s adoptive parents’ house (how?!?!!) and holds a picture of Laurie in front of her mother’s face as he kills her. It’s like Michael Myers as hardboiled gumshoe. If Zombie had merged Halloween with The Maltese Falcon, he could have been on to something here.