Studio: The Weinstein Company
US Rating: Unrated
Film Length: 121 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Optional Spanish and English SDH
The Film - out of
Reactions to remakes take three distinct forms. The loudest comes in the form of revulsion – This reaction comes from those who tend to revere the original and treat the possibility of treading upon its hallowed ground as an act of war. Then we have relative enthusiasm – a reaction that usually comes from people who have no particular attachment to the film being remade, or are at a place in there life where jiggling around with something fixated in celluloid stone could prove interesting or at least, familiar. Lastly we have the biggest group by far. The silent majority whose indifference to the project comes in the form of abstaining from the requisite debate about the project or the infrequent injection of a calmer voice amongst the back and forth between the most energetic of people (the lovers and haters) holding court on the matter.
Of course, within each category there are degrees – not every individual who feels revulsion at the idea of a remake is a rabid, unreasoned madman wishing ill upon the production – and not every welcoming mind blindly accepts what will roll before their eyes with no regard for what has come before. But, in general, everyone who has film as an interest will find themselves firmly in one of these camps.
Admittedly, when I hear the idea of a remake (or re-imagining), my curiosity is immediately piqued. When I was growing up and my friends and I would get our hands on a camcorder – the first thing we would do is go to the woods (cheap location) and immediately remake a hybrid of Predator and The Terminator. It is the nature of the beast to want to recreate that which we love. So I can understand the fascination of dipping into the great films of the past and letting a new artist loose on the material. This works best when the person involved is a true auteur, a true lover of cinema with an ingrained passion for the material they are approaching. When the remake is born out of a board room meeting (The Stepford Wives etc) – the project is near certain to fail, at least on artistic merits.
Rob Zombie, the director of House of 1000 Corpses and the grimy The Devil’s Rejects, clearly has a passion for John Carpenter’s mesmerizing horror classic. He has re-imagined the Halloween tale, putting his visceral, raw and ‘dregs of humanity’ spin on things. From the very first scene, this updated version was never going to tread too much of the same ground nor strive for the same tone and pace that Carpenter used to scare the world. Zombie dives in quickly, presenting the Myers family, not as they were in the original (normal), but as a seedy and unpleasantly degenerate family, about as far removed from the partridge family as director Zombie is from being a choir boy. Alumni from Zombie’s prior cinematic outings fill the shoes of Michael Myers mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her mean-spirited, lazy bum of a boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe). Hanna Hall plays Michaels teen sister while Daeg Faerch plays the young disturbed Myers child. Tyler Mane plays a more hulking Myers as an adult while Laurie Strode is played by Scout Taylor-Compton.
Those fond of the original will easily recall the shocking (for the time) murderous descent into his slasher ways that Michael took, brutally stabbing his sister in her room. Zombie of course has significantly raised the body count and brutalities, taking the slayings to the disturbing edge but still maintaining the oddly tragic feel of the boy. Carpenter’s original plays out in three acts with the relatively short opening, the middle section filled with stalker tension and the final act of Michael’s slasher onslaught (a simplification, I know). Zombie on the other hand moves almost all of the originals proceedings the to third act, giving him a substantial amount of screen time to set up the morally destitute family beginnings and a whole second act that delves into the slow fall of the Myers boy into a mask obsessed (he makes his own), mute ward of the sanitarium, under the watch of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Zombie spends a little too much time on the second act; hammering home a back-story for the dedicated use of a mask (the Shatner mask was taken from his teen sister’s boyfriend in the first act and donned after he escapes the Sanitarium). But, saggy midsection aside, this 2007 version suffers from a few other important issues. Most notably is the fascination that the writer/director has with the crassest behavior of nearly everyone. Don’t mistake me for a prude, but somehow every character making easy references to sexual acts and cussing like they were in South Park: The Movie removes them from the realm of most people’s reality. I consider myself to have been around more than your fair share of potty mouths growing up but even I found it forced and over done.
Another problem I feel the film suffers from is the awkward editing. I like Zombies visual style – using a number of obscuring artifacts in the frame; out of focus foreground objects that give scenes odd dimensional context and a clever sense of reality. I also like the fact that he ‘turns off’ the steady cam at chaotic or particularly violent scenes, shaking the audience into the scene and ratcheting up the unnerving feel. But that can be significantly undermined if the flow is marred by clumsy editing. It pulls you out of the all important ‘suspension of disbelief’ when you are made painfully aware of an edit. Lastly, before I go into what I think the film really succeeds at, it must be noted that Zombie would have done well to exercise a little more restraint from time to time. Not just with what is seen, but what is done. Perhaps in the effort to create as real and terrifying a film as possible, giving Michael Myers back that genuine sense of menace and terror, this writer/director lost a sense of what the greatest scary movies ever made have all triumphed in, restraint – knowing when less is more and how that can best affect the tone and story.
What Zombie has succeeded in is giving an ailing franchise back its teeth. The series had become a trite, ‘by the numbers’ slasher fest, a mostly meaningless set of sequels more intent on draining dollars out of the franchise’ name recognition than doing anything worthwhile with the concept. Taking the basic elements, and the Haddonfield, Illinois setting from Carpenter’s landmark film while never tethering himself to the tone or ending, Zombie gives himself considerable creative freedom to play around with the world outside the window of the original’s framework. Exploring Myers as a child; giving us a great deal of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, Zombie delivers a more satisfying murderer than in the original. And evoking the sentimental and sad echoes of the sad Myers boy in key scenes creates a much more interesting set-up than just another fun way the ‘shape’ can dispatch a victim. The plot-element of the baby sister is also another win for the director.
Inside this flawed, imperfectly executed re-imagining of the classic mastery of Carpenter’s original, a great film is trying to get out. For that, and the bravery Zombie shows in what he did with the material, this version of Halloween earns respect from me.
Halloween: Unrated Director’s Cut comes in the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. As is becoming increasingly popular, the films color timing has been manipulated, draining the more luscious green of California, where it was filmed, to create the look of Illinois in the fall. The very 70’s looking first act is faithful to that style, succeeding in bringing out the warmer colors while still making it feel a little bland.
The image is sharp throughout and I was impressed with the black levels. Halloween has many dark scenes and I never had trouble with seeing what was happening. The colors don’t pop, but they aren’t supposed to, and based on the look and feel the production was going for, this image reproduces it nicely.
The film comes with and English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track. I’ll admit, I was expecting a little more from the audio, not simply because Zombie likes a rock heavy soundtrack, but because the creepy stalker scenes and creaky house moments should have called for some impressive ambient activity. It doesn’t really do that much. It does have the right oomph in the bass when it needs it, but it doesn’t pull the audience in all that well.
Despite the lack of effective directional effects in adding another layer to the experience, the sound is nice and crisp, coming through clean and clear with great center channel dialogue clarity and a ‘full’ sound during the song tracks dotted through the film. It is always great, of course, to hear Carpenter’s fantastic theme eerily ring through the speakers, and composer Tyler Bates brings it in at just the right moments.
Disc One :
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie - Rob Zombie isn’t really your typical Hollywood director. I’m not talking about his former career in heavy rock or his appearance that remains faithful to his onstage days, but rather his casual and somewhat unstructured approach to directing his films. He speaks of collecting shots that he may or may not use later and creating ad hoc scenes from time to time, even if the lighting, etc is not set up as it normally would be. I appreciate this more cavalier approach to the craft and think that it serves him well. His commentary is very accessible, giving honest and open details about the set up of scenes, just how ‘last minute’ some of them were and what he thought worked. This is a highly enjoyable listen.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Rob Zombie - (21:56) – There are 17 deleted scenes here, some short, some long and some that include entire characters and more meat to the plot tangents. The commentary here is helpful but a little light, with Zombie going silent quite a few times.
Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary by Rob Zombie - (3:46) – This ending, with which Zombie was not content, as it did not give the Laurie Strode character anytime to come into her own, is a far more tradition and functional ending than the one used. It plays out much tighter and with a little more emotional depth but ultimately is too simple to be satisfying.
Blooper Reel - (10:15) – There are a couple of giggles to be found here, but at just over 10 minutes, this blooper reel goes on entirely too long. The best one, however, includes Michael Myers coming out of a house in that ‘other guys’ mask.
The Many Masks of Michael Myers - (6:26) – A conversation with SFX lead, Wayne Toth as well as the Costume and Production designers on the recreation of the famous Shatner mask and the many others found in the film.
Re-imagining Halloween - (19:03) – Broken into three parts, i) From Camera to Screen, ii) The Production Design and iii) The Make-up, FX, Props & Wardrobe, this feature proves quite revealing. Zombie, who pops up in just about every behind the scenes special feature, provides some good information on the creation of the film, his conversation with John Carpenter and his ideas for how he made this film truly his.
Meet the Cast - (18:16) – Interviews with the cast and a discussion with the director on the casting process.
Casting Sessions - (29:51) – I can’t decide whether this is a good extra feature or just filler. While I don’t find the casting videos to be of any real value, some out there may find them a good peak at the casting process.
Screen Test: Laurie Strode - (7:47) – The actress playing Laurie Strode plays out a few key scenes in this screen test.
Sneak Peaks Trailers for Death Proof, Planet Terror, 1408 and the direct-to-video The Furnace
Halloween Theatrical Trailer
It must be said that Zombie has assembled a great set of supporting actors for this film. Not only does he get the awesome Danny Trejo to play against type and Dee Wallace Stone to put in an appearance, but he also employed the talents of greats like Brad Dourif as Sheriff Lee Brackett, Clint Howard as Doctor Koplenson and Adrienne Barbeau as a worker in an adoption agency (see deleted scenes). I love also that he pulled in Danielle Harris (Jamie Lloyd Carruthers in Halloween 4 and 5) to play Sherriff Brackett’s daughter, Annie. Speaking of Laurie Strode, Scout Taylor-Compton pales in comparison to Jamie Lee Curtis – perhaps in part because the film never really becomes about her as it did in the original.
While the film is imperfect, it is still a valiant effort. Remaking iconic films is a dangerous business but Zombie shows enough of a good effort to at least be applauded for what he tried to do if not for what he did do.