The quality of Zombie’s film output seems to be on a sharp slide: there was a jarring difference in style, thrust and focus between his explosive debut House of a 1000 Corpses, in 2003 (a solid 3 stars for this writer) and his follow-up The Devil’s Rejects, two years later. House was back roads horror in the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes: it was hardcore, nasty and raw, but if you’re not going the more psychological route of, say, The Blair Witch Project or The Mothman Prophecies, sometimes that’s the way horror films should be. It was rather gory, within limits, but the horror came mostly from the predicament of being trapped by the Firefly family. House developed a sense of the morbid and the macabre turning into a horribly nightmarish experience, featuring a standout performance by Erin Daniels, while Rejects had a vastly different visual style and narrative structure. It was at best a two-star film, but Halloween falls even further down the scale.
This new “Halloween” deflates reasonable hopes right from the start: the abusive stepfather is a tired example of the worst kind of trailer park trash, and there’s a severe lack of insight into the broken psyche of the already disturbed 10 year-old Michael Myers (he starts by killing and mutilating pets. Perhaps a haircut would have saved everybody a lot of trouble – what’s up with that hair?). After violently attacking and killing a bully after school, Michael slaughters his stepfather, his big sister and her boyfriend (his mom and the baby are spared). We then move forward 15 years to the escape from the asylum and the return to Haddonfield. There’s not much to say about Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), but that’s saying something in itself: Zombie doesn’t show any real interest in the characters: he seems content to set up a string of mechanical killings (Tyler Mane has no chance to show emotion as the adult Michael).
There’s a lot of self-referential casting from the previous films of the director: sometimes that can be fun, but in such a weak film it feels like a gimmicky checklist. Look, it’s Ken Foree as a jovial trucker. Wow, here’s Danny Trejo, unfortunately not as Machete, but as a janitor at the asylum. There’s Sid Haig as the graveyard man. And how clever is that, Danielle Harris (little Jamie in Halloween IV and V) is in there for like three minutes as one of Laurie’s sassy friends. If I’m not mistaken, I counted 16 murders; in the order they happen, they started being awfully repetitive and predictable at about the seventh one; in short, we see way too much of Michael, and that robs him of the mystique he had in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic.
There’s also a weird, brief moment where the movie shifts into an almost shot for shot, word for word remake of the original. Malcolm McDowell turns out to be a faulty choice to play Dr. Loomis, a character pretty much as iconic as Michael himself for fans of the franchise. Whereas Loomis was played with semi-camp gravity by Donald Pleasence, who said almost all his lines with a hint of fatality, McDowell conveys a mannered psychologist with unclear motivations (he’s on the lecture circuit, with a book on his experience trying to understand the silent madman). His tone feels unnatural, and the script provides him with distracting touches of throwaway humour. Sheri Moon Zombie is the film’s lone bright spot as a mother still caring about her son (Daeg Faerch), while desperately trying to understand why he turned so brutally violent. Her portrayal is as mastered and affecting as can be in the circumstances. Michael’s use of masks as psychological crutches from a young age has some potential, but it’s not nearly as looked into as it could have been. At some point, Michael’s behaviour is referred to as being the result of a “perfect storm” of interior and exterior factors, but don’t get your hopes up for any meaningful answers.
Review by Jean-François Tremblay