Movie Review – Halloween (2007)
Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party, and I didn’t even bring beer. It’s been nine years since the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), a “reimagining” of John Carpenter’s seminal classic – a film which many horror fans regard as the genre’s crowning achievement, and I certainly have a great respect for it. The original film is tightly executed and masterfully builds a Hitchcockian tension and it is the textbook standard for all the slasher-style films which it helped to spawn. Naturally, comparisons will be made between Zombie’s version and Carpenter’s creation, and rightly so. It’s therefore understandable that perhaps no film has been as divisive in the horror fandom in the past decade as Zombie’s Halloween, which garnered strong reactions upon its release. As the years have gone by, I have grown the impression that most adherents to the older film, especially those who grew up with it, have a distinct disdain for the new film, while younger audiences have mostly been receptive and praising of it. Having not seen it myself, I could only wonder if this was simply a matter of generational divide.
As I said above, I am an admirer of Carpenter’s Halloween, but I’m not the devout devotee that many others are. It’s a great film, but I don’t consider it a film that could not be improved upon. There are clear plot holes, thin characterizations, and elements that could certainly be expanded upon to further flesh out the story. Additionally, the franchise was in such abysmal straits after the vomitous Halloween: Resurrection (2002) that a rejuvenation of the Michael Myers brand was badly needed, and Rob Zombie certainly seemed like the kind of filmmaker who could do it. Whenever I sit down to watch a film, especially one I know I will be reviewing, I try to approach it with as open a mind as possible, and this was even more self-consciously so with this film.
So after finally watching it, what did I think?
Zombie does a lot right. 2007’s Halloween showcases clever cinematography and great lighting. Casting Tyler Mane as the adult Michael Myers adds a physical gravitas to role, and Mane’s attacks are brutal and animalistic. Similarly, having Danielle Harris, who played the child protagonist Jamie in Halloween 4 and 5, return to the franchise was a risk which pays off as her scenes are some of the best and her cries of desperation brutally realistic.
However, as much as I try to give respect where it’s due, as I watched I couldn’t help but be distracted by the film’s many problems. Zombie’s decision to explore Myers’s roots is ill conceived, poorly executed and ultimately needless, adding nothing to the tension of the second half of the film which is closer to Carpenter’s original and noticeably stronger as a result. The dialogue is poor – nobody in this film talks like a real person – and the acting, particularly in the beginning, is unable to overcome it. Even seasoned veterans like the amazing Dee Wallace come off as amateurish with this material. It is therefore unsurprising that the depiction and explanation of Michael Myers’s decent into homicide is unconvincing and not at all compelling. There’s too much style over substance and we get caricatures rather than real characters.
Throughout the film there is an unnecessary exploitation influence that keeps me from taking it seriously, such as all the women dying naked, over-the-top misogyny, a gratuitous rape scene, and a hackneyed abundance of foul language (fuck… see, I can say it too). The result is a lack of suspense or any real terror. Again to draw a comparison, Carpenter followed Hitchcock’s model of anticipation, letting the audience know that the danger is coming but letting it linger, never being fully confident quite when it will drop. Zombie instead just moves from kill to kill in a mechanical, assembly-line fashion.
Ultimately, Zombie shows too much where he should show restraint, and too little where further exploration would have been beneficial. Instead of centering on Myers’s background, it might have been more effective to give more back story on Laurie’s friends and family, adding something to Carpenter’s film that would have made the kills even more intense. Yet for all his explaining, he still does not justify Myers’s ability to keep moving unhindered when riddled with bullet holes or many other tropes that cannot be rooted in a difficult family life.
Yet perhaps the most egregious shortcoming is one that has certainly been said before by many other detractors. I had heard their criticism but waited until I saw the film myself before laying judgment. By dispelling the mystery of Myers it removes the one thing that made Myers an effective “shape” – now he’s just another “white trash” serial killer, and not even a very interesting one. His only distinguishing characteristic is that he gets to wear that iconic William Shatner mask. When Laurie says to Dr. Loomis in the 1976 film, “It was the boogeyman…” and he responds with, “As a matter of fact, it was,” those lines mean something. Myers worked best as a mystery – the blank mask allowed the audience to paint their own motives and emotions upon the character. The boogeyman is the indefinable embodiment of fear, and Carpenter’s Myers fit that perfectly. Zombie’s script plays lip-service to it, but when his Laurie asks, “Was that the boogeyman?” it no longer has meaning, and even sounds odd and inappropriate coming from her lips. It isn’t at all the point of Zombie’s film – his intention is to assault the audience rather than invite them into the experience so that they might place their own impressions upon it. His Myers is an attack dog, not a boogeyman, and to have Laurie still say those words makes me question just how much Zombie was aware of this.
Zombie’s Halloween is a decent slasher film, but not a very good Halloween one. Of course, most are not very good as the franchise isn’t known for an abundance of quality entries, and this is certainly not the worst or weakest among them. However, as a reimagining of the classic original it, like Myers’s mask, pales in comparison. I can see why many would enjoy this film, but the shortcomings are too glaring for me to take any real satisfaction in watching it.