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August 31, 2007 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | August 31, 2007 |

The original 1978 Halloween was an excellent ode to sparseness, owing as much to John Carpenter’s microscopic budget as stylistic intent. Without buckets of blood, heavy effects, or stars mugging for the camera, Carpenter made a great thriller, a simultaneous homage to and hodgepodge of modern American ghost stories and Bogeyman mythos that succeeded because it kept the killer in the shadows and periphery. Rule number one for scary movies is, after all, that no visual you can throw at an audience will ever match their imaginative conjuring. Keep the frights sparse and just off-camera — the audience will do your work for you.

Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween has Michael Myers in almost every goddamn frame. He’s seen walking around his dilapidated home; he’s seen doddering around and peeking in on his victims-to-be; he’s seen shuffling through yards, gathering his mask and weapon, scratching his ass — virtually anything you could conceive Michael Myers doing when he isn’t stalking or killing someone, well, Rob Zombie will show you. Zombie’s screenplay rams itself (or attempts to) right into Mike’s brain, showing the lousy childhood leading up to his killing spree and part of his stay in the loony bin, things hitherto left to ambiguity or Donald Pleasance’s cryptic explanations. So long, Imagination! Don’t forget to write!

So, it turns out little Mike (Daeg Faerch) was cuckoo-bananas from the start, torturing his pets and stray animals for kicks. But additionally, his family life leaves a touch to be desired: Well-meaning stripper mama (Sheri Moon Zombie — the director’s wife and perennial cast clogger) tries to keep things together with little success; loathsome stepdad (William Forsythe) regularly calls the kid a “faggot” or “creep” in regular conversation while leering at his equally loutish stepdaughter’s ass. So, either Mike was just evil from the get-go, or his worthless family and school bullies drove him to it — either way, it’s neither telling nor evocative, it just makes us confused as to whether we’re supposed to root for him or not. He’s the central character now; but does that mean he’s the protagonist?

Anyway, as promised, lil’ Mike loses what’s left of his tenuous sanity one day and whacks or slashes his tormenters into pulp. He’s then carted off to a sanitarium to be cared for by Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, who actually approximates Donald Pleasance’s cheesiness to a decent degree). The film continues to show us what Mike is up to — essentially making a bunch of masks and failing to reveal why he’s so bonkers. Fast-forward 15 years, Michael is now a Kane Hodder-sized hulk who looks like a member of Slipnot. On Halloween he busts loose, murdering about 50 hospital employees along the way.

The last third of the film, wherein big Mike returns to Haddonfield to track down the infant sister he let live (a detail not explored until the original’s abundant sequels) and reenact some of his mayhem, largely condenses the 1978 film’s plot — which followed protagonist Jamie Lee Curtis around her humdrum suburbia as she slowly got wise to the encroaching terror — into a hectic mess. We aren’t given much time to gather interest or sympathy for this Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), the unknowing victim of Michael’s attention, as her friends and their boytoys are slashed apart.

Zombie’s Halloween is remarkably incongruous, given his usual penchant for dutiful homage to old horror films; he thoroughly debunks the mythology of the original Carpenter film, replacing an enigmatic horror icon with a hulking thug whose motives seem explained and yet uninteresting, replacing thrills with lurid violence. Zombie’s Myers isn’t the Bogeyman; he’s just boring.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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