The Halloween franchise was due for another reboot. Just like the franchise had reached one logical extreme with The Curse of Michael Myers, a self-serious, lore-dense slog, it had reached another one with Resurrection, the Scream-ified reality TV spoof (which I am in the minority for enjoying quite a bit).
Unlike the series’ other timeline reset, H20, this Halloween is a full on reboot: It tells approximately the same story as the original Halloween, but from scratch and in a narrative and visual style more in line with audience expectations three decades later. You can sum up the deviations in this retelling into two categories: textural and structural. Let’s start with the textural.
The big thing in horror circa the mid-2000s was dousing everything in misanthropy and visceral, queasy gore. “Torture porn” we called it — filled with largely unlikeable characters suffering gruesome fates in slow-motion. A slightly brownish aura of filth covers these movies, though some of that is psychological projection on my part. I simply have no taste for the subgenre, and so it was with some trepidation that I approached this Halloween reboot. It was one of a decent wave of modern reboots of classic horror films, including Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th.
Now, Halloween (by which I mean the 2007 film; you can assume so for the rest of this review) is not a “torture porn” film, but it definitely borrows the aesthetics and the spirit. It has a sludginess to its visuals, a grimy sort of inkiness, that carries through most of the scenes. That’s not to say that it’s poorly shot or even “ugly” per se. I actually think this is one of the best-shot films in the series; certainly since cinematographer Dean Cundey departed after Season of the Witch.
There’s also a bone-deep cynicism and depravity in this Halloween. So many of its characters are nasty white trash; and even the more sympathetic people say insensitive or lewd things. An early rant from an leering step-father is particularly cringey (“Man, that bitch got herself a nice little dumper!”). We meet this universe’s teenaged Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) as she makes a sex joke with a bagel. The nudity is ramped up compared to previous Halloween entries, and the violence is harsh and blunt, as if taking for granted that depravity is the point of horror movies.
I have an aversion to this horror mindset. If I’m watching a teen die, I’d much rather it be something intrinsically ridiculous and heightened; imagine a recently-decapitated head rolling down a creaking set of stairs like a bowling ball (a la Resurrection) as opposed to a graphic shot of someone getting suffocated (multiple deaths here). Give me something that feels like a campfire yarn, not a true crime documentary.
Much more interesting to me about this reboot is the narrative ideas it brings. Clearly Zombie had a vision for giving a genuine arc to Michael Myers, a laughably dismissed idea in any of the previous outings. At over two hours, this is a punishingly long slasher film, and it’s due to the fact that there’s a whole prequel grafted onto this story (or conversely, a slasher grafted onto this prequel). This opening is frankly far more interesting than the film’s second hour, which largely replicates the events of original.
The prequel part of this film — everything prior to the “Haddonfield” title card, and especially the stuff prior to the time jump — is not only the best part of the film, it’s the most interesting stretch in the franchise since the original outing. If Zombie had extended this by twenty minutes and ended the movie just as Myers broke out of his mental hospital, maybe titling the film “The First Halloween” or just “Michael Myers,” it would be not only the best Halloween sequel but a legitimately good film. (I should dampen my praise by saying I still find this part of the film to be gratuitous; there’s a wholly unnecessary rape scene and endless shrill screaming.)
The opening follows young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) and interrogates the complex set of impulses bringing out his latent psycopathy, a nature-vs.-nurture pendulum — until he finally snaps one Halloween night in a truly haunting sequence. Zombie makes terrific use of masks as not only a creepy, dehumanizing visage, but an emblem of Michael’s dissociation from empathetic reality.
The scene where Michael murders most of his family is gripping and blood-curdling as we witness in near real-time the darkness win out in Michael’s soul, punishing his cruel step-father and shameless step sister, pardoning only that beacon of innocence, tiny baby Laurie. (Apparently Zombie liked this brother-sister character dynamic from Halloween II enough to make it the cornerstone of his story.)
Zombie does get some payoff in the film’s second half from the investment into Myers’ character from the first half. When he composes shots highlighting the eyes behind the iconic mask, for once in the series’ history it has meaning and poignance; a symbol of a broken human who is trapped in an overwhelming darkness. There’s also a moment where Michael and Laurie reunite, and it’s unexpectedly poignant and heartbreaking: Laurie severs Myers’ last thread of connection to the compassionate part of his soul.
One noteworthy curveball in the film is Malcolm McDowell as Sam Loomis, inheriting the role from Sam Pleasence. McDowell is, of course, charismatic, though he brings an odd energy; he’s much more theatrical than anything else in the otherwise gritty film.
Although I don’t think Halloween ultimately holds together on balance, it makes enough interesting choices in centering Michael Myers himself as the dynamic part of the new Halloween world that I’m curious what he’ll do next with the franchise.
- Review Project: Halloween Retrospective