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Friday, 26 December 2008

Halloween (2007)

This one's been on my must see list for a while, though I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. I've heard good things about it and I've heard bad things about it. Reading between the lines, it seemed that it was likely to be a pretty good film as long as you weren't expecting something like the original John Carpenter version from 1978. And it became pretty obvious from moment one that it wasn't going to be the same film and it wasn't going to have the same tone. This is definitely an update for a different generation.

For a start one of the freakiest things about the original Halloween was that we had no clue that the murderer at the beginning, Michael Myers, was a kid until he walks outside and his parents turn up. Here we get the whole background as to what may have driven him to do some of what he did. His mother seems to care but she's an exotic dancer whose new husband or boyfriend is a drunken abusive mess of a man. Life at home sucks but life at school isn't any better. He gets picked on, partly because he looks like a girl and partly because of who his family are.

So one day, which is Halloween, naturally, he flips out big time, killing more than just the topless babysitter. For a start he beats to death one of his bullies in the woods. Then he comes home, slitting the father figure's throat, beating the babysitter's boyfriend to death with a baseball bat and finally knifing the babysitter. It's all totally brutal, which fits the aim of a splat pack director like Rob Zombie. However while Zombie doesn't appear to care about the suspenseful tone of the original (the second half of this film is a rush through pretty much the whole of the original), he's obviously a huge fan of the material and chose to delve pretty deep into the psychology of it, along with the gore. After all, while Carpenter's version is undeniably a suspense classic, it really doesn't have a heck of a lot going on in it.

That original kicked in pretty quickly. Carpenter gave us the murder scene, then the escape scene and we're into the horror film we know and love. He doesn't mess around: scene one tells us Michael Myers is a dangerous psychopathic murderer, scene two tells us that he's back out in the public, then we have the rest of the film to get scared. Here we have background at home, background at school, background in Smith's Grove Sanitarium, background as we jump forward fifteen years, background even as Michael Myers escapes. How much of this background really makes any difference is really up for question but some of it is certainly interesting and some of it is certainly freaky. I liked Danny Trejo's character and how he played out.

And here's the chief reason to watch this version of Halloween: the people Rob Zombie got to play the roles. As a film it's actually pretty decent, obviously made with respect. While it's not Carpenter's Halloween by a long chalk, he has a good stab at it. But where Carpenter had Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, Zombie has half the icons of horror cinema to play with and he has fun doing so. Even before he escapes from the sanitarium, Michael kills off not just Trejo but Sybil Danning too. On the way back to Haddonfield he takes out Ken Foree, from the original Dawn of the Dead. Not there any more is Dr Sam Loomis, a part owned by Donald Pleasance but done justice to here by Malcolm McDowell.

And once he's out, we meet plenty more names. Running the sanatarium are people like Udo Kier and Clint Howard. The Haddonfield sheriff is Brad Dourif, Chucky himself, though I know him from so much more than that role. The groundskeeper at the cemetery is Zombie regular, Sid Haig. The adoptive mother of Laurie, the baby sister that Michael goes back to Haddonfield to find, is Dee Wallace Stone, from Cujo. Even the gun store clerk is Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, of all people.

And of course none of these are the leads, McDowell the notable exception. Scout Taylor-Compton is a worthy successor to Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, though the pretty accurate cultural updates make me yearn for the 1970s. She's obviously pushing for a career as a remake scream queen because beyond this 2007 appearance, she also had a lead role in the 2008 remake of April Fool's Day and auditioned for the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. As Zombie restructured the film, there's plenty of Michael Myers as a ten year old and a grown up. 6' 10" Tyler Mane, probably best known as Sabretooth from the X-Men films, is the adult Michael and he did some serious studying for the part. I really admired the quizzical turns of his head as he calmly studies the chaos he wreaks.

Most fascinating though is the young Michael: he's Daeg Faerch, who is an angelic girlish little kid, but who can turn on the evil with a glance. Loomis is able to talk about the eyes of Michael Myers so effectively because of what Faerch does in these early scenes. He's also a rather talented young man, or so it would seem. Still very much a child actor, he's already prolific, not just in major Hollywood films like this or Hancock, but in seriously deep things like Marat/Sade and Waiting for Godot on stage. Amazingly he's also a scriptwriter and director, from the age of eight, no less. Something tells me we're going to see a lot of this guy in the future.

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