Trying to explain the man behind a monster can prove to be a futile exercise. Take Hannibal Rising, in which the horrors that young Hannibal suffers are nothing compared to those we have imagined for him. He becomes a sulky teenager bent on revenge, but his future cannibalistic characteristics are never explained to a satisfactory degree. Add to this problem the curse of the modern day horror remake (Texas Chainsaw, Amityville Horror, Hills Have Eyes 2) and you approach Rob Zombie’s Halloween with a certain amount of trepidation.
Zombie has decided to make his version of Halloween into a two part affair, and one half is far superior to the other. The film opens in the home of young Michael Myers, a trailer trash house that you hope you never stumble upon in real life. Mrs Myers is a good looking pole dancer struggling to keep her family, and life, together against almost insurmountable odds. Her new boyfriend is a foul mouthed layabout; her daughter would seem to be the local bike and young Michael is a sullen child who has taken to hiding in his room making Halloween masks. Michael is abused by the new man in his mother’s life and ignored or ridiculed by his sister, only his mother shows him any love and in turn his love is saved for his new baby sister. School is no escape for him either; he is a target for the school bullies and very much the outsider. He takes to killing small woodland animals and keeping their carcasses in a plastic bag. He is basically the kid your parents warned you about. Things come to a head on Halloween when, left alone by his sister, he dons one of his homemade masks and goes on a family killing spree. As played by Daeg Faerch, Michael is at once scary and sympathetic. The young actor has a chubby frame and haunted eyes that make him a believable victim, and when the bloodshed starts it is truly shocking. The BBFC must have had to think long and hard about whether to cut any of the scenes where Michael is wielding a knife and despatching his sister and step father. There is something genuinely chilling during these scenes that Zombie captures in true seventies style, low level camera angles and up close shots making the horror all too real.
From the carnage in the Myer’s house we follow young Michael to a sanatorium where he is put under the care of Dr Loomis, Malcolm McDowell replacing the late Donald Pleasance, and it's here that the film loses its way. While Michael is still a boy the sense of unease and underlying terror are still present, and a scene where he is left alone with a nurse is particularly well played, but once he mutates into the grown up Michael it all goes a little pumpkin shaped. From a normal sized boy with a few psychiatric problems he turns into a mountain of a man, towering above everyone else in the film, who looks out of place in every scene. Rendered speechless from the events of childhood he lumbers through the rest of the film, a parody of slasher movie monsters.
The second half of the film is just a shortened version of the original, with Michael out baby sitter hunting in his old home town. The storyline of Laurie being Michael’s little sister that was explored in Halloween 2 is fleshed out here and the origin of the white mask and the gun in Loomis’s coat pocket are all explained, but somehow it’s not enough. After the claustrophobic fear of the first half we deserved better, and it feels as though Zombie is going through the motions and fearful of messing with the Halloween myth. He should have had the courage of his convictions and created a terrifying new Halloween for this generation of moviegoers. Instead he has left us with a gripping, scary, claustrophobic hour of horror and finished it off with 45 minutes of genre conventions. It bodes well for his next foray into horror, but let’s hope he goes back to original material like his earlier Devil’s Rejects and leaves the classics alone.