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Halloween (2007) (Blu-ray)
Weinstein Co. / 2007 / 121 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: October 21, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Since when was Michael Myers born in a truck stop? Rob Zombie's unnecessary remake of the 1978 John Carpenter classic 'Halloween' is an absolutely dreadful film, one that takes cinema's premiere modern boogeyman and drops him in a vat of fried chicken grease, slaps a head of long straggly hair on his head, and covers him in hillbilly tattoos. Despite what the ad campaign for this "reimagining" may claim, this is not an illumination of the backstory of one of horror's greatest villains, but a desecration of the memory of long-cherished, legitimately classy horror landmark. The best one can say about Zombie's 'Halloween' is that it does reflect the sensibilities of its maker. It's just too bad that those sensibilities result in all the insight and humanity of a sex-obsessed and brutality-minded twelve year-old.
Structurally, 'Halloween' 2007-style is nothing if not ambitious. Rather than a traditional three-act narrative, we get a two-act play and a cut to black. Part one is the abbreviated backstory of little Michael Myers, as envisioned by Zombie. Immediately departing from Carpenter's far more austere, European-influenced original, Zombie wastes no time in heralding this vision of Haddonfield as entirely his own. The Myers family we meet is almost like an R-rated parody of "The Beverly Hillbillies," only without the intentional humor. Little Mikey's mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper at the local Rabbit in Red Lounge. Stepdad (Bill Forsythe) is an abusive, foul-mouth prick, and who has likely had his way with older sister Judith (Hannah Hall, a long way from young Jenny in 'Forrest Gump'). Then there is little baby Laurie, who Michael has an unexplained primal attachment to.
After this littlest of exposition (Zombie also briefly introduces a bullying environment for Michael at school), we then get an extended, laboriously long retake of the original 'Halloween's now-classic opening sequence. Michael kills all of his family, sparing only little Laurie and his mom (who, luckily, had one more strip-pole routine to finish at work). It's bloody, protracted and brutal only for the sake of it -- a tone that Zombie will continue to revel in for the rest of the film.
The rest of the first half then plays out like a greatest hits of serial killer cliches, as Michael is carted off to the local sanitarium and put in the care of borderline looney Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). By the time he's full-grown, and has been subjected to even nore horrors inside the hospital, Michael Myers has become a steroid-fed giant, an unstoppable killing machine more akin to Leatherface with a butcher knife than the slim, stealthy Myers of Carpenter's original vision. All of this is, of course, all-too-obvious set-up for Michael's escape, and eventual return to Haddonfield.
Cue the second half, a Cliff's Notes version of the original 'Halloween' (with a dash of plot twist from 'Halloween II' thrown in for good measure). Michael sets out to reunite with his long-lost sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), and goes about offing everyone in sight that gets in the way. Zombie revisits most of the same characters of the original film, including Laurie's two best pals, the slutty Lynda (Kristina Klebb) and smart-alecky Annie ('Halloween 4' and 'Halloween 5' vet Danielle Harris, here appearing as a different character), Annie's father Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), and various nondescript boyfriend-victims. Zombie also throws in expanded roles for Laurie's adoptive parents (Pat Skipper and Dee Wallace), though to little effect other than to serve as cannon fodder for Myers.
By splitting his film in half, Zombie ends up with two limp short subjects. Neither can stand on its own, nor do the halves compliment each other and synergize to create more than the sum of the parts. Myers' backstory is the dullest kind of pop psychology. It's Serial Killer 101 -- the abusive background, the parental neglect, the ineffectual doctor, the failure of the medical establishment to care for the monster its culture helped create -- that offers no fresh insight into the subject. If Zombie has any real viewpoint on these ideas, he keeps them secret. The first half of 'Halloween' is not about anything -- it's just a convenient series of cliches in which to paint the history of a cinematic boogeyman who was far scarier when we didn't know anything about him. It's forty-five-odd minutes of pointless, ugly exposition.
Unfortunately, the more faithful remake portion of the second half improves upon nothing in Carpenter's original. Since we don't meet Laurie and the community of Haddonfield until almost the hour mark, we care nothing for them. Zombie seems completely disinterested in the characters that Carpenter and his co-scenarist, the late Debra Hill, made so likable in the 1978 'Halloween.' These are trailer-trash etchings of real teenage girls, with Laurie, Lynda and Annie talking like street whores, and possessing no apparent dreams or ambitions other than getting laid in the dilapidated Myers house. (If nothing else, Zombie is consistent in his scumminess.) It's not just that Taylor-Compton can't quite summon the freshness or appeal of Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie (to be fair, Taylor-Compton is given far less to work with), but Zombie seems so hell-bent on getting us to dislike almost everyone in his film that the whole debased spectacle is simply depressing.
Then there is McDowell's Loomis. A smart casting choice on paper, the Oscar-nominated actor was either cashing a paycheck or simply lost in Zombie's pot-induced haze (or both). His performance comes off stiff and borderline idiotic here, as he's forced to spew out the kind of campy lines that Donald Pleasance was able to spin to far more sinister effect in the original. McDowell's Loomis is also the most ineffectual doctor in history, making the stupidest blunders and apparently unable to drive more than 15 miles per hour (how else to explain how he can be so late to the scene of every Myers massacre?) McDowell, if not quite an embarrassment, takes one of the most memorable roles in slasher film history and somehow makes him as bland as a styrofoam cup.
Perhaps, had the 2007 'Halloween' been scary, some of these faults could have been if not forgiven than at least overlooked, but like so many of today's '70s-obsessed horror filmmakers, Zombie equates brutality with suspense. His 'Halloween' is sometimes able to shock with the horrible things Myers does to his victims, but long gone is the slow build, the creepiness, and the sustained dread of Carpenter's original. For a film that Zombie professes to love so much, he appears to have little understanding of what made it work in the first place. There have been many bad horror movie remakes to come out of Hollywood in recent years, but 'Halloween' is by far the most dispiriting, and the clearest mismatch of sensibility with material. Certainly, 'Halloween' never needed to be "reimagined" in the first place, but if it had to be, couldn't they have picked a more appropriate filmmaker?
The 2007 'Halloween' comes home to Blu-ray in this excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). Rob Zombie chose wisely with his director of photography Phil Parmet. Though he can't quite match Dean Cundey's trend-setting work on the original, the new 'Halloween' is able to achieve both a grittiness and a prettiness that comes across quite well in high-def.
Aside from some intentional graininess and the use of slightly off-focus background, the film looks pristine. Blacks are perfect, and contrast if stylistically inconsistent (early scenes can look disproportionately blown out compared to the later, Haddonfield segments) does bring a great deal of depth to the proceedings. Colors are also strong, with the chilly opening nicely balanced by the deeper hues of Michael Myer's late-night rampage of Haddonfield. Fleshtones are generally accurate. Overall detail is strong, with sharp and three-dimensional image quite pleasing. The encode is also slick, with no obvious artifacts. 'Halloween' looks as sharp as a knife's blade.
The Weinstein Co. continues its support of Dolby TrueHD with 'Halloween.' This 48kHz/24-bit mix is just as strong as the video, with immersive and involving sound design that adds a great deal of atmosphere to a crappy movie.
'Halloween' sounds quite dynamic. There is a great sense of attenuation between highs and lows, which delivers the shock moments with great punch and impact. Low bass surprised me, with a deep, lumbering subwoofer that rattles and hums throughout. Surround use is aggressive and near-consistent, both with subtle atmosphere and more pronounced discrete effects. John Carpenter's iconic original score has also been refashioned here by Tyler Bates and Rob Zombie with added guitar and bass, yet still retains a classic '70s synth vibe, and the effect is impressively rendered. The score is nicely bled throughout the entire soundfield, and it's probably the highlight of the film. Zombie also employs a number of classic '70s rock staples in the soundtrack, which are also full-bodied. Dialogue sounds spot-on, with excellent balance and no problems with intelligibility. 'Halloween' is, aurally, a moody and inventive soundtrack. It is impressively presented here.
'Halloween' 2007 first hit standard DVD late last year as a two-disc set with plenty of supplements. Dimension and Genius have now gone one better, and give us a three-disc DVD re-issue and this premiere two-disc Blu-ray. Both contain the same extras, which carry over all of the previous bonus features plus add a mammoth new documentary that is the highlight of this set. All the video materials are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
- Documentary: "Michael Lives" (SD, 271 minutes) - Okay, yes -- the 2007 'Halloween' does not need a four-and-a-half hour documentary! But it's gotten one, so I'm not gonna fault any project that so passionately and meticulously rips apart the filmmaking process. I will say this -- I hated Rob Zombie's 'Halloween' resolutely, but my love for "Michael Lives" is equally proportional. This is a thorough and impeccably constructed doc, that takes us all the way from pre-production to the finishing touches. Apparently, Zombie gave just about everyone associated with the film a video camera, as the amount of fly-on-the-wall footage is astounding. We get intimate glimpses into both the good and the bad -- the fun and frolic on the set, some of Zombie's more intense on-set discussions and arguments, and a look at the filming of just about every key sequence in the film.
"Michael Lives" is also fascinating in that Zombie allows his entire creative process to be laid bare, even his uncertainty. Particularly in the early part of the film's development and casting, Zombie overwrites and overshoots, which is probably why even with almost a half-hour of deleted scenes the film remains too long. If "Michael Lives" somehow gives short-thrift to anything, it may be post-production, as the bulk of the runtime is focused on the shoot and on-set creative challenges. There is also precious little on the film's release and reaction. But no matter -- this is absolutely the ultimate documentary on 'Halloween.' Whether or not this was a necessary undertaking, I'll leave up to you...
- Audio Commentary - Rob Zombie goes solo on this track, which may seem redundant given the length of "Michael Lives." But here we have Zombie reflecting on his work after it has been completed, and he makes a strong case for his artistic goals and decision-making process. Unfortunately, I pretty much disagreed with all of them, but at least he takes on his detractors head-on. Like "Michael Lives," this is a far better commentary than the movie it supports.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 22 minutes) - The best of the extras from the previous DVD, we get over a dozen snips here. Zombie's penchant for stunt genre casting is even more in evidence here, with extended scenes featuring such vets as Tom Towles, Udo Kier and, in a part completely cut from the theatrical and unrated versions, the wonderful Adrienne Barbeau. There is also an alternate kill scene in a van, as well as a much-debated alternate ending which some found preferable to the finished product.
- Featurette: "Re-Imagining Halloween" (SD, 19 minutes) - This decent EPK was fine on the old release, but here is superfluous. The three-part lightly touches on the film's conception, production design, and props and costumes. This is all covered in far, far greater detail in "Michael Lives," so "Re-Imagining Halloween" now rates as a mere extended promo.
- Featurette: "Meet the Cast" (SD, 18 minutes) - Almost the entire main cast of the film is introduced here, including Scout-Taylor Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Doug Fairch, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif and Dee Wallace. Compton tries hard to separate herself from Jamie Lee Curtis, while McDowell seems to rave about Zombie, though one wonders what he really thought when he finally saw the finished product...
- Featurette: "The Many Masks Of Michael Myers" (SD, 6 minutes) - The most fun of the featurettes, Zombie and the adult Michael Myers Tyler Mane discuss how important masks are to the character, and the many visages seen throughout the film. Quite frankly, this is Zombie's best creative touch in refashioning 'Halloween.'
- Casting Sessions (SD, 35 minutes) - There's over a dozen relatively short (1 to 5 minutes) videotaped screen tests, including a complete extended test for Scout Taylor-Compton. These are somewhat interesting, though a bit limited in terms of replay value.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) - Finally, we have the film's theatrical and full trailer, both in 1080 HD.
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Rob Zombie's 'Halloween' is the nadir of the recent Hollywood horror remake craze. It's vulgar, ugly and witless, with no reason to exist other than in a cynical attempt to cash-in on a classic horror property. (If John Carpenter were dead, he'd be turning over in his grave.) This Blu-ray is an excellent presentation of the film, however, with strong video and audio and fantastic extras. Too bad the film they support is so damn lousy.