Wednesday, October 24, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween (2007)

Halloween enters the remake era.

The eighth Halloween film, Halloween: Resurrection, may have been a bad entry in the franchise and a major disappointment as a follow-up to Halloween H20, but it was also a monetary success that left the door wide open for a sequel that could have gone off in any direction anyone wanted to take it in. So of course a Halloween 9 was soon in development, under the guidance of series producer Moustapha Akkad. At the urging of Bob Weinstein, co-founder of the franchise's then-distribution Dimension, most of the drafts that were written for Halloween 9, by writers like Jake Wade Wall (Cabin Fever 3, the remakes of When a Stranger Calls and The Hitcher), Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (Sorority Row, Piranha 3D), and Matt Venne (who has written several direct-to-video sequels, including one to the Fright Night remake), dealt in some way with Smith's Grove Sanitarium, where slasher Michael Myers was locked up after killing his older sister Judith when he was six years old - the place he busted out of to stalk his younger sister Laurie fifteen years later. One script would have brought back Josh Hartnett's H20 character John Tate, others delved into the history of Michael Myers, his childhood and his years spent in the sanitarium. A couple of them had Myers locked up in Smith's Grove again and scheduled to be executed there, as if mental hospitals often hold executions of their patients.

Tragically, Moustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima were killed in a terrorist bombing in Jordan in November of 2005. After that, his son Malek became the primary producer on the Halloween films. Malek's first credited job on a Halloween movie was as a production assistant on Halloween 4. He was then an associate producer on Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and H20, and earned a co-producer credit on Resurrection.

Previous ideas for Halloween 9 were scrapped when Rob Zombie was hired to write and direct the new film in June of 2006. Zombie was fresh off the release of his second film The Devil's Rejects at that point, and since I had absolutely loved The Devil's Rejects I was very interested to see what he would want to do with Michael Myers and the concept of Halloween. There were so many possibilities to do something completely new - all a new movie required was the iconic slasher and the holiday setting. Zombie has said that he was given free rein to do whatever he wanted... And it wasn't long before the disappointing announcement was made that what he wanted to do was a remake. A remake that would dig further into the character of Michael Myers (something I never wanted the films to do) and feature his own vision of the characters that were created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, but still... a remake.

With Zombie being only two movies into his career, and with his second film being a sequel to his first (House of 1000 Corpses), he was sort of a wild card at this point. What sort of Halloween film would he make? He could have switched things up and done something very different from his previous films, but instead he chose to make a Halloween that is very much in line with Corpses and Rejects, packed with trashy characters and over-the-top vulgarity. I know Zombie is capable of doing other things; when he was hired to write a Crow sequel for Dimension in 1997 he turned in a post-apocalyptic adventure that was heavily inspired by the classic horror films of Universal and Hammer. But he pigeonholed himself by turning Halloween into just another "hellbilly" movie. Now it's the only sort of movie he can get made, which is how we get 31 and the upcoming Three from Hell, a sequel to Corpses and Rejects, instead of other projects he'd like to do, like the hockey story Broad Street Bullies and a Groucho Marx biopic.

Dimension did keep telling Zombie to "make it more Rob Zombie" during development, so maybe this is what he thought they meant.

Early on, Zombie considered making a prequel film that would then lead into a sequel that would be the remake of the original Halloween, but then he came to the compromise of making the first 20 minutes a prequel to the murder of Judith. This prequel stretch is also when the film has its thickest concentration of pure trashiness. In the very opening, we have ten-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Farch) upstairs in his home, wearing a clown mask and killing his pet rat, while downstairs at the breakfast table his mom Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) deals with her verbally abusive boyfriend Ronnie (William Forsythe) and her mouthy teenage daughter Judith (Hanna R. Hall), all three of them spewing horrendous dialogue. This breakfast scene is one of the most over-the-top, ridiculous, unnecessarily vulgar scenes you could ever hope to see. It's especially jarring because this is a Halloween movie, and that's not what Halloween ever was before.

Also in the Myers household is a baby girl, and little Michael has nicknamed her Boo. While everything else is awful around him, he clearly has an affection for his baby sister. The main hope I had for a remake of Halloween was that it would disregard the unnecessary, restrictive Halloween II twist that heroine Laurie Strode was Michael Myers' long-lost sister, but instead of disregarding that Zombie chose to make family and the sibling connection the central focus of his Halloween movies.

Going to school doesn't allow Michael an escape from the trash, because there he's the target of a bully named Wesley (Daryl Sabara), who says such awful things that he sounds like a little Ronnie-in-training. After an altercation leads to the discovery of a dead cat in Michael's possession - along with pictures of other animals he has killed - Deborah is called to the school to have a conversation with Principal Chambers (Richard Lynch) and a psychiatrist named Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

There were a lot of classic characters that would need to be recast for this remake, but Loomis may have been the toughest. No one could ever live up to the version of the character Donald Pleasence played in five previous movies. Before casting McDowell, Zombie floated out the intriguing idea of casting Jeff Bridges as Loomis, which would have been something different that I would have really liked to have seen. Instead, McDowell just comes off as "Loomis lite" here to me. He tries to make an emotional connection at times, but for the most part it seems like a joke when he's trying to deliver lines Pleasence delivered so much better.

While the adults are speaking, Michael is out in the woods ambushing Wesley and killing a human for the first time, beating his bully to death with a heavy tree branch.

It's Halloween and Michael wants to go trick-or-treating in his clown costume that night, but Ronnie is laid up with a broken leg, Judith has a date with her sleazy boyfriend Steve (Adam Weisman), and Deborah has to work at the Rabbit in Red Lounge - a name Zombie lifted from a matchbook glimpsed in the original film. So Michael is on his own... And a sequence that shows shots of Michael sadly sitting around while Deborah strips to the Nazareth song "Love Hurts" as the Rabbit in Red has brought viewers a lot of laughs over the years.

Since no one wants to take him trick-or-treating, Michael decides to spend his night killing people instead. Ronnie goes first, then Steve, and finally Judith. While killing Judith, Michael swaps his clown mask for a mask Steve brought over to the house, having bought it at a hardware store earlier. The iconic white mask, which looks better here than it has in any Halloween movie since the original. Unfortunately, this perfect version of the mask is introduced being worn by a horny teenager who wants to have sex with his girlfriend while wearing it, then we're treated to the amusing sight of this massive mask sitting on the head of a 10-year-old kid.

As trashy as this opening stretch of the film is, at least it's an improvement over the draft of the script that leaked online during production. In that one, Judith caught Michael masturbating to his pictures of dead animals. Instead of killing the bully Wesley, Michael lured a sweet little girl into the woods to kill, then urinated on her body. When he walks into Judith's bedroom before killing her, the script had her take a moment to fondle her breasts... It's very good that none of those things made it to the screen.

This Halloween remake, or Zombieween as I like to call it, was not a troubled production, but there was a few days of additional photography that changed things enough that there are actually three different cuts of the film floating out there - a workprint cut, which never got an official release, the theatrical cut, and the unrated director's cut. Most of the major differences in these cuts come during the middle stretch, which shows Michael's time at Smith's Grove Sanitarium. There was so much material shot for the film that there's still 20 minutes of deleted scenes as well, including one with John Carpenter's ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau as a character who was cut from the film.

The unrated cut has the most substance here, adding in more moments between Michael and Dr. Loomis, putting in scenes where we hear Loomis's evaluations of Michael's behavior as he detaches from reality, hides behind masks he makes, and withdraws into himself. Deborah visits Michael for a while, but after he murders a nurse (Sybil Danning) - named Wynn in reference to a Halloween 1 character who returned in Halloween 6 - at the end of one of her visits and Deborah sees what he's capable of firsthand, she commits suicide. Michael stops speaking. Fifteen years pass.

In the workprint, there's a possibility that Michael might be transferred out of Smith's Grove, so he is taken in front of a group of decision makers played by the likes of Udo Kier, Clint Howard, and Tom Towles. His transfer is denied. In the theatrical cut, that boardroom scene isn't in there and Michael actually is being transferred on Halloween Eve. The security guards overseeing the transfer include characters played by Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, and Tom Towles - not as the character he played in the workprint. In the middle of the transfer, Michael busts loose of the shackles and massacres the guards.

The unrated cut gives him a different method of escape, and it's a tasteless hold-over from the script that should have been left out entirely, like the masturbation and urination. Here a couple guards - Lew Temple as Noel and Children of the Corn's Courtney Gains as his cousin Kendall - have decided to rape a new female patient (Olja Hrustic) on the night before Halloween, and they choose to carry out this rape in Michael's room. Noel does this to make fun of Michael while violating the other patient, and he pays for it with his life... It's really appalling that throwing in a rape out of nowhere was deemed an acceptable way of facilitating Michael's escape.

Noel never seemed like an intelligent character, but I'm not sure anyone would be stupid enough to taunt this adult version of Michael, who is bigger than the character has ever been before. Played by former wrestler Tyler Mane, he's a hulking, 6'8" beast... and he kills people with a brutal intensity that's far beyond the kills previous Myers have performed, too.

In the workprint, Michael just takes a set of keys from one of the dead rapists and strolls out of the hospital. In the unrated cut, he kills a few more people on his way out - and these scenes are in the theatrical cut as well, after the transfer escape replaces the rape escape. Among the extra victims is Danny Trejo as Ismael Cruz, a guard who was always nice and respectful to him. Ismael doesn't deserve what he gets, and his fate is even worse in the theatrical cut, because Noel doesn't get any comeuppance in that one. There's a scene where Noel is antagonistic toward Michael, calling him names and threatening him, while Ismael is there to calm things down. Yet Noel survives the theatrical cut, and Ismael dies. As Michael kills him, Ismael pleads with him, saying "I was good to you, Mikey." Some viewers mock these lines, but I find them to be kind of poignant.

Lines that are very amusing are delivered by Dawn of the Dead / Texas Chainsaw Massacre III star Ken Foree, who shows up in the film as a truck driver called Big Joe Grizzly - and if you mess with him, he'll tell you he's called Big Joe Grizzly. Big Joe is taking a toilet break at a truck wash when Michael attacks and kills him, and this is the character Michael steals his coveralls from.

Once Michael has those coveralls, about halfway through the film, we've reached modern day Halloween and Zombieween fully dives into remake territory. From that point on, Zombie is just remixing the elements that Carpenter and Hill put in place back in 1978. The same story is told: Michael returns to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois with the intention of tracking down his younger sister.

We'll find out that Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) removed the baby "Boo" from the scene of Deborah's suicide and the baby was adopted by a kind couple, realtor Mason Strode (Pat Skipper) and his wife Cynthia (Dee Wallace). Now 17, "Boo" is known as Laurie Strode, and is played by Scout Taylor-Compton. The Strodes are closest Zombie ever comes to writing non-dysfunctional people. When Laurie makes an obscene gesture with a bagel during breakfast, something to show that this Laurie isn't quite as prudish as the original was, Cynthia even gets upset with her about it.

Loomis, who resigned as Michael's doctor some time earlier, ditches his tour promoting his book The Devil's Eyes: The Story of Michael Myers to follow his former patient to Haddonfield in hopes of catching up with him before too much damage is done. Meanwhile, Michael is somehow immediately able to deduce that Laurie Strode is his sister and proceeds to stalk her around town - but only after he has gone home to retrieve his classic mask from where he hid it beneath some floorboards. When he puts it back on, it's not the perfect replication it was before - after fifteen years of being stored in a less-than-ideal environment, it's covered with cracks and rot.

Laurie goes to school and hangs out with her pals, updated versions of the characters Annie and Lynda. Much more abrasive versions of the characters - I never liked Annie and Lynda in the first movie all that much, but I definitely wouldn't want to be around this Annie and Lynda. Especially Lynda, she is very unpleasant. I do like the actresses, though. Lynda is played by Kristina Klebe, while we have the return of Halloween royalty in the role of Annie: she's played by Danielle Harris, who previously played Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5.

Laurie and Annie have to spend their Halloween night babysitting kids who live in the same neighborhood. Laurie will be watching Tommy Doyle (Skyler Gisondo), who is very concerned about "the Boogey Man", and Annie will be watching a sassy little girl named Lindsey Wallace (Jenny Gregg Stewart). Both of those child actors are awesome and Gisondo is still around, appearing in things like the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet, which is a great thing. It's a shame Stewart isn't still appearing on the screen as well. I don't know if she's doing any stage acting, but she hasn't acted in film or television since 2007.

Lynda doesn't babysit, so she's free to hook up with her boyfriend Bob (Nick Mennell), and they decide to do their hooking up in the old, abandoned Myers house. A very bad idea, since Michael is lurking around in there. Originally, Zombie just had Bob getting stabbed to death while going back out to his van to get more beer, but in the final version of the film Lynda and Bob are both killed in the same ways they died in Carpenter's film. Bob is impaled to a wall, then Michael puts on a sheet ghost costume so he can pretend to be Bob and get close enough to Lynda to strangle her to death.

Lynda's body will later be found in the basement of the Myers house. Also down there is a Myers family headstone, which Michael stole from a nearby cemetery. Zombie shot two different versions of the cemetery scene. In the first version, a caretaker played by Ezra Buzzington, who was in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes the year before this, catches Michael messing with the headstone and gets killed. That scene was replaced in reshoots with a cemetery scene very much like the one in Halloween '78: Loomis is led to the Myers grave by a caretaker (played by Sid Haig) and they find that the headstone is missing when they reach it. In '78, nothing was left at Judith's grave but the hole the headstone used to sit in. Here, Michael has replaced the headstone with a homemade one with a dead animal stuck on it. Zombie also puts his stamp on the scene by replacing the unnerving dialogue Carpenter and Hill wrote for their caretaker with banter between his caretaker and Loomis that includes more cussing and laugh lines.

Annie only plays babysitter for a little while before walking Lindsey over to the Doyle house, ditching the kid with Laurie and Tommy so she can hook up with her boyfriend Paul (Max Van Ville). The original Annie also gave up on babysitting in favor of seeing Paul, but she had to go meet him at his place (and never got that far). This Paul comes over to have sex with this Annie in the Wallace house, so he gets to be part of the body count.

When Laurie takes Lindsey back home later that night, they find the place a bloody mess and Annie barely clinging to life. This begins the climactic chase sequence of Michael pursuing Laurie so he can be reunited with his little sister, killing or injuring anyone who gets in his way. As in the original, the chase goes through the Wallace house and back to the Doyle house, but that's not where it ends this time. Michael manages to knock Laurie unconscious and carries her to the basement of the Myers house. When she wakes up, he kneels in front of her, takes his mask off, and shows her a picture of them together when he was 10 and she was an infant. Her doesn't speak, of course, so she has no idea what he's getting at. He did speak in Zombie's script, but he only said the word "Boo". Not helpful. And it would have seemed absurd to actually have Michael saying "Boo" in this movie.

A lot of time is spent at the Myers house, which wasn't the case at the workprint stage. There, Laurie escapes from the basement, gets outside, and there's nothing more in the house. She briefly falls into the empty swimming pool before Loomis shows up to save her. Loomis is actually able to reason with Michael, to get him to let Laurie go and drop his knife... But then Sheriff Brackett and other Haddonfield police officers show up to gun the (unarmed) slasher down on the front yard, a scene reminiscent of the ending of Halloween 4. The released versions drop the successful reasoning and the arrival of the police. Michael attacks Loomis instead, seeming to crush the doctor's skull in his bare hands... don't worry, he'll be okay... while Laurie runs back into the house.

From there there's 10 more minutes of movie, all added in reshoots, where Michael stalks Laurie through the house as she climbs through walls and up into the ceiling, Michael using a board to bash through the ceiling, trying to reach her. It's lengthy, but I appreciate the addition because this is some of my favorite stuff in the movie. It also plays out in a way that allows Laurie to deliver the final blow to Michael rather than Loomis or the police.

Zombieween is a really mixed bag. There are a lot of viewers who hate it, a lot of viewers who love it, and I can understand where both groups are coming from. I'm not a big fan of it myself, but I do get a certain amount of entertainment from watching it, even though it contains plenty of stuff I don't like. When it comes to being a Halloween movie, this is Not My Halloween. This is not my idea of Michael Myers, and I don't like the look into his home life at all... But I can separate this Michael Myers from the original Michael Myers, I don't like the childhood stuff in this movie because of the appalling dialogue and characters, not because it doesn't fit the character from the movies that were made before it.

The Smith's Grove section of the film is interesting, but the remake part is what I enjoy the most. Which is somewhat odd, because it's just a rushed, lesser version of the 1978 movie. It's just kind of fun, though. I find it entertaining to watch Tyler Mane's Michael Myers bash and slash his way through scenes, the actors have good chemistry with each other (even if I don't always like their characters), and I think Scout Taylor-Compton does make for a good modern Laurie Strode. Although, like Cynthia, I could have done without that bagel moment.

Despite all the issues I have with it, and despite all the decisions I disagree with, I do find Zombieween to be a solid slasher movie, and I like to watch it from time to time.

Zombieween was a major hit at the box office, so a sequel was inevitable. Zombie said he wouldn't be coming back for the new Halloween II, but when the sequel came along two years later he is the one who wrote and directed it.

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