Halloween is an oddity, because not even horror fanatics were clamoring for this franchise to be re-launched, yet here it is. We now have what amounts to a launching pad for another decade of mediocrity from the slasher genre's perennial bronze medalist. The Shape hasn't been endowed with any new qualities in this film that might potentially help him vault over Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger -- he's still going to be low man on the totem pole. Occupying that humbling position over the years hasn't necessarily meant that the Halloween series suffered any more discontinuity or shameless retcons than the competition, but there's always been a sense of dogged sameness and an aura of low expectations to each new episode of the saga, starting immediately after Carpenter's original film and going all the way through to the most recent film, which, if memory serves, had Myers chasing after Busta Rhymes in some reality show. That's why it's so perplexing that Zombie's remake recreates the same Michael we've always known -- it's almost as if he wants history to repeat itself.
In fact, all that really separates this Halloween from the 1978 version is the origin story -- it's been expanded by some 30 minutes, so that we now see young Michael (Daeg Faerch) being tortured by school bullies and living hand-to-mouth in a white-trash hellhole with a stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) and a scuzzy stepfather, played by William Forsythe. Those elements combine in Michael's mind to produce a perfect storm of craziness, and he begins to talk less and less, while becoming more violent. Before you know it, he's being carted off to Smith's Grove to become the plaything of the child psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, played repeatedly by Donald Pleasance in the original series and now portrayed by Malcolm McDowell, who recently revealed that he's already signed for three films, if this one goes. What comes next anyone can guess -- Michael breaks out of his confinement and starts killing people, all in the service of some ill-defined mission to find his baby sister, who he hasn't seen since he was a little boy but has a connection to.
Spending so much time on the origin story is a gamble for Zombie, because it means he has no choice but to short-change the screentime of the film's heroine, Laurie Strode, played by newcomer Scout Taylor-Compton. Once the film has finished with its lengthy set-up and brought us full-circle to the present day, there's hardly time for hellos before Taylor-Compton is already answering to the demands of the plot, screaming and running for her life as the mask-wearing giant, played by Tyler Mane, is coming after her. There's even less time for the secondary characters, which include Dee Wallace as Laurie's adopted mother and Brad Dourif as a local sheriff who knows the true backstory of Laurie's parentage. (One of the oddest things about the film is that Michael has all of that knowledge pre-programmed. Despite being locked in an asylum and having a brain that's mostly mush, he doesn't miss a step after breaking out -- he knows exactly where to find Laurie, who is living under her adoptive name.)
So, what about the kills? Well, that's where Zombie takes another gamble that doesn't really pay off. By dialing down the gimmickry and 'creativity' of the kills in order to escalate the raw, choking-the-life-out-of-someone violence, the director seems to think those kills will automatically become more visceral and gut-wrenching, but they really don't, because we don't know enough about any of these characters to care about what happens to them. The best slasher films always find a way to wedge in bits of character here and there so that, at the very least, we as audience members can begin to get in the game and hope that our favorite character will become the 'survivor girl' or boy who makes it through. In this film, however, we already know to a reasonable certainty who is going to live and who is going to die before the movie even starts, so there's a complete void of suspense and very little effort put into building up the characters who are certainly bound for the morgue.
Apart from the stale atmosphere and complete lack of tension in this film, there's also a generally low level of technical sophistication that leaves the viewer with a sense that no one involved with the production was really operating on all cylinders. I can hardly think of any bravura shots or interesting visual choices in relation to the kills -- I think it's safe to say that in 2007 we no longer need to see someone hitting an off-screen pillow with a baseball bat over and over and over -- and a mere five minutes after I saw the film, I was rapidly starting to forget portions of it. The film isn't incompetently made or anything, it just stinks of being unnecessary and doesn't really hit its mark on any traditional level. Rob Zombie's fascination with the morally and physically dilapidated world of carnies is an interesting preoccupation to have, and adding that flavor to the first half hour of Halloween makes it an interesting curiosity, but I would argue that he's chosen the wrong remake. If anything, Zombie's calling is to remake Tod Browning's Freaks.