It could be argued that every slasher film since the original Halloween is a remake of John Carpenter's supremely suspenseful 1978 masterpiece. Like its curiously indestructible anti-hero Michael Myers, Halloween remains a perfectly realized killing machine, and its frightful shadow looms just a bit larger with every failed attempt to match it. Coming off the singularly demented The Devil's Rejects, writer-director Rob Zombie seemed like an ideal choice to at least bring something different to the material, which makes his official Halloween remake all the more disappointing. Boasting more dead bodies, naked breasts, and vulgarity than Carpenter's version, Zombie's Halloween comes up short where it matters most—it just isn't that scary.
It's a frustrating failure, because it gets off to a good start, with Zombie giving the young Michael Myers some actual human characteristics and complexity, and even making him sympathetic in a crazy-kid-who-never-had-a-chance kind of way. At home with stripper mom Sheri Moon Zombie and drunken step-dad William Forsythe, the angel-faced Myers could be one of any number of weirdo kids in the late '70s who liked Kiss and killed his pets. Alerted to Myers' probable insanity after a dead cat is found in his schoolbag, psychiatrist Malcolm McDowell fails to step in before the little maniac kills four people, condemning himself to the criminal hospital he will inevitably break out of 15 years later.
The first half of Halloween crackles with the same queasily effective combination of extreme violence and pitch-black humor that made The Devil's Rejects so indelible even among its detractors. (Forsythe, in particular, is hilariously disgusting.) But around the time Myers breaks out and heads back to Haddonfield to hunt down Laurie Strode (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) and her promiscuous (and conveniently topless) friends, Halloween begins to feel less like a Rob Zombie film and more like yet another interchangeable dead-teenager movie. It's too bad Zombie didn't just borrow elements from the first Halloween to tell his own story, like every other slasher-film director, rather than doing a straight remake. It's tough enough not to think of Carpenter whenever his iconic piano theme comes on the soundtrack, but Zombie plays it surprisingly safe by simply recreating the original film's action with pumped-up violence. As the body count grows, the suspense lessens, rendering the overly drawn-out final battle between Myers and Strode tedious where it used to be unbearably tense. This latest unsuccessful stab at Carpenter's masterwork just proves that the original Halloween is as unbeatable as its masked leading man.