Here's the deal: I'm a child of the 70s and 80s who hit puberty right around 1979. I was right there when slasher movies exploded...the original Halloween was re-released each October for several years (this was before home video). I remember them all, even the ones I didn't see until years later: Friday the 13th and its sequels, Prom Night, Terror Train, Graduation Day, Nightmare On Elm Street, etc. etc. Halloween and its first sequel (however much the latter was panned by critics) scared the hell out of me. When I got home one night from seeing the sequel with a bunch of friends, no one was home and the back door to our house was ajar. I can't tell you how spooked and freaked I was having just seen Michael slaughter his way through oodles of horny nurses and lab technicians.
Anyhoo, I am not a big fan of Rob Zombie's movies. I admire him as an artist, and I relate to his visual aesthetic, rooted as it is in pre-slash 70s horror. But House of 1000 Corpses is ridiculous and The Devil's Rejects was just rude. All the promo stuff I saw of his take on Halloween made it look pretty damn good: a bigger, badder kick ass Michael Myers filmed in neo-70s realist grime. Yes, I was worried that Zombie would hit us over the head with sadistic brutality and gore, which he is wont to do. But I also held out hope that he would nail it, because I think he's more than capable. Unfortunately, this movie succeeds and fails simultaneously, at least in the eyes of someone who's viewing it as a remake of a great horror classic.
On its own merits, it's a well-made film. It seems like a documentary. We get all the back story about Michael's fucked up family, his serial-killer-to-be proclivities as a kid, his trip to the booby hatch, his suffering at the hands of a cruel world. Ok, so his family life sucked, he was bullied at school, nobody understands him, he's being exploited by the doctor who's supposed to be helping him, wah wah wah, boo hoo. Lots of us have crappy lives, but we don't all wind up being serial killers, so what's the point of trying to humanize someone who's supposed to be the embodiment of inexplicable evil? Do you really need to try and convince us that he turned out this way because his mom was a stripper with hella bad taste in men (in other words: A Bad Mother)? To someone who's never seen and doesn't care about the original, this movie is fine...in fact, it would fit in quite nicely with any hour-long true crime special that regularly airs on Lifetime or the History Channel.
But to anyone else, there are problems. It is a remake of one of the scariest movies ever made...but it isn't scary. There's no suspense, no tension. By the time we get to the third act, which is basically where Zombie gets around to remaking the original Halloween, we know all we ever wanted to know about Michael, and nothing about his soon to be victims, which means that when Michael finally goes on his rampage, we don't really give a shit about what happens to anyone. And neither does Zombie. He's wasted so much time giving us all the back story (and showcasing his real-life wife as Michael's stripper mommy) that he doesn't have any time left to build character or suspense. It's as if he's going through the motions of the events that occur on Halloween night as an afterthought. Another big mistake he makes is that the girls, particularly Laurie Strode, the "final girl", are old school stupid girls who scream and run. Ok, Laurie's not completely weak, but she sure as hell doesn't come close to touching Jamie Lee Curtis' version of the strong final girl who shows a knack for surviving under stress. This one falls into an empty pool, screams, yelps and cries when she's supposed to be hiding, and pretty much sucks ass as a final girl all the way around. She's not even that likable. The gore is updated, but the girls are retroactive...it undercuts one of the primary motifs of the genre, and it ruins it.
The movie gets a lot of stuff right. The actors all do good work. Zombie's got a great eye for 70s detail. His movie is somewhat timeless in that it could be 1978 or 2008. He pays homage to the original film in several specific shots and/or scenes, but he appears to only be paying lip service out of a sense of duty to other fans of the original, not his own respect for it. Zombie treats the source material as not really worthy of revisiting on its own merits. He seems to think he could do a better job of telling the story by telling a different story. As if the original story isn't really all that important. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake on his part and the main reason his "reimagining" fails.
This movie's worth a look if you're a fan of the genre. The gore's not anything worse than you'd see on an episode of CSI. The scares are nonexistent, ditto the suspense. The kills have that Rob Zombie brutality, but they're so staged that it's not as if you're seeing a real person get knocked off. Besides, none of Michael's victims are people we've come to get a sense of or care about, so whether or not they die becomes irrelevant. The commentary's interesting, but again, he doesn't express any affinity whatsoever for the source material, which I think should have been a requirement for anyone considered to direct the remake of Halloween. Ultimately, Zombie's take on the horror classic left me cold, unimpressed, and a little bit miffed that he felt he had something more to offer than the original did. As if!