I hold it to be axiomatic that an interesting movie is more valuable than a good movie. Best of all to have both, of course; but given the unimpeachable craftsmanship of a sleepy drag like Babel or a gonzo mess made by an inspired psycho whose ideas spill over the film's edges like red wine on white linen, I will take the mess, without hesitation, every single time.

"Inspired psycho" is an awfully good description of Rob Zombie, a director whose CV to date includes House of 1000 Corpses (an alarmingly gory riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and its sequel The Devil's Rejects (an alarmingly gory riff on Bonnie and Clyde, done up in slasher clothes), although calling his remake of Halloween a "gonzo mess" might be giving it a little bit too much credit. Still, the modern sub-genre of "needless remakes of seminal '70s horror" - and by God, there really are enough of them now to make a subgenre, aren't there? - hasn't yet produced anything that aspires to such levels of invention and bravery, for very relative senses of the concepts "inventive" and "brave."

Traditionally, these remakes are achieved by taking taking that glorious sliminess of the grind house and replacing it with slick MTV-style gore, while leaving the story more or less intact. It is the chief success of Zombie and his Halloween to go the exact opposite route: the plot of John Carpenter's 1978 original is bent all out of shape and almost unrecognisable, but the tone of the new film is, if anything, grittier and grimier. This should come as quite no surprise to anyone familiar with the director's work: The Devil's Rejects in particular is perhaps the most "seventies" horror film made in the last 25 years, both in look and in attitude. And yet, surprised I was: not many remakes bear the personality of their new director so strongly, particularly when the original casts such a long shadow.

Simply put, Halloween 2007 is a Rob Zombie film, and it's a crazy world we live in when a heavy metal frontman with a nom de musique like "Rob Zombie" should be one of the most distinctive auteurs in the cinema, but there you have it. Anyway, being that he is a damn craftsman, dammit, Zombie doesn't settle for the easy hacksmanship that nearly all horror filmmaking has become these days. No sir, he goes right on ahead and deepens the story, and puts his own distinctive spin on it. Whether that deepening and spinning is good or not is largely a matter of taste.

We all know - or we damn well should - that the original Halloween was the story of October 30 and 31, 1977, when a teenager named Laurie Strode was stalked by Michael Myers, a shape. Explicitly, this was essentially a fairy tale: Michael was not human in any meaningful sense of the word, and Laurie was fighting the bogeyman, in so many words. He was Just Evil, and it is that, more than anything else, that makes Halloween just about the greatest of all American slasher films. Now Rob Zombie, he doesn't tell that story, exactly. His Michael Myers is all human, although a particularly degraded and vicious kind of human that most of us will never ever encounter.

It's easy to rage against that alteration, but it's kind of silly, as I concluded after about two weeks of raging. After all, John Carpenter, an extremely talented filmmaker, already made the story of a bogeyman chasing a babysitter. We don't really need two of those. Instead, Zombie gives us an hour inside the mind of a pure psychopath, and while this has also been done, it has not been done this well in some years.

The director is better at having good ideas than necessarily translating them into flawless visuals, but generally speaking, the first half of Halloween is the most technically accomplished work he's ever been involved with. Herein, little Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) acts sullen and withdrawn in the face of his mother's abusive lover Ronnie (William Forsythe) and the local bullies; by the time we meet Michael he's already made quite a hobby out of slicing apart animals, and it's really not at all surprising, even without knowing the rest of the plot, when he clubs a bully to death mere hours before dispatching Ronnie, and his own elder sister and her boyfriend, mostly for the hell of it.

Off to the asylum he goes, where he meets the overbearing post-hippy Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), and becomes generally more withdrawn as he makes masks and ignores his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie, who is on a different plane entirely than the annoying squeak toy she played in her husband's other works). Time passes, the inevitable occurs.

All of this is raw and nasty, and while it's not so bloody as the worst of the torture pornos, the blood is used to much stronger emotional effect. What do I always say about horror movies? "They're not dangerous enough." Rob Zombie understands this. His films are all fucking brutal, and while I would prefer that their fucking brutality be married to an inerrant craftsman's eye, as we see with Wes Craven, the sheer artlessness of his compositions is often queasily effective. Also, he doesn't use as much slow-motion in this film as in his first two, and that can only be regarded as a good step.

The first part of Halloween is not "great," but it is wholly effective, and that brings its own kind of greatness to bear. The second part is just weird. The second part is where the film catches up to John Carpenter's, and not only does one become tempted to compare the two, Zombie practically begs that we do, filling the movie wall-to-wall with musical lifts and visual quotations and occasional dialogue quotations that don't work most of the time (the remix of the first film's final two lines is particularly stupid). Yet it's not primarily that the film is bad because it is not up to the original's lofty standard. It is bad because of how cheerfully it gives up being its own film, abandoning all of the raw effect of the first hour in favor of the studio-slick polish that marks every one of its contemporaries, albeit with a great deal less light.

The two halves simply feel like different films. Laurie's introduction, in the form of the awful, awful Scout Taylor-Compton makes sense only because we know that Laurie Strode is the heroine of the story, not because she is organically brought into the film (made worse by the clumsy handling of our knowledge that we're not supposed to know that she's Michael's secret sister, après Halloween II, which slams uncomfortably against Zombie's appropriation of the stalking scenes from the original film, in which no such relationship existed).

I suspect something like this happened: Rob Zombie loves Halloween, and wanted to make a movie just like Halloween, but he knew he couldn't improve on Halloween. Hence the satisfying first half. But when push came to shove, and he had to actually engage with the same material as the original, he panicked and retreated into a simple kind of hero-worship mixed with a desire to out-Herod Herod in the cranked-up Final Girl sequence. It's too bad, and it raises the question: why this project? Take the first act, give it a different title, don't end with a babysitter. If it wasn't a remake of Halloween, Halloween might have been pretty awesome.

(I feel compelled to mention: in addition to Forsythe, the cast includes Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Udo Kier, Brad Dourif, Adrienne Barbeau, Danny Trejo, Dee Wallace and Clint Howard. I cannot tell you how to react to those names, but I can tell you that you will like the film more, the more your reaction is identical to Rob Zombie's.)

Reviews in this series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chapelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)
Halloween (Green, 2018)