December 15, 2007

DVD Review: Halloween - Unrated Director's Cut

Many have said that the very idea of a Halloween remake is sacrilege. Others were open to the possibility of a new vision. There was a smaller subset of fans who love anything Rob Zombie throws at them. Then there is the larger pool of non-horror fans who don't care one way or the other. Where did I fall? I would have to say it would be a combination of all of them. I have been a fan of Zombie since his White Zombie days and absolutely loved what he did with The Devil's Rejects. I also love the original Halloween, perhaps not to the same level as many (or even most), but it deserves a special place in the hearts of horror fans.

Well, the controversial remake came and went from the theaters, burning bright and fading fast. When it did begin its quick burn, it was greeted rather unkindly with a host of negative reviews coming from all corners of the spectrum. There were a few that liked it, me included, but the number of supporters was greatly outnumbered.

Now, here we are, it has been less than four months since that fateful day. The theatrical flame has long since burned out and the gift-giving season is upon us. It is the perfect time to remind everyone of this bloody, foul-mouthed, white trash affair and just how great a gift it would make. Right? I know everyone I know wants a little piece of Myers in their stocking.

I am sure that you are all already familiar with the story of Michael Myers and the night that he came home. The 1978 film, directed by John Carpenter, chronicles the night that Myers escapes from the asylum that had been his home since he was a young boy, a boy that snapped and murdered most of his family (well, just his sister in the original film). He returns to Haddonfield and proceeds to go on a murderous rampage while Dr. Loomis, who worked with him for years, pursues him in an effort to cut his freedom short.

Rob Zombie's "re-imagining" amps up the violence and the bloodshed. He takes the suspense out of the shadows, shining a light into the darkness. In other words, nothing is subtle in this version. Is that a bad thing? No. It is just different. Is it perfect? Again, the answer is no. Of course, I am not sure there is a perfect slasher film; although, the original Halloween does come pretty darn close. Despite its failings, Rob Zombie's take does have something fresh to offer. His take on the tale takes the seeds planted in the original (and in a couple of the sequels) and builds upon them effectively creating a new universe to play in.

The first thing that Zombie did was take the idyllic suburban neighborhood of the original and introduced an element of white trash. While this film doesn't build upon the original, it does signal that a new universe is being forged, an alternate universe where middle class meets white trash. It is a distinctly Zombie flavor that has permeated all three of his projects thus far.

The biggest addition would have to be the first act, which centers on Michael as a young boy. In the original film this was just a small part in the beginning, concluding with Michael murdering his sister. Zombie adds context to the boy's life. Rather than being a boy that randomly snapped, he is portrayed as a child living in an abusive family, bullied at school, and even into animal mutilation. He is shown to be someone pushed to the edge and then shoved off into the abyss of pure evil. However, he has not lost all of his humanity. The driving thrust of this new Michael is not the motion of his killing knife, but his attachment to his baby sister. His overriding drive is to protect her at all costs, to the end of killing any threat.

The other big addition would be the meaning of the mask. It is not just an uber-creepy look anymore. Throughout the first portion of the film there is a lot of focus on masks. The hiding of his face is an important part of Michael. He has a desire to cover his ugliness, when he puts on a mask he becomes someone other than himself. It hides the real person, freeing him from any culpability for his actions. We all know that isn't true, but in his warped mind it allows him to do what the real Michael cannot.

You can read my full review of the theatrical version here.

The DVD arrives in two flavors, the original theatrical cut and a new unrated cut that runs 12 minutes longer than the theatrical. Besides the obvious length differences, there are a couple of complete omissions from the theatrical cut and one sequence that has been completely replaced.
Beware of spoilers!

The biggest difference would be Michael's escape. The theatrical version has Michael being led out for a transfer by security guards, who he overpowers, kills, and makes his escape. In the unrated cut, the rape scene that appeared in the leaked workprint has been put back in. So, instead of being led out by guards, a pair of night guards bring another patient into Michael's cell and proceed to do the deed, unnoticed until a mask is touched, then all hell breaks loose. The theatrical escape is not found among the deleted scenes.

Among the other instantly noticeable alterations is the inclusion of a number of black and white 16mm clips of young Michael in the asylum. These clips are accompanied by voiceovers by Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis.

The one noticeably omission is the scene with Bill Moseley and other The Devil's Rejects alum. This is a shame, as I liked that brief clip. It is also not found among the deleted scenes.

Also, during the film's climax, it is revealed that Dr. Loomis survived his encounter with Michael and is able to assist Laurie in her escape from the house. Not exactly believable, but it is nice to see the character alive.

There are a number of other changes that are not as instantly recognizable. Among them are a few extended conversations and some added shots of characters walking and such.

So, you are going to have to give some thought to which version you want. I think it really comes down to which escape you prefer. I think I like the theatrical better, although I do like the 16mm bits.

Audio/Video. The tech specs are all quite good. The 5.1 audio is nice and crisp and the anamorphic widescreen image is nicely detailed. Nothing to really complain about.

Extras. In addition to the new cut, the third counting the workprint and theatrical, this is a nicely loaded two disk set.
  • Commentary. The lone extra on disk one is a commentary track with writer/director Rob Zombie. It is a good track with no dead spots. He has plenty of anecdotes about each scene and why he made some of the choices he made. It is definitely worth a listen.
  • Deleted Scenes. These are a number of scenes that are not in either the theatrical nor the Unrated versions. Some of them are kind of good, but mostly they deserve to be left behind. There is optional commentary with Rob Zombie (21 minutes)
  • Alternate Ending. This was the ending from the workprint that features Michael getting shot down by an unknown group of cops. The theatrical ending is much better. (3.5 minutes)
  • Bloopers. This is your standard reel of flubbed lines. Kind of funny but nothing all that special. (10 minutes)
  • The Many Masks of Michael Myers. This is a brief look at the importance of the mask and how much effort they spent on recreating the mask, respecting its significance. (6.5 minutes)
  • Re-Imagining Halloween. This is broken up into a few segments. It covers a lot of subjects ranging from Rob Zombie's initial concept and his contacting John Carpenter, also production design, special effects, props and more are discussed.(19 minutes)
  • Meet the Cast. This is a nice featurette. It delves into the importance of finding the right people and how he cast all of the primary characters. (18 minutes)
  • Casting Sessions. These are video recordings of the main cast members when they first came in to audition. Always worth seeing to watch as they try to win the part. (30 minutes)
  • Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test. This is a filmed test reading of Scout as she tries out for the role of Laurie Strode. These things are always interesting, seeing how they approach their characters this early in the process. (8 minutes)
  • Sneak Peaks. Trailers for Death Proof, Planet Terror, 1408, and The Furnace.
  • Theatrical Trailer. Exactly what it says it is.

Bottomline. I like this movie. It is in your face, brutal, and evil. Rob Zombie's film stands on its own as a successful film, not interfering with the legacy of Carpenter's classic original. If you like your movies a little to the gritty side this could be for you. Just remember that this is not attempting to supplant the original, just provide an alternate way of telling the tale.



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