Well, that's what you get when your writer-director is a horror geek first and a storyteller second. Halloween 9 was written, directed and produced by a horror nut, one Rob Zombie. (Okay, yes, Halloween 9 wasn't the title on the posters, but you can't tell me "Rob Zombie" was on anyone's birth certificate either.) You can tell he loves his job. This film is in love with its icons, with Michael Myers and to a lesser extent Dr Loomis.
The problem with this is that it overlooks the victims. Once past the extended prologue of Michael's childhood and incarceration, this film has the most forgettable teenagers in the series. Even its Laurie Strode is a nonentity. Jamie Lee Curtis, you died in vain. I don't blame the actress, though. The film just doesn't give us a chance to get to know her, which means we don't care what happens to her either. I liked the first half of this movie, but in the end it got boring. With no emotional connection to the people on screen, none of it means anything.
Furthermore, what little we see is, um, stylised. I've been told that Rob Zombie's three films to date all feel the same, which I can believe. He creates wonderful slimeballs. When portraying a world of vile trash-talking repulsive human snakes, he's a phenomenon. Fuck bitch fuck tits flappy ass tits skullfuck fuck, what a charming family. Similarly his teenage bullies are the most ghastly apologies for human beings. Give Zombie a world of porn and strippers and he's in his element. However he's out of place in the middle-class suburbia of Haddenfield, in which the bad language and disturbingly dysfunctional behaviour have merely been toned down. It's as if he can't imagine any other way for human beings to interact. Couldn't they have stopped swearing? Please? The 17-year-old girls are like the worst kind of sniggering filthy-minded 7-year-olds, while the 7-year-olds talk like college professors. Maybe that's realistic. I don't know what it's like these days in American schools, but I do know that I didn't like these people and I didn't want to spend time with them. Sometimes this is deliberate, but sometimes it really hurts the movie.
Of course sometimes it's quite funny to see Michael killing these folks, such as the truck driver who thinks he's Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction. However it's hard to feel scared for someone you can't wait to see dead.
All this gives rise to the strange phenomenon of a horror film that's not even trying to be frightening. There's no suspense. Revulsion, sure. This is easily the goriest Halloween film, not to mention having more nudity than all the others put together. This series never really stood out on those counts anyway. Here however we have lovingly filmed ultra-violence in a universe where you'd think teenage girls only exist to have sex and die. Rob Zombie adores all that. He's not creating those scenes for their emotional effect within the context of a story about some characters, but because he thinks video nasties are cool and he wants to have their babies. Casual butchery is fun. Skulls are made for cracking, eye sockets are just waiting for a thumb and what good's a throat without a kitchen knife in it? Mentally disturbed asylum patients? Hey, let's rape 'em! Best of all though is Michael Myers, who's the only reason to make movies.
Surprisingly, in some ways I actually appreciate all that. This version of Michael Myers is interesting and shows stuff I'm glad made it into a Halloween film. I've seen the first half of this film accused of trying to explain away Myers with trite psychological explanations and embryonic serial killer behaviour, but I think that's a misreading. Zombie's not explaining anything. It's noticeable that his only attempt to do so ("it hides my ugliness") is so dire that I can only regard it as the unreliable reporting of a madman. No, Zombie's merely expanding on what was merely a throwaway teaser in the original Halloween, or indeed only its TV version in the case of Loomis's counselling sessions. He's not telling us anything. He's showing us, which is much more interesting. I liked the dual personalities that Michael exhibits, thanks to those masks. ("I didn't do that.") I like his bizarre obsessive behaviour. I really liked finally getting to see his 15 years of counselling, which I'd always had trouble believing could have even taken place. (How do you psychoanalyse a mute?) I also liked our peeks into Michael's likes and dislikes. He loves his mother, which is surprising in someone who's always had an, um, troubled attitude towards his relatives. On the other hand, he dislikes rudeness and bad behaviour. (Of course he'll kill nice people too, but at least they weren't asking for it.)
The changes made sense to me too. The actor behind the mask this time is colossal, more gorilla than man. It's a shock at first, but this is the first time anyone's even tried to justify Michael's superpowers. Hitherto he'd presumably been shrugging off bullets because the fairies loved him, or maybe the magic of childlike innocence in his heart or something. However with this man-monster, we buy it without question. There's another innovation in that this Michael doesn't always kill his victims. He still attacks them and inflicts injuries, but then for some reason doesn't finish the job and just wanders off.
In fairness I should note that many people seem to have hated all that. For them, Michael Myers should be a null, an inhuman Shape who exists only to kill and is frightening for precisely that reason. They don't want to see his childhood and get insights into his psychology. I see what they mean, but personally I disagree. I think that across the series we've actually had quite a few peeks into the mind of Myers and that he even got odd childlike moments back in John Carpenter's original. To me he's never been a null. Those little hints of personality are what to me have made him intriguing and I actively enjoyed seeing all that fleshed out here.
I should also point out that this is the unrated DVD version, which might perhaps be closer to Rob Zombie's original workprint than the theatrical version with its reshot scenes which he eventually agreed on with the studio. That's mildly interesting, at least.
The film's at its best in the first half. Zombie's in his comfort zone and it's got so much more life. The sleaze makes him feel at home and he's got his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie (!), playing Michael's stripper mum. (That's "stripper" in the professional rather than amateur sense.) We even get some characters who could be mistaken for humans, such as the gnarled school principal and Malcolm McDowell's Dr Loomis. I liked him. He's not as good as Pleasence, but he doesn't screw up the doom-laden theatrical warnings and that's what really counts. Mind you, I didn't see the point in Loomis announcing that he was stopping Michael's counselling sessions. It feels like a cliche and it makes no difference to anything. I also didn't think the transition to those counselling sessions at the loony bin quite worked. We receive the information through a TV news report, but I'd have preferred just to see it. Give us a long establishing shot of Loomis and Myers together. Looking at each other. It's not difficult. We'd have worked it out.
Meanwhile Child-Michael is bloody creepy in that clown mask, although he looks ridiculous in the trademark William Shatner one. It's adult-sized. It's too big for him. Oh, and why on earth does his final version have scars? It's a rubber mask!
There's a funny bit with inappropriate babysitter behaviour. Its remake (spit) nature also makes less of a difference than you'd think, since the only constant of these films has always been Myers and he's pretty much his usual self. He's got the mask and everything. We just see a bit more of him than usual. We even get a little of John Carpenter's original theme and Mister Sandman, the latter mysteriously as a rubbish cover version. In addition Danielle Harris (Jamie in Halloweens 4 & 5) is back as one of the identikit teens. I really liked her then, but I'd have been more excited about her return had I been able to tell with more confidence which one of them was her. The same goes for all the other cameos from horror icons who incidentally also showed up in Rob Zombie's previous film, The Devil's Rejects.
Despite its problems, I enjoyed this movie. However I had to put myself in the shoes of a monster to get there and this seems to have been a step too far for many people. If you're a very specific sub-species of Halloween fanboy, you might like this. No promises. This film falls down on various fundamental grounds (not scary, eventually boring, victims who are annoying and/or nonentities) but on the upside there's an all-new and much better mini-film tacked on to the front of the uncomprehending formula remake. That's more than you can say for quite a few films in this series.