Director Rob Zombie pulls a clever sort of bait-and-switch with his "re-imagining" of John Carpenter's seminal 1978 horror hit "Halloween." He opens by introducing a family so brutally loathsome that viewers are almost obligated to hope the slash-'em-up action will start soon. He promptly obliges with a blood bath, as grade-schooler Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) hacks up his family and gets shipped off to an institution under the care of a doctor played by Malcolm McDowell.
Sixteen years later, Myers -- now a hellishly strong, mute behemoth -- breaks free on Halloween and starts killing again. But this time, Zombie sets him loose on a suburb full of adorable kids and their idealized parents. It's as if he's inviting his audience to fully consider the nature of their violent desires and question their relationship to slasher-movie characters: They're all fodder, so why is it OK to cheer for one's death and another's survival?
Unfortunately, the slyness stops there. Zombie sticks to Carpenter's mythology, his story line and even some of his specific sequences, but expands greatly on Myers' back story, delving into his horrible home life with a stripper mom (Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon Zombie), bratty older sister and grotesquely abusive stepfather. The film's first hour is methodical and somewhat engrossing, with Zombie getting a lot of mileage out of Faerch's innocent/demonic performance and all the creepy mask imagery.
But eventually, the action devolves into the usual nightmarish slasher plod, as Myers (now portrayed by Tyler Mane) dons his signature mask and shrugs off knives and bullets to chop up some sexually active, topless teens and pursue shrieking good girl Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, in the Jamie Lee Curtis role). It's a more polished, high-fidelity version of a story that's played out on screen many times since 1978, but once Zombie runs out of subtext, he's right back to the same old slasher text: "Blood. Guts. The end."
"Halloween." MPAA rating: R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Opened Friday in general release.