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'Halloween' remake is a suspense killer

There was a fair amount that director John Carpenter didn't show in the original "Halloween" back in 1978. Like blood. Or much of the back story of super-slasher Michael Myers. The creative raison d'etre behind Rob Zombie's new remake - the franchise's ninth installment - seemingly was to dish up heaping helpings of both. If only he hadn't killed virtually all of the suspense in the process.

The movie's first half is devoted to establishing 10-year-old Michael (Daeg Faerch) as the product of a gleefully profane, '70s trash household headed up by a stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie, the director's wife) and leering, boozy dad (fellow Zombie stock player William Forsythe). The killer-to-be is a pudgy, greasy-haired misfit who gets pushed a little too far at home and school, and soon snaps despite an interventional warning from granola-crunchy shrink Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, half-heartedly channeling Donald Pleasence).

As with Zombie's two previous schlock horror features, "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects," the atmosphere here isn't so much tense and jolting as unnervingly weird and gory, but it's effective. When Michael wordlessly, expressionlessly decides over a snack of candy corn that it's time to get killin', a fresh layer of dread gets troweled onto Loomis's familiar words about the boy's psychopathic amorality. For all its stylistic flair, the original did flout a few rules from the "show me, don't tell me" school of narrative, and here Zombie makes amends.

Cut to 17 years down the road, and a more straightforward re-creation of Myers (now played by hulking wrestler Tyler Mane of "X-Men") returning home to stalk teen babysitter Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, taking over from Jamie Lee Curtis) and her libidinous girlfriends (including Danielle Harris, a childhood vet of the fourth and fifth films). So much for those opening, knowing echoes of the original - Carpenter's toy-keyboard theme, a snippet of Blue Oyster Cult, or the creepy clown guise that preceded Myers's Shatner mask. In the second half, the tribute just turns slavish, with the beats largely lifted from Carpenter's script, right down to the girls' painfully stilted dialogue. There's a bit more method to the madness this time: It's plainly spelled out that Myers is stalking good girl Laurie because she's his baby sister, a pertinent story point that the convoluted "Halloween" sequels only retroactively introduced. But as a sensory experience, the redo is flat. Even if giving audiences a start were Zombie's strength, fans already know when the scares are coming.

Will a new generation of teen younguns who've got no viewing history with the franchise be more freaked? Possibly. But it seems telling that at the screening this reviewer caught, the last preview trailer declared, "If it's Halloween, it must be. . . 'Saw.' " Maybe Michael Myers really can't go home again.

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Halloween

Written and directed by: Rob Zombie

Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Daeg Faerch, and Tyler Mane

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Boston, and suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: R (strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

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