Starring Malcolm McDowell, Daeg Faerch, and Sheri Moon Zombie. Rated 18A.

Considering what writer-director Rob Zombie does with one of the most iconic characters in the history of horror films, traditionalists will be outraged by Halloween. For the first time–and yes, that includes the 1978 John Carpenter original, as well as its seven sequels–we learn what turns little Mikey Meyers into the most remorseless slicing-dicing machine this side of that guy in the hockey mask from Camp Crystal Lake. Those who believe indestructible killers are most interesting when we know nothing about them will be disappointed that Zombie gives us a full psychological profile. But give him points for having the balls to mess with the original. As anyone who remembers Tom Savini's note-for-note remake of Night of the Living Dead will testify, there's no point tackling a classic unless you're going to make it your own.

Zombie opens his Halloween in Haddonfield, Illinois, a town where, despite the Norman Rockwell–esque homes, every second resident is meaner and uglier than the one from his 2003 debut, House of 1000 Corpses. Stuck in a house with the worst white trash this side of The Jerry Springer Show is 10-year-old Michael Meyers, played with an engaging mix of ground-down vulnerability and detached creepiness by Daeg Faerch. The constant barrage of verbal abuse at home, coupled with the nonstop bullying at school, eventually causes him to reach for the carving knife.

Meyers's first Halloween rampage is over almost before the credits roll in Carpenter's original. Here the preteen killer's back story takes a full hour to unfold, following him from confused kid into a hulking, mute behemoth who's famously more bogeyman than man. It's this back story that proves Zombie is finally aspiring to something more than the torture porn that marked 1000 Corpses and its follow-up, The Devil's Rejects. Making Halloween something of a B-film horror rarity, we actually care about its characters, our sympathy springing from a genuinely concerned therapist (a ravaged-looking Malcolm McDowell) and Sheri Moon Zombie's surprisingly nuanced performance as Meyers's traumatized mother.

All that goodwill starts to evaporate once our no-longer-little monster returns to Haddonfield as a bloodthirsty adult. As creative as Zombie is with his buckets of blood–the folks at CSI have nothing on his crime scenes–we've seen this film before. Despite the sexual revolution of Girls Gone Wild, it's the horny teenagers who still find themselves most likely to get the sharp end of the Henckel. For that reason alone, traditionalists will be pleased. For the rest of us, although Zombie's remake falls just short of matching the original, at least it erases the stench of Halloween: Resurrection.