You're a hip director of horror films. You rule the facial-skin-mask-and-severed-limb ghetto, but you crave...respectability. And so, if you're Rob Zombie, the former demon metal rock god–turned–cult wizard of gore, you follow your two mini-hits, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, with a reverently ''ambitious'' remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. If you're James Wan, who made the original Saw, you direct Death Sentence, a lavishly mounted gloss on the classic Death Wish. It says much about today's movie culture that both of these new films could pass for prestige bids.
Before retracing the original Halloween more or less knife thrust by knife thrust (this time, though, Michael Myers is a towering long-haired giant, played by Tyler Mane), Zombie's version offers an extended prologue that fills in the formative days of Myers' psychosis. The movie gives him a white-trash sadist stepfather William Forsythe, snarling at his ''bitch'' stepson like a reject from The Devil's Rejects and then invites us to peer into the eyes of the twisted boy (Daeg Faerch), a baby hippie who turns Charles Manson. Zombie's identification with the killers in his films is the creepiest thing about them, but that's a mixed blessing: This Myers is more problem child than bogeyman. Zombie's embroidery of the 1978 Halloween never quite revives its fear factor.
That said, it's a decent diversion next to the ludicrous Death Sentence, in which Kevin Bacon's mild insurance man confronts the murder of his teenage son by killing the son's attacker, which brings the rest of the hooligan's gang after him which forces him to go on a rampage, becoming as big and bad a skinhead mutha as any of them. The morality of revenge is barely at issue in a movie that pushes the plausibility of revenge right over a cliff. Halloween: B- Death Sentence: D