Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” : Radical Departure Or Stylish Rehash?

Posted: August 29, 2009 in movies
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"Halloween II" Movie Poster

"Halloween II" Movie Poster

Okay, time for your host to put on his horror-geek hat here.

As any (assuming there are, in fact, any) regular reader of this blog will no doubt no by now, I’m a huge horror fan. And slasher pics are among my very favorite horror movies, I grew up on this stuff and still love it—always will. And my favorite slasher of them all is Michael Myers. Oh, sure, Jason and Freddy are cool in their own way, but for me, Michael will always be the man. I can watch John Carpenter’s original “Halloween,” as well as the original “Halloween 2,” anytime and be reasonably entertained. I even like a couple of the admittedly lamer sequels, particularly “Halloween 4” and “H20.” On the whole, I enjoyed  Rob Zombie’s first “Halloween” remake, as well. It didn’t have the originality and edge-of-your-seat tension of Carpenter’s movie, but then, I wasn’t expecting it to. I thought filling in Michael’s backstory was interesting, his white-trash upbringing fit the overall trajectory of the character well, and the idea of making him a hulking giant was terrific. Was it a classic in its own right? Probably not. But it was a more-than-respectful “re-imagining” and a pretty solid horror flick on its own merits. Truth be told, if all remakes were this good, then I and my fellow horror aficionados wouldn’t have too much to bitch about—apart from Hollywood being out of new ideas, of course.

So when word got out that the success at the box office of Zombie’s first film had spurned on a sequel, I wasn’t upset in the least. And when word subsequently got out that said sequel would not really be a “remake” of the original “Halloween 2” in any way, shape, or form, but rather an original take on Michael’s second outing, I was actually quite pleased. New ground for an “old standby” character and all that. Sounds good to me. At that point, I shut off the flow of information and figured I’d be much better off not cruising the internet for “spoilers” or any other purported “inside information,” at least half of which would prove to be pure bullshit, anyway. I would content myself to wait and see the final product. Yes, I knew a fair amount of people were excited, a fair amount were concerned, and a fair amount were prepared to hate anything and everything about it before even seeing it, but that’s just par for the course. Apart from seeing a few commercials and previews, I arrived at the theater with no preconceived ideas about what this film was going to be like — which, as it turns out, is probably the perfect frame of mind in which to see it.

Rob Zombie is heavily stylized filmmaker, that much is for certain, and in truth his first “Halloween” is probably the most straight-forward thing he’s done in purely stylistic terms, with few if any of the obvious homages to 70s drive-in horror that populated “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” but it has to be said right off the bat that “Halloween 11” is as stylistically different to its predecessor as “Rejects” was to “Corpses.” Almost jarringly so, in fact. I can only imagine what watching both his “Halloween”s back-to-back will be like. This second film looks almost nothing like the first, with a very somber and muted color palette throughout, a shift in setting , largely, away from the small town of Haddonfield and into the bleak late autumn/early winter of the rural countryside outside of it, and a darkly ehtereal, dreamlike quality to much of the proceedings that’s 180 degrees part from the stark realism of the first. Lots of sequences have a rather unfortunate “music video” feel to them, as well, although that gets easier to take as the film progresses.

Make no mistake, “Halloween II” is a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve, and the most prominent (and obvious) of those is, believe it or not, David Lynch. The first scene is —MAJOR SPOILER ALERT — an extended dream sequence, probably the longest in a film since “Mulholland Drive,” that plays out rather straightforwardly (or so it seems, I should say), but when it’s revealed that it is, in fact, a dream, after you get over the initial groan of disappointment, you realize that Zombie has actually sprinkled several clever clues throughout that could have given the whole thing away earlier had you been thinking along those lines. I’m looking forward to seeing it again just to see if I can pick up on any more hints in this rather riveting , imaginatively-constructed sequence of unreal events. This sets the stage for numerous dream sequences, most involving Michael’s dead mother, a younger version of Michael himself, and a white horse that could have come straight out of “Twin Peaks.”

When we get into the story proper, we find that the film does not pick up immediately after the first, as originally thought, but that it’s actually a year later.  Michael’s body, of course, was never found, and so while the whole world believes him to be dead, his (still-unbeknownst-to-her) sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) still doesn’t have any “closure” from the murder of her adoptive parents at his hands and her subsequent confrontation with him, and so she’s become an anti-depressant-popping, therapy-attending, nightmare-plagued young lady on the edge of all-out insanity, trying her best to cope with the help of her friends and the family of the local sheriff (Brad Dourif), who have taken her in to live with them.

Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), Michael’s former therapist, has, for his part, become a total sell-out showbiz phony, capitalizing on his notoriety to pimp another book about Michael that is, at best, unsympathetic toward the plight of others who were in his murderous orbit. It’s in the pages of his latest cash-in true-crime expose, in fact, that —SECOND MAJOR SPOILER ALERT—Laurie learns she is, in fact, our favorite psycho’s sister.

Micheal’s not finished with his family business, of course, and the main thrust of the film’s plot involves, unsurprisingly, his efforts to kill anyone and everyone that stands between himself and his baby sister. And the killings are seriously brutal this time around. Zombie doesn’t spare anything in the gore and savagery department, nosiree. Even your humble host was taken aback on more than one occasion by the sheer brutality of some of the slayings.

One big plus this second effort has going for it is that many of Michael’s appearances-out-of-the-blue are much more surprising this time around even though, of course, you see them coming a mile away. When the deputy assigned to protect the sheriff’s daughter at home steps off the porch to have a cigarette, for instance, you know our guy Myers is going to appear behind him at any second, but I’ll be damned if you still don’t jump a little in your seat when it happens anyway. This ability to make the absolutely predictable still at least a little bit surprising is testament to the fact that Zombie has really grown as a filmmaker in terms of his ability to milk the dramatic tension out of a situation.

The other artist involved who has grown, in this case  by leaps and bounds,  is Scout Taylor-Compton, who didn’t do much of anything to impress as Laurie in the first film and turned in the ultimate absolutely-adequate-yet-nothing-special performance in the first film, but really carries the day here. This is her story every bit as much as Michael’s, in fact even moreso, and she does a terrific job of conveying everything her character is going through physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s truly a star-making performance and she’s got a bright future, I would think, both within and outside of the horror genre.

The story’s trajectory and its various character arcs are all pretty standard—you know exactly who’s going to die the minute they pop up on screen, and you know how things are going to end for Michael, Lauri, and Loomis long before it all plays out, but hey—that’s no major sin in and of itself, provided that the path they take to getting there is an interesting one, which for the most part it is. There’s very little new territory staked out here, but Zombie manages to cover old ground in, primarily, a satisfying and interesting way. And hey, cool cameos along the way from people you haven’t seen in forever like Margot Kidder, Howard Hesseman, and “Weird” Al Yankovic don’t hurt matters any, either. And while the ending itself is, again, straight-up “Twin Peaks” material,  it fits in pretty naturally with all that’s gone before.

All in all, what we’ve got here is not so different than the original. A story that we can pretty much predict right down the line but that manages to tell itself in an interesting and somewhat stylistically diverse way. Zombie isn’t taking us anywhere we haven’t been before, but the map to getting there sure looks a lot different.

For that reason alone, I think this movie is going to divide the horror-fan community, much as the first one did—heck, even more. People expecting a movie similar in tone and content to the previous installment won’t be disappointed, but people expecting it to look and feel essentially the same, as well, probably will be. And for those expecting a faithful remake of the original “Halloween 2″—well, they’re out of business from the get-go.

Rob Zombie’s second”Halloween” offering is essentially the same game, with the same result, played by different rules. If you’re a fan of the genre, and of the “halloween” franchise in particular, that’s not such a bad thing. Something a bit more groundbreaking would have been nice, sure, but showing an old “friend” doing the same things in a new light isn’t the worst way to spend a couple hours and a few bucks.

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