Posts Tagged ‘slasher movie’

"Silet Night, Deadly Night Part 2" Movie Poster

So, I’m not sure what happened, but in 1987 a couple of the executive producers who retained the rights to the whole Silent Night, Deadly Night concept (and I use that term loosely) decided the initial controversy had blown over safely enough to the point where now a sequel was not only possible, but flat-out desirable, so they formed e a one-off partnership called “Silent Night Releasing” and set about hustling up $250,00 to make a quick, cheap sequel to a film nobody was exactly clamoring to see a sequel for . And sure enough, it did, in fact, turn out to be a good thing that this particular horror property was vaulted into “franchise” territory. But not because of this one.

Even for slasher junkies and horror completists out there, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is a tough slog. A very tough slog. First off we’re introduced to one Ricky Caldwell, brother of Billy (who funnily enough wasn’t mentioned in the first movie). Ricky’s 18 now and he’s headed out into the world after spending the last few years in a mental hospital. Ricky grew up in the same Catholic orphanage as his brother, but his elder sibling’s crime spree as a psycho Santa, and his subsequent murder, sent Ricky over the brink. But he’s cured now. Maybe.

Well, of course not. If he were, in fact, cured, we wouldn’t have much of a movie here, now would we?  And as it is, we don’t have much of a movie anyway.

Now, if you liked the first Silent Night, Deadly Night flick, you might like the first half of this one — that’s because damn near the first 45 minutes of this movie’s just-shy-of-90-minutes runtime is a flashback to the previous movie! I mean, I know they had to refresh the audience’s memory a bit because it had been a few years, but come on. the thing is, though, that flashback stuff is the best thing on offer here, because after it’s all done, all you’ve got is Ricky deciding pretty quickly to don the Santa suit and start killing. He kills some folks, and utilizies some Christmas-themed props, like a string of tree lights, in doing so, and then he gets shot by the cops.

Seriously. That’s it. End of story. This movie’s an (extremely) extended recap of the first flick topped off with less than 40 minutes of by-the-numbers slasher carnage. His ultimate target, as with his brother, is the cruel Mother Superior. There’s absolutely, positively nothing new here. The director was some guy named Lee harry who’s primarily worked as a B-movie and TV show editor. He brings even less style to the proceedings than Charles Sellier did to the first one. And, as with the first one, there are no “stars” worth mentioning (okay, you could argue that Linnea Quigley’s appearance in the first flick would have been worth at least a mention on my part, but come on — sew as in every horror movie back then).

As I mentioned in the previous review, this is available on DVD from Anchor Bay on a twin bill with its cinematic progenitor, and the anamorphic widescreen picture and mono sound are both nice. The only extra’s the trailer. It’s also available as a stand-alone release from the fine folks at Flesh Wound Video, complete with a commentary, so it must have had an “official” solo release somewhere in the world at some point, but not here in good ol’ Region 1.

I wish there was more worth saying about this movie, I really do, because I’m covering them all and should really go into detail, shouldn’t I? But in all seriousness, I already have. I’ve told you everything you need to know about Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 — there’s literally nothing more to say about it (or at least nothing interesting, at any rate). You can skip it as long as you know, going into the third installment, that we’re dealing with Ricky, not Billy, from here on out.

And that about wraps things up here (hell, no “about” is even necessary, that really does wrap things up here, completely and entirely). Let’s move on to the next one, shall we?

"Silent Night, Deadly Night" Movie Poster

Well, I guess first off the bat let me wish a very happy holiday season, whatever your celebration(s) of choice may be, to any and all TFG readers out there. I apologize for having been absent the past few weeks, but a spate of computer troubles finally convinced Mr. and Mrs. Trash Film that it was time to retire our seven-year-old laptop and go out and treat ourselves to a shiny new one as our Christmas gift from us to us, and so I as I sit here writing this I’m on our brand-spanking-new HP Pavilion model whatever-the-fuck-it’s-called-for-$1,000 laptop computer that so far we’re very pleased with. It’s got all the bells and whistles you could ever need and even more that you absolutely never will, and so the movie reviews should continue on here, barring my occasional bouts of laziness, well into the foreseeable future. But enough of this technical stuff, on with the show!

The time of year being what it is and all, I figured it’s as opportune an occasion as any to take a look back at that seminal Santa-slasher series from the 1980s/early 90s, the much-maligned -at-the-time-but-needless-to-say-cult-favorite-these-days Silent Night, Deadly Night opus. We’ll start at the beginning, as is the norm, and work our way up (or down, depending on the trajectory you see these films as having taken) from there.

Take your mind back, if you will (and if you were there) to Christmas, 1984. While big-budget holiday blockbusters like Beverly Hills Cop, 2010, and Dune ruled at the box office, a little horror flick from the nascent-at-the-time TriStar studio with a budget of around $750,000 got the yokels so riled up (thanks in large part to its lurid TV advertising campaign that scared the living shit out of little kids across the country with its depiction of an axe-wielding Santa) that it garnered picket lines at hundreds of theaters nationwide, spurred a national boycott of TriStar’s parent company, Mitsubishi, and eventually engendered a heated campaign of “concerned” parents demanding it be pulled immediately from distribution (a campaign that, shamefully, some Hollywood “A-listers” even signed onto, but more on that when we get to Part 5). After its first week in wide release, a good number of the movie houses it was playing at pulled the flick voluntarily, and after two weeks, the studio buckled under the pressure and yanked it from distribution altogether, immediately recalling all prints. the do-gooders had won — but not before TriStar netted a healthy $2.5 million take on their baby, no doubt assisted in large part due to the controversy itself, which got plenty of people up off their sofas (and their asses) and out to the theater to see if all the fuss was really warranted.

It wasn’t, of course — Silent Night, Deadly Night is pretty much a run-of-the-mill slasher as far as the blood-‘n-guts quotient is concerned, the only notable difference here is that instead of wearing a Halloween costume, a clown suit, or a hockey mask, our erstwhile killer is adorned in a Santa suit.There’s nothing particularly stylish or even different here, either — director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was a veteran, primarily, of TV specials and movies of the week, and more often than not serves as producer rather than director (he’s given us such notable television masterpieces as The Capture of Grizzly Adams and George W. Bush : Faith In The White House). So It’s not like we’re looking at a particularly visionary take on the whole psycho-killer thing here.

The plot is as by-the-numbers as the direction, as well. Little Billy goes to visit his grandpa who suffers from dementia one Christmas eve, grandpa warns him that Santa Claus is evil, and sure enough, on the way home, the family station wagon breaks down and some drunken guy in a Santa suit kills his dad and rapes and kills his mom while little Billy silently watches on, cowering in the back seat, unnoticed by the inebriated St. Nick. Billy is then sent to a Catholic orphanage where he has a shitty childhood and is tormented by the sadistic Mother Superior who beats him for things like, you know, spying through the door keyhole on one of the pretty young nuns getting fucked by her boyfriend.

When it’s time to go out into the world at age 18, Billy lands a gig as a general menial laborer/stockroom schmuck at a store called Ira’s Toys, where he develops a crush on a cute cashier girl who’s also being pursued by the store owner’s yuppie-in-training college-age son, etc. Then Christmas happens, and when the hired St. Nick calls in sick, Billy is forced, despite his rather obvious reservations, to don the red-and-white gear and beard, and after hours, at the store Christmas party, Billy, still in the Santa suit despite the fact his mind is cracking under the strain, gets a few drinks in him, grabs an axe, and soon Ira’s Toys is going to be needing a whole new staff. Except Ir’s not doing any hiring because he’s dead, too.

Billy then ventures forth into the Christmas eve — ummmm  —- night (sorry, I realize that’s technically redundant), kills some teenagers partying and making out in a house while their parents are away (and points here for a genuinely cool impaling-by-deer-antlers scene), and then makes his way to the orphanage where he was brutalized and traumatized (or, to put it more politely, “raised”) as a boy to exact his ultimate revenge on the Mother superior and all her ilk. The little fact that they happen to be handing out toys to the orphans when he shows up isn’t gonna stop him, either — Billy’s out for blood!

So there you have it. Like I said, nothing new under the sun here. But that doesn’t mean that Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t an effective slasher flick — truth be told it is. It’s just not an original one in the same sense that 1980’s Christmas Evil, which we took a look at here at TFG at about this same time last year, was. It’s  certainly solid and entertaining and well worth your time, to be sure. in short, you’ll get a kick out of it.But you’re also going to be left seriously wondering what all the fuss was about.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is available on DVD from Anchor Bay in a couple of different versions, either as a stand-alone release or paired up on a double-bill with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. Both feature nicely-done anamorphic widescreen digitally-remastered transfers and mono audio tracks, and both are extremely sparse on the extras front — the trailer’s in there and that’s about it, barring a text history on the stand-alone version. the double-feature edition would normally be the way to go here, but as it’s out of print and sells on Amazon marketplace for about $80 minimum, you might want to go with the “solo” disc. Or, hell, you might just want to rent it.

At the end of the day, Silent Night, Deadly Night is, above all else, a triumph of marketing. if it weren’t for the TV ads with the killer Santa, this movie never would have garnered the buzz it did, never would have been prematurely pulled from theaters, and never would have made a couple million bucks and spawned a franchise. The Moral Majority-types who acted as its opponents were, in reality, its best friends. the studio couldn’t have asked for better free publicity. And frankly the whole sordidly entertaining episode just goes to show the hypocrisy of the part-time zealots out there — throw movie after movie filled to the brim with violent and sensationalistic brutality out there and no one says a word. But put the violently sensationalistic brutal killer in a Santa costume, and force parents all over to explain to their kids that there’s no such thing as Jolly Old St. Nicholas before they’re good and ready to, and suddenly everybody’s up in arms. They say that every society gets the villain it deserves, but frankly, even though we’ve already had real-life bogeymen like Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez, etc., I don’t think the wretchedly hypocritical, conveniently self-righteous American public has received the kind of amazingly evil, dark-mirror-image-of-itself villain it truly deserves quite yet. When whoever that may be does, in fact, emerge and truly terrorizes American society on a core level — when somebody comes forward and gives us a taste of our own wretched medicine, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Original "Halloween" Movie Poster

Well, hey, why not?

Okay, I admit, reviewing John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher classic Halloween might be the most obvious thing in the world to do at this time of year, but maybe it was so obvious you didn’t see it coming. Whatever the case may be, my point here is not to either surprise or bore you with this selection for the 2010 Halloween 12-pack, but to convince you to watch this movie again if it’s been awhile. It shouldn’t prove too difficult a task, seeing as how it’s showing on half the cable channels in the universe these days, but if you want the full, unedited, un-bleeped-out version, it’s also available on demand on most cable systems this month, and of course it’s been released on DVD several times over (this reviewer humbly suggests that you go for the Anchor Bay “Divimax” 25th Anniversary 2-disc edition — the widescreen anamorphic transfer is superb, it features either a 2.0 stereo track or a terrific 5.1 surround mix for the audio, the commentary from Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and co-producer/co-writer Debra Hill is downright enthralling, and the second disc contains the highly informative 87-minute original documentary Halloween : A Cut Above the Rest that’s probably the most thoroughgoing look at the genesis and production of this iconic horror staple ever made, and  an awesome selection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, and promotional and advertising artwork, to boot).

In short, there’ simply no excuse for you not to watch this masterpiece in the month of October, so if you haven’t done so yet — why not?

I’m assuming no plot recap is even remotely necessary here, the story is elegant in its simplicity and has been copied by ever slasher franchise and one-off in the thirty-plus years since its arrival on the scene. This is the earliest, and purest, distillation of the slasher-flick formula you’re ever going to find, precisely because there was no formula prior to Halloween, and this ended up being the template that everybody else has followed because, well, it’s downright flawless.

It all started here, folks — the “final girl” (Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, in this case); the “Captain Ahab” figure (Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Samuel Loomis); the silent killer (Michael Myers, of course, portrayed in this first outing by Tony Moran); the teenage cast of victims; the indestructible madman who can’t be killed; the sexually active girls getting killed (usually pretty soon after taking their shirts, at least, off) while the innocent one who maintains (we assume) her virginity survives — everything you know and love (or got sick of) vis-a-vis the slasher genre started right here.

Oh, sure, Bob Clark’s superb Black Christmas beat it into theaters by a few years, but that didn’t really set the mold that would follow and remains more a slasher precursor than an actual prototype, in my view. It may have blazed the trail for  Halloween, but this is the movie that mapped out the territory in no uncertain terms.

And what’s even more impressive than how thoroughly this film masters the big picture, so to speak, is how it hits the ball out of the park on all the smaller counts, as well — whether we’re talking about the pitch-perfect-from-start-to-finish musical score authored by Carpenter himself (the theme tune is the best in movie history with the possible exception of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), or the chillingly basic titles sequence , or Dean Cundey’s amazingly evocative cinematography, Halloween gets all the details right.

This is the movie horror fans in the years prior to 1978 had been waiting their whole lives for, they just didn’t know it yet, and frankly we’re still waiting for anyone to come along and do it better. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you  — my bet is that it won’t be happening anytime soon. The original is still the best, as the old saying goes, and it always will be.

"Hatchet" Movie Poster

“Old School American Horror.”

Shit, that sounds good, doesn’t it? That’s what writer-director  Adam Green’s 2006 indie-horror mini-sensation Hatchet (which has now spawned a sequel that came and went in ultra-limited theatrical release pretty fast, but should be available on DVD in the hopefully-not-too-distant future) promises, and I’m pleased to say that it delivers.

Need some evidence? How about cameos from cult horror icons Robert Englund (as a backwoods redneck), Tony Todd (as a French Quarter witch doctor/tour guide), and Richard Riehle (as a loudmouth tourist/soon-to-be-victim)?

Not enough for ya? How about most people’s favorite Jason, Kane Hodder, as the slasher (or hatcheter) himself, Victor Crowley?

Shit, how about that name — Victor Crowley, that’s got “iconic horror character” written all of it, doesn’t it?

Shit, I can see you’re still not convinced.

How about a healthy serving of bare boobs (not all of which are that great)? How about a simple-ass plot about a dumped-and-heartbroken college schmuck name Ben (Joel Moore) who goes down to Mardi Gras to forget his troubles but can’t get his mind off his ex so he heads out on a guided “haunted bayou” tour with a buddy and ends up hearing about the Crowley legend — the story of a horribly deformed young boy who was protected by his father until the locals came to kill him and Victor’s dad, while trying to save him, accidentally puts a hatchet through his skull — only to find that the legend is real, Victor survived, and now he’s hunting down and killing anybody who comes into his neck of the woods (or, in this case, swamp)?

Still not enough? Dear God you people are tough to please.

Okay, how about awesome effects by none other than John Carl Buechler himself, who also puts in a cameo in the film?

How about a huge body count and gruesome-as-hell deaths?

How about a totally insane non-ending of an ending that rips off both the original Friday the 13th and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the same time?

How about I shut the fuck and you see Hatchet for yourself and come back here later and tell me about how right I was?

Now that sounds like a plan! Hatchet is available in an unrated director’s cut on DVD from Anchor Bay and features a flawless anamorphic widescreen transfer, a terrific 5.1 surround audio mix, and a great commentary by writer-director Green and co-producer Scott Altomare that’s well worth a listen, among assorted other extras. It clocks in at right around 90 minutes just like you’d expect, and while it does nothing — and I do mean nothing — new, that’s sorta the point.

Hatchet isn’t about breaking new ground, defying convention, subverting audience expectations, redefining the slasher genre for a new generation of fans, or any of that shit. Hell, it’s not even trying to be particularly scary, and its tongue is planted firmly in its cheek pretty much the whole way through. It’s more funny than it is frightening, but it never loses sight of what it’s trying to achieve and retains an attitude of playful respect toward all the horror conventions it’s aping throughout.

Simply put,  this flick  is about one thing, and one thing only — delivering the goods. And damn if it doesn’t do that in spades.

Hatchet is the kind of movie that could only be made by hard-core 70s and 80s horror fans, and it’s only made for hard-core 70s and 80s horror fans. If you love Michael, Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy, rest assured you’re gonna love Victor Crowley and Hatchet — and it’s gonna love you right back.

"Quiet Nights Of Blood And Pain" DVD Cover

The “psycho vet” story is an old staple in grindhouse and exploitation filmmaking, and we’ve covered a few of the classics in this genre on this page very blog in the year-and-change we (okay, I)’ve been at it — The Executioner Part II, Combat Shock and Deathdream spring immediately to mind.

Of course, these films and literally dozens of others were about disturbed Viet Nam vets, but given that we’re now involved in not one, but two no-end-in-sight-and-no-way-to-really-win conflicts, and have been mired down in them for a hell of a long time, it’s a wonder that more enterprising young filmmakers haven’t returned to “psycho vet” territory since it seems like it would be pretty fertile ground for them. The “theater” of war may have changed, but the basic premise really hasn’t, sadly, all that much — we’re still fighting for dubious (at best) reasons, our “volunteer” force is composed mostly of people with little or no other economic opportunity, our definition of “victory” seems to be constantly changing, the local populace wants us to get the hell out and had become the primary “enemy” we’re fighting, and the government seems to want to put the whole thing on the backburner and just have all of us out here in medialand forget about it while they keep shoveling more of our tax dollars into the bottomless pit these wars have become.

Oh, and a lot of the men and women who are fortunate enough to get out of the war(s) alive come back severely, and quite understandably, traumatized, if not outright psychologically (and sometimes even physically) broken.

Yes, friends, the United States never fucking learns, and something tells me that in 5 or 10 years’ time we’ll be having this same conversation, only then  the unlucky “winner” of our imperialistic —- uhhmmmm — “attentions” will be Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, or some combination thereof. The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades and all that.

Now, we’ve had our fair share of Afghanistan and Iraq war documentaries, to be sure, and a bunch of dramas, from the exceptional (Brian DePalma’s criminally underrated and nearly-unseen Redacted) to the drearily preachy (In The Valley Of Elah) to the insanely- fetishized -yet-disgustingly-apolitical (The Hurt Locker — wouldn’t you know it won Best Picture). But to date, we haven’t had an Iraq or Afghanistan-themed exploitation picture.

Enter Ohio-based microbudget veteran writer-director Andrew Copp, who’s given us some truly groundbreaking ultra-independent horror flicks like 1998’s The Mutilation Man and 2005’s The Atrocity Circle, to fill this glaring void.

While Copp’s earlier work has been at times almost dizzingly experimental, with Quiet Night of Blood and Pain he (apart from a couple of scenes that diverge into crazed video psychedelia) he pursues a pretty straightforward narrative — William (Loren S. Goins) is a recently-returned Iraq war vet with a severe case of PTSD due to the atrocities he’s committed (while Abu Ghraib isn’t mentioned specifically, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that he was either there or at a similar facility due to his predilection for the kind of zip-tie “handcuffs” we’ve seen in so many of the photos from that testament to the war’s ultimate, and repulsively inhuman, folly), and now that he’s home, he’s continuing his “mission” by taking out the “traitors” and “enemies” in his hometown — anti-war activists, hippies, and other peaceniks of various stripes. He’s egged on in his crusade by his psycho brother (played by Copp himself), a veteran of the first Gulf War (you know, the one we were told “went well”).

Across town, fellow veteran Adrienne (Amanda DeLotelle, the film’s co-producer) is struggling with her own readjustment to civilian life and finds support from Viet Nam vet Ray (played by Ray Freeland) and his Veterans for Peace-type group. One night after a meeting of this support group, Adrienne is set upon by two assailants in an alley, and William, who’s “monitoring” the meeting place of the “subversive” group fends off the attackers before fleeing off into the night himself. He begins to stalk Adrienne and her friends, though, as part of his “bring the war home” pseudo-mission.

William's treatment of John Kerry voters

They’re not the only folks to get his attention, though — one evening he breaks into the home of some people who have a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car and gives ’em the kind of “special treatment” he became so skilled at administering to “enemy combatants” in Iraq, and dispatches a couple of guys selling antiwar titles at their bookstore, as well.   But the more he  keeps tabs on Adrienne and her group, the more he becomes obsessed with wiping out this supposed “fifth column” that’s right in his midst. Needless to say, what follows ain’t gonna be pretty.

If you’re new to microbudget moviemaking, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain may not, in all honesty, be the best place to begin your education. The acting is a mixed bag — Goins is generally superb as William and elicits a sense of controlled-but-seething menace throughout, while Freeland’s characterization of Ray is pretty much rote script-reading. Somewhere in between the two polarities is  DeLotelle’s portrayal of Amanda — she has such an unaffected and minimalist approach to her “acting” (I’m guessing more due to sheer inexperience than any conscious decision-making on her part, but I suppose I could be wrong) that it’s hard to tell whether to call her performance completely unprofessional or amazingly naturalistic. Whatever the reason and whatever the cause, though, it works, so whether that’s by choice or by dint of sheer accident really doesn’t matter much in the end.

Okay, here's some blood --- but there's quiet nights and pain, too

Copp is a skilled director who’s worked with 8mm, 16mm, and video before (this is SOV using a Panasonic DV-30 with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, so it’s presented full-frame), and knows both how to compose shots and stage some pretty sold gore effects. In addition, since he wrote the script himself, he has a keen understanding of its pacing, and he does a pretty damn masterful job of alternating scenes of profoundly alienated evenings at home doing nothing with good old fashioned splatterfest-style ultraviolence — and the makeup and effects work is quite good. Not up to Hollywood standards, of course, but  part of the fun of watching this type of movie comes from seeing what the filmmakers are able to do with severely limited resources.

Needless to say, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain never played theaters, nor was it ever going to, but it’s available on DVD either directly from or at most major retailers like Amazon. It’s distributed under the auspices the good folks at Tempe Video and picture and sound quality are both pretty much perfect (again, given the inherent limitations of the flick’s production values).  For extras, there’s a look at a gallery showing of some of Copp’s artwork, and a well-made and highly informative “making-of” featurette.

Copp has stated that his goal was to make a film with a grindhouse-style sensibility updated to apply to the modern sociopolitical landscape. In that he’s succeeded quite admirably. Sure, it’s show on video instead of low-grade film stock, but the spirit of the exploitation independents is definitely alive and well here — and while it’s a bit of a tightrope act he’s set for himself in combining a “message movie” with a psycho slasher flick, he pulls it off pretty well. At times it feels a bit preachy, but as it’s antiwar message is one this reviewer agrees with, I never found the political content to be grating, nor to detract from the character-driven story that lies at the movie’s core.

Like its tagline (“He’s Back From The War,  But He Can’t Stop Killing!”), Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain is anything but flashy or terribly original, but certainly direct and earnest enough to be worthy of respect. It’s a labor of love with its birth pains in full view for all to see, and what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in heart and integrity.

"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.