Let me get this out of the way early. I really like Rob Zombie’s movies. I am a huge fan of both The Devil’s Rejects and his 2007 reimagining/remake of Halloween. I get a kick out of his white trash characters, and I’m fascinated by the grimy universe he’s created for them. I like that all of his characters listen to obscure 70’s rock music, watch classic horror movies on black and white T.V.’s, and swear like truckers in a traffic jam. Zombie’s taken a lot of heat for this little hillbilly horror sub-genre he’s created, but love or hate his style, at least the guy’s got one. I’ve seen at least a dozen horror movies this month, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you who made what, but there’s no mistaking a Rob Zombie film, and Halloween 2, my friends, is very much that.
Halloween II opens with a brief flashback to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, and a visit between Debra Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her son, Michael (Chase Vanek), in which Michael tells his mother about a recurring dream he’s had involving her and a horse. I, too, have had dreams about Sherri Moon Zombie and a horse, but mine involves the backroom of a Tijuana nightclub, and me in a pair of ass-less chaps. Michael’s dream, however, is nowhere near as perverse, and serves to set up a somewhat convoluted and controversial plot device that I’d been dreading since the moment it was revealed a few months ago. More on that later.
Flash forward to a battered and bloodied Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) wandering through Haddonfield, still clutching the pistol she used to “kill” Michael in the first film. She’s picked up by Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), and taken to the hospital, where we are then treated to a grisly and hyper-realistic display of Laurie having her wounds sutured, shards of glass taken out of her body, and, for some icky reason, the removal of a fingernail, which, I suspect, has more to do with a preexisting calcium deficiency rather than her encounter with Myers.
While Laurie’s being stitched back together, Michael’s body is being shuttled to the morgue by a pair of ambulance drivers who are so caught up in a discussion about necrophilia that they don’t notice a cow standing in the middle of the road, and the resulting crash awakens Michael from his slumber. After Michael lops off an ambulance driver’s head, we are then treated to our first glimpse of Sheri Moon Zombie in a fright wig and flowing white gown. Yes, it is the specter of Deborah Myers. She’s backlit and surrounded by fog in an attempt to make her appear ethereal, but she looks more like a scary albino meth addict at a disco.
We are then taken back to the hospital for a prolonged stalking sequence ending with Michael finally catching up with Laurie, picking up an axe and…it all turns out to be a dream. Laurie gets out of bed and gives herself one of those clichéd vanity mirror pep talks in what, at first glance, appears to be the men’s room at CBGB’s, except with more urine stains and less junkies. It turns out that it’s actually the upstairs bathroom at the Brackett house, where Laurie resides with fellow survivor, Annie (Danielle Harris) and her dad. Laurie’s completely damaged goods, now, and we know this because she has the same haircut as the singer from Soul Asylum, and looks to procure all of her clothing from Hobos r’ Us.
Speaking of hobos, Michael’s been living like one for a year, crashing out in a shack in the woods, and eating dogs. He’s still seeing visions of his mother, and he communicates with her through a little ghost version of young Michael. Ghost Mom tells him it’s time to go and get Laurie so that they can be a family again, and Michael begins his long trek back to Haddonfield, replete with sweeping helicopter shots of him purposefully walking through miles and miles of wheat.
Meanwhile, in a completely tangential storyline, Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is traversing the country, promoting his latest book about his experience with Myers. Now something of an insufferable tabloid celebrity, Loomis decides to drum up some publicity, and schedules a visit to the sleepy little town just in time for Halloween.
All the ducks line up in a row…
Okay, so here’s the big shocker (at least to me). I actually liked Halloween II. I know, I know; I’ve been poking fun at the thing for the entire review, and, believe me, on many levels it deserves it, but it’s really not all that bad. Being a fan of Zombie’s first Halloween flick, this film felt like a natural progression to me, and, were it not for the terribly misguided inclusion of Michael’s “visions” of his mother and younger self, this film would have been a more than satisfying conclusion to a unique take on the mythology. Still, there were enough positives here that I was at least able to tolerate the negatives, and found myself enjoying the film in spite of them.
I was jazzed that we finally got to see just what it is that Myers does in between Halloweens, and his transient lifestyle made sense to me. It certainly made a hell of a lot more sense than Myers simply popping up every year with a brand new mask and a neatly pressed mechanics' suit. It makes the character that much more human, and that much more desperate; something that’s evident in the way he dispatches his victims this time out. No longer is he the silent, lumbering killing machine; this Myers is quick and brutal, grunting like a feral beast as he slaughters his victims (and those of you who complain about this should go back and watch Carpenter’s original, as he does the same thing there). His rage is evident in the ferocity of his kills. He’s not just serenely slicing throats and strangling his victims here; he’s stomping heads to an unrecognizable pulp, and slicing people to ribbons. He’s one pissed-off motorscooter, and Tyler Mane, once again, does a fantastic job in the role.
Another facet of the film that I wholly enjoyed was Zombie’s take on the Sam Loomis character. We live in a culture in which tragedy begets celebrity, and it made perfect sense to me that someone like Loomis – a failure at both his profession and his many marriages - would find a way to parlay his fifteen minutes of fame into a salacious career. While the victims of Haddonfield have had their lives shattered by their experiences, Loomis has profited from it, with nary a hint of compassion or guilt. He’s a psychologist, after all, and one who can rationalize everything he does no matter how despicable or exploitative. The fact that his story line seems to exist in a vacuum for the better part of the film, for me, signifies just how detached Loomis is from the reality of the situation. He’s lost in his little microcosm of limousines and lecture circuits, but, every so often, his confident façade cracks, revealing the terrified, fragile excuse for a man within. Had Zombie opted to keep Loomis on the sidelines for the entire film, the character’s disconnect would have been all the more effective, but Loomis’ last minute heroics fly in the face of everything that had been so nicely established up to that point.
Visually, Halloween II is quite impressive. Shot on Super 16mm, the image is grainy, dark, and wonderfully evocative of Zombie’s beloved ‘70’s exploitation flicks. There’s a moodiness and sense of atmosphere that really sets it apart from recent horror flicks, with an aesthetic style that alternates from oppressive darkness to candy colored sets and theatrical style backlighting. Sadly, the cohesiveness of the look is compromised by the inclusion of the aforementioned “dream/vision” sequences, which not only seem thematically out of place, but visually incongruous, as well. Some of the sequences are shot in gauzy black and white, while others are goosed by sped up frame rates and music video style editing. The result is like watching two different films, and the effect isn’t only jarring, it makes it difficult to become fully immersed in the proceedings.
The majority of the problems I had with Halloween II are the same problems I’ve had with all of Zombie’s films. I’m not a big fan of his penchant for stunt-casting, as I find the endless sea of character actors and genre veterans popping up in bit roles distracting. I also find his interpretation of the way people talk – especially teenage girls – laughable, and, with Halloween II, he’s at his infantile worst. And, of course, I’m vehemently opposed to the blatant show of nepotism Zombie employs every time he casts his wife in one of his films. Sheri Moon Zombie was surprisingly “okay” in Zombie’s first Halloween, but there’s just no justifiable reason for her to be in Halloween II. It’s obvious that Zombie went out of his way to include her here, and the result almost completely derails what is an otherwise solid entry in the franchise.
Those going into this film inexplicably expecting a remake of Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel to Halloween will be thoroughly disappointed, but they deserve to be. It’s obvious that Rob Zombie wasn’t going in that direction, and, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know this from all of the pre-release coverage and hype this film has received over the past several months. Fans of Zombie’s take on the Halloween mythos, however, will find much to like about this sequel, as it offers a somewhat believable evolution of the characters he created in the last film. Still, even the most ardent of Zombie apologists will agree that the director has made a huge blunder by squeezing his wife into Halloween II, as, much like the specters in Myers ill-conceived visions, this is one mistake that could come back to haunt him.