While Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 tanked both critically (not a surprise) and commercially (actually, sort of a surprise), I have a feeling that home video will be much kinder to the film. While many fans were quite vocal in their dislike for Zombie’s second stab at the franchise, I suspect a good amount of those very same fans will probably quietly pick this one up and, upon a second viewing, appreciate at least some of what it was Zombie was trying to accomplish, here. From the outset, Zombie stated his desire to make Michael Myers more human, offering a lengthy look at the character’s formative years in the first film, controversially focusing more on what made him a killer than the actual killings themselves. With Halloween 2, Zombie wanted to give us a glimpse into the mind of Michael Myers and, while one can argue that the director may have failed in its execution , no one can accuse Zombie of shying away from original vision. With the release of Halloween 2 – The Unrated Director’s Cut, Zombie gets the chance to flesh out that vision a bit more, offering us a bloodier, deeper, and ever-so-slightly more coherent version of his film.
First, I’d like to present my review of the theatrical version of the film, as it’s relatively spoiler-free, and the Director’s Cut doesn’t deviate too much from the theatrical version in terms of overall plot. Afterwards, I’ll reveal the differences between the two versions, which will take us right into downtown Spoilerville. Don’t worry, I’ll warn ya’.
The film 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, slashing faces open, and snapping arms in half. 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 that alternates from oppressive darkness to grungy color 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.
While I’m sure many of you were holding out hope that Zombie took this opportunity to remove any and all footage of his wife from Halloween 2, I’m sad to tell you that this isn’t the case. As a matter of fact, there’s actually a little more of her! We are also given much more “maskless” Michael, with one especially long and clear scene involving a billboard of Loomis’ book that Michael encounters during his long trek back to Haddonfield. Once again, for me, this seems perfectly reasonable and is in keeping with Zombie’s more human Michael. Bear in mind, this is a man who has successfully evaded capture for two years, living off of dead dogs and drinking hobo swill. He’s not about to get caught wearing a mask while walking down the interstate in broad daylight.
Zombie also beefs up Scout Taylor Compton’s role quite a bit, with much more time given to scenes involving her therapy, her relationship with Annie, and her gradual breakdown. In the theatrical version, Laurie and Annie still seem like the best buds they were in the first film, but, here, they can hardly stand the sight of one another, with Laurie confiding in her therapist (played by the notoriously batshit insane Margot Kidder, somewhat ironically) that she often fantasizes about killing Annie (thus establishing one of Laurie’s hallucinations that occur later in the film). We see that Annie and Laurie are no longer friends so much as they are housemates, with Laurie living under Annie’s roof not at her behest, but, rather, out of a sense of obligation on the part of Sheriff Brackett. It’s an interesting new dynamic that adds much-needed depth to the characters as well as an unexpected emotional impact to Annie’s demise later in the film. I find it curious that Zombie cut this material out in the first place, as it seems in keeping with the downbeat approach he’d taken with the material in the first film.
Loomis, too, gets a little more screentime, but only to make him seem that much more despicable, with a few more lines of acerbic dialogue mostly aimed at his personal assistant. Otherwise, the additions and subtractions here are purely superficial. We get the expected increase in gore, but, in a film as violent as Halloween 2, it’s difficult to see where in all but the most extreme circumstances. There’s also a lot more footage of the Halloween party, including bonus boobage, and a lengthier performance by Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. The ending is also slightly altered (and, in my opinion, less comical as Laurie no longer exits the barn looking like a hooker at Mardi Gras in Michael’s hilariously oversized mask), and, although purists will no doubt cry foul when Michael takes his last jab at Loomis, it is, once again, in keeping with Zombie’s vision.
Overall, I prefer this new cut to the theatrical version if only for the deeper characterizations offered, especially in regards to the Laurie/Annie relationship. While I still don’t like the hallucination sequences, upon a second (and third, and fourth) viewing, I’ve learned to accept them for what they are, and, for better or worse, they are somewhat integral to the plot.
The Blu-ray from Sony presents the film in a 1.85:1 1080p transfer that looks about as good as the source material will allow. Once again, the film was shot on Super 16mm film, which lends the movie a grimy, grainy aesthete that looks that much grimier and grainier in HD. Personally, I love the visual style of this movie as it hearkens back to the seventies and eighties trash I grew up on, but HD enthusiasts looking for a pristine image will no doubt be disappointed. The film looks best during the daylight sequences and in the few well-lit interior shots, but much of the action takes place under the cover of an almost oppressive darkness, obscuring much of the detail, and heightening the level of grain. It is what it is, though, and looks no better or worse than the film I saw in theaters.
The audio more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings on the part of the video, with a robust and nerve shattering 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Zombie’s films are as interesting sonically as they are visually, utilizing lots of disturbing industrial sounds, ethereal music, and, at times, even silence to bolster the visuals, and the track does a fantastic job of presenting this to the home viewer. Sound effects, from the crunch of vertebrae to the wet snap of a knife piercing flesh are well articulated and recreated with blood-curdling accuracy, while Zombie’s customary classic rock soundtrack rumbles the subwoofers.
While the extras on offer here would be considered plentiful were the film from anyone other than Rob Zombie, I found the lack of behind-the-scenes featurettes a bit surprising, especially when one considers that Zombie’s last two films, Halloween and The Devil’s Rejects, both sported making-of documentaries nearly twice as long as the films themselves. Here we get a somewhat staid commentary track from Zombie, a collection of 23 deleted scenes (HD), a short blooper reel (HD), some throwaway stand-up routines from the rather annoying Uncle Seymour (HD), and music videos from Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures (HD). There’s also some audition footage, and a selection of trailers for other Sony releases. It’s a decent assortment of extras, but a far cry from the 4 hour documentary that accompanied the previous Halloween film. One has to wonder how much this lack of behind-the-scenes material has to do with the reported production turmoil that Zombie only briefly touches upon in the commentary track.
Fans of Zombie’s take on the Halloween mythos, will find much to like about this Director’s Cut of the sequel, as it takes the somewhat believable evolution of the characters he created in the theatrical version of the film and fleshes them out substantially. While I doubt it will win over viewers who harbored a strong dislike for the theatrical cut, I can see those who were “on the fence” about the film getting nudged over toward the positive side of things after giving this extended, unrated offering a look.
While it’s probably not the popular thing to say in regards to Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, I give the director a lot of credit for having the balls to take the chances he took with this series. Some may call it hubris or self-indulgence to the extreme, but I respect the fact that he didn’t let Halloween’s millions of loyal fans (myself included) dissuade him from making the movies he wanted to make. Like I said in my original review of this film, you can love or hate Rob Zombie’s style, but, at the end of the day, at least the guy’s got one.