Sony // 2009 // 105 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // January 12th, 2010
Family is forever.
Here we go.
In 2007, musician-turned-writer/director Rob Zombie got all of his remake issues out of the way with his original remake of Halloween, meaning we were finally promised that his 2009 sequel, Halloween II (which he only agreed to do after learning that Dimension was going ahead with it anyway, hiring whatever hacky director-for-hire they could find and possibly dumping the movie straight to video; I respect that Zombie felt protective of his original Halloween, flawed and frustrating as it may be) would be Zombie's own movie. Not a remake of Halloween II from 1981, but a totally original continuation of Zombie's Halloween.
That it is. For better or worse, it is that.
Picking up the minute Rob Zombie's original Halloween left off, Halloween II eventually jumps ahead one year after the events of the previous film, in which masked murderer Michael Myers went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois. The survivors of that film are still haunted and damaged from what they experienced: Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton of Sleepover, attempting to outdo the shrill badness of her performance in the first film and succeeding in every way) has become a screw-up-rebel-goth-punk chick -- in other words, a Rob Zombie character. Annie (Urban Legend's Danielle Harris, who either should have played the lead or at least deserves better; if you're going to rewrite the entire Halloween mythos, you can certainly toy around with who lives and who dies, if you catch my meaning), on the other hand, has retreated indoors; the scars still visible on her face aren't nearly as deep as the ones we can't see. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, The Company) has become a best-selling author and celebrity prick, cashing in on his years spent talking to Michael and his brush with death in the first movie. Even Michael (a grunting Tyler Mane of X-Men) gets treated as a character (sort of) in Halloween II, complete with his own motivations for wanting to murder everyone with a big, big knife. Sure, those motivations turn out to be the spectral image of his mom and younger self (recast with a way-more-normal looking kid, which kind of sucks) on a white horse telling him to kill everyone with a big, big knife, but at least it's something.
The first time I saw Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of John Carpenter's Halloween was one of only two times that a movie kept me awake at night (the first was Lost Highway, for reasons that are fairly obvious). It wasn't because I had been scared or even disturbed. It was because I couldn't understand it. I couldn't wrap my head around what Zombie was trying to accomplish -- not just why he had wanted to remake Halloween in the first place (which I'm against in principle, but wasn't going to judge the finished film by; the movie's made, it's its own thing, let's accept that and movie on) but why he made the movie he made. It's half a Rob Zombie movie and half a slavish imitation. What the hell was it all supposed to mean?
In most cases, I wouldn't give yet another horror movie remake a second thought. But for whatever reason, I really like and respect Rob Zombie. I had low expectations for his debut House of 1,000 Corpses, but found it to be an unappreciated gem that was the only film in the way of that whole '70s horror imitators to actually pull it off. The Devil's Rejects is just flat-out great, which everyone agrees on (leading many to revise their opinions of 1,000 Corpses; it was dismissed on initial release, but now is seen as a semi-successful lead up to Rejects). But more than just liking his movies, I actually really like Rob Zombie. I'll read or listen to every interview I can with him, because he seems incredibly down-to-earth and honest, is a real fan of horror and always has something smart or interesting to say. When Halloween ended up being a kind of mixed-bag-slash-failure, I didn't want to believe it. It must have been that way because Rob Zombie wanted it that way. But why?
Which brings me to Halloween II, a film that improves on much of Halloween's missteps while still managing to be its own kind of mess. In theory, I like what Rob Zombie is trying to do with Halloween II. Rather than just a redux of his original slasher film -- which is pretty much the standard for horror movie sequels -- Zombie attempts to expand the grimy little world he created and continue to follow his characters. Halloween II is actually a horror movie about its characters and how their lives have been impacted by the events of the first movie. Everyone has been impacted in different ways, from Laurie's acting out to Annie's inward retreat to Loomis' big celebrity cash-in. Most horror sequels are content to revive the villain and let him loose on a new group of victims, but Halloween II concerns itself with the victims as much the villain. His follow-up is more dreamlike and embraces the surreal -- it's more willing to be its own thing as opposed to the dull faithfullness of his original Halloween. It shows flashes of greatness without being very great.
Because no matter what, there's always the elephant in the room -- or, to put it more accurately, the White Horse. Zombie opens the film with some silly text about the meaning of white horses, so that we understand that every time Michael sees the horse it's just a manifestation of his murderous rage. Or something. This is the kind of bats -- t crazy idea I like, and what makes Halloween II more ambitious and original than most contemporary horror movies. Of course, it also makes no sense. First of all, since when did Michael's mom demonstrate any kind of bloodlust? Isn't this the same woman who was decimated when her entire family was savagely murdered by young Michael in the first film? And then who continued to visit him in the mental hospital and bring him presents and tried to get through to him (one of the things I liked about the first movie that never really gets talked about)? And who was then so distraught when he still turned out to be a nasty little murdering bugger (who could kill Sybil Danning?) that she blew her own brains out? This is the same woman, right? I know it is, because she's played once again by Rob's wife Sheri Moon-Zombie (I love that she has a hyphenated name and the second half is "Zombie"), whose idea of being a ghost is to open her eyes really super wide.
The other problem with the whole "Michael, I'm your mom and I want you to kill people and so does this white horse that I walk around with" plot conceit is that it sort of undoes some of what Zombie was attempting to accomplish in his Halloween. Wasn't the point of showing us Michael's home life as a child to show us how and why "evil" began? I know he was already torturing animals and stuff, but weren't we supposed to think that he was at least somewhat a product of his crappy Rob Zombie environment? If I had a stringy-haired William Forsthye sitting in my recliner and threatening to skull rape me once a day, I'd probably kill everyone too (I would also cry on my porch to "Love Hurts" while my mom did her stripdancing). But with Halloween II, the implication is that murderous evil just happens to run in the Myers family, and anyone born into it will want to kill everyone with a big, big knife. No points awarded for figuring out where the movie is eventually going.
This, of course, is only one of the overriding issues with Halloween II. There are lots more. As effective a director he can be, Zombie isn't much of a writer (he's a bit like James Cameron that way). His characters do little more than scream and curse and fill their lives with D.C. punk and classic rock memorabilia, even if that makes more sense for Zombie than for the characters. McDowell's subplot is particularly terrible, dragged down even further by one of the worst performances the actor has ever given (and he was in Caligula!); it's at once shamelessly hammy and phoned in. The structure of Halloween II's first half is a mess, too. Zombie builds an effective set piece in a hospital, then pulls the rug out from under the whole thing for no discernible reason. The film bends over backwards to find people for Michael to kill, meaning we'll get introduced to some group of strangers for the sole purpose of having them encounter and then die brutally at the hands of Michael. It's a thin, repetitive structure demonstrating that Zombie didn't quite have enough story to tell and needed to pad the running time. And while there are plenty of hardcore horror fans that will respond to the excessive violence in the movie, I'm not really one of them. Zombie's movies have never pulled any punches, and this "unrated" cut of Halloween II is particularly brutal. This isn't horror for everyone, especially not casual fans of the genre; Zombie never shies away from a single act of violence, starting right away with a blood-soaked surgery and continuing through numerous punishing stabbings, beheadings and more. It's rough, rough stuff, and while it's absolutely effective it will make Halloween II difficult to return to in the future. I'll want to return to it, too, not only because I'm hoping to understand better what Zombie was going for but also because it does seem to have something on its mind. Zombie is ambitious, but his movie's a mess and ultimately unsuccessful.
Here's the thing about Blu-ray: it doesn't automatically make a film look better, only closer to the original intentions. If your movie is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and you want it to look unbelievably slick and polished, Blu-ray is going to bring out its best (only as far as the visual are concerned; the movie will still be a mixture of cardboard and barf). If your movies is Halloween II, though, it's going to look dark and grungy and garish and ugly because that's the way you want it to look (you being Rob Zombie). Don't fault the format for doing exactly what it should do: give an almost perfect representation of the director's intentions. Zombie shot Halloween II on 16mm stock, giving the movie a muddy, grainy look that the 1080p transfer reproduces very well. Blacks are deep and consistent, colors are appropriately washed out and the occasional splashes of harsh neon really pop. The film is utterly gritty and grainy and grimy, and the Blu-ray does a great job of making you want to take a shower after watching. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally strong, delivering the dialogue (read: screams and f-bombs) clearly while providing a number of cool surround effects and many, many aggressive stings, grunts and stabs during the frequent bursts of violence. It's unsettling in the same way the film is, and should make fans of this kind of horror film very happy.
Writer/director Zombie sits down for a very mellow solo commentary, and while I've always like hearing what Zombie has to say about filmmaking and creativity in general, the track is a little bit of a letdown. He speaks pretty consistently without leaving big dead spaces, but the majority of his talk is either technical behind-the-scenes stuff or giving an overview of what's happening on screen. From time to time, he does get into the many roadblocks the production ran into (the whole thing was rushed and faced many, many obstacles, including days' worth of filming getting wiped out by x-rays), but otherwise it's pretty standard stuff -- not bad, but not great either. Here's a case where I really want to understand what the director is thinking: what are his intentions with this sequel? Why is he remaking movies in the first place? How did he decide to create a complete departure for Halloween II? If you're looking for answers to questions like these, you're not going to hear them on Zombie's commentary.
About a half hour of deleted and alternate scenes are presented (24 of them in total), but they're mostly just dialogue extensions and character bits from the first half of the film (before the horror really lets loose). We do get to see a little more Howard Hesseman and Bill "M-O-O-N spells cameo" Fagerbakke, but that's about it. A blooper reel feels strangely out of place; Halloween II is such an ugly, grisly and unpleasant movie that I don't want to see that everyone had fun making it. The two things are too much at odds with one another. Auditions for several of the actors and some make-up tests are also included, as are several minutes of terrible "stand-up" from character named Uncle Seymour Coffins and a six music videos from Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures.
I like Halloween II better in retrospect than when I was sitting through it, probably because I'm already rewriting it as the movie Zombie was trying to make than the one he actually did. Because that movie is clumsy and incredibly, incredibly ugly. There's brutal violence for its own sake, and once again every looks dirty and awful; even the sheriff of a suburban Illinois town looks like a disciple of Charles Manson. I get it, Rob Zombie. That's your aesthetic. Does it have to be your only aesthetic? And, yet, that's also part of what makes Halloween II work at all. It's very much the expression of its maker, and that's increasingly rare in the horror genre. We've got fewer and fewer real horror auteurs, and we shouldn't dismiss it when one comes along with a voice as distinct and clear as Rob Zombie's. You don't have to like what he's doing -- and many, many people don't -- but you should at least appreciate that he exists.
Of course, rumor is that Zombie's next project will be a remake of The Blob (he'll have nothing to do with a forthcoming third Halloween film, which will supposedly be in 3-D). This is disappointing on so many levels. He's done a remake. We know what it looks like. There's already a really cool remake of The Blob in existence (directed by Chuck Russell and starring Kevin Dillon's mullet). I'm quite sure Zombie's blob is just going to attack some dirty, crappy southern town where everyone has tattoos and says "f -- -" and is dirty and crappy and I don't really care about seeing that. I don't want to Rob Zombie to become Tim Burton, who now just takes existing properties and "Tim Burton's" them up (read: hires Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman and spends lots of time on production design and none on making a good movie). I don't need to see what a bunch of old horror movies look like when Rob Zombie does them. I'd like a bunch of new horror movies that Rob Zombie does, thank you. Create something new for someone else to remake in 10 years. It's what's going to happen anyway.
It pains me to say it, but Halloween II is Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Blooper Reel
* Audition Tapes
* Make-up Tests
* Stand-up Routines
* Music Videos
* Official Site