I get what Rob Zombie’s going for. No, no, I really do. I even appreciate it. He’s trying to inject the iconography of real-world serial murderers into mainstream Slasher movies, and my hat’s off to his efforts. I, too, once harbored the delusion that the two had anything to do with each other. But both our efforts are hampered by the inconvenient fact that Slasher villains are are not serial killers.
If they are anything, they’re spree killers. Think Charles Starkweather instead of Edward Gein. I know everyone’s had Edward on the brain since the police first hauled out his human-skin living room set, but you know what? It’s been done. At least Zombie avoids going down the tried and oh-so-true Silence of the Lambs route, since by now even that‘s degenerated into Jerry Brukheimer’s boring, CGI-assisted propaganda for the coming police state, CSI.
No, we’re still in movie land. So after a brief and insulting title card explaining the film’s symbolism for all the lame, the halt, and the stupid, we begin right where we left off…as is only natural. Where the hell else can this story go? Why, with a blood-battered Laurie Strode (still Scout Taylor-Compton), of course, as she stalks through the desolation that is Halloween night in the little town of Haddonfield, Illinois. (We are still pretending we’re in Illinois, right?)
Whatever the case, Sheriff Brackett (the excellent Brad Dourif) rescues Laurie, who’s understandably in shock, having just blown Michael Myers’ head off in the last frame of the last film…ooops…Spoiler Alert…I guess. Though I hope you’ll all be able to guess the ending of a Halloween film by now: Michael Myers dies.
And as with any Halloween-sequel, Mikey (Tyler “Big Sky/Sabertooth” Mane) soon inexplicably rises in the back of a morgue wagon. A morgue wagon that comes to a grinding halt thanks to what has to be the first Spring Loaded Cow in the annals of Slasher Cinema. Mikey kills the surviving morgue man, sawing off the poor would-be-necrophiliac’s head, before a vision of Mike’s dead mom calls him off, to the rest of the movie.
So far so good. Then Zombie plays a horrible practical joke on us all: remaking the original Halloween II in miniature. The resurrected Michael (his head miraculously intact – was Laurie that bad of a shot? At point-blank range? Or is Mike’s head just that thick?) once again chases Laurie through the world’s most deserted hospital. Both are perused by the kind of Shakycam Paul Greengrass loves to use when he’s trying to give his audience motion sickness. It’s meant to enhance the tension of Laurie’s frantic, fumbling run for her life, and at least a few more corpses are accounted for this time around. But the whole thing (and I hope you’re holding your breath for this one) turns out to be a dream.
Now I’ve seen filmmakers pull this shit in the past. It only really worked for Invaders from Mars, which got its own inferior remake back in the 1980s. But few writer/directors think of waste a full fifteen minutes at the beginning of their film on a pointless, far-too-linear dream sequence…unless their name is Wes Carven. Come to think of it…the hospital’s dank, industrial bowls…Michael’s erratic powers of Off-screen Teleportation…the red and yellow mood lighting…it all smacks of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and that’s not something I should be thinking about while watching Halloween.
Back in the “real” world, it’s been two years since Michael Myer’s escape from Smith’s Grove. Laurie’s moved in with Sheriff Brackett and his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris), and honestly I’m glad we get to spend more time watching Dourif, Harris and Taylor-Compton acting like boring, normal people, so rarely seen in a Rob Zombie film. They’ve lived through the horrific events of a Slasher movie, sure, but as with part one, The Laurie and the Bracketts Show seems strong enough to support this Act of the story all by itself.
Why weigh it down with an extraneous dream sequence? The same reason Zombie outfitted the back half of his last film with concrete sneakers: he was probably ordered to from above by the great gods who run Dimension Films, a studio bent on beating New Line out of monopolizing the entire Slasher genre. To that end they (so the rumor has it) decreed the ass end of Zombie’s Halloween resemble Carpenter’s to the degree it did. The dream sequence, then, is Zombie tossing them a bone, if only to stop their katterwalling about what “the fans expect.” Fuck fandom. I’m a fan of Halloween and look at all the bitching and moaning I’ve done about how none of them will ever be as good as Carpenter’s original. Unless you’ve got cocktail shrimp falling out of your nose don’t try catering to me. Come up with your own stupid ideas and then, by God, do something with them.
And you know what? I can’t shake the feeling Zombie must be listening to my subliminal commands. With all dues payed in that first half-hour, we spend the next chunk of the film watching Laurie slowly descend into PTSD-madness. For one thing, it’s Halloween again. For another, Dr. Sam Loomis (still Malcolm McDowell) is about to come out with a new book on the Myers Case. Information in that book will fundamentally alter Laurie’s life. Michael’s customary light touch will do the rest.
Work’s been done to make Scout Taylor-Compton resemble the rest of the Myers clan, as envisioned by Zombie. We know this is intentional, since we know Laurie’s background if we know anything about the Halloween series at all. She begins the film in ignorance, making her creeping madness that much creepier for her, and thus for us as well. With a whole movie more-or-less to herself, Scout has the time to really show her capabilities as an actress, doing a bit more than the obligatory Final Girl screaming and running…though she does plenty of that, too.
Like Lynda’s death and Annie’s savaging in the last film, most of the on-screen carnage has fuck all to do with anything, existing only to pad things out and please the gore hounds in the audience. To that end, the film occasionally leaves Laurie to catch up with a Michael Myers slowly-but-surely transforming from an anonymous Shape of Doom into another of Rob Zombie’s authorial self-insertion fantasy personas. I mean, really, just look at him: the scraggly beard, the dreadlocked hair, the ever present hoodie, the Sheri Moon Zombie for a mom. And the constant, brutal, essentially-meaningless slaughter of every anonymous redneck who gets in his way.
And yet, despite the gratuitous dream sequence and the gratuitous number of pointless deaths, Halloween II actually held my attention for about an hour, beating Zombie’s previous film by twenty minutes. That Halloween glided right along before taking a spectacular swan dive into Half-hearted Remake Ravine…where it was promptly curb-stomped by Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong, from which it seemed to steal its operating philosophy. (“When Michael Myers a-die, people a-gonna cry.”)
In this case, the poles reverse. The first hour is a straight reimagining, new-enough to keep me calm. I was even starting to enjoy myself…so it must be time to go back to formula. Norman Osborne would not approve. Neither do I. Things like this just feed into my delusions of clairvoyance.
Example: after charges, counter-charges, and revelations, we find ourselves at a Halloween party with Laurie and her New Meat/friends. One leaves the party in the company of an Awkward Werewolf, heading towards his van to have sex. I paused the movie, predicted both their deaths, and wondered, Holy shit, is van sex back? Perhaps the declarations of its death I made in my Friday the 13th Part VII review were a bit premature. In any case, our Awkward Werewolf finds he can’t face a real woman in a Frank-N-Furter outfit (dude, I’ll certainly take up your slack) so he leaves to take the dreaded (and always embarrassing) pre-sex pee, unironically declaring that he’ll “be right back.” Spoiler Alert: he won’t.
Meanwhile, back at Casa de Brackett, the sheriff’s handpicked daughter-watching Deputy pauses to light a Boredom Cigarette. “Watch out,” I warned him, “smoking kills.” Sure enough, Michael pops right out of the shadows, having covered miles in the space of a scene, to strangle the poor man with a length of wire from the Magic Bag where he keeps all these weapons. Annie, instead of noticing (or inviting her guard in for a cup of something – sheesh, girl, its called “common courtesy”) goes upstairs to bathe…so she might as well slit her own throat and save us, and herself, from an eventual, grisly fate.
As I said, I get it: the voiceless, faceless Shape is dead. Long live the New Shape, formed from the greater understanding of real world psycho killers available to we poor prisoners of the Information Age. Back in the days of pet rocks and zebra-print wall-coverings even the FBI strained to wrap its head around compulsive killers. Like that old trailer for Howard Hawkes’ The Thing From Another World, they asked themselves, “Are these people human, or inhuman? Earthly, or unearthly?” The mysticism and obfuscation that hung over the 1980s like a battered, blood-stained hockey mask provided the easy answers: inhuman and unearthly. Pure and simple monsters. The masks they wore stopped serving as handy ways to inject a “whodunit” plot into their stories and instead began to function as distance-enhancing signifiers, keeping the main characters of Slasher films as far from we pale Normals as possible.
This in turn allowed Slasher “villains” to be re-purposed by the masses who vacuumed these stupid little movies off the video store shelves. No longer embodiments of Evil, they became one more set of wish-fulfilling, fantasy personas “fans” of the sub-genre could cling onto in anxious, depressive times. So here we are, over twenty years later, having decided we’re all monsters (or, at the very least, we’d all occasionally enjoy committing some consequence-free, monstrous acts). So it’s time to go back and humanize those a previous generation of creatives did so much to Otherize. Hence, this Michael Myers.
Oh, he’s still a homicidal pseudo-zombie in all the way that count. But now we get to see his face and hear the conversations between his dead mom and his ten-year-old self-image (Chase Wright Vanek), both of whom haunt him throughout, vocalizing thoughts and dropping the occasional hints as to Michael’s ultimate motivations.
Hints are all we have to go on because Zombie obviously has no patience for all that mystical nonsense that’s hung over this series since the 80s, when Halloween’s IV, V and VI transformed Mike as some sort of Bronze Age Terminator, mass-producing human sacrifice for an Evil Cult with a Conspiracy up its ass. “Screw all that,” Zombie’s films say. “I’m giving you the full Ted Bundy. And if you don’t like it, go pay Michael Bay. This here’s my dance party, freak.”
Fine. Except, as with last time, the move toward faux-realism only brings up more questions. Without the mystical whosawhatsis, Michael’s just some dude in a mask…who just happens to have super strength and bullet-absorbing powers comparable to a modern First-Person Shooter video game protagonist. What the hell is he trying to do with Laurie, anyway? Bring the family back together? Oh…kay…so, do you really need a “river of blood” to grease the wheels? If so, why wait around for two whole frickin’ years before getting down to business? What the hell were you doing all that time, Mike? Chillin’ with your ghost mom and her universally-decried white horse at Pumpkinhead’s eternal tea party?
And what of Laurie? As before, the film leaves her holding the short stick, which leaves me with the sensation Zombie didn’t care enough to follow through on the hour of set-up he lavishes upon her between the dream sequence and the glorified music video that begins Act Three (the party scene, mentioned above). Are she and Michael psychically linked, somehow? Is his madness genetic, the way schizophrenia seems to be? Or is all of the craziness we see from Michael’s perspective “real” enough to affect Laurie…and only Laurie?
And what of Dr. Loomis, who’s here reimagined as a complete sell-out and and douche of epic proportions? Malcolm McDowell pulls it all off with his usual level of skill, but his role is so proscribed and incidental it amounts to a criminal misuse of valuable actor resources. Loomis begins the movie a self-important fool and ends up an incompetent with his own powers of Off-screen Teleportation. In between, he flits from scene to scene absorbing pot shots and displaced blame for Michael’s actions. You get feeling Zombie’s climbed onto a soap box, but I’m not sure who he’s gerrymandering against. Psychologists? Those few brave souls who actually work long, hard, unforgiving hours to keep psychos away from promiscuous teenagers? Or the authors of True Crime books, who can’t be bothered to make up gruesome murderers out of whole cloth and so must seek out stories from the horrible-enough real world to drench in inappropriate amounts of purple prose? All I can really say is…whomever Loomis’ publishers are, they obviously don’t care about getting sued or prosecuted. I’d like to know them since I’ve got a lot of unfounded character assassination on my hard drive. It’d be nice to start paying my rent with that.
Either Zombie had no idea where he was going with any of this himself…or he left us with all these questions in a purposeful attempt to distract us from those bits of the film that are a bland, generic, retread. Since that’s most of Halloween II‘s back half, his efforts are doomed to failure…but at least it’s not as total, nor nearly as disappointing, as last time. With my hopes already doused, I enjoyed myself enough to avoid hating the film…but not enough to really like it. Squelching sound effects, obvious gross-out insert shots, and half-baked psychodrama do not a horror movie make, Rob. Sorry. At least you’re trying.
So I’ll say this: it’s a better the original Halloween II…for whatever that‘s worth…’bout half a G on my scale.