Thursday, September 03, 2009

Halloween II / ** (R)

Laurie Strode: Scout Taylor-Compton
Michael Myers: Tyler Mane
Dr. Samuel Loomis: Malcolm McDowell
Sherriff Lee Brackett: Brad Dourif
Deborah Myers: Sheri Moon Zombie
Young Michael: Chase Vanek
Annie Brackett: Danielle Harris
Nancy McDonald: Mary Birdsong
Mya Rockwell: Brea Grant
Harley David: Angela Timbur

Dimension Films presents a film written and directed by Rob Zombie. Running time: 101 min. Rated R (for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, terror, disturbing graphic images, language, some crude sexual content, and nudity).

As any horror aficionado knows, the art of the slasher flick lies in the art of the slasher to kill creatively. Such creativity allows for great randomness in the killings even though there may be some vague driving force behind the killer’s madness. John Carpenter’s original “Halloween”, while not the first slasher flick ever, set the standard for what a slasher flick should be. Perhaps it was foolish of anyone to think they could improve upon Carpenter’s model, but if anyone could do it, it would be Rob Zombie. Unfortunately, with his remake of “Halloween” two years ago, Zombie failed. Now, he is back with the sequel to his “Halloween” vision, and he continues to make the same mistakes the second time around.

I had great hopes that Zombie could rectify the errors of his first “Halloween” with this revisitation. Although his first movie “House of 1,000 Corpses” was a creative but flawed piece of horror, Zombie was able to craft a masterpiece with his sequel to that, “The Devil’s Rejects”. But while “The Devil’s Rejects” defined the subgenre of serial killing families, “Halloween II” seems stuck between the traditional conventions of the slasher flick and the deeper, more thoughtful filmmaking for which Zombie seems destined.

“H2” starts out hitting all the right notes. Like Carpenter’s sequel to his “Halloween”, it picks up in the moments immediately following the first film. In fact, Zombie does a stupendous job of basically retelling pretty much the entire story of the Carpenter penned “Halloween II” in the first twenty minutes of his own sequel. We follow the killer, Michael Myers, in his undefined need to continue to pursue his sister, Laurie Strode. Like the 1978 sequel, Laurie finds herself at the Haddonfield hospital following the Halloween night murders of the first movie. Michael quickly and horrifically dispatches the entire skeleton crew hospital staff to get to her. These are the best scenes in the movie, with Zombie fully embracing the conventions of the slasher flick, using location, mood, lighting, and spatial timing for effective shocks and thrilling terror. But then…

Let’s just leave it at two years pass. The world thinks Michael Myers is dead, while the audience knows better or else they wouldn’t have bought their tickets. Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton, “Obsessed”) is still failing to cope well with the events that led to the deaths of her friends and family. Now living with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif, “Deadwood”) and his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris, “Urban Legend”), another survivor of Michael’s attacks, Laurie is still unaware of her blood relation to Myers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, “Heroes”) has turned his involvement as Myers’ shrink into a career boost. He’s preparing to release a tell all book on the two year anniversary of Myers’ killing spree and is doing a pretty good job proving what an egomaniac he is on the talk circuit leading up to the book’s release. This mishandling of Loomis is one of Zombie’s greatest mistakes. The original’s Loomis, played masterfully by the great Donald Pleasance, is one of Carpenter’s greatest creations. He seemed to be a crazy man, but spoke as the voice of sanity to deaf ears. McDowell’s, by fault of the writing, not the actor, is a greedy, megalomaniac, devoid of morality, who builds his own fame and success on the suffering of Michael’s victims. I think Zombie is trying to make some statement on our media driven society, but he chooses the wrong vehicle for his message driven on a beaten down path that is far too easy a road for such an innovative filmmaker.

The voice of reason in this version is Sheriff Brackett. I’m happy to see Zombie give Dourif, who more often plays the psychotic, the opportunity to play such a good character. Unfortunately, Brackett is delivered an emotional blow late in the movie, which Zombie never gives him a chance to deal with.

Meanwhile, the family bonds between Michael and Laurie and their deceased mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie, “The Devil’s Rejects”), create some interesting developments with some potentially, yet somewhat unexplored, horrific implications about the afterlife. These “dream sequences” are the most interesting aspect of Zombie’s vision. A whole movie involving them would be quite welcome and—I would speculate—quite frightening.

While Zombie’s creepy notions of life after death tease us throughout the picture, the slasher model dictates that many teenagers must die senselessly. Typically their deaths are quite creative. Here they only manage to be brutal, and therefore, disturbing. This isn’t a fun slasher flick where you wonder just how the killer is going to murder the next person. “Ooo, there’s a band saw in the background. I’ll bet that gets used.” No, here the hulking Myers, played by former pro wrestler Tyler Mane (“X-Men”), kills in the most sensible way, with his fists, his feet and a very big knife. Practical, but not exciting.

I will give Zombie credit for ending the film on just the right note, however, with a nice homage to “Psycho”.


zpannell said...

I have yet to see this one but it definitely applies to the first one as well. I think that Rob should go back to his originality with in his pictures along the lines of The Devil's Rejects. Well written, sir.

Emily said...

I absolutely love Brad Dourif, but have a hard time imagining him as a good guy. I'm thinking of Exorcist III, X-files, Alien Resurrection, Lord of the Rings...yeah, pretty much everything else, too. Would be hard for me to trust him simply because of his past roles. Is he readily, believably "good" or do you find yourself watching him suspiciously?

Andrew D. Wells said...

Well, you need to see him in the HBO series "Deadwood" as the town doctor. He's as good as they get in that town.

Andrew D. Wells said...

And yes, he is readily, believably good. Perhaps that's due to Rob Zombie's ability to make everything else so dark and frightening that Dourif actually seems to pale on the evil scale. But he was my favorite character on "Deadwood" and he plays the same very basically good guy here. Maybe you suspect there is some dark secret in his past, but he has reformed.