12 January 2010

Halloween II

Cast: Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane. Writer & Director: Rob Zombie Release: 28 August 2009 Dimension Films, 101 mins., Rated R

The DVD release is finally upon is, and now I can look at the film objectively and analytically, knowing what to expect going in. Back in late August, when this little gem first came out, I, similar to many other fans and casual moviegoers, was disappointed with this second installment, and ‘final’ piece of Rob Zombie’s ‘vision’ (as the trailer said). Most people went in expecting garbage, but I’m part of the minority that appreciates Zombie’s 2007 remake (yes, this is indeed coming from a Halloween fan), so I was hoping for the best. Sadly, what I got was something a little less than what I would have liked, with an unsatisfying abnormal psychological disorder listed as the root of Michael’s insanity, mask issues, and a conclusion that I found interesting but simultaneously had some qualms about. So I just rented and watched it again (theatrical cut; I wished to see it in its original version before I could adequately judge the unrated, which I might post about later when I pick it up), and is it any better the second time around?

Surprisingly, yes. Halloween II opens minutes after the first, with a bloodied, distraught, emotionally and psychologically fragmented Laurie Strode wandering the Halloween decorated streets of Haddonfield, gun in hand. Beautifully shot, using the locations and lighting to create a moody atmosphere; it’s easily one of my favorite scenes from the film. Laurie is found by Sheriff Brackett, and sent to the hospital. Back at the Myers house, Samuel Loomis is rolled out and Michael’s body is put in a van on a one-way ticket out of town. Suffice it to say, Michael – and the drivers – don’t make it to their destination (cue a moment where a character mutters ‘fuck’ about 26 times in all sorts of mannerisms before finally dying). Michael tracks Laurie to the hospital (in homage, of sorts, to the original 1981’s Halloween II, directed by Rick Rosenthal) in a gripping, edge-of-your-seat sequence that escalates and escalates until it explodes in a highly disappointing cop-out.

It’s October 29, a year later, and Laurie is having bad dreams. She sees a therapist (Margot Kidder in a one-scene cameo), lives at the Brackett house with her friend Anne (Harris in her fourth Halloween adventure), and is completely psychologically messed up. She’s a tad rebellious, her room is paradoxically made up of posters of Marilyn Manson, serial killers, and Jesus Christ, and her taste in clothing style has really gone downhill. While her life is in the shitter, Loomis is making a profit. On the 31st, his Myers biography The Devil’s Eyes hits bookstores and he’s making the rounds with press. Time after time, he cites no responsibility for the victims of Michael’s rampage, and publicly declares Myers D-E-A-D (he was nice enough to spell it out for them). Meanwhile, Michael walks the countryside.

Dressed up in his normal black jumpsuit with a hoodie and jacket, Myers still finds time to kill some people, all the while getting visions of his dead mother, dressed all in white. See, before the movie even begins its first frame, Zombie brings up ‘The White Horse’, which, according the opening text, is a ‘drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction’ (as from The Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams). So I’m assuming the White Horse is his pathway to his need to kill people, but I’m still a little fuzzy about why he needs to kill everyone to get to Laurie (and eventually kill her, I assume). If he took the time to shave, dress nicely, and show up at her doorstep and say, ‘Hey sis, I’m your bro! Is it by any chance OK that we, y’know, be a family again?’ But then again, that would be logical, and Michael’s a bit on the insane side. Anyhow, his albino mother says it’s time to go back to Haddonfield, and away he goes. Unfortunately, this storyline sounds a little too reminiscent to Jason Voorhees and his mother issues; however, considering that he didn’t exactly have a stable relationship with his stepfather (let alone biological father), I doubt that would be his delirium.

What follows for the next thirty minutes is non-stop brutality. Michael makes his way home, and claims a couple of lives in the process (even stopping by his mom’s old strip joint); Laurie finds out a devastating fact of her life that completely shatters her, only to come home and find her life take a turn for the even worse when she finds Michael waiting for her. Chaos ensues, and it all climaxes in a shotgun/helicopter convergence on a small little shack. Quite honestly, I don’t know why a conclusion like this has never been thought of before. What better way to get Michael off one’s back then to call the entire police force with every gun on Michael? To my utter and delightful surprise, things end in a unexpected way.

First time I saw Halloween II, the whole White Horse thing threw me for a loop; it’s taken a while to get used it, but I finally accept it. However, I still maintain that some of these problems with Laurie is unnecessary and could be completely cut (more on that later). Another disappointing element – and this is coming from a bloke who doesn’t get all that high of a joy from seeing the creative ways cast members are discarded – is that Michael kills several folks in the exact same fashion. I understand that he predominantly uses a big knife, and isn’t as inventive as Jason, but I was a little underwhelmed by all the head bashing.

Scout leads the film as Laurie, a woman who is fractured to her core. She even ventures further down the rabbit hole of despair as a deep dark secret gets revealed, and she completely loses it. Kudos to Scout for delivering her A-game with the role; she brought the right note to everything, and easily overcame my uneasiness with her from the first film. Returning actors McDowell and Dourif are surprisingly given more to do. McDowell delights in his bastarderly ways, and Dourif showcases compassion and pain like never before. Tyler Mane – well, he stands and broods; I don’t like the giant beard, sir. Newcomers get the short end of the stick, appearing in no more than two scenes (not counting their death sequence). However, the cameo of Weird Al (“Nice to meet you, Mr. Weird” was priceless) was quite funny, if a bit short.

As a director, I quite love Rob Zombie. Out of his four movies, House of 1,000 Corpses is the only one I haven’t seen. Zombie’s movies extensively use hand held shots to convey intensity and to really get into the meat of the characters, action, story, etc. Not to mention it also adds a nice documentary feel to it. Zombie best utilized this technique with 2007’s re-imagining, making a gripping final battle between Laurie and Michael that continues to suck me in no matter how many times I’ve seen it. His constant usage of trailer trash and hippie people, hairstyle, and locale is getting a little thin in toleration; I wish the guy would get out of this obsession he has and not make everything seem out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. But his positives far outweigh any faults; aerial shots of Myers walking through the countryside are both ominous and beautiful; slow motion is splendidly and sparsely used to convey really dramatic moments (such as Michael's I'M BACK, BITCH! moment at the Brackett house).

For his skill as a writer, Zombie sorta comes off as Tarantino-esque with his dialogue. I know, I know, this assertion may come off as blasphemy, but I find that he has the rare touch to make conversations in scenes come off as something real, something that any group of people would casually speak about, instead of being artificially constructed to create character beats and fill running time. I just appreciate his writing style. Zombie even has the foresight to include really good, powerful emotional moments, such as when Laurie thinks about her deceased ‘parents’, and later finds out about her true lineage, she breaks down in her car. It’s a beautiful beat that I wildly appreciate was included. On the negative spectrum, the dreams that Laurie has are so bizarre and simply nutty that it feels like an entirely different movie, and seems inappropriate for a Halloween installment. There's religious apparitions, ghouls of Samhain, and a Gothic funeral lead by her biological mother. It doesn't make sense and I would much rather it be left out. Additionally, the new characters this time around are quite flat, given virtually no dimension or personality aside from two scenes to establish who they are to her and what type of girls they are. A little sad, but here's hoping the Director's Cut might remedy it (plus, I still have yet to delve into the Deleted Scenes). Another aspect I like is how Loomis’ character is written (which I know many would disagree), as he walks the path of a sympathetic and sometimes jackassey old fart. I especially love the book signing scene, where Loomis is confronted by the father of one of Michael’s victims; it’s a awesome scene that pulls a lot of weight to the situation, and it’s simply a nice emotional moment that somehow tags its way into a slasher movie.

And that’s the interesting thing about Rob Zombie’s Halloween & Halloween II; they’re a little bit more than just slasher films. Zombie invests deeply into the psychology of Michael, touching on it a little in the first, but delving head-long in the second. This White Horse thing, the fuel of Michael’s rage and explanation for his desire to kill; but Zombie still, unsatisfying, is unable to make me understand his rationale in targeting Laurie. In the visions of his mom, both of them urge to be ‘a family again’; so does this mean killing Laurie, then presumably himself, would make this happen? As many reviews have said, Zombie presents big ideas that he’s simply unable to really get into, because he doesn’t seem to know what to do with them either. I will always appreciate Zombie for attempting to write something more than he delivers, but it is a little disheartening.

Halloween II came and went when it was released 28 August 2009, barely making any dough box office wise, and quickly left theaters within two or three weeks. The Weinsteins made the surprise announcement of a Halloween III – not only would it not be directed by Rob Zombie (yippie!), but it would be getting a 3-D treatment (a la My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination). Considering the lack of success and enthusiasm generated by Halloween II, this project was a questionable move. In October, the Weinsteins re-released Halloween II in the midst of horror movie time (i.e., Saw VI) for a limited one-week engagement. Numbers were in, and the Weinsteins balked at a third film [though, after what happened with Zombie’s movies and the conclusion of Halloween: Resurrection, I’m not so much sure how they could possibly direct the franchise somewhere interesting enough to warrant a eleventh movie].

It's not as bad as I first thought it was, but it doesn't match up to his 2007 outing, either. H2 is just one of those movies that when it comes to boiling it all right down to its core, I dunno whether to recommend it or urge you to run far, far away. It's interestingly written and directed to be sure, but at the same time, there's many elements that kinda make this into a strange genre-crossing picture. I'm anxious to get a hold of Zombie's Director's Cut, as it apparently follows Laurie and her despair more closely than the theatrical cut. More character moments that would give us more info on the newbies and expound a little more with our principal leads, as well as fleshing out some psychological aspects and completely doing away with the trailer trash stuff - that would make Halloween II rather awesome. I'm well aware there's probably people thinking I'm nutters or don't know what a good movie in general is for halfway liking and defending this movie - and it's quite possible - but H2 isn't as bad as one would think. Give it a chance.

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