Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shocktober Revisited: A Tale of Two Halloween II's (Part Two)

 Now, let's talk about Rob Zombie Presents Rob Zombie's Halloween II, not to be entirely mistaken with Halloween II but maybe for the first fifteen minutes if that's cool with everybody.

Allow me to point out that this is not a So You Won't Have To review, although I suspect many of you won't be checking out Rob Zombie's Halloween II. It's not a perfect film, to be sure, but I found the experience to be far more enjoyable than Halloween.

Many of you know that I was not, am not, and don't expect to be on board in the future with Zombie's remake. I just didn't like it. The familiar faces in supporting roles got to be absurd, the excessive profanity and sleaziness bordered on parodic, and I felt there were fundamental problems in the retelling that robbed Michael Myers and Laurie Strode's story. However, I had hoped that like The Devil's Rejects was to House of 1000 Corpses, so to would Halloween II be to Halloween. Rob Zombie did not disappoint.

From the get-go, Halloween II moves away from the limitations of a remake and forges onward in its own direction. Zombie, not feeling beholden to specific iconic imagery, moves at a different pace than the "slasher" portion of Halloween. In fact, Michael spends roughly half the film without a mask on. When Zombie does pay homage to the other Halloween 2 - a clever nod to the hospital siege - the end result is better than anything in the original sequel. I was more interested in the carnage Michael unleashed and Laurie's desperate attempts to get away than at any point during the original H2.

After the homage-turned-dream-sequence, we're reintroduced to Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) and Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif), living together in relative isolation. Laurie and Annie have severe psychological scarring (and Annie has some pretty serious physical scarring too), and Laurie's constantly teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. She's been having strange dreams with young Michael (Chase Wright Vanek, filling in for Daeg Faerch) and Deborah Myers (Sherri Moon Zombie) in spectral form. Some are bizarre, and at least one involving a pumpkin feast, is outright disturbing.

Speaking of disturbing, the violence in Halloween II is pretty rough. Like, rougher than even the last film rough. Michael (Tyler Mane) carves a path of carnage on his quest to reunite the Myers family - he too has the visions of a spectral mother and white horse - and though I consider myself to have a pretty tough horror constitution, some of the kills early in the film are pretty nasty. Sawing through a guy's throat with broken glass is one thing, but the repeated stabbings, each with increased force, until the sound design resembles someone punching a bag of rotten meat, was more than I expected.

Back to the plot for a second: Halloween II picks up two years after Halloween, and two years after the supposedly dead Michael disappeared. When we see him again, Mane often appears without the mask and instead has a long beard and scraggly hair. You've probably heard folks refer to these sections as "Hobo Michael", but I didn't feel like much of his wandering was aimless. The explanation - that he's following his visions - creates an internally coherent reason for why Michael ends up where he ends up during the film. Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is exploiting the tragedy once more with a new book, one that threatens to expose Laurie to the truth about her history.

The "guest star" casting (as Tarantino has come to put it in his films) actually works in Halloween II where it did not in Halloween. Perhaps the reason is that while the faces are recognizable from time to time, everybody looks different enough that you don't say "hey! Mickey Dolenz!" or "Look, it's Sid Haig or Clint Howard or Udo Kier!" Instead, Zombie calls on Daniel Roebuck (Lost, Bubba Ho-Tep), Margot Kidder, Mary Birdsong (Reno 911), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2), Richard Brake (Batman Begins), Richard Riehle (Office Space, Casino), Howard Hesseman (Shampoo, Silent Movie), Duane Whitaker (Pulp Fiction, Feast), and Mark Boone Junior (Memento, The Quick and the Dead).

Where Halloween II succeeds in the way Halloween didn't is that with most of the bit parts, you'd have to really know these actors to spot them immediately. I really didn't recognize Mary Birdsong or Margot Kidder at first, and Daniel Roebuck is almost unrecognizable. Instead of saying "hey look, another person I recognize in a tiny role!", the impression is more like "that person looks familiar, but I couldn't tell you why", which should be the intended effect. Even "Weird" Al Yankovic fits within the scene he's in, which is a talk show sequence designed to undermine Loomis' credibility (the host is Chris Hardwick, of House of 1000 Corpses).

To be fair, not everything about Halloween II works. While Annie's dialogue is a lot better (reflecting a certain maturity in her post-traumatic experience), Laurie can periodically be shrill and annoying. I'm not saddling it all on Taylor-Compton, because the rest of the dialogue for her new friends (Brea Grant and Angela Trimbur) is occasionally cringe inducing. McDowell's Loomis is so glib and shitty that I do wonder if he'd really bother showing up at the very end of the film.

I also have questions about why Laurie, who seems to be frequently terrorized by dreams of being murdered by Michael, would so idolize Charles Manson. She has not only a huge poster of Manson above her bed, but also some hand painted slogan about what would Charley (sic) do or something to that effect. That was the only moment in set design that really did ring false. Also, the "when Michael puts his mask on vs when he doesn't" motif doesn't really have any rhyme or reason. He kills just as brutally without it outside of the strip club.

What most people are objecting to, however, is the kinda-far-out-there choice by Zombie to bring back Sheri Moon Zombie as ghost mom. Now, I will say that it can get kinda goofy, especially when she lapses into a Vampira-esque staredown with the camera, but I didn't find it to be as horrible as the audiences who vocally assaulted the film in theatres. It's an out there choice, but this is no longer the Halloween we expect; this is Rob Zombie's take on the story, going off in its own direction.

Speaking of which, I have to say that while I did see the Unrated Director's Cut, I have seen the theatrical ending (it was *ahem* online somewhere...) and I much prefer Zombie's cut. For one thing (potential spoilers here) killing Laurie earns the "white horse" coda in a better way than having her put on Michael's mask and go catatonic. I'm also of the mind that Laurie doesn't necessarily need to kill Michael for the story to work, so Michael killing Loomis and dying in a hail of gunfire was plenty appropriate. It's similar to the way that they don't show what Michael does to Annie, just its aftermath. True, it would be a cool kill, but the story doesn't need you to see it happen, just like the ending.

Ultimately, while people seem to really hate Halloween II, the Cap'n liked it. I thought that, even with its flaws, this is a sequel that bests its predecessor and works on its own merits. If you can accept that this is a very different kind of movie than any of the original Halloween films, but one with its own internal logic, you might indeed find it worth checking out.

Total Side Note: The Blu-Ray for Halloween II looks nice, but the picture is awash with grain. This was no doubt an aesthetic decision by Rob Zombie, so I'm not bagging the image quality, but I'm betting that if you find the DVD instead the picture won't be radically different.

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