"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Friday, October 22, 2021

Halloween II


Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 2007 was a financial success prompting the studio to greenlight the inevitable sequel. Enough time had passed after the making of that movie that he had forgotten what a difficult experience it and was willing to go again but this time he would no longer be constrained with having to remake another person’s movie thus allowing him to follow his creative bliss, making a follow-up that was more brutal and refreshingly stranger than the previous movie. The result was Halloween II (2009).
After a brief flashback to Michael as a child, recounting a dream he had to his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), we are brought back to the present with a bloody and battered Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) walking down the middle of the road in a shell-shocked daze after having just fought off and killed Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) catches up to and tries to calm her down. Slam cut to a close-up of her screaming face as she’s wheeled along a hospital corridor on a gurney.
Back at the site of the climactic showdown, an unconscious Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is also sent off in an ambulance while Michael’s body is carried away as well but when the two inept coroners driving the truck crash into a cow (?!), Michael rises and disappears into the night. At the same moment, Laurie rises from her hospital bed to see her friend Annie (Danielle Harris), another survivor from the encounter with Michael, and Zombie makes a point of lingering on these two young women, their bodies damaged by what happened to them, but those wounds will eventually heal. It is the psychological damage that Zombie is interested in exploring with this movie.

He does pay tribute to the original Halloween II (1981) in the first 20 minutes or so as Michael stalks Laurie through the corridors of the hospital and manages to avoid the obvious error or having a nearly empty building for the two to engage in a prolonged cat-and-mouse game that always rang false by having her quickly escape out into the pouring rain, but oh wait, it was a nightmare and a year has passed since the events depicted in Halloween. It feels like Zombie’s fuck you to the original sequel as if to say don’t we all wish that movie was a nightmare we could forget?
Laurie takes pills for pain, anxiety, you name it, still traumatized and living with Brackett and his daughter Annie. It’s a well-played scene as we see these people trying to get on with their lives as best they can considering what they’ve been through. Laurie, especially, is lost in the world. Her parents are dead and Michael’s body was never found, which leaves her frustratingly without closure.
Meanwhile, Loomis has bounced back as a flashy television personality, cashing in on what happened a year ago and Zombie re-introduces his character via a super slick tracking show that would make Michael Mann proud, combined with a very Aaron Sorkin-esque walk-and-talk sequence. He’s become a petulant primadonna, which Malcolm McDowell has fun playing to the hilt. The “good” doctor happily cashes in on the fascination with Michael Myers but when someone brings up the possibility of the killer still being alive he loses it and we see the cracks in the fa├žade. He is not above doing an interview in front of the now-abandoned Strode house as he tells his long-suffering assistant, “Bad taste is the petrol that drives the American Dream.”

Halloween II is a more visually interesting movie when we finally see what Michael has been up to all this time, living in an abandoned barn out in the middle of nowhere, killing and eating animals to survive, and having visions of his mother. Initially, it is of her dressed all in white next to a white horse but soon they become more involved. His mother was the only good thing in Michael’s life and once she was gone so were the last vestiges of being human. These visions are beautifully surreal sequences, bizarre tableaus that anticipate what he would delve into to a greater degree with The Lords of Salem (2012), which eschewed gore and violence for atmospheric dread.
The movie has the requisite kills that fans have come to expect from the franchise but here it feels as if Zombie is getting them out of the way as he’s more interested in tracking the shattered lives of the main characters than goosing the body count for cheap thrills. We get considerate character beats, such as Sheriff Brackett extolling the virtues of Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou (1965) to Laurie and his daughter who have no idea what he’s talking about. They provide brief moments of levity in an otherwise extremely grim movie.
A child of the 1970s, Zombie populates his movie with a bevy of character actors who were stars during that time and so we have Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hessman as the owner of a cool independent record store that Laurie works in and Margot Kidder as Laurie’s therapist. Despite working for a studio, Zombie still manages to find room for his troupe of favorite actors, such as Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Daniel Roebuck, many of whom get the honor of being brutally dispatched by Michael.

This being a Rob Zombie movie and his perchance for all things white trash, he trades in the suburbs of Haddonfield, that we normally associate with the Halloween franchise, for his preferred locales – indie record stores, deserted barns and sleazy strip clubs. He employs a desaturated color palette for this grim movie, saving key moments for splashes of color, such as the aforementioned strip club and the Halloween party Laurie attends – both awash in garish reds.
With Loomis’ endless press interviews and book signing gigs, Zombie is showing how infamous crime cases are commodified and exploited by people like Loomis without caring about the damage that has been done and continues with this careless exploitation. It brings out kooky fans and grief-stricken parents of kids killed by Michael that want to vent their anguish and anger on the doctor who has nothing but contempt and indifference for his audience. Laurie continues to unravel, permanently scarred both physically and psychologically by Michael and Loomis’ book only reopens these old wounds.
With both of his Halloween movies, Zombie is not interested in making a gimmicky Scream meta slasher movie or an over-the-top kill-happy Friday the 13th movie but instead grounding the franchise mythos in something approximating realism by showing the toll Michael’s bloody rampage takes on Laurie and those close to her. It’s not funny but sad, leaving one drained by the end of the movie, much like Laurie. Characters live with trauma and try to carry on with their lives but Michael won’t let them. People are killed in horrible, painful ways and those that survive are haunted, their lives shattered beyond repair.