Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Tyler Mane, Brad Dourif, Chris Hardwick, Mark Christopher-Lawrence, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips
Released date: August 28, 2009
A few years ago the Halloween franchise was in dire need of a change in direction worse than anything. The logical step from a Hollywood studio standpoint was to take the series’ iconic masked madman Michael Myers back to his roots and start anew. The idea of a remake of the original Halloween wasn’t warmly accepted at first among the franchise’s longtime fans with good reason but the series had long since scraped the bottom of the barrel so clean you could eat off it. The time had come for a new director to take the reins of Michael Myers’ gory exploits and put their own unique spin on the beloved horror series. Musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie was an odd choice for that job and the movie he ultimately delivered in the late summer of 2007 was greeted with the kind of warm enthusiasm Michael Myers usually reserved for his murder victims. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve seen the remake several times and I even own it on DVD. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but I regard it as a fascinating failure possessing greater re-watch value than 95% of the horror remakes being released these days.
Zombie did the best job he could when you consider the circumstances but the slow-burning narrative of his remake’s first two acts was crippled in the third act by the crude insertion of a compact rehash of the original that gave us no time to really get to know the other characters. Even the character of Laurie Strode, one of horror cinema’s greatest heroines, was reduced to a giggly, perky cipher I had little or no sympathy for. Zombie was heavily criticized for attempting to give Michael Myers a detailed origin complete with a broken home, a family who couldn’t give much of a shit about him (with the exception of dear ol’ mum Deborah, a fine performance by the underrated Sheri Moon Zombie, the director’s missus), and a society that has written him off before they even knew him.
The remake was a smash hit but Zombie made it perfectly clear he wasn’t going to do a sequel. I guess the promise of a hefty payday lured the eponymous Rob back into the world of Michael Myers and his evil ways because a little over a year after the release of his remake Zombie announced he would be writing and directing a sequel. Many scoffed but I was intrigued. After all The Devil’s Rejects was a sequel to House of 1000 Corpses and it kicked ass in ways its predecessor couldn’t imagine. Plus, Zombie had laid the groundwork for a Halloween sequel that could potentially make the reboot a distant memory. It was a no-brainer assignment that I didn’t believe he could botch, that is until I watched Halloween II.
The story for those of you who give a shit picks up a year after the last Halloween ended. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) still has nightmares of that fateful night when she lost her adopted parents and one of her friends at the vicious hands of escaped murderer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). Now living with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris), another survivor of that last Halloween, and making regular visits to a psychiatrist (Margot Kidder), Laurie attempts to get on with her life. Unfortunately for her, Michael Myers is still alive and well and as the next Halloween approaches he has plans to return to the town of Haddonfield where his reign of terror began many years ago. Meanwhile for some reason the movie keeps cutting back and forth to Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), Michael’s own former psychiatrist, as he travels the country on a tour promoting his book The Devil Walks Among Us, which is being derided as a shameless attempt by Loomis to cash him on his connection to Myers’ horrific legacy.
Rob Zombie has finally let me down. As far as I’m concerned I will not see a worse movie this year than Halloween II, the musician/filmmaker’s unwarranted cash grab of a sequel to his unfairly maligned 2007 remake of John Carpenter’s groundbreaking horror classic. I had doubts about this movie going in but I also had complete faith in Rob Zombie to make a damn good movie, but I found that faith being sorely tested during the first ten minutes of what would amount to one of the single most pathetic wastes of celluloid I have ever witnessed. For the first time in my life as a moviegoer I came very close to walking out of a movie before it was over. A showing of Inglourious Basterds next door was a temptation I was forced to resist for I chose this assignment of my own free will and I was determined to see it through. Halloween II is a cheap, ugly, murky, shrill, derivative, repetitive, nasty, and worst of all sub-moronic exercise in unrestrained sadism and brain-damaged armchair psychiatry that tries to be frightening and fails miserably. Anybody who thought this movie would be scary is obviously suffering delusions of grandeur and should seek help immediately.
Outside of the original 1978 version of Halloween, which is about as perfect a horror movie can be, I’ve never had much respect for the franchise. Some of the sequels worked reasonably well but my main problem with the series is its central character, the unstoppable killing machine Michael Myers. The man had nothing resembling a personality. He was as blank and uninteresting as his pale mask, but in the original at least that worked to his advantage with those dark and hollow eyes that symbolized the lack of a mortal soul in this character. Myers was portrayed as evil personified and the classic final scene cemented that characterization. Like all horror films that go on to be box office smashes, Halloween was intended to be a one-off, but the movie hit big with critics and audiences and garnered huge profits off a chump change budget. The thing is, once you’ve established that the villain of your series can’t be killed in any possible fashion, you’re left with no place to go. Look at the Matrix movies and its messianic superhero Neo for another example of that. In order to give the repetitive sequels some narrative in between hack and slash scenes, Myers’ mystique started to be chipped away. The filmmakers added some kind of overly complicated back story involving a Druid cult that gave Myers his powers and from there things just got crazier.
The first official sequel Halloween II (1981) was intended, at least by the original’s creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill, to be Michael Myers’ big screen farewell. Carpenter and Hill wanted to make future Halloween films focus on more original stories instead of grinding out more slasher flick fodder. The low grosses on Halloween III: Season of the Witch (a film which is very flawed but has its moments) pretty much quashed that ambition, so the stage was set for the triumphant return of everyone’s favorite silent psychopath in the inverted William Shatner mask. Of course they still had that pesky Druid subplot to deal with. The Halloween sequels that followed tried to deal with this elephant in the room as best they could but it wasn’t possible without painting themselves even further into a narrative corner. Once the rights to make future Halloween films was purchased by Bob and Harvey Weinstein a clean start for the franchise was in order, but trying to inject the sequels with some fresh talent in front of and behind the camera and even bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis from the first two films only served to keep the Halloween series on life support. By the time the horrifically ill-conceived Halloween: Resurrection (2002) came along the series was now in a persistent vegetative state showing off a brief, occasional flicker of life from within the shell of its former self it had become. As if the Druid material wasn’t embarrassing enough one of the cinema’s greatest icons of horror was reduced to slugging it out with rapper Busta Rhymes… and losing. Maybe you couldn’t kill the boogeyman, but you sure as hell could kill his career.
After watching the new Halloween II, the second movie in film history to bear that title (couldn’t the Weinsteins have come up with a more original title?), I’m convinced the Halloween franchise is now running on fumes. Rob Zombie has managed to accomplish the impossible. He made the Druids seem like a good idea. I don’t know what in the hell was going through Rob Zombie’s head when he sat down to script his Halloween II because it will have me forever doubting his abilities as a filmmaker. For reasons I don’t want to even think about, Zombie came up with the dim-witted notion of having Michael’s mother (played by a returning Sheri Moon Zombie) reappear throughout the film as an apparition communicating with Michael from beyond the grave. Or is she merely a figment of imagination? It could be one or the other but by the end her presence in the movie becomes so confusing I’m not sure even Zombie himself knew what she was supposed to be. Having her occasionally appear with a white horse doesn’t help at all. Michael is also haunted by a vision of his younger self, but he’s not played by the same actor from the original because he hit puberty or something. I don’t know and frankly I don’t give a damn. Neither kid can act to save his life but at least the first actor (Daeg Faerch) gave it his best shot. Without giving much away I will say that Zombie spends part of the first act sending Laurie fleeing from Michael at a hospital and for a while it looks like he’s literally remaking the original Halloween II from 1981. Maybe this is just ol’ Rob’s idea of an in-joke but if he does a third Halloween he might want to center the plot on Stonehenge and masks that melt the heads of annoying little kids. It would definitely make for a better story than the one in his Halloween II.
I know Rob Zombie likes his movies to be populated by more down and dirty characters but he went too far by making the characters in Halloween II neither likable nor interesting. Say what you will about the Firefly family from Zombie’s first two films, but at least they were fun to watch and rarely wore out their welcome. The Haddonfield of Halloween II resembles a production of Lil’ Abner in the Park staged by Marilyn Manson. Almost every person walks around with overactive sex drives, I.Q.’s lower than their shoe sizes, and overbearing attitudes while swearing incessantly. Seriously, the characters in this movie must have a combined vocabulary of twenty words and the rest is all different variations on the word “fuck.” Entire sentences are comprised of this word and this word alone. There’s a scene at the beginning where two guys driving Myers’ dead body to the morgue start talking about necrophilia for several minutes (or maybe it just felt like several minutes) while 10cc’s pop rock classic “The Things We Do for Love” ironically plays on the radio. Then their van runs smack into a cow and one of the morgue attendants ends up spitting up blood and teeth for what seems like an eternity. He also says “fuck” quite a few times. After watching this scene I pretty much knew what I was in for, and I wasn’t wrong.
Zombie also goes overboard on the murder sequences. When Michael stabs someone, smashes them into a mirror, or stomps on their head, he does it over and over again. This happens practically every time he commits a murder and by the first time he does it it’s already become repetitive. The effective rampaging brutality of Michael’s killing rampage in the remake has been replaced by a sickening wallow in blood and gore that gives the movie a geek show mentality where its purpose is to gross the audience out rather than terrify them. It’s just plain gross and unpleasant to watch when Zombie will give us nothing more in a scene. At the beginning of the movie, Laurie is taken to the emergency room after supposedly killing Michael and as she lays unconscious on the operating table the movie starts to resemble a documentary on E.R. surgery. Wounds are sewn closed and bloody, ragged nails are pried loose from their fingers as the surgeons carry on casual conversations. A little of this would go a long way but Zombie’s camera continues to linger until he decides we’ve had enough. The movie’s many death scenes are also set up incompetently with the characters putting themselves constantly in situations that they wouldn’t be in if they weren’t the biggest bunch of fucking morons in the world. Almost every scene goes like this: a character is wandering around in the dark, spots Michael Myers standing there looking at them, and even though this guy is about two feet taller than the biggest guy in Haddonfield and looks like he eats souls for breakfast, this doesn’t stop the idiots he chooses to kill from talking tough to him and even threatening to kick his ass. Then Michael dispatches the dopes in the nastiest ways he can conceive and they deserve it for being so damn stupid in the first place. At one point, Myers does something nasty involving a certain beloved pet that puts to rest the question of how he manages to survive between yearly killing sprees, but if you get moved easily by those animal rescue commercials scored by sad Sarah MacLachlan music, I’d advise against watching this movie.
Some of the best characters from Zombie’s first Halloween flick are given the shortest shrift in the sequel and since they’re also played by the best actors in the movie this only incensed me ever further. Iconic British actor Malcolm McDowell’s interpretation of the beleaguered shrink Dr. Sam Loomis in the 2007 remake was much different from the way Donald Pleasance played him in the original movie and its sequels and I loved it. The story of Halloween as Zombie initially saw it was the story of Michael Myers and his relationship with his dedicated psychiatrist Dr. Loomis. Except for part three, which had nothing to do with the original or any of the sequels, Michael and Dr. Loomis were the focal characters of the series until after 1995’s Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (seek out the “producer’s cut because it’s much better than the theatrical cut) proved to be the last film for Pleasance. Other characters like Laurie and the protagonists of each sequel were essentially peripheral to the larger story of the continuing battle between the unstoppable force of evil that is Michael Myers and the man who tried to help him for many years and then realized that he must be destroyed at all costs, Dr. Sam Loomis.
The cast of Halloween II tries to make an impression but that proves to be impossible since most of the characters are either stock slasher movie archetypes or cartoonish hicks from Rob Zombie’s own reject pile. The best performance comes courtesy of the great Brad Dourif as Sheriff Lee Brackett. The Brackett character didn’t show up until the last act of the 2007 remake but thanks to Zombie, Dourif gets more screen time to draw out his portrayal of a tough cop and a loving father sworn to protect his loved ones from Michael Myers no matter what the cost to his life. Dourif has always been one of my favorite actors and an underrated one at that sadly, but at least in Zombie’s scuzzbag slasher he owns his scenes hardcore. I’m sad to say that Malcolm McDowell has been shown the exact opposite treatment. His character of Dr. Sam Loomis was so integral to the success of the last Halloween movie that the least that Rob Zombie could have done for McDowell was make Loomis a bigger player in the events of the sequel. That’s far from the case here. Loomis spends most of his time on a tour promoting his hackwork true crime book and belittling his harried assistant Nancy (Mary Birdsong, formerly of the Comedy Central show Reno 911) like the douchebag primadonna he is. It’s a damn shame to see a fine actor like Malcolm McDowell sidelined for the majority of the movie when he could’ve brought so much more to the party, but at least McDowell does a fine job for the most part and gets a few funny lines every so often. His best line sums up the movie perfectly: “Bad taste is the petrol that drives the American Dream.” He would know, wouldn’t he? Scout Taylor-Compton’s acting is strictly amateur night. We’re supposed to empathize with her character Laurie Strode but that proves to be more than a bit difficult to do since Taylor-Compton’s performance mainly consists of screeching, crying, swearing like a Tourette’s case, and brooding incessantly. In Rob Zombie’s eyes Laurie is never proactive but merely exists to be the victim. The only way he could’ve added any dimension to her character would’ve been by shooting the movie in 3D. This new Laurie Strode is worlds away from the smart, sexy, and gutsy heroine played by Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween and several of its sequels.
The rest of the cast failed to impress me because they’re mostly another ragged ensemble of B-movie character actors and showbiz has-beens given absolutely nothing except occasionally get an audience member to shout, “Hey it’s that guy! Where have I seen that guy before?” There were a few welcome faces like Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Margot Kidder (Superman), Duane Whitaker (Pulp Fiction), Mark Boone Junior (Memento), Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinatti), Betsy Rue (My Bloody Valentine 3-D), and Richard Riehle (Office Space). Plus the cameo by Weird Al Yankovic was a nice, unexpected surprise. Former pro-wrestler Tyler Mane returns to the role of Michael Myers and just like in the 2007 remake he gives an excellent show playing the masked madman and projecting a terrifying presence through his movements and physicality. His performance reminds me so much of Kane Hodder’s as Jason Voorhees in four of the Friday the 13th movies. On the technical side only Tyler Bates’ musical score stands out. The cinematography by Brandon Trost (replacing the remake’s excellent director of photography Phil Parmet) is constantly under-lit and depressingly murky, and the ADD-afflicted editing of Glenn Garland and Joel Pashby is loaded with avid farts and film school-level masturbatory exercises. One can hardly blame them though since they’re only working in service of Rob Zombie’s corrupted vision.
With Halloween II, Rob Zombie was making a poor attempt to emulate the wonderfully sordid drive-in exploitation extravaganzas of filmmakers like Tobe Hooper and Jim VanBebber, but what he ended up with is a movie that at its worst plays like a fourth-rate slice of grindhouse drivel that reeks of cynical opportunism. It’s nothing more than a slasher movie so painfully ordinary in every aspect it’s downright offensive. Halfway through this movie I leaned over to my friend and said, “This is one of the worst fucking movies I’ve ever seen.” Rob Zombie hasn’t merely made an awful film, he’s broken my heart. Thanks for nothing Rob.