HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie, 2009)

Rob Zombie is an auteur, whether you like to admit it or not. When it comes to mainstream horror filmmaking, no other director this decade has managed to create a group of horror pictures so stylistically different as Zombie has in such a short timespan. His directorial debut, House of 1,000 Corpses is like a carnival freakshow rotting under a colorful assortment of bubble gum imagery. His second film, The Devil’s Rejects, manages to be a full-blown neo-grindhouse flick in ways Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino only dreamed of accomplishing and a completely exhilarating and surprisingly moving meditation of violent human nature. Zombie’s third film just so happened to be a remake of the 1978 classic Halloween; however the film wasn’t as much a remake as a re-imagining. Somehow with that film, Zombie managed to skid a thin line of being one of the dumbest films of its year, but also one with a few brilliant moments. From a stylistic approach, the film felt uneasy, as if Zombie was trapped inside a box, trying his best to break free and take over and feed what he wants to personally provide for us. Now comes his sequel to that film called, unsurprisingly, Halloween II; not a remake of the 1981 film, but Zombie himself taking complete control over his own demented version of the Myers story – delivering his deranged breed of filmmaking in all of it’s beastly, compelling glory. This is Rob Zombie out of the box, and showing us what he’s made of.

One year after Michael Myers wrecked massive bloodshed on the sleepy town of Haddonfield, his sister Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) approaches the following Halloween in fear of his return. The girl now lives with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris), who also survived the massacre, and Annie’s father Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), who also become weary of the serial killer’s possible return. Throughout the film, Zombie takes complete control of the character Laurie, creating a very believable girl who now suffers from a devestating amount of traumatic depression. This is something many horror sequels from the past fail to touch upon, but here – Zombie approaches it because he knows that this is a reality for anyone. Who wouldn’t change for the worst after spending a whole night running from a sadistic killer who slaughtered your foster parents and friends? And with this character arc, and similar albeit personal ones given to the Brackett characters, Halloween II gains a poignancy that you normally wouldn’t expect. Zombie actually establishes these characters as human, therefore we naturally worry for their safety when Michael Myers does make his way back to repeat his acts of ferocious carnage.

Halloween II touches on the character of Laurie far more than the first film, as she was presented as a one-dimensional bore there. When Laurie tried to escape from Michael Myers in 2007’s Halloween, we never respond to her cries for help because the screenplay drew attention to the fact that she was nothing more than a paper-thin, generic horror movie heroine. Here, however, Laurie is the absolute main focus, her life so messed up and off-balance that you just want to lend a hand and help her, even though she’d probably still just push you away. There is a scene in which Laurie breaks down in her car that is a testament to how much of a well-developed character she has become, and Taylor-Compton’s performance only helps bring out Laurie’s deteriorating grip on humanity. Those who connect to human drama will undoubtedly love this film more than those looking for the typical Michael Myers fodder. This is a surprisingly deep picture.

But don’t think Laurie is the only focus of the story, of course the iconic ghost-faced killer is too. But instead of creating him as a hellbent psychopath, Zombie pulls through to some inner-mind sequences of such hypnotic and orgasmic imagery that bleeds with an eerie atmosphere of dread. Instead of just following Myers through his killing spree, we are treated to the workings of his mind, further giving an understanding to his animalistic urges to slaughter. Does he become sympathetic? No, and he’s not supposed to be. Instead we are peering completely into an allegorical mindset that works metaphorically for where the film ultimately ends up in its devestating and disturbing final minutes.

There is no doubt Halloween II received terrible reviews. This is that kind of film that is so ambitious, yet so sensational that the picture was literally doomed to experience immense words of hatred. This hate could sprout from the way Zombie completely makes the film one that easily stands alone in the Halloween series itself, or just the biased hate from fans who don’t want to see the original John Carpenter masterpiece touched. (In actuality, this pre-conceived loathing for Zombie’s film is something I really fail to understand, seeing as Zombie’s world in Halloween II is so different on a creative and psychological level that the original film really doesn’t come off damaged.) Zombie’s direction in the film is like a demented mad scientist piecing together his own crackling world with an immense amount of the idiosyncratic. But he does so without becoming obvious, or ham-fisted. With all the hate this film gets, I wouldn’t be surprised if, with time, the film really does gain the respect of those who originally hated it. Take, for example, 1980’s The Shining, a film now considered a masterpiece but a Razzie-nominated critical failure back when it was first released. The Shining was a victim of bias due to the way director Stanley Kubrick strayed far away from the source material (a well-loved Stephen King novel) and directed the story with a very stimulating and incredibly innovative alteration of the conventions familiar in the horror genre. This way of approach is what Halloween II works with in its own macabre way.

I will probably get flack for this following statement, but will also be smiling in about ten years when Halloween II is treated with more appreciation. I am going to go as far as to say that, with this film, Rob Zombie has paved his way to coming a fresh face in the new brilliant line of stylish, rewarding cinema directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, and Harmony Korine, who have all proven to completely own a film in the same way Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Louis Malle, and Stanley Kubrick put a distinctive stamp on theirs. Likewise, Zombie treads his way toward greatness in a way John Cassavetes stormed the scene with his first film Shadows and slowly arrived at his senior effort, the brilliant and bold Faces (his greatest achievement). This seems to be the way Zombie’s filmography has come off, coming in with an original bang with his freshman film and paving his way to his fourth film that shows his abilities at creating his own trashy world, showing us that he can in fact succeed at bringing forth something of such radical brilliance.

And there’s a twisted beauty to his craft. The way Zombie constructed The Devil’s Rejects as a reflection of the good in the bad people, and the bad in the good, was a daring and honest example of Zombie’s affection for his normally vile characters. The first hour of the film examines the violent Firefly clan as they torture, abuse, and murder a motel room full of innocents, while the last fifty minutes treats us to the twisted psyche of the supposed good guy who tortures, abuses, and tries to murder the Firefly clan himself based off of a personal vendetta. With this morality dissection of brutality existing in the pit of instinctive human behavior, Zombie manages to pull through with a powerful final scene which helps give meaning to the reason he uses the grindhouse atmosphere in the wake of a blood-soaked western. The classic story of good vs. evil often associated to the genre contrasts and connects, simultaneously, to the overall motif.

Zombie uses this similar approach to Halloween II, only this time its not a call on the clichés of the western genre, but that of the avant garde (think David Lynch shredded through a grindhouse grinder) and of grunge pop culture. Look at the way Laurie reacts with such bitter resentment to her former all-American good girl image with that of a trashy head-banger after her experience. Some negative reviews have pointed out that Laurie is not believable at all in this presentation of an unclean goon, but that’s only because Laurie herself is putting on the show to impress her own personal demons. What the pop culture references of the slimy, dirty side of the entertainment industry manages to do for this film is help focus in on Laurie’s proclivity, almost in the same way Michael Myers’ subconscious is filled with striking similar allusions to the pulpy, expressionistic nature of Laurie’s own nightmares. One that immediately comes to mind is a sequence in which Laurie nervously waits in a security office for the guard to return, the music video of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” playing on the television. In a later scene, when Michael arrives at the nightclub his mom used to strip at when he was younger, the song plays menacingly in the background. It’s obvious through this, and many other scenes, that Laurie and Michael are linked psychologically. It’s not until the final scene that we realize that this link reaches farther within the cerebral than the viewer would ever expect.

A lot of the film’s cynics write-off the final scenes as anti-climatic and illogical, as well as being cliché. But on deeper thought, it’s easily realized that the final moments remain introspectively consistent to the logic of Zombie’s analysis on the muddled perceptions of the damaged, confused and weak mind. The way Zombie connects the subconscious mind to that of art immediately reminds me of the way 2000’s underrated The Cell used subliminal paintings to concrete effect in expressing art’s effect on human behavior. It also reminds me, to a lesser effect, the way Marco Bellocchio used Catholic beliefs and teachings in 1965’s Fists in the Pocket to create the basis for its twisted main character’s views on social hypocrisy and what leads him to murder his family. Sometimes, we forget how effective the works of an artist can have on our minds. Zombie isn’t the first to examine this view (obviously) but he does it in a way nobody else has and does it with such a subtle grace under the icy surface of extreme and ugly nihilism. Thinking more about the way this film treads this line of the self-conscious in terms of its genre and its central message, it makes me realize how heavy-handed Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds was in handing it’s similar self-conscious elements concerning film’s power to dominate all boundaries including life history itself. I now can’t help but wish QT’s effort would have somehow had a little something more to tell me, no matter how unapologetically fun and entertaining it was. Halloween II doesn’t have a fun inch in it’s body, which is another aspect that puts it far outside the boundaries of the slasher flick norm. The film tests audiences expectations to be entertained, and instead confronts them head-on with the harsh realities of its story. This may be the reason why so many walked out of theater in the middle of the film looking so uncomfortable, Zombie isn’t making this a pleasant time at the movies.

In the end, my final statement on Halloween II is that it, quite surprisingly, managed to pull through and become practically the first slasher sequel to make me feel rejuvenated and full of hope in a genre that finds itself in a repetitive cycle of dumb cash-in slashers. It also comes as a surprise that I myself will be placing this film on my ten best films of the year list; and seeing as the film is, in itself, a fairly original piece of work I don’t mind doing this at all. I can hope, and really wish, that this film gets fairly treated in the future and recognized for its truly well-delivered merits. With the films Rob Zombie directs in the future, I wish the best that he sticks to his personal aesthetic and is treated with a lot more respect for doing so. He is a filmmaker, not a hack and the comparisons to Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich are almost laughable. I dare you to try and name another single director, or film for that matter, that is even remotely similar to the directorial workings of Rob Zombie’s films – especially this film. Can’t do it can you?

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~ by jerkwoddjh on December 6, 2009.

11 Responses to “HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie, 2009)”

  1. Okay so I watched the movie based off of your review and honestly it wasn’t as bad as I predicted. I wouldn’t say it’s as terrible as the first film but this still an awful experience having to sit through all the cliches, predictabilities, and the down right bad/annoying acting (most specifically by the actress who plays Laurie Strode).

    The main problem with these remakes is that with the originals, there was a quite intensity that built up to actual scares. These days, everyone already knows the formulas and routines so it takes out a lot of the suspense needed to make these type of movies work. I will say though, that Rob Zombie has a freakishly imaginative mind. Some of the scenes in this movie paint a horrifying yet almost Burton-esque appeal.

    I just hope this is the complete end to the series. Enough is enough…and that’s coming from a slasher movie fan.

  2. Thanks for the response, and glad to know I convinced you to watch it. Haha.

    I understand that there are cliches and predictable plot points, but as I’ve mentioned I was just so awestruck with ‘how’ they were delievered under such stellar direction and visuals, and the technical aspects of the film are exceptional as well – like the score, editing, cinematography etc.

    Bad acting? By Scout Taylor-Compton? I thought she really delivered. Completely vulberable and authentic in the role. I also though Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif were excellent as well. What did you think of them? I think Harris is easily my favorite supporting player from the cast. She broke my heart (and so did Dourif).

    “The main problem with these remakes is that with the originals, there was a quite intensity that built up to actual scares.” The thing is, though, that it’s not a remake at all (save for the first 20 minutes which is more homage than anything)… this film is just completely fabricated from Zombie himself, just using the remake as backstory to set up his own personal vision. And I also think Zombie delivered, with this film, a different kind of horror than the suspenseful and very creepy kind (like the 1978 film itself, which is still a better film, but anyway…) but Zombie made this film still work. It was very, very violent, yes, but his direction and the visual schemes and the psychological plot points created this very terrifying atmosphere to go along with the brutality. Unlike the first film, which seemed to be just violent for the hell of it.

    You said: “I will say though, that Rob Zombie has a freakishly imaginative mind. Some of the scenes in this movie paint a horrifying yet almost Burton-esque appeal.” To be honest, I think it’s the most visually brilliant film so far this year. And I didn’t pick up on Burton-esque moods, I can’t really feel any other kind of director with this unique style that Zombie has. It’s just all his own.

    And I would love for this to be the final “Halloween” film. Well worth the note. Beginning with the best, and ending with the second best? I’m game. 🙂

  3. Hi Douglas. As promised I’ve read through your review again and would like to second much of what you’ve written.

    I myself have no qualms about giving “Halloween II” props for its Lynchian style of expression and the way Zombie continues to craft films in his own image – though this film represents for me the first time when his work has been entirely free from the constraints of former films (be it as Carpenter’s “Halloween” was to the mostly radically different re-imaging, as “The Funhouse” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” were to “House of 1000 Corpses,” or as other B-movies were to the nonetheless great “Devil’s Rejects).

    I’d particularly second your comments on the ludicrousness of many criticisms being levelled at the film. The comments on the “unbelievable” arc of Laurie’s character is especially nonsensical, since “Halloween II” forms with “Halloween” a great double-feature on cause and effect, seeing the ramifications that Michael’s previous massacre has on Laurie’s psyche (or as any killing has on the survivors left behind). Criticism of Taylor-Compton’s performance is a mystery to me, she perfectly plays a girl in a state of mental decline, with all the hysterics and self-aware performance techniques of someone trying to go on. The scene you cite of her after she reads Dr. Loomis’s book is especially good.

    We’re both in the minority here, but that’s most definitely a good thing, since I couldn’t imagine forcing myself to not appreciate what Zombie’s done with this. I can’t even think of another slasher film that’s quite like it.

    .Tom

  4. I agree with you. “Halloween II” is where Zombie is definitely away from the “homaging” his other films did. It’s easily a very original slasher flick, and it flies over my head when someone can’t even claim that it’s technically a superbly done flick.

    Taylor-Compton especially impressed me. Slams against her being annoying really get to me, because I really can’t piece together why exactly they are using her annoyance as a criticism. Do they realize this girl is literally hanging on the edge?

    I’m perfectly fine being in the minority in thinking the director’s cut is some kind of masterpiece in its own way. Do you prefer that cut over the theatrical cut? I’ve written an essay on why I am amazed by the DC’s ending much more. It makes me feel weak, and sad… 😦

  5. The problem with a lot of critics is they wrote the film off prior to watching and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge even the most minor feats of the film. I brought up William Goss’s negative review in my piece, and that’s a write-up I especially loathe, since it’s written like Goss couldn’t care less about the film since it wasn’t – shock horror – screened for critics. It’s so lazy – even compared to the good (that is: convincing, smart) negative reviews I’ve read.

    And of course, in the age of Rotten Tomatoes there’s so many online movie watchers who see the negative reaction to the film amongst critics and dismiss it – even when many haven’t watched it.

    Don’t have the Director’s cut available to me, since I live in the UK and only the theatrical version is available here (that I know of). A fact that sucks. If I had a multi-region DVD player, I’d probably have the director’s cut imported, since an expansion on the film would greatly appeal to me. I hope I get to see it.

    So my reaction is purely from the theatrical print.

  6. The director’s cut improves on the film in ways the theatrical cut didn’t. It really ties together everything from the film, as well as the first one, into a nice ending where it beautifully gives resolutions for Michael, Laurie, and Loomis. If you aren’t too annoyed with spoilers, I could link you my write-up on it… posted it on IMDb. Haha.

  7. Not too concerned about spoilers. If a movie’s good enough, knowing where it’s going doesn’t greatly effect me. Link away.

  8. Okay, here’s the link to it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1311067/board/nest/156254490

    And then a link to the ending on Youtube, that way you know what happens. 😉

  9. Just like to point out a few other things I love about this ending.

    1. The way Michael removes his mask, knowing it would really disturb Loomis, showing Loomis that he is still a human being and that is being exploited for Loomis’ money-recieving pleasure, and for the fact that Loomis is one of the reasons Michael began using masks and staying quiet in the first film. So removing the mask and speaking is something that Michael knows would definitely get to his “enemy”.

    2. The way Laurie lays on the ground in an almost crucifix shape. Almost as if Zombie is pointing to her savior-like status to complete her brother’s wishes, not just with trying to make sure Loomis is dead with her Michael’s knife, but in death as well.

    3. The way “Love Hurts” hauntingly plays in a slower, somber, motherly version. “Love Hurts” links back to Michael’s mom in the first film during her stripclub scene.

    The film is loaded with lots of things. I mean, I get astounded everytime I watch it.

  10. I like your interpretation of the alternate ending, very eloquent – hitting on the intentions of the scene and why it’s so darn effective.

    Still, I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the theatrical end. The DC ending puts to use “Love Hurts” in a manner that is, yes, beautiful, but I felt it could have been empowered furthermore should the theatrical ending have been sorta mixed in with it (like, maybe have had Laurie go after the downed Loomis after the part in which she says “I love you, brother” in the theatrical cut). Naturally, that wouldn’t have meant the “Triangle of Death” scenario in terms of a literal image, but I think I’d have preferred it.

    I do love when Michael says “Die,” though, since that flows into the impression I got from the film as capturing his aggression and rage through more believable vocalisation, hand-in-hand with his murders. In relation to Loomis, it gains extra strength.

    Both very good endings, of course, and having watched the movie a full four times I as well continue to be impressed by just how well it holds up.

  11. Excellent review. I saw this film on opening weekend and also watched the Director’s Cut on DVD a few weeks ago. In both cases I absolutely LOVED it. The negative reaction to this movie baffles me. This is a BRILLIANT horror film. If horror fans don’t appreciate what Zombie did here then I wonder if it is possible to please them – I guess unless all they want is garbage like the horrible Friday the 13th reboot.

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