Horror Heads Home
There was a time when Halloween was considered the classy slasher flick. The game changed once Friday the 13th and Elm Street upped the ante in gore, but Halloween never needed it. With just the right mood and that memorable music, John Carpenter chilled you to the bone and spilled nary a drop of blood doing it. Things are different now, for this weekend sees the release of Rob Zombie's unquestionably brutal Halloween II. Although I enjoyed and actually defended his 2007 remake of the horror classic, the novelty has worn off. Now given free reign to do what he pleases with Michael Myers, Zombie has devised a film more bleak than scary, one whose primary concern appears to be inspiring its audience to give up on modern horror altogether.
The bulk of Halloween II takes place a year after its predecessor. Young Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) may have survived the terror of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), but she's been left an emotional train wreck as a result. She lives in a state of constant fear, certain that Michael is still out there, though in this case, her suspicions are justified. Michael is alive and kicking, and this time, he's a man on a mission. Led by visions of his departed mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), Michael makes his way back to the cozy hamlet of Haddonfield for another wave of murders. With Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) out promoting a new book, it's up to fragile Laurie to face down Michael and confront her own ties to the psycho for the last time.
As repelled as I tend to be by sequels and anything with a "re-" prefix, I found myself intrigued by what Halloween II represented. In my review of the remake, I mentioned how I preferred the stuff Zombie brought to the table over the moments he spent imitating Carpenter. But there's a difference between putting a new spin on old material and distancing yourself so much from it, then leaving little that's recognizable. With Halloween II, Zombie seems to be daring fans to gripe about the changes he's made. I understand the need to be a little rough in this age of horror, but the despair this picture comes drenched in seems ridiculously overwhelming. You have to wonder why Zombie didn't just stake out a new franchise. The names Myers, Strode, and Loomis are there, but you can never bring yourself to care; the characters have been too diluted to stand for anything anymore.
I guess Halloween II fails for the same reason most horror sequels do: it doesn't need to exist. Zombie fancies his take on the franchise to be more gritty and psychologically based, but his approach here appears so dumbed down and cartoonish, you can't tell who's doing the analyzing, him or Friz Freleng. Presenting a much more damaged Laurie (played well by Taylor-Compton) than before is a start, though her illness gets exploited for a twist that would be more shocking had Zombie not hinted at it during the entire film. Michael's treatment serves only to detract from Mane's imposing frame, especially with his mom prancing around like a thirtysomething Cruella DeVil. But the most puzzling transformation has been saved for Loomis, who's gone from determined protector to whiny gossip hound. If the disappointing characterizations weren't enough, the death factor offers little to no respite. One poor sap gets his face squashed into hamburger, but the film is often too dimly lit and the camera too jittery to tell who's getting slashed by what.
There comes a scene in Halloween II in which Loomis proclaims to a room of journalists that Michael Myers is dead, and in this case, I'm inclined to agree. The original series had a mixed run, but I sort of liked the assurance that a new one would be on the way. However, with Halloween II, Zombie kills John Carpenter's creepiest creation -- to the relief of some and to the dismay of others like myself.
(Released by Dimension Films and rated "R" for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, terror, disturbing graphic images, language, and some crude sextual content and nudity.)
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)