I didn’t hate Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. That’s bad news for anyone
hoping for a repeat of my infamous ‘Fuck You out of 10′ review for the
original remake, since I’m not going to tear it a new one or
revolutionize the CHUD grading system.

Which isn’t to say that I liked the movie. Maybe some of it comes from low expectations – having
sat through the first Halloween, there’s no way this film could be any
worse – but I think it comes from Zombie feeling more free to do the
movie his way. One of the biggest problems I had with the original is
that just when I was getting used to the director’s ridiculous vision
for the character of Michael Myers he went and threw it all away and
just did a by the book remake of the first in twenty minutes. This time
it’s just Zombie’s vision, which can be intriguing as well as annoying,
and which can be actually good… as well as laugh out loud ridiculous.

know you’re in for an… interesting experience when your slasher movie
opens with text explaining the psychological and symbolic meaning of a
white horse appearing in a dream. I haven’t encountered opening text
quite as giggle worthy as this since Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark
(still, without a doubt, the funniest non-parodic opening text crawl of
any movie). That white horse appears a couple of times in the film, and
what it really represents is that Rob Zombie has a very deep idea about
what drives Michael Myers and is utterly unable to express it. This is
the driving force of the film – a complete inability, on the part of
both the killer and his director, to make his thoughts known. Michael
takes it out on his victims by savagely stabbing them to death while
Zombie takes it out on his audience by making these movies.

But while Zombie’s big ideas simply do not work, I like that he has
them in there. Halloween II is trying to be something more than ‘just’
a slasher movie, and while I don’t think it’s ever in any danger of
succeeding I respect the fact that the guy tried. Zombie has refined
his Myers; now really a hillbilly, the kind of characters he recognizes
from his youth in Haverhill, Massachusetts (the town, by the way, that
served as the inspiration for Riverdale, the town in which Archie
Andrews of Archie Comics lives), Mike is also now all about rage.
Simple, inchoate rage. While Myers vocalized during his kills in the
first film here he’s just about shouting with each stab. And these
aren’t even really stabs – the guy is punching poor
motherfuckers with a knife. I don’t remember the first film well enough
to recall if the kills are this forcefully brutal, but I feel like the
sequel has ramped up the palpable anger behind each of Myer’s strikes.
That, of course, is the exact opposite of what John Carpenter’s blankly
dispassionate Shape did in the original film, but Zombie’s already torn
down Halloween; now he’s rebuilding it in his own image.

Which is what any filmmaker should do anyway. It’s why I was always
against Terry Gilliam getting his mitts on Watchmen – what you would
have seen onscreen would have been only partially recognizable as the
comic, since a really visionary director will always impose themselves
on the material. It’s auterism, and as silly as it sounds, Zombie is an
auteur. That’s not a judgment of quality, simply a statement of
irrefutable fact – each of Zombie’s films represents his personal
vision, unmistakably so. He didn’t fully commit to that in the first
Halloween – it’s like he got chicken right at the end and swerved off
into the recognizable, suburban Haddonfield that obviously has no
interest for him – but this film finds him defiantly doing his Rob
Zombie thing almost from the start.

It almost works. There are a couple of prologues – a flashback to Baby
Mikey in the mental hospital, the aftermath of the first Halloween,
with Laurie in the hospital and Michael’s body suddenly and
inexplicably coming back to life after the meat wagon slams into a cow
(killing two of the most irritating scumbags in the Zombie ouevre, and
if you’re familiar with the guy’s canon you know that’s saying
something), the first appearance of the white horse and the ghost of
Mike’s mom, and then a lengthy dream where Laurie is stalked in the
hospital by Mike. When Laurie wakes up it’s a year later, and we’re
treated to some interesting looks at how the surviving characters have
changed. Laurie has terrible nightmares, but she’s also become some
kind of 1980s style hard rocker (seriously, between the Alice Cooper
posters and endless AM radio rock that Zombie has in this film he
should have just made it a period piece). Her parents dead, she now
lives with Sheriff Brackett and his daughter Annie, whose near-death
experience has turned her into a health food freak. Meanwhile, Dr.
Loomis – mysteriously unscarred after having his eyes poked out in the
last movie – has become a crass exploiter of the tragedy, writing
another book about Myers and even coming to Haddonfield to sign copies
on the book’s October 31st release date. This stuff is interesting
(although I simply don’t buy Laurie having a Charles Manson poster over
her bed. I could see her getting into rebellion and everything, but I
would think murderers would leave a bad taste in her mouth after her
parents and all her friends were, you know, murdered. This is really
indicative of the problems with Zombie’s filmmaking – he’s far too
interested in getting in stuff that he thinks is ‘cool’ or ‘fucked up’
to worry if it rings true at all), and for the first time these
characters feel like characters. Instead of wasting time with Michael,
Zombie wisely builds these people up so that they feel rounded out and
real. This way you’ll possibly actually care if they live or die.

But Zombie never figures out how to make a movie out of all of this. He
has Michael seeing visions of his mother and himself as a young boy on
the night that he killed his sister, and he has the survivors going
about their business, but except for the fact that you know Myers has
to show up in town there feels like no good reason for any of it. None
of it builds to anything – my friend Brian Collins noted that you could
rearrange almost any of Myers’ scenes and it would be impossible to
tell the difference – and so the whole film, as it comes to third act,
feels like a slog. There are good moments – I liked the scene of
Loomis’ book signing, where he has to deal with both a weirdo serial
killer fan and an angry parent of one of Myers’ victims – but if ever a
film felt scriptless and formless, it’s this one. The good scenes are
lost in the larger narrative, which meanders slowly along.

When Myers does get to Haddonfield, the deaths are brutal and gory. One
guy gets his face stomped in and a stripper gets smashed to death
against a mirror (is this some kind of commentary about vanity or the
destructive power of the gaze or something? It’s just garbled enough to
make me think that Zombie intends it to mean something). As a gorehound
I liked the kills, although there’s something about the ugliness of
them that feels weirdly old-fashioned right now. I try to stay abreast
of the horror zeitgeist, and I feel like truly horrific, painful,
violent kills are a touch passe at the moment. Fun, shocking,
laugh-inducing kills are of the now, but Zombie doesn’t truck in that
and so every kill is bone crunching. But they’re also a touch
repetitive. Michael Myers is too angry to get creative with his kills,
and the impact that you get from watching him slam a knife into
someone’s skull in the beginning is lost by the end.

So about those visions: what do they mean? What’s Zombie trying to say?
They allow him to do some interesting visual work, and the movie
actually often looks wonderful. There’s a clarity to the scenes with
the mother and Lil Mikey that the rest of the grainy film doesn’t have,
and I like the idea that these are the clearest moments. Zombie tends
to shoot too many close-ups – some conversations consist of just
impossibly tight shots of people’s faces with no context – and his
camerwork gets too herky jerky in some of the more intense scenes, but
he also takes lots of interesting chances. Slow motion in the beginning
of the film is silly, but later on he uses it to great effect. A scene
when Michael comes after Annie in her bathroom is incredibly powerful
when played very, very slow and almost silently. There are also some
terrific dream sequences that gives Zombie a chance to play around with
style and to get weirder than even his already fairly weird movie could
otherwise hold. One shot in particular, of Laurie running through a
dark forest that is illuminated by brilliant blue spears of light, is
downright gorgeous and evocative.

But all of the great cinematography in the world doesn’t clear up what
he’s getting at with these visions. His version of Myers has a serious
mama complex (coupled with his love of the wood and the rednecks who
live in them, doesn’t it seem like Zombie should have just gone for the
Friday the 13th remake? He’s in the wrong franchise), so that makes
sense, but what about the young Mike? If mom is a ghost, what is Lil
Mikey? I thought maybe he was the ghost of the boy who ‘died’ the night
he killed his sister, but that doesn’t really make sense, thematically
or contextually. This Lil Mikey is a servant of the mother, who herself
is urging Michael on his killing spree. She also keeps his calendar, at
one point telling him it’s almost Halloween (I wonder if she wakes him
in the morning, too). So Lil Mikey is just as bloodthirsty as Big
Mikey, and just as much as Mom (at one point Mom tells Michael to ‘have
fun;’ we don’t see the ensuing murder fully, but the victim ends up
naked – did Michael rape her? That’s something I would actually expect
from Zombie, I just wouldn’t expect him to be so circumspect about it),
so I don’t get what the fuck he’s doing there. I imagine the real
answer is that Zombie thought it would be cool looking.

And that’s what a lot of the film boils down to – what Zombie thinks is
cool. If he had more time, or maybe more inclination to think about it,
I think Zombie could have done something really special with this film.
He’s certainly on that path. But every aspect that really worked is
stuck between three or four others that just fall flat, or are
ridiculous. And the ‘deeper’ aspects of the film are, finally,
half-baked. I kept waiting for all of the vision stuff to coalesce into
something, and it almost does when Laurie starts seeing visions as
well… but even that makes no sense. Maybe she would see her birth
mother’s ghost, but Michael’s little self? At the end of the movie
she’s being held down by Lil Mikey, although no one else can see him –
what the fuck does this mean? Watching the muddled, anticlimactic
finale I get the impression this was not the ending that Zombie set out
to make; I had heard very credible rumors that the original ending was
far weirder, and everything leading up to the final shot lends credence
to those rumors. In the end, though, it all plays out as ideas that
were too big for Zombie to wrap his screenplay around mixed in with
shit he thought was kewl.

One thing I’ll say for this movie – it inspired me to write this much.
And if I was writing with spoilers, I think I could go even longer. To
me a film that gives you this much to chew on can’t be simply
classified as a bad film, and with few exceptions, Zombie’s a good
filmmaker. His style is strong, and he can build scenes that work, but
he can’t string them together into anything that goes anywhere or has
meaning. He’s crippled by his own major limitations as a screenwriter,
and I kept wishing that someone had sat down with Zombie to hammer out
this script in a way where it would work. Again, there are concepts
here, scenes here, characters here that are terrific, but they’re lost
in a mess.

I know that Rob Zombie hates his critics – he has Loomis deliver his
thoughts on journalists in the film – but I wish that he would take
this criticism to heart. He’s not a bad filmmaker, even if he might be
one limited by his own interests (which, in many ways is what Woody
Allen is), but he needs better screenplays. The raw material is in
Halloween II to make a film that I could heartily recommend, but Zombie
has only managed to use them to construct a movie I didn’t hate.

5 out of 10