Halloween II (Blu-ray / DVD)
Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Scout Taylor Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif
Directed by Rob Zombie
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Somewhere in Halloween II there’s a decent movie just begging to come out. The potential, though, lies largely in its premise and absolutely nowhere within the execution. As far as sequels go, the idea of surviving victims attempting to pick up the pieces of their lives packs lots of prospect, but it’s also in need of a writer who can cultivate the material in an interesting way.
Rob Zombie is not that man.
From the now infamous "white horse" definition that opens the film to our protagonist’s hallucinogenic nightmare sequence, some have argued that H2 succeeds as an avant-garde slasher flick – one that pushes past the genre’s norms to deliver a deeper, more psychological experience. It’s true that writer/director Rob Zombie tried his hand at delivering something more than just a typical follow-up, but what’s also true is that he failed in doing so with even a modicum of success.
Without question, the biggest problem lies in how Zombie has chosen to treat his monster. His version of Michael Myers is that of a real world serial killer – albeit one with superhuman strength and the keen ability to survive having a chunk of skull blown off his head. It’s a contradictory approach in that his Michael is no more human than The Shape of the original series, but instead of keeping the Boogeyman masked in shadows, he’s traipsing around Haddonfield (sometimes in broad daylight) sans the characteristic mask while suffering a seemingly endless string of hallucinations of his dead mother, who urges him to “have a little fun” all in the name of gritty realism.
This “insight” into the inner-workings of Michael’s mind isn’t particularly deep, and seeing Sheri Moon Zombie pop up every now and again to "remind" him of his task makes him a one-note bore. Moon’s scenes quickly border on the repetitive, serving no purpose other than to illustrate the lack of growth in Michael’s crazy brain. He’s big. He’s pissed. He’s planning a family reunion. Hardly a bold reinvention of the character. The problem is that while he’s boring, he’s also terribly un-scary. Zombie keeps him unmasked for much of the proceedings, and when he slips on that decomposing pale face, seeing so much of Tyler Mane underneath robs Michael of all remaining mystique.
One could argue that mystique has no place with this Michael Myers. That idea works if Zombie could’ve been bothered to make his villain scary. That this Michael spends much of the running time butchering undesirables is a testament to how mismatched the director is to this material. There are better ways to make a monster scary than watching him beat the crap out of a truck full of degenerate drug dealers and stomping in the skull of a sleazy strip club bouncer. When Michael finally gets around to setting his sights on Laurie’s friends (strategically isolating her from everyone, presumably), it’s no surprise that they’re a reprehensible bunch, dropping f-bombs and other profane jewels like they’ve just stumbled out of the Joe Grizzly truck stop. It’s as if Zombie literally has no idea how to write "normal" people, and as a result, everyone in his cast becomes a fork-tongued asshole. I've never once heard my female friends refer to each other as “dick-lickers” in the most casual of manners. And that wouldn’t be a big deal if their dialogue wasn’t 100% interchangeable with just about everyone else in the film, and the first film, and any other Rob Zombie film out there. Everybody talks in the most obscene way imaginable all the time. It’s not a stylistic preference; it’s a crutch for bad writing.
It’s just a weak script overall: Why is nobody looking for Michael Myers, and how in the hell did his body just disappear from the scene of the crime after having his brains blown out? We’re never told. Nor is it explained why Michael takes refuge in a dilapidated shack, only to return to Haddonfield two years after the events of the remake. Why is this real word serial killer so intent on returning on Halloween, and if you can buy that, why did he wait two years to attack? How exactly does a homeless serial killer pass 730 days?
Both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects are profane and vulgar films, but the raucous attitude suits the grimy material and sleazy characters just fine. To go the same exact route here represents a disappointing lack of vision from a director proving that he has nothing new or interesting to say. Further proof lies in Zombie’s willingness to cannibalize some of the more memorable bits from earlier works. Remember the scene in Corpses where Old Man Private Ryan is gunned down – only to have video footage of Christmas morning flash through his head as he drops into the mud? Halloween II’s director’s cut recycles it in the aftermath of a central character’s demise - an undeniably effective bit (thanks in part to the footage used), but it's a trick we’ve already seen. Zombie’s career is far too young for him to already start ripping himself off.
But the biggest disappointment in either Zombieween outing stems from the complete lack of tension and suspense. The closest thing resembling it in Part II comes early on when Laurie flees the hospital with her pissed off brother in hot pursuit. She takes refuge in a guard booth outside while he gets his hands on a hatchet and slowly stalks his way to her while an unsuspecting security guard approaches … It’s almost a good bit, but the tension never mounts properly, entirely dissipating before it can generate any real suspense. From then on the murder scenes don’t even try, focusing instead on the unabashed brutality of the killer. Watching Michael absolutely destroy his victim should be terrifying, but the gore is simply a payoff; it’s nothing without the proper build-up.
In terms of performances, Scout Taylor-Compton tries to muster sympathy for Laurie Strode, but the script prevents that from ever happening. Laurie is endlessly whiny, with only a barrage of profanity to convey her plight. Her character’s arc is among the potentially successful aspects of Halloween II, but Zombie’s script traps her in an endless string of scenes where she’s both unsympathetic and unlikable. Danielle Harris fares much better (especially in this director’s cut) but remains sorely underused. Zombie creates a believable character in Annie, and while Harris will always be little Jamie Lloyd to me, she nearly elevates this material above the rubbish that it is with a terrific performance. Brad Dourif is doubly good, but because he’s a "normal" character, he goes underused in this circus of nonsense.
Special mention must be made of Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis. McDowell’s completely different take on the character was just about the only saving grace concerning the remake, and there was lots of potential to further explore his character and relation to Michael. Unfortunately, Zombie decided that the most natural progression of Loomis was to give him a little bit of fame and turn him into an insufferable ass. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with McDowell’s turn here – he’s clearly having a ball with the material – but the script goes out of its way to make Loomis unlikable. It’s all done in an attempt to give the character a story arc, but his change of heart literally comes out of nowhere and its resolution is about as unsatisfying as the rest of the experience.
Halloween II slashes onto Blu-ray with image quality that faithfully represents Zombie’s grainy 16mm cinematography. Black levels are so deep that they threaten to envelope the action, although the intended look robs the visual palette of much detail and texture – despite the presence of film grain. There’s only so much that can be done with 16mm, but this Blu-ray looks to be a flawless rendition of Zombie’s desired drab atmosphere. The DTS HD MA 5.1 audio track, on the other hand, startles your home theater with an angry and powerful experience. Environments are rich and all-encompassing (especially during the opening nightmare sequence), placing the viewer front and center amidst Zombie’s nonstop nonsense. If you’re a fan of this film, grab this disc and watch it loud. It’s the only way to go.
In terms of special features we get a solid yet skimpy package in comparison to the previous releases of Zombie's other films, including his original Halloween. Things kick off with a menu that actually has the Halloween theme playing, and that's something we don't get until the end credits of the film itself. YAY! Zombie's commentary is brisk yet interesting. It's obvious he had a very clear vision of what he wanted to do, and though his premise was solid, in the end it was his execution that comes off as extremely half-baked.
Next up there are about two dozen alternate and deleted scenes offering up some more of Laurie freaking out, more genre celebrity cameos, and even a couple of alternate kills that were pretty damned effective. Mind you, these are sandwiched between lots of filler so keep that remote handy. From there we move on to several bits of audition footage (I still marvel at the fact that the kid who played young Michael was ever chosen), some make-up tests, a few ear splitting Captain Clegg music videos, and of course more of Uncle Coffins' horrendous stand-up routine. The jewel of these extras comes in the form of the blooper reel that's home to some really funny moments. And there you have it, folks. The long and short of it!
This director’s cut offers no improvement over the theatrical experience. Moments are extended, the ending is even dumber, and the film’s overall theme is solidified a little stronger (you can’t run from your destiny); but there’s nothing substantially different. Halloween II isn’t the worst horror film of 2009 simply because it’s a sequel to the worst horror film of 2007. Rather it’s the complete and utter failure of everything it sets out to do that makes it such a chore to endure. Zombie’s juvenile script and flaccid direction have brought the once revered Halloween franchise to another screeching halt. We’re no better off now than we were after the debacle of Halloween Resurrection - the only difference being it took the original series six direct sequels to run out of steam. This misguided remake is dead in the water after two miserable outings, and we’re left wondering who’ll pick up the slack from here.
1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
Discuss Halloween II in our Dread Central forums!