02 September 2009

RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE

I would dearly love to call myself an apologist for the films of Rob Zombie, but damn, he just doesn't make it easy. The argument always went something like this: sure, his film's aren't always good, but they are all made with a strong eye towards creating a very certain kind of response in the viewer, and their sometimes severe failures as narratives should not take away from their very real success as momentarily terrifying collections of surrealistically violent tableaux. Then, along he comes with Halloween II - that's the sequel to his 2007 remake of Halloween, not a remake of the 1981 Halloween II - and shucks, but I really can't come up with much nice to say about it at all. It's the best Halloween sequel since 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; but does that even count as a compliment?

That vaunted style that Zombie has more or less brought to all of his preceding work - also including House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, the latter being his one truly great film - has largely evaporated for the director's fourth feature; I'd really be hard pressed to honestly claim that Halloween II really possesses much in the way of a style whatsoever. Or better to say: it possesses no coherent style. Moments here and there are extremely well-made, but on the whole the movie seems to consist of nothing but a whole lot of disjointed, underlit scenes of a big dude stabbing the fuck out of people.

This much is true, though: Zombie didn't just toss it off as a make-work effort. He clearly devoted some effort to making this film a fair continuation of his version of the story that pays tribute to the first Halloween II without copying it, and far more than at the end of his Halloween, one gets the feeling like he's made the material his own. The 2009 edition of HII opens with a short return to little Michael Myers (now played by Chase Vanek) and his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) in the insane asylum, reiterating Zombie's interest in the warped goings-on of Michael's brains - no incomprehensible killing machine, this - before re-stating the 1981 film in a fairly snug little mini-movie. Mere moments after the end of Halloween the police intervene in the remnants of the blood-bath, picking up the blood-covered and quite hysterical Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) on the street, and rushing the not-quite-dead-after-all Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, who played Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5) to the emergency room. Laurie herself is set right in a nauseatingly specific surgery scene that pays far closer attention the the physical cost of violence than most slasher movies would dare: her bones are set, chunks of glass removed from her body, stitches everywhere. In what will become one of the few successful motifs developed throughout the film, Laurie's surgery is intercut with scenes of Michael (Tyler Mane, only the second man to play the role twice) improbably coming to life in a coroner's van, killing the drivers, and stomping back to Haddonfield to finish the job he started, killing Laurie in the hospital. He gets their fairly quickly, but Laurie manages to escape, albeit very slowly, and she ends up cowering in the small outbuilding where the parking lot guard spends his nights, when Michael - having massacred nearly the whole hospital staff - closes in on her. Then Laurie wakes up, one year later, on October 29.

Credit where it's due, this whole sequence of about 15 minutes is pretty hard to complain about. It even manages the "only a dream" reveal with some panache: when Laurie was awoken by an old TV show of The Moody Blues playing "Night in White Satin", I was fairly convinced it was a dream sequence, but the longer it went, the less likely that seemed, so that when the reveal finally came, it was an honest surprise. The whole thing is a very knowing homage to the 1981 film, in which Michael stalked Laurie in the hospital the night after the first killings, but by shortening the action so much, Zombie alleviates most of the rampant stupidities of that movie. And most importantly, the whole thing is honestly thrilling and suspenseful: and that is a rare and uniquely valuable commodity in any slasher movie from any time period.

Once Laurie wakes up, though, Halloween II takes a monumental step down in quality and in interest. The rest of the film divides itself between three storylines that only come together near the end: Laurie, now living with Annie and her sheriff dad (Brad Dourif), is trying to put her life together, with the aid of a couple new friends, Mya (Brea Grant) and Harley (Angela Trimbur); Dr. Loomis has turned his post-traumatic stress into a trashy true-crime novel about Michael's life and killings that has every other survivor of the Halloween murders screaming for his head; and Michael, he's still out there, keeping alive somehow, and suffering visions of his mother and his younger self directing him to find and kill Laurie, as this is the only way that he can reunite the Myers clan. At the same time, Laurie is suffering from extremely vivid dreams that are unnaturally close to Michael's hallucinations. I should mention that these dream sequences/visions are the most interesting moments in the film, once that kick-ass opener has wrapped up: honestly creepy without being ZOMG so terrifying, and much more like real nightmares for it.

I certainly get what Zombie is trying to do here: explore the traumatic fall-out from a slasher event in a way that customarily is never done (though the Scream films did something similar, mostly in service to their meta-narrative). But it's not very effective, for a number of reasons: Loomis's storyline is absolutely pointless, and Laurie's is burdened by Taylor-Compton, who has not matured much as an actress since the 2007 Halloween. She's not quite as annoying, but the actress still doesn't have much range to do anything but talk shrilly and scream even shriller still. The Michael plotline is perhaps the best-executed, bearing out the notion that Zombie is primarily interested in exploring the mind of a serial killer, something he's done in all four of his features, more or less. Here, the fatal flaw is that a slasher movie simply isn't well-suited, formally, to that kind of study; it's ridiculously tricky to make a "mind of a killer" film if the killer isn't your protagonist, and even if Laurie functions as a kind of extension of Michael's psyche, the film is constantly working against itself. Anyway, the Michael sequence often descends into nothing more than "Deborah Myers drives Michael to kill", and while the killing scenes are quite unusual - they are mostly bloodless, but perilously brutal, with Michael stabbing at his victims with great force - they are not especially well-motivated. One scene in particular, in which Michael interrupts a Halloween party, not only doesn't fit neatly into the plot, it creates a small galaxy of plot holes.

Mostly, the film is just a waiting game: plot happens, it's dull, we sit around expecting something to come of it, it never does. Brief flickers of interest aren't enough to keep anyone but the most giving of horror fans patient for that much nothingness, and ultimately Halloween II exhausts itself on a single great, unanswered question: what's the point? The corker of an ending - predictable, but hardly the ending that one would have expected, and Zombie certainly seems to make it clear that there will be no Halloween III - isn't enough to justify more than hour of holding pattern that precedes it, and so Halloween II shuffles along as one of the more boring horror films of late: competent in all respects, but there's no urgency pushing it forward. Only Zombie's fascination with Michael gives it any hint of merit whatsoever, and a hint in this case isn't that much.

Points, however, for not indicating that Michael is part of a Druidic cult.

4/10

Reviews in this series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chapelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)

3 comments:

KingKubrick said...

I still haven't seen it yet, so I'm holding out hope but this review has largely deflated that hope. At least this Halloween doesn't feature a mind-melting halloween mask ad ad nauseam throughout the entire runtime.

Zombie's next feature is going to be a remake of the blob. In his version the blob will be blobbier.

J.D. said...

This is definitely one of the more thoughtful reviews for this film that I've come across that simply didn't just say, "THIS SUCKS!" I actually enjoyed Zombie's first go-round with the HALLOWEEN mythos even if the last third of the film kinda stalled. But you're right, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS is still his best effort to date and I wish he'd get back to something like that instead or remakes and sequels. I understand that the studios are very hesitant to green-light any kind of original material but then he should go indie if he wants to do something different. It can be done. A filmmaker like Larry Fessenden is proof of that.

Stephen said...

I liked this movie even less than you did, though I'm certain that the audience of almost-certainly all college kids, who provided a chorus of cheers and/or laughter to very nearly every single death, played no small part in that.

It also bothered me immensely that Harley (and I never did catch her name) went to that Halloween party dressed as Frank N. Furter and no one, her included, seemed to really be aware of that.

The only part of the movie I enjoyed came as I was leaving the theatre, and someone was singing the theme. A girl he was with told him to stop, clearly a little distressed by it, and he replied "But that was the best part of the movie!" Yes, random-audience-member. Yes it was.