Directed by: Rob Zombie
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane
Perception is an interesting thing. I spent the entire running time of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II thinking that while the film was often quite brutal, it wasn’t particularly graphic in the sense of blood and guts. I wouldn’t call it reticent, but neither did it seem to me that it lingered over the gore and pain. What it does do, which seemed unusual, is up the ferocity of the killings. In this film, Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) doesn’t merely stab his victims; he stabs them again and again—with graphic sound—as if releasing some unspeakable inner rage. That must have resonated with a number of critics in a powerful way, since many of the reviews find the movie unspeakably repellent. While I wouldn’t call Halloween II good, I can’t say I found it repellent. (Actually, I found it considerably less so than the very seriously minded The Stoning of Soraya M., which I also saw this week.)
I’m still convinced that Rob Zombie has a very good—maybe even great—film in him, but this isn’t it. It is, however, a lot more interesting than his 2007 Halloween reboot. And by more interesting, I mean it’s obviously more personal. The film is a weird amalgam of Zombie’s first two movies, House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), boasting the stylistic frenzy of the former and the grind-house graininess of the latter. At the time of Corpses’ release I wrote that it was “a lot like an art film, a porno loop, a gross-out horror movie and a music video. But none of these elements—intriguing though some of them are individually—ever turn into a single coherent idea.” While I’m not so sure about that final assertion anymore (the film has grown on me), the first part is true and it resurfaces here, but in grubbier terms.
What Zombie has made here is a personal take on the Carpenter original from 1978 and Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel film. Actually, Rosenthal’s film is mostly addressed at the beginning of Halloween II and reduced to a single sequence—one that plays with the viewer, but in a wholly fair manner (pay attention to the use of a Top of the Pops-like clip of the Moody Blues performing “Nights in White Satin”). The sequence might even be viewed as a parody/critique of the gross-out bits that were added to Rosenthal’s movie after the fact, especially since the lingering shots of emergency-room procedures in the sequence are the only such grotesqueries of this sort in Zombie’s film. Otherwise, Zombie uses the Michael Myers/Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) kinship from the original (which he rethinks entirely) and ignores the rest, setting the new film at a later date.
Zombie stands much of the Carpenter-based mythology on its head. His Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is a venal, fame-obsessed character, who has used his connection to serial-killing Michael Myers as a springboard to fame (a decidedly postmodern comment on celebrity culture). There’s nothing benevolent about this Loomis, who in fact has revealed to the world—and to Laurie—that she’s really the sister of the notorious Michael in his latest money-spinning book on the subject. Michael himself has been turned into a strange, wandering figure with a family obsession that owes much to Tobe Hooper’s two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films—something underscored by the presence of Caroline Williams (veteran heroine of Chainsaw 2) in the cast.
This family business leads to Zombie’s weirdest embellishment—one that’s as perplexing as it is intriguing. At the beginning of the film he sets up some daffy mythology about a white horse—complete with Ma Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie, who has grown into a credible actress) visiting young Michael (newcomer Chase Vanek) in the insane asylum and giving him a plastic white horse. This is then mixed into young Michael’s dream of her coming to him all in white “like a ghost,” which is the setup for her haunting the whole film as a strangely shabby specter leading a white horse and accompanied by young Michael even in the presence of adult Michael. Got that? Well, it gets screwier because they sometimes seem to be real, but aren’t—or maybe they aren’t. It calls to mind aspects of House of 1000 Corpses and leads to some truly striking imagery, but it feels more bizarre than effective.
Otherwise, the film is pretty much what you might expect. There are the standard slasher elements combined with Zombie’s penchant for older horror pictures. There’s a nice nod (that unfortunately goes nowhere) to Erle C. Kenton’s The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), and Halloween costumes drawn from Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Zombie also evokes elements from his own work—by the end of the film, for example, Michael’s mask looks more like the human flesh from Corpses than a Halloween accoutrement. All in all, it’s an interesting work—within the confines of its genre—but it’s not a truly good one. Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, terror, disturbing graphic images, language and some crude sexual content and nudity.