Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Review: Halloween II

Halloween II ***
Directed By:
Rob Zombie.
Written By: Rob Zombie.
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode), Brad Dourif (Sheriff Lee Brackett), Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Samuel Loomis), Tyler Mane (Michael Myers), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah Myers), Chase Wright Vanek (Young Michael), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Margot Kidder (Barbara Collier), Mary Birdsong (Nancy McDonald), Brea Grant (Mya Rockwell).

On the basis of his first three films - House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and Halloween - I have said to anyone who would listen that Rob Zombie is the best, most original director working in the horror genre in America today - even going as far as comparing him to Quentin Tarantino in the way he mashes up all the previous movies in his chosen genre and comes out with something completely different and unique. If it turns out (and I have a strong suspicion that it will) that I am one of the only critics who sees something worthwhile in Zombie’s new film, Halloween II, I can live with that. Once again, Zombie’s film seems to follow the standard horror sequel plot, but it really does do something wholly unique. Is the premise ridiculous? Yes. But was I drawn in and captivated by every moment of this film? Yes, I was.

In Zombie’s original remake of Halloween, he took the daring step to give the killer - the famed Michael Myers - the full biopic treatment. He looked in Myers past, his childhood, and comes out with a portrait of a confused, messed up, violent kid with a horrible homelife that eventually drives him to murder. While the second half of the film was standard slashed movie fare, Zombie directed it with a rare visual flair, making it truly frightening. When I heard that he was going to make a sequel - something he swore he would not do - that he had run out of original things to do, and that all the sequel would be was yet another slasher movie. I should have more faith in Zombie.

If the original film was about the psychology of Myers himself, the sequel is about what it feels like to be a victim of Myers who actually escaped. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) was the original target of Myers, and the girl who apparently killed Myers, although his body disappeared and was never found. Now, a year later, Laurie is stricken with guilt and fear about what happened. She now lives with her best friend Annie (Danielle Harris), another victim, and her father the Sheriff (Brad Dourif). She wants to leave the past behind her, but in a small town like Haddonfield, that is just not possible. She is spiraling downward towards her own form of psychosis.

There two other plot threads running through the movie. The first involves Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), who in the original series was always the voice of reason, but here is an opportunistic monster, who simply out to make money and cash in on the horror show that others lives have become. The other thread is about Michael slowly making his way back to Haddonfield, killing everyone he comes across along the way. He is egged on my his mother, and his former child self, who he sees explaining to him what has to be done. These scenes verge on the ridiculous, but somehow Zombie keeps control of them. For one thing, Sherri Moon Zombie who plays the mother is at her demented best. She is not as wildly over the top as she was in House of 1,000 Corpses or The Devil’s Rejects, but she is just as messed up, telling Michael what he wants to know - he has to Laurie in order for them all to be a family again.

The murder scenes in Halloween are definitely overkill, yet Zombie does not linger on them as much as many recent horror directors do. He favors longshots, that are haunting in their own way, of Michael stabbing, stomping or hacking people to death. When he stabs people, it’s not in the recent Friday the 13th remake, where one strike does it. Myers pulverizes them into a bloody pulp. It is disturbing in the extreme, but it does not feel exploitive.

Halloween II is not quite the triumph that Zombie’s original remake was. For one thing, having backed himself into a corner with the first film by making Myers into a three dimensional character, he has to now bring it farther. And although I admired the scenes with Myers and his hallucinations, I am not really sure they fit into the rest of the movie. I did like McDowell as the egomanical Loomis a lot more this time around then the first time, but I’m not sure he would do what he does at the end of the film. The real star of the movie is Scout Taylor Compton, who actually does deliver a great performance as “the girl”. If someone had survived an attack by Michael Myers, I kind of think that this is what they would end up like. It is a fascinating, great little performance.

And despite my reservations about the film, I have to say that there is not a moment in it that is not interesting to watch. One thing that is undeniable is that Zombie is a gifted visual filmmaker, making us wallow in the mud, dirt and blood in the film. The characters never seem to be able to get clean in this film. His demented vision in this film keeps things moving along at a brisk pace.

Zombie is still the best horror director working in America today. I cannot wait to see what he does next. In Halloween II, Zombie plays with the audience masterfully. That the film is a little over the top in some aspects, is to be expected. Even with the flaws, I doubt you’ll see a better American horror film this year than this one.

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