by Jason Coffman
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Rob Zombie is nothing if not a divisive figure in horror culture. His films have often split horror audiences right down the middle— he has die-hard fans and bitter detractors in almost equal numbers. This should come as no surprise given that he established his name as a musician before moving into filmmaking, a career choice met with excitement by his fan base and apprehension by many horror fans. Despite what anyone thinks of Zombie’s films (or music, for that matter), there’s no arguing that the man is a hardcore horror aficionado whose sensibilities are informed by an all-embracing love for the macabre.
Halloween II is probably— probably— not going to change anyone’s mind about Zombie as a director one way or the other. It’s a strange beast, taking the revived series in a more supernatural direction that the “realistic” first entry in the new franchise. It’s probably not what anyone was expecting, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but it’s certainly a nice surprise.
The bulk of the film takes place one year after the events of 2007’s Halloween and follows three storylines, each focusing on a different character. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is now basically the adopted daughter of Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), working at a coffee shop for an old hippie and going to therapy for, well, obvious reasons. Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) has written a book exploiting Michael Myers’ murder spree and has become something of a bastard, obsessed with publicity and dangerously self-centered. Michael (Tyler Mane), presumed dead after the events of the first film, wanders around in the countryside before making his way back to Haddonfield for Halloween, accompanied by the ghost/hallucination(?) of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), communicating with her via his inner child (Chase Vanek). Eventually, all three characters come together again on Halloween night.
One of the major differences between Halloween II and the first film is apparent right away— shot on 16mm film, Halloween II has an appropriately grimy grindhouse atmosphere, and this distinct look is one of the film’s biggest assets. Zombie doesn’t skimp on the brutality and delivers some truly nasty kills and buckets of blood. The deceptive “low-budget” look renders the violence disturbingly immediate, most notably in a strip-joint slaughter that (intentionally or not) brings to mind the opening of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. The surreal dream/hallucination sequences are also made several shades weirder given that some of them almost look like they were lifted from a Guy Maddin movie. Stylistically, Zombie is all over the place, but the schizophrenic tone is fitting.
Unfortunately, the film relies far too much on loud noises and jump scares when it’s obvious that Zombie is capable of more understated creepiness. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if, like the recent Friday the 13th remake, there was any hint that the audience is supposed to be having a good time. Halloween II is relentlessly bleak, only periodically lightened by (generally awkward) humor. The point is clearly to rattle the audience, which of course works— so would setting off cherry bombs behind the seats. Aside from the focus on jolts rather than scares, there are a lot of other problems, not least of which is the fact that Laurie and her friends (and would-be saviors) are mostly not very interesting. It also seems very strange that Laurie and the Brackett family seem to have hired Rob Zombie as their interior decorator: the Alice Cooper poster and spray-painted pentagram in the bathroom are more than a little distracting.
Despite being seriously flawed, there’s no doubt that Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is a better sequel than the original Halloween II was to the classic first film. It looks amazing, and clearly shows that Zombie is capable of delivering the horrific goods. It’s not a great film but it’s certainly better than it has any right to be, and the ending signals an interesting new direction for the franchise if it continues from here. A completely different direction than the original series, to be sure, but if it isn’t, what’s the point?
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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