Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween II (2009) (Unrated Director's Cut)

31 Days of Horror
I didn't grow up a Michael Myers fan.  I'm more of a Jason guy, because I like my slasher films ridiculously stupid.  I have always liked the original Halloween (1978), though.  I've been slowly getting around to the rest of the Halloween series over the past few trick-or-treat seasons, and this year I watched Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007); it had its moments, certainly, but I thought it was an interesting failure instead of the bad-ass re-imagining that I was hoping for.  I had heard that Zombie went off on his own for the sequel, though, which sounded like something that would play to his strengths more.  Does it?

Halloween II (2009) picks up right where the last film left off.  The police have arrived at the scene, and they are packing everybody up in ambulances.  Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is a hot mess of blood and tears, but she is alive and she has shot Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) in the goddamned face.  And chest.  And she's stabbed him a bunch.  Laurie is sent to the hospital to recover and Michael is sent off to the morgue.  But a funny thing happens on the way to the morgue --- the car crashes into a cow!  And, as the legends foretold, yonder bovine sacrifice will once again raise up he that is eeeveeel!!!  Or, in English, Michael wakes up and heads to the hospital to share a little stabby-stabby with Laurie and whoever else wants to share. 
Okay, now it's your turn to stab someone.  Yay, sharing!
And boy, does he share!  Security guards, doctors, nurses...Michael puts on a bit of a laceration seminar for the staff and just when he's about to do the same for Laurie, she wakes up.  That's right, we had ourselves an old-fashioned "it was only a dream" moment.  It turns out that Laurie did, indeed survive her encounter with Michael Myers one or two years ago.  Since her family was brutally murdered, she now lives with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter/her friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), who somehow survived the fact that she looked awfully dead in the last film.  The trauma hasn't been easy for anyone, but Laurie is on a nightmare-a-night diet and has turned into a (justifiably) angry young woman with finger-quotes rebellious new friends.
Whoa!  Those rebels got to pose for a picture with the lead singer of Soul Asylum?
While Laurie's been bitching and moaning about surviving what appears (to her) to be a motiveless crime, Michael Myers has also been recuperating.  Apparently, that whole cow revival bit actually happened, too.  Michael's been living in fields and in wooded areas, healing his wounds and growing a pretty enormous beard.
THIS is why homeless people are frightening
Michael has been having dreams, too, although they might just be hallucinations.  He sees his late mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek), often accompanied by a white horse and snow globe effects, and they tell Michael that it's time to bring Laurie home.  And by "home," they of course mean...well, that's not exactly clear.  "Murder," perhaps?  And why is this a pressing need after all this time?  Don't ask, because nobody else will.  Once again, on Halloween, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to murder anyone he meets on his way to finding Laurie.  And, once again, Laurie doesn't get why all this is happening.  But she's been having these crazy visions of a lady in white, with a blonde son and a white horse...

The acting in Halloween II isn't as good as the last film.  A big part of that is because Chase Wright Vanek replaced Daeg Faerch as Lil' Michael; replacing your best actor with a better-looking but less menacing one is not a winning choice.  I'm sure the change was made because Faerch literally outgrew his role, but that was still disappointing.  Vanek was okay, I guess, but his character's presence in this movie was waaay overplayed and nowhere near as clever as the script believed.  I was impressed by the more emotive performance from Tyler Mane, though; his furious grunts definitely disturbed me.  Sheri Moon Zombie was very...ethereal, I guess.  Her character didn't require much acting, and she didn't throw in any extra.
Kill, darling.  And shake the snow globe.
Taylor Scout-Compton had a lot juicier role in Halloween II than she had last time, and I really regret that.  She wasn't bad --- she did what I imagine the script asked of her quite well --- but she was annoying as all hell and I wanted her to die.  I was impressed by Danielle Harris' supporting role; Harris once again played a victim extremely well, but she also showed off some solid dramatic chops.  Malcolm McDowell's character had an abrupt shift from concerned doctor to complete prick, and it wasn't much fun to watch.  I liked seeing more of Brad Dourif in this film, even if he is far more capable than his role hints at.  He is the closest I have seen to a normal person in a Rob Zombie movie, and that was refreshing.
Just look at that handlebar and tell me he can't handle more!
As far as newcomers to the series go, I liked Brea Grant and Angela Trimbur as Laurie's rebel friends.  They were pretty easy parts to play, but they came across as young ladies who would have been fun/trouble in college.  They also had a pretty sweet set of Rocky Horror Halloween costumes.
Note: it is very difficult to find this when Google Image searching "Halloween II Rocky Horror"
In case you were wondering who the moron in the wolf man costume was, it was Matt Bush taking yet another stab at becoming this generation's Seth Green, and doing a pretty decent job of it.  Margot Kidder was this movie's first entry in the WTF casting Olympics, and she was fine as Laurie's therapist.  Howard Hesseman played against type *eyeroll* as an aging hippie somehow trapped in a Rob Zombie movie.  The other competitors were 'Weird Al' Yankovic and Chris Hardwick, who were fine on their own, but symbolic of a problem I had with the film.
"So...this is a scene from a Rob Zombie movie?  Gritty!"

Rob Zombie once again wrote and directed Halloween II (2009), this time without the burden of recreating a classic.  He did do a bit of an homage to Halloween II (1981), but that was limited to the dream sequence.  In all fairness, it was a pretty brutal and impressive homage, even if it was cheapened by the dream.  Zombie's direction is still nasty and grimy, so no real change there.  He also wrote almost all of the characters as unsympathetic assholes, but his handling of Sheriff Brackett and his daughter was surprisingly good.  Actually, I was impressed by some of the ideas Zombie brought up in this film.  This is the first time I have seen realistic fallout from a slasher movie, whether it be physical injuries or mental scars.
This is what happens after the credits?  Gross.
Here's the thing: I find the basic fallout from the last film very plausible, and that plausibility is a welcome surprise in a horror sequel.  And while I like the concept of Laurie being totally screwed in the head and Michael being more expressive after his frustration in the last film, the end result is just...abrasive.  And not in a shocking sense that makes you squirm uncomfortably, abrasive in that elaborately produced way, kind of like the naughty kid who shops for clothes at Hot Topic.
Anyone who spends this much time ruining their bathroom is an interior designer, not a rebel

Zombie also fails to focus in this movie.  The side plot with Dr. Loomis was uninteresting and unnecessary to the main story; all it did was take the decently interesting Loomis from the last film and make him completely despicable.  Also completely worthless was every single scene showing Lil' Michael and his mom.  Cut that crap out and you have a movie that is at least 40% better, 30 minutes shorter, and 100% less pretentious.

The violence was plentiful in Halloween II, so I don't have any complaints about that.  There isn't as much gore or uniqueness in the kills as you might expect --- aside from a head-smashing and a dog murder --- but Michael grunted and moaned while he killed in this movie, and that was unsettling.  The final scene with Annie was also pretty brutal, and --- I may be mistaken on this --- I think it's implied that Michael raped her to death/after death.  His weird "mommy vision" told him to "have fun" and the next time we see Annie is with her blood ALL OVER the room, and minus her panties.  I don't know why that disturbs me more than the other seventeen or so murders in this film, but it does.

Where Halloween II falls off the rails is in its portrayal of Michael.  It's that fundamental.  The emotionless, faceless killer with unknown motivations now has emotions, a face, and explicit motivations.  I'm no Halloween purist, but that's just...not Michael Myers.  Even if you give Zombie the benefit of the doubt to recreate MM however he sees fit, the things we learn about Michael by seeing things through his eyes are stupid and boring.  Do you like vaguely defined dream imagery? 
"If I say yes, can it pop up every ten minutes for no goddamned reason?"
What if it was awkward, clumsy, and felt out of place in the movie?  Then this is the movie for you, friend!  Zombie wasn't far off the mark with his dream sequences, but they were a missed opportunity.  Instead of some white horse bullshit, we could have had some weird, twisted Tim Burton-esque dreamscape where Michael's actions actually make sense.  Knowing what Michael sees and how far beyond crazy he is would have separated this film from the other Halloweens and still might have been interesting.  In the unrated director's cut, the ending was changed to actually have Michael speak.  It's not as interesting as it sounds, and Michael's anger seems curiously misplaced.  It was not too surprising for a mass murderer, but it was an odd climax to a movie.

There are other weaknesses in the film, too, of course.  Rob Zombie's inability to make you care about anyone on the screen is a big one.  He doubles down on Michael and Laurie, but the things he adds --- dreams and unexplained shared visions --- are just awful.  The complete lack of suspense was another miss.  Explaining that Michael is just after Laurie, and yet he makes several pit stops along the way to murder people --- that doesn't make any sense and doesn't fit the character.
Laurie doesn't even know most of the victims, so it can't be to get priceless reaction shots like this

Overall, this was just an unpleasant experience with a few moments that gave me hope that something cool would happen.  The concept of emotional fallout from the first film was one highlight, and the Rocky Horror costumes were another.  I'm very happy that this movie did not try to recreate Halloween II (1981), but the fact of the matter is that the scenes that pay homage to that movie are some of the most brutal and fast-paced in the film.  If some of your best scenes come from a fake-out, you have a problem.  There is just so much that goes wrong in Halloween II (2009).  It wants to be smart, but comes off idiotic.  It wants to be disturbing, but instead becomes grating.  I think it is supposed to be scary, but without any suspense or characters to care about, that's a tall order.  As I watched it, I felt like Halloween II (2009) was trying to punish me for wanting to learn more about Michael Myers.  This is a movie that put a lot of effort in to make me hate it.  If it wasn't for those few, scattered moments of potential, I would rank this as one of my most hated movies.

4 comments:

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    1. While I was watching this movie, I actually thought to myself "Boy, I almost wish I had listened to the Deftones so I could be making 'White Pony' jokes right now."

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