Director: Rob Zombie
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
Cast: Scout Taylor-Compton (as Laurie Strode); Brad Dourif (as Sheriff Lee Brackett); Malcolm McDowell (as Dr. Samuel Loomis); Tyler Mane (as Michael Myers); Danielle Harris (as Annie Brackett); Sheri Moon Zombie (as Deborah Myers); Chase Wright Vanek (as Young Michael); Brea Grant (as Mya Rockwell); Angela Trimbur (as Harley David)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #78
[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
With this I've finally finished the Halloween franchise, feeling that it's better to start with the lengthy retrospective now before the review of the final film. Barring The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) and Resurrection (2002), all of them have been rewarding in some way, where sequels I found dreary on the first viewing being more rewarding now and for all the cringe worthy moments within them - death by hot tub in Part II (1981), the music cues in general in Part V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), the entire subplot of Laurie Strode being Michael Myer's sister in the non Rob Zombie films - all of them have something of worth to like. Even as someone who realised, within viewing this series, I'm not the biggest slasher fan as I thought I was turning into, this franchise was ultimately rewarding to sit through without it falling into mediocrity or worse into the later sequels.
Until the new sequel that's been discussed in film gossip actually materialised, stuck within the same development hell since 2009 as Friday the 13th has since the same year, almost all the Halloween films follow a two film cycle in hindsight. The exceptions are Part III: Season of the Witch (1982), a film I love but as an attempt to change the series into a different genre at too late a time should've been its own film, and The Curse of Michael Myers, made when the slasher genre had died and itself dead on arrival with the severity of the theatrical cut's changes to the shot footage*.
The first Halloween in 1978 is an unarguable classic, one that I had to slow warm to but eventually did, able to stand by itself but with Halloween II a visible twin, the original an influence on the eighties slasher boom but the first sequel having to catch up with what the imitators were starting whilst retaining its original style and naturalism in the dialogue, the irony found in a film in the eighties set the same night as the first film made in the late seventies. Parts IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) and V, in their own world, reflect the late eighties with their warm bright autumn colours rather than neon and terrible hairstyles and, in spite of their more dumber moments, manage to have a melancholic, gorgeous aesthetic to them that affirm my opinion of Halloween being one of the classier horror franchises in existence. H20 (1998), after Scream (1996) brought the sub-genre back to life like Lazarus, reflected a new mature take on the genre as well as its tongue-in-cheek whit only to lead to Resurrection, mirroring how the sub-genre died again a very painful death involving Busta Rhymes kung-fu kicking Michael Myers. Then finally there's the Rob Zombie remakes, in 2007 and 2009, critically divisive and incredibly flawed but idiosyncratic, especially the sequel I've reviewing here, to the point that I have to admire them.
Halloween 2, Zombie's, is a lot more messier than I remember it to be, certainly with as many flaws as it's prequel had, but controversially for some slasher purists I have to say it's one of the better sequels in the series for how drastically different it is. It finds a more careful balance between the carnivalesque tone and the extreme violence of the previous Zombie film and a lot of the flaws come from having to follow the first part only. I had avoided the 2007 Halloween until now because of how critically panned it was, yet had seen this 2009 sequel because of how unconventional some of its content was said to be and how it manages to get some acclaim from critics. Seeing it for the first time as a sequel is strange in how I had completely disconnected aspects of the prequel. On one hand, it would be perversely absurd how the same event happens to Danielle Harris' character twice, the same way, in both films if they weren't as disturbing and bloody as they were, emotionally devastating in the sequel now Harris is allow more screen time to be a sympathetic character. However for the most part seeing them connected means flaws of the first part of mostly improved upon, to the point that it redeems the first to some extent, even redeeming things from previous sequels in this now openly appropriated ideas from other versions of these characters for its own means. The biggest is how these films took the issue of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) being Michael Myers' sister and made them part of the two films from the beginning, still removing some of the potential horror of the premise, but improved next to other sequels before because this film builds to the weight of psychological damage added to that Laurie already has. Even if it crowbars in the psychic link in this film, which gets discarded for the most part, from other sequels between the characters it a significant attempt to make this plot point more meaningful, the only other time this attempt was done found in H20.
Going as far as use the premise of the original Halloween II, Myers stalking Laurie in a hospital, only to show it was only a traumatic nightmare of hers in the first thirty minutes, this film is purposely dissecting aspects from all the others and reinterpreting them, in ways that would upset some viewers but for me were almost all of reward or at least interest. Myers being terrifying without the William Shatner mask is a brave move in itself as it showed the character could still exist even if you drastically change his visual appearance. The attempt at greater emotional depth are admirable from Zombie in particular as well. Even if it's less subtle than H20, Jamie Lee Curtis a better actor than Taylor-Compton, and playing an older female character with world weariness and quiet reflections to play within the performance, it's still a brave and successful move to this character into one who is at times unlikable in her outbursts but is always sympathetic knowing why this is the case, even with the exaggerated expletive ridden dialogue a figure with moments of vulnerability and happiness you can't help but be sympathetic to. It's a little strange still for Rob Zombie to try to write these alt-culture female characters, sometimes broad when he has Laurie and her new friends jam out to Kick Out the Jams by MC5, but it's actually a blessing, rather than the figures of many eighties slasher films that are frankly paper cut-outs, to have the kind of young women I actually grew up with as a teenager and fell in love with up to the present day, not the bland portraits of white bread final girls and women but miscreants and bold figures with personalities, their clothes and piercings as much reflective of their personalities as their ability to express themselves without censorship. This is important as well as this actually allows the horror of Zombie's depiction of violence, now these characters have an entire film to be shown, to have actual pain to them when you've followed them throughout the narrative.
This applies in general to the whole cast. Zombie helps in terms of the characterisation in limiting the cameos drastically from the first film and, if still using music and pop culture that's recognisable, making it more obscure and diverse so that it'll have affect on people who don't recognise the songs as more part of the emotional tenor of the scene. With the later, he scores one of the best music and visual cues of the franchise by turning a black and white TV performance of Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues into a haunting warning of death. For the former it means that the two most recognisable faces in the film - Malcolm McDowell and Brad Dourif, get a lot of meat to their stories. McDowell gets to continue on with what's a drastic change to the Dr. Loomis character but one that makes sense to this world, where his failure in helping Myers turns him further into a money grabbing celebrity figure, his place in the film in the sidelines (and inexplicably on a talk show with Weird Al Yankovic as himself) making sense as a narrative tangent in how he has to redeem himself. As for Dourif, what was merely a cameo in the first film is now a great character actor becoming a main character, giving a gravity to his role that only a great actor like him can provide.
This isn't forgetting that Halloween 2 is also a bizarre film. Legitimately strange as a horror sequel goes, going so far from the mould of the previous films that the first implication of this change, a stray cow standing in the midst of the road allowing a character to escape, is fairly normal next to everything else. Now having watched all the sequels in order, the sight of Zombie becoming Tim Burton for a brief moment and show a young Michael Myers in front of a Alice in Wonderland table of pumpkin headed royalty is something unfathomable next to the others. One of the biggest issues with whether you like slashers or not is how they have very repetitive plots, making something as drastically different as this film's tone alien in comparison to most of the sub-genre Even if it gets silly at points, Sherri Moon Zombie as a Goth Lolita kewpie doll pulling along a Freudian white horse, this is the part that cements a lot of the virtues of this film by how far it stays away from everything before and works. Rather than vileness and death, which plagued the prequel, this strangeness spilling out into the film, while abrupt in context of the more grounded first film, allows the director to both bring a sense of greater personality onscreen and also allow his more carnivalesque tendencies to make sense. Here, it makes sense when it would've failed in another Halloween sequel to stage possibly one of the greatest Halloween parties possible in context of the sequel's tone as a central sequence, it's mix of silent films projected on walls, psychobilly music and characters dressed as Rocky Horror Picture Show figures able to work in tone here whilst intercutting to the more nastier moments inbetween the party.
This sense of taking risk, even though I now like most of the straightforward films in the Halloween franchise, is ultimately why I have to appreciate this one higher than others, both the risk at emotional drama and its oddness. The result is still messy and can lunge from tangent especially in the finale, still having to rely on the deeply flawed 2007 film, but I have to applaud its best moments. Until a new sequel eventually appears, whenever that actually is, this is best way to have ended so far with not being a bog standard slasher film but someone distinct in the director's chair taking a chance. If that new sequel ever takes place, it's now going to be interesting after Rob Zombie's two attempts whether it's going to overcome the obstacle of being as memorable as those films or turn out to be conventional or dull, John Carpenter being involved or not.
* If the original producer's cut was more easily available in the UK, I'd gladly give Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers another shot however.