Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Halloween II (2009)

Dir. Rob Zombie

One year on from her ultra-violent and blood-drenched encounter with her psychotic brother Michael Myers, and Laurie Strode is still trying to come to terms with the trauma. With her brother’s body still missing and All Hallows Eve just around the corner, Laurie soon realises that the terror she experienced the previous year was just the beginning. Like the tagline states, and because slasher villains are just too darn lucrative to kill off: Family is forever. We learn that, unsurprisingly, the supposedly dead Michael Myers has actually been living a hermetic existence in the countryside, and as the anniversary of the massacre approaches, he returns to Haddonfield once more to ‘reunite’ his dysfunctional family.

With his remake of Halloween, Rob Zombie attempted to explore the man behind the mask - Michael Myers. Delving into Myers’ troubled childhood and dysfunctional family Zombie attempted to address the issues that made Myers the relentless killing machine he grew up to be and show how someone could potentially commit such atrocities. This aspect of his remake was perhaps its most original and compelling segment before it eventually plummeted into repetitive, mindless violence and tensionless clichĂ©. With his follow up, Zombie maintains this trajectory and not only probes Myers’ mindset again (as he experiences vivid visions of his spectral mother (Sherri Moon Zombie) with a white horse urging him to ‘reunite’ their family) but also the fragile and damaged psyche of Laurie Strode as she attempts to get her life back on track and cope with the devastating events of the previous Halloween.
As the self-destructive and lost Laurie, Scout Taylor-Compton delivers a nerve-wrecking performance. Unfortunately she is usually reduced to just screaming and crying, but she musters the ability to do this with aplomb. Elsewhere, Malcolm McDowell returns as Dr Loomis, now getting rich off of the sales of his new bestseller – a sensationalist book about Myers and his family. McDowell layers the ham on thick and renders his Loomis a dislikeable hot head who serves no purpose other than to offend people.

Zombie’s Halloween II is not a remake of Rick Rosenthal’s inept 1981 slasher, though he does explicitly reference it’s hospital setting in the opening scenes of this film *spoiler alert* that are later revealed to be one of Laurie’s recurring nightmares.
Zombie opts to focus on Laurie as she continues on her downward spiral into depression, reckless abandon and despair. She now lives with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris) – another survivor from the first film, and Annie’s father Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) in a modest house on the outskirts of Haddonfield. She works in a cafĂ© populated by Alice Cooper loving Goths and confides everything in her counsellor Barbara (Margot Kidder).

To say Halloween II is brutally violent doesn’t really do it justice. Zombie truly outdoes himself with the gut-churning, sweat-inducing and relentless violence he depicts throughout this twisted tale. Heads are pummelled into the dirt, flesh is eviscerated and blood doesn’t so much flow as feverishly erupt from the plethora of broken bodies that lay in the wake of Myers’ murderous rampage. The violence eventually has a numbing effect: none of the characters are particularly likeable anyway and each attack has no tension leading up to it – it soon wears thin as Myers shows up, usually out of nowhere, and mindlessly slaughters two dimensional hick-ville stock-types. The special effects and make-up are strikingly realistic though and at first they create an uneasy and powerful impact – however as mentioned, the violence soon begins to throw up a numbing and distancing wall. The plot lurches spasmodically and violently forward as the bodies pile up and Myers closes in on the unsuspecting Laurie.

Where Zombie does undeniably excel though is in his astute ability to create a creepy, dank and memorable atmosphere. The scenes where the hooded Myers converses with his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Vanek), while a little silly, are ethereally lit and exude a dreamlike quality, with Sherri Moon Zombie resplendent in moon-white robes and resembling some Shotgun Wedding Bride of Frankenstein. Moon Zombie delivered a competent and strangely touching performance as Myers’ mother in the first film, however she isn’t really given a lot to do here except look forlorn and spooky – but it sort of works and goes some way to realise Myers’ unhinged outlook on the world and provide the film with some truly striking visuals.

The production design by Garreth Stover really enhances Zombie’s sleazy, grimy and downright grainy aesthetics; sets are cluttered with all manner of bizarre bric-a-brac and lurid lighting. Laurie’s bedroom is strewn with the remnants of her shattered life, her walls are adorned with EMO-dark paintings and soul-purging graffiti. Haddonfield has never looked so ramshackle or dilapidated – so far removed from Carpenter’s cosy suburban vision in the late Seventies. The lurid Halloween party scene in ‘Uncle Meats’ is another showcase for Zombie’s off-kilter, carnivalesque style and it features an array of weird, freakish costumes worn by even more grotesque caricatures, sorry, characters. We also venture once again into the squalid Red Rabbit strip club for one of Myers’ more disturbing attacks. No one does creepy, soiled and nauseating like Zombie – who also makes atmospheric use of old Moody Blues song Nights in White Satin - with its eerie beauty and deep melancholy.

Halloween II is a truly visceral film that while not note-perfect, still proves that Zombie is an imaginative filmmaker with genuinely disturbing and discomforting vision and more than capable of creating an atmosphere crawling with grit, sleaze and gut-churning anxiety.

9 comments:

christine said...

This is a fab write up!
I adore it. Let me tell you why.
The way you approach the film is totally unbiased and the pros & cons are effortlessly displayed. Your language paints a lovely picture of the film (which I have not seen) and is one of the more positive I have read.
I still don't have much interest in seeing this film, but I must say this review is the first thing that has made me care about it in the slightest.
I fear the expertly crafted review is more poetic & lovely than the film itself.

James said...

Aww, thanks Christine - thats very kind of you. *blush*
I fear I may have let myself get a bit carried away with it all though - spectral white horses and an ethereally lit Sherri Moon Zombie tend to have that effect on me!
There's just something about Zombie's style and aesthetic approach to his films that really makes an impact with me. His stories unfold in the most dingy and sordid surroundings, but there is something strangely striking about it all... Thanks for stopping by - and thanks again for your feedback.

Meredith L. Grau said...

I wasn't going to see this film, but now I think I may give it a shot. I like Zombie, but I wasn't too jazzed about Halloween. I think when you try to humanize the slasher monster it creates a very different kind of film, and it doesn't always work for me. Thanks for the write up. I am interested to see how I feel about the sequel.

James said...

Hi Meredith. I can see your point about attempting humanize slasher monsters and how it creates a very different film. I still think that this was the most interesting aspect of Zombie's otherwise quite conventional remake. Even though its all 'pop' psychology, at least he attempted to do something original and bring his own concerns and sensibilities to the fore. Then again, as his film was a remake - there is always going to be the urge, conscious or otherwise, to compare it to Carpenter's original. And one of the most haunting and memorable aspects of that, was the fact that we knew NOTHING about Myers. That made the film much more disturbing and creepy - he didn't have a reason for doing what he did. Or if he did, Carpenter negated exposing it...
Gosh. That was a bit of a ramble! Thanks so much for your comments Meredith - I guess thats another aspect of Zombie's films I like so much - they always seem to incite debate, strong reactions and discussion. Which is obviously a good thing, right?

Meredith L. Grau said...

Haha. True enough!

Matt-suzaka said...

I loved The Devils Rejects, and even somewhat enjoyed Halloween, but I really didn’t like this film to much. I do like and applaud Zombie as a filmmaker and think he has a bum load of talent in many ways; he just is too wrapped up and carried away in his own style that it gets in the way of his mediocre story telling in H2. I won't get into the writting though...my issues are mainly with the story, so for sake of length...

There are numerous amazing and creative shots in H2 and the films style is so very cool and gritty, and appealing…but for me, those aspects are perfected when he is not spending his time in the overly stylized Red Rabbit, or that weird party that that the girls go to. He overdoes it in those scenes for me, and I feel like it is unfortunate because in his slightly restrained form, Zombie can make some seriously amazing film.

The entire hospital scene is so fantastically shot and the grey tones mixed with the fluorescent lighting is just spectacular, and a sign that he has a handle on his technique and individual style resulting in what I would call his mature style. The strip club stuff with all the crazy colors and whacky angles just makes me think that he is resorting to the crap he did with House of 1k Corpses. Like it’s his fallback style.

Either way, I will probably see the film again as I did enjoy the rendering of Michael Myers and the different approach that was taken with his look, and some of the kills early on were quite brutal and fun to watch.

Even if I am not on the same page with you for this film, this is a fantastic review, James. Makes me really wanna read that Argento book I have been waiting patiently for!

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

I thought he created rather a lot of tension in the hospital scenes, yes - it would have been nice had he been able to sustain it throughout the remainder of the film. Alas, like you said Matt, whilst he is oh so deft at creating an overwhelming sense of atmosphere and mood, the writing in this didn't really go any way to help Zombie sustain much dramatic tension. I can't wait to see what he does next - he's obviously a very talented filmmaker and I feel we have yet to see his best work...

All being well Matt - that Argento book you mentioned should be out next week!

Matt-suzaka said...

I saw that right after I posted my comment! I love me some Argento, and I love your writing, so I will be picking up a copy for myself as soon as possible!