NOTE - Download my commentary track HERE!
AUGUST 20, 2009
When you go to a trial, the lawyers can argue their point at the beginning and the end, but during the actual trial part, they’re supposed to just present the facts, without any sort of argument or opinion. For a while, I considered doing the same thing for Halloween II, because it’s been nearly 16 hrs since the film concluded and I still don’t even know if I liked it or not. I can answer any question you may have about it, but I cannot tell you if it’s “good” in any traditional sense. When someone asked me to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, I answered “both”.
Of course, many of you wonderful folks began coming to HMAD due to my review (and “differences list”) of Rob Zombie’s 2007 film, as I was one of the first to have one up. It’s also still the longest review in HMAD history (and I suspect this one might come a close second, so you best get yourself a coffee or something) (*Robert Stack voice* UPDATE! This one is actually a page and a half longer. Christ!), because clearly, it’s a film that demands some sort of discussion. I see a lot of movies that, good or bad, I just don’t have much to say about, but Christ, I’ve written three reviews of Halloween 07, plus recorded a commentary. It always seems to come up in the few blog/podcast interviews I’ve done, and to this day it’s a topic of heated discussion amongst friends. Well, incredulously enough, I think H2 might be talked about even MORE, mainly due to all of the strange imagery and hallucinations that are peppered throughout the film, principal of which is a recurring vision of a Deborah Myers and white horse.
As anyone can probably guess from the trailers, Sheri Moon returns, appearing as an angelic vision to Michael (and Laurie), along with his younger self (played by a new actor that is nowhere near as effective as Daeg Faerch. These scenes get more and more surreal as the film progresses, to the point where it looks like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video as filtered through a Saw film (there’s even a big glass coffin like the one at the end of Saw V). Again, these scenes are nothing like you’ve never seen in a Halloween movie, but I didn’t mind that, and in fact I found them quite entertaining (in fact, I found the whole movie entertaining). I mean, the movie starts off with a definition of a white horse as symbolism - things are weird right off the bat, so it’s not like they spring it on you halfway through.
Now, some may bitch that this sort of stuff has no business in a Halloween movie*, but again - this is NOT the Halloween series as we knew it! Rob is free to change whatever he likes; anything outside the norm is perfectly acceptable. Bitching about it being different is like claiming that Dracula 2000’s “Dracula is Judas” nonsense doesn’t jive with what happened in Tod Browning’s 1931 version of the story. If he wants to make a vague ending, he can (I’ll get to that later). If he wants to have a Halloween film in which Michael Myers never really stalks anyone, he can. And yes - if he wants to leave out the theme music - HE CAN. It’s his goddamn series; it’s Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, not Halloween 9 (or 10, now).
(For the record, the classic main theme never does appear in the film, only the end credits, but the “Laurie walking around” music does show up near the very end - a nice, sort of creepy touch).
Now, it’s no secret that Rob didn’t really want to do H2 at all. He swore up and down that he wouldn’t do it, but then it seems he sort got bullied into it by Dimension/Weinstein, who held up his Tyrannosaurus Rex project until he committed to doing H2 himself, and fast. So it’s not implausible to look at the film as a giant “fuck you” to them (and to his first film’s detractors; a cover (or remake, if you will) of “Love Hurts” - easily the most maligned moment in his first film - plays over the end credits). He made a weird movie, and while there are kills and pumpkins and such, it’s much unlike every other Halloween movie. Free of any sort of remake burdens (imposed by the studio or himself), this seems to be 100% Rob Zombie’s film. It’s got the degenerate rednecks, the weird humor (“COW!”), the uncommercial ending, the rockabilly and classic rock music... everything. There are also strange, “Film critic in Devil’s Rejects” type scenes, providing a warped sense of humor that was largely absent from the last one (Loomis bitching about his “old Loomis” photo is worth the price of admission alone). Again, Halloween purists may cry foul, but me - a fan of Rob’s previous films, and a non-moron who is able to separate the two incarnations of Michael Myers, I found this stuff refreshing; the type of movie I wanted his first one to be. I WANT a new take on the character(s). I WANT things to be different. By the end of Resurrection, every tie to the ‘true’ series was dead: Loomis, Laurie, Jamie, etc., which means if they made a Halloween 9, I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. But my problem here is not in that it doesn’t feel like a traditional Halloween movie... it’s that it doesn’t feel like Rob made a true sequel to his own film.
Part of that is the location. It’s supposed to be Haddonfield, but it looks nothing like the one in the first film (two scenes were shot in their original LA locations, making the difference even more apparent). The suburban aspect is completely missing; now we get isolated farmhouses and large fields. There’s a brief scene where Loomis does a news report in front of what I assume is supposed to be the Myers house, but it doesn’t look anything like it or any other house from the last film. The Halloween atmosphere is much improved; there’s a brief trick or treating scene, a big party, and the girls are wearing costumes this time around (Rocky Horror inspired ones - a telling choice for a film that is likely going to be a midnight favorite in 20 years; I’ve already told Brian Quinn from Grindhouse to book it for 2029), but at the expense of the “regular American town” feeling.
The overall look is also different, thanks to both a new DP (Crank 2’s Brandon Trost) and a different film stock (Super 16 - woo!). Both are fine (though I never thought his original looked “glossy”, as Zombie says now), but it’s also back to the 1.85:1 ratio, which feels cramped at times, particularly during the frenetic kill scenes. But it’s also a smaller film (i.e. no differing time periods, fewer characters), so the “intimate” look isn’t really bothersome otherwise, and even appropriate during the (few) quiet scenes.
The biggest change is Loomis though. His role in the film is largely superfluous; it isn’t until the final scene of the film that he actually interacts with anyone else we care about. Every single one of his scenes revolves around him making appearances to promote his new book, but only two really resonate. In one, he signs books at a bookstore, only to be accosted by Lynda’s father, who tries to shoot him. In the other, he appears on some late night talk show, where he is the B guest to Weird Al Yankovic. All of these scenes serve to show that Loomis has become kind of a douchebag; an attention-seeking prick who clearly hasn’t even bothered to keep in touch with Laurie and certainly no longer cares about his patient. He only shares a single scene with them, and it’s so brief that it’s almost weightless. And his scenes are so disconnected, they become almost confusing. The bookstore one, for example, takes place right after we see Laurie walking into a bookstore to buy the book - it took me half the scene to figure out that they were in different stores. Apart from the Myers house scene, we never know how far Loomis is from Haddonfield - if he’s not there, how does he get to the shack so quickly at the end, and if he IS there, why hasn’t Brackett or Laurie run into him until then? Via Twitter, Rob claimed that his first cut of the film ran nearly four hours - I’m sure this is an exaggeration, but the film clearly has marks of a rushed edit (it’s worth noting that a large chunk of the footage seen in the trailers is not in the finished film, nor are many of the scenes described in the set visit reports from Fangoria and other sites), and the Loomis scenes seem to suffer the worst from it. Hell, Rob could have cut Loomis out of the film entirely, save for the final scene (and even in that he barely makes an impact) and it wouldn’t make any difference. Half the fans thought he was dead anyway (he has no signs of having his eyes gouged out/head crushed in this film - guy’s a hell of a healer).
Speaking of the editing, for a film with so many obviously missing, potentially interesting scenes (Annie’s lament that Laurie “isn’t the only one who got messed up” is also missing, in fact, Annie as a whole is largely absent from the film), it’s got a bunch of seemingly pointless ones. Loomis’ bickering with his publicist grows tiresome after the first time; unfortunately there are about three more such scenes. En route to work, Laurie stops to play with a pot-bellied pig for a while - huh? And since Howard Hesseman is billed along with the other principals (instead of grouped with the other minor characters), one must assume he had a bigger role, and that they left in his pointless “damn the man” type rant (he runs an indie music store/coffee shop where Laurie works) simply because it was the only thing left of his performance. Luckily, the cameos in this one aren’t nearly as distracting, mainly because they are for the most part performed by regular character actors (Mark Boone Junior was a nice surprise) instead of convention staples.
And even moreso than in the last one, Michael’s rampage seems to make little sense. Despite the fact that, as far as we can tell, he hasn’t even seen Laurie yet, he goes out of his way to kill her new friend and a guy said friend just met (in HIS car no less - even if he knew her, how’d he know WHERE they were?). There’s a lengthy scene where he disposes of Lou (Daniel Roebuck) and two employees of the Rabbit in Red lounge, which again, doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. As extraneous as I felt some of the kills were in the first one (Danny Trejo, for example), they can at least be justified by the fact that the victims were part of Laurie’s life or crossed Michael’s path in some way, but I got nothing for these sequences. Hell, I can even buy him killing Lou in the FIRST movie, as he might need Deborah’s work records to find Laurie or something, but here it just seems like he did it out of boredom. He also starts killing on October 29th, so why he doesn’t get to Laurie until the end of Halloween night is a bit of a puzzler as well. Plus, the kill scenes are so disconnected, they can’t possibly carry a modicum of suspense, because you know there’s no reason to be cutting to these people unless they were about to die. In a Friday the 13th movie, everyone is at the camp, and there are occasionally scenes of people going off alone and coming back unharmed. The fragmented style of this film renders a great deal of it to be anticlimactic; you know how the next five minutes are going to play out as soon as there’s a location switch.
There is one exception - the opening scenes at a hospital. It’s perhaps ironic that the best part of the film would be the one that strays closest to remake territory, but that’s the way I see it. Michael chases Laurie around the hospital for a bit, outside into the rain, and then around a little guard shack. It’s somewhat suspenseful, it has cohesion, and the kills are scary while providing the brutality Zombie has brought to the table. Unfortunately, the entire scene is a dream of an event that never occurred (per Zombie’s own admission in one of his many interviews this week).
Another issue is the timeframe. It’s only been a year, but when Laurie is talking to her shrink, the shrink says “Halloween is a big trigger for you”, as if it’s a recurring problem every year, something that wouldn’t be possible if it had only BEEN a year. And I forget the exact reference right now, but someone mentions Austin Powers, Loomis has a widescreen TV in his hotel room, and his assistant constantly fiddles with a Blackberry, which just makes the early 80s feel of everything else (the music, the styles, the cars, etc) feel out of place. And if Michael IS still alive, where has he been all this time? Just sitting in his shack, waiting for Halloween-time? Does he have a calendar?
There’s also a slight problem with the “sister” issue. Namely, it’s not clear that Laurie hasn’t learned the truth yet. It’s been a year (or two), Loomis has been writing his book - the word hadn’t gotten back to her yet? She finds out the day the book hits shelves? No journalist got an early copy and contacted her? In fact, I wonder how many people will be baffled as to why she’s so upset when she begins reading the book in her car, because they probably assume she knows that by now. In the original Halloween II, they took the time to point out that Laurie Strode was only vaguely familiar with Michael Myers, and the plot never required her character to learn that they were related. Just seems kind of weird, and given the attempt to paint her as a truly messed up character, it’s a missed opportunity to not have her learn this information much earlier in the film. By the time she finds out, the film is already on Halloween night mode, which means the time to stop for lengthy character stuff has passed in favor of killing. Of course, on the flipside, this means less scenes that require Scout Taylor-Compton to act messed up (not her strong point), and less dialogue for Rob to write (likewise).
Oddly, the body count seems less this time (but again, kills seem to be on the cutting room floor - Fangoria’s set reporter mentions something about someone being hung - there’s nothing like that in the movie). I count about fifteen, as opposed to I think 20 or so in the original (Christ, please don’t make me watch it again to be sure). And considering how easy it would be to lose 5 of them (Lou and company, Laurie’s new friend and her boyfriend), it overall feels like a tamer film. It also seems less gory - the first two kills are pretty bloody, but after that it’s largely aftermath - we see Michael stabbing or whacking someone over and over, but no blood (or even direct contact in several occasions, just swings), and then we see the mangled corpse. It’s just a bit repetitive - Michael delivers what is obviously a killing blow, and then proceeds to stab/whack them ten more times for good measure. Anyone who hated the lack of suspense/stalking in the last one will be even more disappointed with this; apart from the scene at the hospital, there is no stalking at all. AGAIN - Zombie’s version of Myers isn’t Carpenter’s creepy stalker type, so that’s not my concern. I just got a bit bored with the sameness of all the kill scenes. At one point he snaps a guy’s neck, and I half expected him to proceed to break it 10-12 more times. Maybe Rob even got bored with it; the two most significant kills, which are also the last two in the film, are largely off-screen.
Which brings us to the ending, and, obviously, I’m going to spoil part of it here. The conclusion takes place in a shack that Michael has been presumably living in (Jason from F13 2 rented it out to him, I guess), and the police/reporters are unable to see what is actually happening. We see Michael kill a returning character (for sure this time), and then Laurie tells him she loves him (She actually says “I love you, brother!” - and all I could think of was that crazy Asian guy from American Idol) before stabbing the ever-loving shit out of him. But then it gets weird - she stumbles out of the shack wearing Michael’s mask, and Brackett has a look on his face that is equally shocked and saddened. We then fade to Laurie in an institution, who is giving a young Michael-esque smirk. My instant thought was that we had just witnessed a High Tension homage; that Laurie was the one actually killing everyone all night. This theory doesn’t completely hold up, but then again, neither did High Tension’s. Others suspected that the ENTIRE film was a dream, and still others just assumed that everything happened as we saw it and that Laurie has just gone crazy from the events, a la the real Laurie in Halloween: Resurrection. And an open-ended conclusion is fine - IF the director intended it that way. But in this interview with LatinoReview, he basically sets the record straight on what the ending was, which is nice - but it shouldn’t have been necessary if he didn’t intend it to be open to interpretation.
Well I’ve run out of notes, so I guess I’ll try to wrap this beast up. I still don’t even know what my overall opinion is of the movie; I plan to watch it again on release (unlike most horror fans it seems, I support theatrical releases - even if I have seen them), and maybe I can decide then. Was I entertained? Certainly. Did I feel like I was watching the vision of one guy (albeit somewhat compromised due to time/budget/edit issues)? Yes. Did I feel compelled to yell at the screen? Only once (when a character calls 911 from the Brackett residence, she stumbles about and wastes time looking for the address, rather than just point out that it’s the home of the goddamn sheriff). And as with the last film, certain scenes are great (hospital, pretty much every scene with Brackett, bookstore), others are pointless (again - what the hell is up with the pot-bellied pig?), but even with the whacked out hallucination scenes, it never feels as schizo as the 2007 film. So in all of those respects, the film is a success of sorts. But it’s also rushed, suspiciously lackluster, and never remotely scary or suspenseful, so in THOSE respects, the film is possibly even more of a failure than the first one.
So I give it a ? out of 10.
What say you?
* I heard people bitching about a scene where Michael eats a dog. If it’s just because we actually SEE it, then fine, but if the actual idea is what bugs you - shut your damn mouth, because that was something in Carpenter’s film (“he got hungry...”).