MTV: And you won’t be coming up with ideas for “Halloween” sequels on the tour bus?
Zombie: No. I have no plans on watching them or making them. [He laughs.] My movie has a beginning, a middle and an end — and then I am done. Anything that comes after that? It will not involve me.
Writer/director Robert Zombie returns with the sequel to his remake of HALLOWEEN from two years ago. Mr. Zombie showed some promise with his HOUSE OF THE ONE THOUSAND CORPSES/DEVIL’S REJECTS movies. Then they hired him to remake HALLOWEEN, which seemed to me like a better idea than hiring whoever else they were gonna hire. I liked some of what he was trying to do, but the movie was a mess and made me question whether he really knows what he’s doing.
But he had done his remake, time to go back to what he was good at, so he was working on some kind of biker or wrestler movie or something and then… dropped that because they gave him some money to do this. I know he previously said he wouldn’t even watch a sequel, but this is different, he figured out a way to make it work: he gave Michael Meyers a beard.
Okay, I was trying to make it sound like I hated this movie to set up the “Laurie is Michael’s sister” style plot twist: I actually kind of liked it. It works much better than the remake and it’s Zombie’s least flawed movie besides DEVIL’S REJECTS.
I’m not gonna pretend it’s something completely new for him. All of his fetishes are in here, but he keeps them in check more than usual. Okay, so he has teenage girls saying shit like “Whut up, dicklickers?” to each other, but not too often. He has dumb rednecks, but more of the standard horror movie variety played by Mark Boone Jr., and not some hipster rednecks calling each other skullfuckers. He does give Laurie a bunch of cheesy rock shirts and absurdly puts a Charles Manson poster on her wall. (Sure, Zombie, because YOU think killers are awesome the girl whose parents and friends were horribly murdered one year ago also must think they’re awesome. And her sheriff guardian has no problem with her hanging that in his house.) And I have to say that I’m not a fan of the shitty graffiti she has in her room.
But all the “Rob Zombie” shit is a small percentage of the movie and worked in more organically than in part 1. The rock/horror thing almost seems like a motif: Kiss and Alice Cooper posters on the wall, some retro horror rock band playing at the Halloween party, Laurie and her friends dressing up as Rocky Horror characters. Most of it actually works.
And that’s all I ask. Some people seem to hate directors having recognizable styles, which is stupid. But Zombie is no Tarantino, and can be more clumsy about his trademarks getting in the way of the story. For example in the HALLOWEEN remake it started to get distracting that old horror and TV icons kept popping up for cameos every 5 minutes: Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, Clint Howard, Udo Kier, Ken Foree, Sybil Danning, Micky Dolenz, Sid Haig, not to mention Brad Dourif and Dee Wallace in major roles. I like those guys but it felt like a gimmick in this movie. How are you supposed to be scared when you keep thinking “Oh yes, I remember HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. Ah, TEXAS CHAINSAW 2. Oooh, DAWN OF THE DEAD. A ha, THE HOWLING.”
The biggest problem this sequel solves is that the remake crammed Laurie Strode’s story into only the second half of the movie, so you didn’t get to know her or her friends very well and it seemed like a crappy slasher sequel instead of pretty-much-the-best-ever which is what the original HALLOWEEN was. This one is Laurie’s movie so you get to know her and her friends much better. Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) lives with Annie (Danielle Harris, in her fourth HALLOWEEN movie) and her dad Sheriff Brackett (Dourif). All three are good in the movie and have a survivor’s bond and look out for each other. And have scars on their faces from part 1.
Early in the movie there’s a great sequence that shows the aftermath of part 1 in gruesome detail: the cops at the crime scene, the survivors being operated on, the dead being examined, Michael Meyers’s body being photographed and packed up. The look of the movie is much more raw and real than the first one, and more than any other sequel that comes immediately to mind this makes it seem like the violence we’ve seen has serious consequences and repercussions. (Only a dumb scene where the guys in the morgue truck talk about necrophilia breaks the CSI feel.)
Like the DAWSON’S CREEK guy did in HALLOWEEN H20, Zombie wants to show that running from Michael Meyers has seriously fucked Laurie up. She’s always tired and headachey, she does alot of crying and yelling, she has murderous thoughts, she sees a therapist (Caroline Williams from TEXAS CHAINSAW 2, but I didn’t recognize her [UPDATE: That’s because it was Margot Kidder, you dumbass. But Stretch was in there somewhere]), later she gets real drunk. She’s less sympathetic than Jamie Lee Curtis, but Taylor-Compton is pretty believable and you feel bad for her. Annie has dealt with it much better (she still has a dad, at least) and her motherly/sisterly support of Laurie is kind of sweet.
Zombie also wants to get inside Michael’s head, but not in the way he did the first time. This time it’s much more efficient and ambiguous: he shows us Michael’s delusions, seeing himself as still a kid in a Halloween costume walking around with a ghostly vision of his mom. You see all three of them walking around like this ghostly procession. Adult Michael looks more like the help than the mastermind, which I guess is how he sees himself. (They got a different kid playing the young Michael. That’s how crazy Michael Meyers is, he thinks he’s still a little boy but not even the same one he used to be.)
As you may have heard, Zombie also partly ditched the usual Meyers iconography. For six of the original HALLOWEEN movies he was a guy in a jumpsuit and a mask, the same one although of varying quality. Here he still has the mask but he doesn’t always wear it, it’s torn in half by the end and he likes to wear a hood over it. Zombie of course wants all of his characters to look like him, so in part 1 he gave Meyers long rock star hair, in this one he gave him a silly hobo beard and in part 3 he’ll give him tattoos, a wallet chain and a Munsters t-shirt.
It’s definitely a weird approach to a HALLOWEEN sequel (some of the Sherri Moon Zombie stuff got laughs in my theater), but I’ll tell you why that’s allowed. The original HALLOWEEN II is okay, it has parts I like and parts that are typical of shitty slasher sequels. The third one doesn’t have Michael in it. 4, 5 and 6 are terrible. 7 I like, but most people don’t seem to, and they didn’t even get his mask right in that one. 8 is fucking inexcusable. So we know what a HALLOWEEN sequel was supposed to be like, and most of us agree that wasn’t working out. Zombie’s approach may have been deliberately trying to piss people off, but it worked out better than almost all of the previous tries. I mean, this is way better than that thorn cult bullshit.
It uses the original characters in different ways: Loomis is a scumbag celebrity now instead of the one guy who knows the danger. He mostly has a separate storyline about his book tour. I kept thinking fine, I don’t mind if you change it, but how is this more interesting than the original approach to Dr. Loomis? But I forgave it when he rejoined the main storyline at the end. This Annie Brackett survived to part 2, which she didn’t do before, and becomes a much stronger character. Sheriff Brackett becomes an important person in Laurie’s life instead of just the sheriff and her friend’s dad. And Laurie doesn’t have to babysit and gets to go out and be a teenager – I believe this is the first time she’s gotten to wear a Halloween costume.
It still keeps some HALLOWEEN elements: the that-same-night hospital terror of the original part 2, the countdown to October 31st of original part 1, the Michael Meyers slow travel to Haddonfield (although this time he looks like a hobo and you just keep seeing him walking across fields), a great onscreen reference to the offscreen dog-eating from the original, even a possible reference to the Silver Shamrock pumpkin mask from part 3.
Also, the original part 2 had the retroactive twist that Laurie is Michael’s sister – Zombie made that a huge part of his part 1 remake, but she finds out in this one. To avoid you having the same confusion I had you should know that in this movie Laurie does not realize that she’s Michael’s sister. I thought it became clear to her at the end of part 1 so when she is shocked to find out late in this movie it threw me for a loop.
After he tried to definitively kill Meyers in part 1 (so naive), Zombie wisely doesn’t bother to explain why our boy’s alive again. Anything he could make up would be stupid, so let’s just all agree to look the other way. I was a little confused about Dr. Loomis though, because not only did he seem to be possibly dead, but I could swear his fucking eyeballs were poked out. Looks like they grew back.
HALLOWEEN II has great cinematography. There are some gorgeous shots of Michael in the distance making his journey, his face covered in shadows. The hallucinatory scenes (especially a black and white one) look beautiful and more often remind me of some weird art film than a music video. More than most modern horror movies this one remembers the importance of atmosphere, and really reminds you what it feels like to be in different places at night: a dark field lit only by headlights, a suburban street, a security guard’s shack in the pouring rain, a hospital when everyone’s asleep (well, in this case, dead).
The violence is absolutely brutal, the one major misjudgment that I think holds the movie back. Zombie has said he hates it when people cheer for violence, he wants it to be horrible and ugly, and he succeeds at that. When Michael stomps somebody’s face in or stabs somebody two or three dozen times it feels more like the “I’m gonna puke” violence of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER than the “good kills” of FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. But come on, he’s not making an anti-violence movie here. He’s making a movie about a guy who walks across a state killing most of the people he sees along the way. He wants us to be sickened by the violence but he also wants us to watch a whole fucking lot of it. Thanks for looking out for us, pal.
I think it’s an interesting movie, and mostly well executed, but toward the end I started to feel like maybe a little something was missing. And I think that may be Zombie’s willingness to follow part of the slasher movie formula (he even uses “I’ll be right back” two or three times) while purposely not wanting to give you the pleasure of watching a slasher movie. Or maybe his sequences just aren’t tense enough. In Carpenter’s version the scariest shit was Michael standing around watching people. It was the anticipation. There’s some of that here because you usually know when Michael is nearby, but then he just appears right there and starts quickly stabbing them. As a suspense thriller it could be better. On the other hand, some sequences got my heart rate up a little, like the one where poor Laurie tries to run down a hospital stairway with one leg in a cast.
I enjoyed most of it, but as it wrapped up I felt that it could lose me. It all depended on where this was leading to. Zombie doesn’t quite have a great punchline like I think he did in the director’s cut of part 1 (Laurie screaming after she shot Michael’s head off cuts to a home movie of young Michael calming crying baby Laurie, like in his death big brother is somehow looking out for baby sister), but it all comes together pretty good.
This is not a criticism of HALLOWEEN II, but an observation: I think Zombie is selfish about the way he ends it. He fucking knows they’re gonna make sequels with or without him, but he tries to make it as hard as possible by (THE PART WHERE I SAID “THE WAY HE ENDS IT” WOULD BE YOUR CUE THAT THIS IS HUGE SPOILERS COMING UP) killing the shit out of both Meyers and Loomis and putting Laurie in an asylum. I mean obviously they’ll bring Michael back to life but you gotta go extra silly to bring back Loomis, who has not yet had much of a chance to be the Van Helsing in this version of the story. And if Laurie goes around killing people that would just be a dumb movie. But as an ending it’s pretty good. (As long as we’re in the spoiler zone I might as well mention that I wish they would’ve cut to the credits as soon as she walked out with the mask on.)
By the way, there’s a cover of “Love Hurts” on the end credits. It actually works really well, unlike the laugh-out-loud use of the original song in part 1. I guess this means he stands by that choice and wants to rub it in our faces.
I’ve found myself defending Robert Zombie alot, but after HALLOWEEN REMAKE and his weak GRINDHOUSE trailer and some of the stupid shit he says in interviews I was kind of losing faith. I joked with a buddy of mine that this movie would decide if I was on Zombie’s side or not. The remake had no chance to get a rhythm going, because it shot off in so many directions and so many of the ideas didn’t work that if it had you for a minute it would lose you for the next. This one didn’t have that problem. It pulled me into its trance, the big psycho lumbering single-mindedly toward his target, me on the other end waiting with Laurie, hoping she doesn’t get killed.
Yeah, it’s good enough, I’m back on the Zombie train. If he gives The Blob long hair and a beard though I’m fucking out of here.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.