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Garish Priest: Rob Zombie’s numbing Halloween II

Two years after Rob Zombie’s misshapen but ferocious and often striking Halloween remake comes the aggressively unpleasant Halloween II, which is basically Zombie trying to hack his way out of John Carpenter’s smooth, well-ordered universe with a machete and going nowhere slowly—and loudly, and savagely. There have been far more pointless movies in this genre, but none in which the plotting has seemed so random, so — if you’ll pardon the expression — helter-skelter. Freed from the original Halloween template, Zombie is aiming for something hallucinatory, almost abstract: a tone poem of madness and sadism and family ties that bind (and garrote). But the picture runs out of ideas about halfway through, and what’s left is splatter in a void.

The idea is to take pretty, sunny Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and show her mental and physical degeneration after the Halloween night slaughter of her family and friends — and her own point-blank pulverizing of Michael Myers’s head. As the ravaged teen lies in a hospital, the masked behemoth (Tyler Mane) returns and continues his butchery — or does he? Maybe it’s a nightmare. Maybe the whole movie is a nightmare. Maybe it was my nightmare. A year later, Laurie is living with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and her fellow Myers survivor Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris), and Zombie is hop-scotching among three plotlines: Laurie’s mental convulsions (her therapist is Margot Kidder!); the publication of a new Myers book by Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, high on the hog), who has metamorphosed into a sleazy profiteer; and the trek of Michael back to Haddonfield, stopping along the way to saw off or stomp the heads of assorted violent rednecks who, all things considered, have it coming. Michael is led by a vision of his blond young self (here Chase Wright Vanek) and his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), a loving mom in life but now a radiant white angel astride a white horse — exhorting him to kill, kill, kill.

It wasn’t until I sat through this Halloween II that I realized how fundamentally different Zombie’s universe is from Carpenter’s — and how their visions don’t begin to mix. The sick joke of the original was the contrast between the rage against young girls' sexuality and the clean visual lines and limpid tracking camera and repetitive theme music that climbed the scale and dropped back down — but the chords of which never resolved. (Some critics complained about Michael Myers’s lack of motivation for killing — as if a disturbed little boy or boy-at-heart needs a motive to fantasize about harming nubile babysitters!) But clean lines don’t interest Zombie. He shoots violence close, too close, to disorient you and make you jump. A nihilist headbanger, he’s magnetized by squalor and free-floating sadism. He clearly never wanted to be stuck in tidy Haddonfield—he kept drifting to the outskirts with its seedy strip clubs and rusty pick-ups and slobbering white trash misogynists with tattoos and goatees who are all potential rapist-murderers. His world is a nasty, carny freak show in which families (genuine or surrogate) that stay together, slay together.

However primitive, Zombie has talent, and even Halloween II — his worst film — has a few good jolts. I liked one of Laurie’s nightmares, a kaleidoscopic, Chamber of Horrors montage with the kick of a thrash-metal instrumental. Scout Taylor-Compton isn’t up to her big hysterical moments, but she has an appealing lightness; her good nature seems genuine. The first half is tolerable, before you sense you’re going nowhere you haven’t been. Zombie isn’t a storyteller, he’s a wallower. And because his movies take place in a culture of violence and sadism, there’s nothing for Michael Myers to do except echo what’s already there and slaughter weaker sadists. To enjoy Halloween II, you have to forget the idea of characters who change and grow, forget catharsis, forget everything but the theater of cruelty — which can be just as reductive and tedious as The Mickey Mouse Club.

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Photo: Dimension Films