August 31, 2009

Halloween II (2009)

h24_largeTwo years ago Rob Zombie brought his unique vision to the Halloween franchise. Say what you will about Zombie, his music or his films, but you can't deny that the man invests himself in whatever project he takes on. You can be guaranteed, for better or worse, that the final result will be far more interesting than it would be under the guidance of some hack director whose only goal is to make money. Yes, I know the bottom line from a studio project is always going to be money, but I am much more willing to part with said money when it is for a film by a director who believes in his work and tries to do something with it. Rob Zombie is one of those directors. Endlessly interesting, not always successful, but still worth every minute.

His sequel to his own re-imagining is an interesting next step that adds more to the mythos, but also seems to take the story further away from its origins. As I left the theater, attempting to process what I had seen, I could not help but feel satisfied. I really liked what Zombie brought to the table. It felt like there was a stronger connection between what was on the screen and what was likely inside of his head, whereas the prior film was a compromise between what he wanted to do and what the studio wanted. I heard an interview where Zombie stated he initially conceived the first Halloween as being entirely about Michael as a child with a second film to focus on him after he grew up. Unfortunately, that did not happen; still, the movie was interesting and brought a certain depth to the character that we never really had before.

h27With Halloween IIWith Halloween II Rob Zombie has made a film markedly different from the original series while still maintaining a connection to it. After seeing what has been done to the characters, combined with the emotions bubbling over at various websites and even among people I know, I see this film has had much hate directed towards it. My first reaction is to say these people were not watching or are too tied to the original to be open to change. The problem there is that I would be falling into the age old trap of comebacks that really have no bearing on reality. It is much better to recognize that this film is different and that a lot do not want anything different or genuinely do not like what changes have been made. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as I have been on both sides of the coin. This is a film where I truly feel like I am on the side facing the greatest opposition.

Halloween II is a brutal, visceral film that goes about giving us an iconic killer instead of just a group of teens/young adults in a situation they have to try and survive (like The Final Destination or Saw). When it comes to big screen horror, we do not have much in the way of the iconic killer. This film goes a long way to giving us that frightening icon of killing. When Michael Myers kills, you do not want to be anywhere near him. He has been off, licking his wounds so to speak, for a year, waiting to make his return to Haddonfield on Halloween night. As the day approaches, he begins to make his move back home, seeking to make his family whole once again. Anyone who gets in his way meets their demise at the end of a butcher knife.

h26Meanwhile, in Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is attempting to put her life back together, now living with Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif) and her best friend Annie (Danielle Harris). Where the first film played with the line between light and dark, this film has Laurie valiantly trying to return to the light only to find her life slipping deeper and deeper into the darkness. Our heroine is haunted by visions of Michael Myers, and they are weighing heavily on her and those around her. Her life spirals out of control as Myers' rampage draws closer and closer to her doorstep.

The final piece of our puzzle is Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). This Loomis is a very different beast from the man we knew played by Donald Pleasance. In his mind he is recovering from the experience by writing a tell-all book about Myers, his family, and his ordeal. It is not something that goes over well as he's seen as profiting from the misery of others. This Loomis is a complex character who may be seen as big a villain as Myers himself. He is intrinsically linked to the murderous monster, but has a different view of his own importance and his place within the context of the tragedy. Rob Zombie has certainly given Loomis an interesting spin.

Looking back on these characters, it is clear that Zombie is looking to inject a little psychology into the proceedings. This begins before the first frame as we get a quote about the meaning of a white horse in your dreams. Young Micheal has a dream of his mother in a white dress with a white horse; this becomes the guiding image that leads him on his journey to find Laurie. You could argue that he is doing all that he does in the name of love for his sister and for his mother. On top of that, we are given a front row seat to Laurie's disintegrating psyche. This girl crumbles before our eyes. Think about where she was in the first film, how she starts here, and where she ends up.

h29Even the supporting characters get in on the fun. Sheriff Brackett goes through all manner of emotions over the course of the film. It does not hurt that Brad Dourif is able to hit all the right notes. Annie has issues of her own, mainly dealing with her father and with Laurie. She seems to be getting on all right in the aftermath, but who knows how much of it is a front?

Rob Zombie digs into the characters' psychology, smashing their perceived reality to bits with a healthy dose of gritty, bloody brutality. It is a marriage that works. It may well be an abusive relationship, but this is what helps build a challenging horror film. This movie gets down and dirty and is at direct odds with this era of PG-13 dominated horror. I love how he has crafted this world and the way he plunges us right into the darkness. It is a world from which there is no escape — you can try, but you will not survive.

He brings a style and sensibility that is all his own. Whether you are bludgeoned by the brutality or swayed by the psychology, you will walk away with an opinion. For better or for worse, he will draw an emotion out of you. In my case, I was drawn in and taken for a ride into hell that left me haunted, shaken, and disturbed. I look forward to revisiting it and would love to see a direct follow-up, but something tells me that may not be in the cards. It is a shame, as this ending is not what I saw coming, and I applaud Zombie for it.

Highly Recommended.


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