Sunday, November 21, 2010

Postscript to In Defense of Rob Zombie's Halloween: Not In Defense of Halloween II

Despite its poor reputation, Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of Halloween was actually a very interesting and unique modern horror film.  Zombie's movie took the bare framework of John Carpenter's original and did something different with it, which set it apart from the recent crop of unimaginative remakes.  In fact, the film's mournful tone, autumnal cinematography, and deliberate pacing made it feel not just different from the 1978 slasher it's inspired by, but from recent horror films in general.  Zombie's Halloween only really faltered in those moments when it became a slasher film, as it did in its relatively conventional second half.  Unfortunately, Zombie's Halloween II amplifies the first film's flaws while retaining few of its virtues.

Yes, there are a few admirable elements of this otherwise rightfully derided movie.  Zombie is still sticking firmly to his own vision rather than resting on the laurels of a popular series, which makes Halloween II feel less redundant than a sequel to a remake has any right to be.  The iconic Michael Myers mask is rarely shown in full, and when it is it is raggedy and mangled (as a result of the events of the first film), and Carpenter's memorable theme music isn't used until the final scene.  Once again, Zombie hasn't asked his performers to model their performances on those of the original cast.  Unlike most slasher directors, he seems committed to giving the killer's victims distinct personalities, although they unfortunately tend to be loathsome, garish, and one-note.  I don't want to speculate on whether the film's violence is realistic, but I suppose that makeup artist Adrienne Lynn deserves credit for making the unusually blunt and graphic viscera seem plausible.

The makeup effects are a hugely important part of Halloween II - this is a truly gory film.  Clearly the film's subject matter calls for a certain amount of violence, but the sheer quantity of vicious, explicit murders in the "unrated director's cut" (the one that's available on DVD) is much more than the audience needs to believe that Myers is a killing machine.  A lengthy sequence in which Myers slaughters the inhabitants of a strip club - stomping the bouncer's head in, stabbing the owner, and bashing a stripper's face into a mirror until she dies - should be a showstopper, but it is sandwiched in between so much similar brutality that it doesn't stand out.  The endless stream of violence is deadening, to the point that I imagine even the most hardocore Fangoria subscriber becoming bored quickly.  It would be one thing if the blooshed was as perversely inspired as it sometimes is in the films of Dario Argento or Takashi Miike, but Zombie seems to have lost his knack for the overheated carnival imagery that set his earlier work apart from the pack.

There is evidence that Zombie is trying to make Halloween II a film about violence, but his ideas are too poorly articulated for the film to have any thematic weight.  Zombie is clearly interested in exploring the ways that violence affects, and corrupts, everyone in its path - the personalities of the major characters have changed in much the same way that that the characters of The Devil's Rejects evolved from their House of 1000 Corpses incarnations.  Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is now a cocky publicity hound who uses the memories of atrocities to promote his new bestselling book, while Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has been driven to near-insanity by her near-death experience.  These aren't bad ideas, necessarily, but Zombie is too poor a screenwriter to make these changes seem organic, or to integrate them into a larger well-developed theme.  The Laurie character is particularly grating.  Taylor-Compton was a weak link in the first film's cast, but the Laurie role was downplayed to the point that she wasn't a major liability.  Her screaching, whiny portrayal here makes her character impossible to root for, which might not be so bad if her growing psychosis were at least remotely convincing.  But surely Zombie deserves some of the blame, considering that seasoned performers like McDowell and Brad Dourif (whose town sheriff plays a much bigger role than in the first film) fail to make much of an impression.

These thematic failings might not be as big a problem if Zombie would at least stick consistently to a gritty, "realistic" tone, but Halloween II is all over the map stylistically.  If anything, it may be the director's most scattershot, self-indulgent film to date, which is really saying something.  At several points, Myers is visited by the ghosts of his childhood self and his mother, who are always accompanied by a white horse (whose symbolic significance is clumsily explained in an opening intertitle).  This pedestrian Freudianism becomes even hokier when Laurie begins being visited by the same ghosts.  Zombie's first Halloween improved on a fairly stupid plot contrivance from the original series of films - the revelation that Laurie is Michael's long-lost sister - by pointing out early on that Laurie is the baby that ten-year-old Michael spares when he massacres the rest of his family.  But the vision connection thing here is silly even by the standards of bad dream sequences, and it doesn't square with the rest of the film's decidedly non-supernatural aesthetic.  It's bad enough that Halloween II feels so pointless, unpleasant, and vulgar.  Did it have to be so sloppy?

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