Halloween II (2009), Director's Cut
Remakes are already a dicey prospect but Rob Zombie’s Halloween was arguably one of the most contentious projects of the last decade’s slew of remakes. Some people found his unique vision a clever reinvention of a mouldy old story, while many purists thought it was a desecration of a scared relic. I kind of split the difference; while there were fantastic elements, it was also unforgivably mean-spirited and self-indulgent. It was also the highest grossing film in the series (not inflation adjusted – the original 1978 film has still sold the most tickets), guaranteeing a sequel would follow. While 2007’s Halloween was controversial and divisive amongst fans of the series, the second film would be even more so but for entirely different reasons.
It is mere minutes after Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) pulled the trigger of the gun that supposedly killed Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). She wanders the streets of Haddonfield, bloodied, dazed and babbling to herself. She’s found by Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif) and rushed to the emergency room. Meanwhile, Michael’s body is hauled to the morgue by two sleazy coroners (Dayton Callie and Richard Brake). En route the van gets in an accident and the supposedly dead Michael is freed. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Laurie has nightmares about being stalked by Michael in the hospital.
Flash forward two years. Laurie is living with the Bracketts, all of whom bare scars beyond the physical. Laurie is attending therapy session with a psychologist (Margot Kidder), but the healing process is not going smoothly. She has fallen in with a new clique of friends and is becoming ever more estranged from Annie (Danielle Harris) and Leigh. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), more arrogant and self-absorbed than ever, has written a book about the events of the first film, a book which contains revelations about Laurie’s past that Leigh has tried to shelter her from. When she reads it Laurie is driven into a rage and, when she runs off to numb the pain with partying and alcohol, Michael returns to Haddonfield to finish what he started.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Rob Zombie’s first two films and approached his remake with a great degree of trepidation. While the sequels had certainly gone to the well a few times too many and a remake was really the only viable way to continue the franchise, I thought that there couldn’t possibly be a person less qualified to reinvent the series than Rob Zombie. Zombie is an odd case as a filmmaker: he’s obviously got chops behind the camera but his movies are mired in such aggressive unpleasantness and misogyny that I’m torn between praising the effectiveness of his individual set pieces while still finding his films repellent and sleazy, as well as over indulgent. The beginning of the Halloween remake didn’t exactly instil confidence: while it was most assuredly the work of an auteur, it was pretty clear the Zombie either missed or totally didn’t care about what made the original so special. I enjoyed the second half’s truncated version of Carpenter’s film, but again I was torn. It was pretty clearly imposed on Zombie by the studio and it was unfortunate that he couldn’t realize his true vision even if that wasn’t a vision I was interested in sharing.
By his own admission, after finishing the first film Zombie was done with the Halloween universe. Producers hungry to recreate the success of the first film found a way to get Rob back on board, probably money and the promise of creative freedom. It’s pretty clear from frame one that he was given more leeway to make a film more in line with his own personal vision. It’s still a cynical rush job from a filmmaker who had no interest in making it but was given money and creative freedom, an irresistible carrot in Hollywood. It is also, moment to moment, better than the remake.
Perhaps it would take the misfire that was Rob Zombie’s Halloween to truly prepare me to appreciate his sequel. Whatever flaws his first foray to Haddonfield had, Zombie was successful in doing the things he needed to do: to establish a new universe, the characters that inhabit it and the tone the series would take. With that grounding, I found it a lot easier to get into Zombie’s Haddonfield the second time around. It was less grating since there were no scenes that invited direct comparison to 1981’s Halloween II. Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is his best film to date, a major improvement over the first Halloween and very nearly a fantastic movie in its own right.
After the overlong, but brutally effective, opening sequence the film settles into its story. There are three separate plots that nominally connect at the end of the film. There’s Laurie and the Bracketts dealing with the aftermath of the first film, Loomis and his assistant working the talk show circuit for a book tour and Michael’s slow return from…somewhere… to Haddonfield. Given the focus of the first film, it would be understandable for one to think that Zombie’s would pay the most attention to Michael’s story. Surprisingly, he doesn’t. Michael’s scenes seem utterly perfunctory, their inclusion an afterthought.
The largest and most developed section of the film deals with Laurie and her surrogate family dealing with the aftermath of their ordeal. During these scenes it’s actually a strong character study, with sympathetic characters having relatable problems and understandable reactions. Whereas Halloween played as part serial killer biopic and part Cliff’s Notes version of Carpenter’s original film, Halloween II is an entirely unique entity, both in the series and in Zombie’s canon. He shifts the focus of the film from the killers and freaks to relatively normal characters, albeit ones with a lot of baggage. Scout Taylor Compton, Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif all do solid work building the relationship of this surrogate family.
Laurie’s post-traumatic stress is well established and convincingly developed, but Zombie doesn’t take the easy way out by making her a one-dimensional, put-upon victim. She’s selfish and self-absorbed and takes for granted the generosity and friendship of the Bracketts. In short, she’s a real, flawed, incredibly damaged but well fleshed out character. Laurie and Annie’s relationship is the single strongest element of Halloween II. They are two women united by a shared history and tragedy and it’s that tragedy that is the source of the widening rift between them. They are growing apart because of their coping mechanisms are so different. Both actresses give fantastic performances in the scenes where their relationship is allowed to take centre stage. There’s a fantastic scene where Annie gives Laurie a total dressing down and pulls no punches. It’s a raw, sad scene that speaks with real human truth; something I thought was completely beyond Zombie’s capabilities. This dynamic lends Annie’s final scene a surprising amount of power. The two female leads give Halloween II the emotional core that Zombie’s first Halloween lacked. This is the first time Zombie has shown an understanding of emotional truth. I’m surprised to say it, but Zombie actually allows the characters to show some humanity. Could this be a sign that he’s maturing as a writer? I shudder to think.
Brad Dourif’s Leigh is also lot more nuanced than in the first film. He’s dealing with the guilt of not being able to protect his daughter or her friends, and projects a subtle sense of emasculation because of it. His work in the last act is magnificent. The only character arc that isn’t truly satisfying is Loomis’. With Loomis’ book signing and talk show scenes it appears like Zombie is taking a dig at his more ardent fans, but Loomis is such an unlikable bastard throughout that his 11th hour change of heart just doesn’t ring true. I’m sure Zombie got a kick out of turning Loomis into a total asshole and having him have nothing to do with the rest of the movie until the final five minutes, but I just found it a depressing waste of an awesome actor.
This is probably the type of story Zombie should be telling: he can have relatable characters while still sticking to his usual tropes. He identifies with the outcast and tries to make them the centre of every film, but it’s a lot easier for the audience to identify with someone trying to cope with survivors’ guilt than with a homicidal maniac or rapist. Even at her least sympathetic, Laurie is still far more likable than just about any other character in Zombie’s entire filmography.
There are some really fantastic scenes here and, even better, they contribute far more significantly to a larger narrative than any scenes in the first film did. For all its narrative improvements over the first film, Halloween II still often feels more like a collection of deleted scenes than an actual movie. Like Tarantino, Zombie ruthlessly pilfers from pop culture. He can craft intense scenes, and he even gets a modicum of suspense going here and there, but H2 is never at any point even remotely scary and, at 119 minutes, the director’s cut is way too long (the 101 minute theatrical version is better even if still too long). There’s a scene at the Rabbit in Red lounge which serves no purpose other than providing the film with its requisite doses of mutilation and misogyny.
Halloween II was met with absolute derision in its theatrical release. I went to see it opening night with an audience of Goth kids and metalheads that could only be described as Zombie’s core audience. As the film went on, I could see their anxiousness increase and when it was over it is one of the few mainstream films I’ve attended that earned boos. As I write this, it’s sitting at a 4.9 aggregate score on IMDB, one the lowest for the series. Like the first Halloween, Zombie offers us a bill of goods then delivers something totally different. In this case, however, he gave us something better than advertised: a surprisingly strong character drama. Hopefully audience dissatisfaction will fade with time and Halloween II will be rediscovered in a few years and get the credit it deserves as a fascinating, if not wholly successful, entry into the Halloween canon.
Halloween II was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm. As expected, this results in a film that is loaded with grain. It’s a completely conscious aesthetic choice by Zombie but it makes evaluating the picture quality a bit difficult. Do I give it high marks for being a good representation of Zombie’s aesthetic, or do I dock it points for its muddy look, intentional or not?
Grain is always very active, but never more so than in dark scenes. It makes detail in the image hard to discern. This is further exacerbated by the decision to shoot with a lot of fog, smoke and filters. There are occasional scenes that look a bit less grainy; this might be an indication that some noise reduction filter was applied to the transfer. Some shots, like the close up of Loomis during a speech, show the kind of sharpness, detail and contrast that you’d expect from a 1080p transfer. Zombie’s colour palette is muted by design, though there are still bold colours occasionally on display (see the party, or at the Rabbit in Red lounge). The scenes added back into the film proper for the director’s cut don’t show the use contrast changes that mar so many extended cuts.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD track is not as active or aggressive as the one found on the Halloween Blu-ray, but it’s still fairly strong. That’s probably partly due to the fact that, after the prologue, Halloween II is more dialogue oriented than the first film. The surrounds are active with sound effects (check out the rain storm or the car crash at the beginning), but there’s not much in the way of panning effects. Dialogue is never difficult to discern but that may have something to do with the fact that most of it is shouted.
First up is the usual exorbitant collection of Deleted Scenes (25:14). Unlike the first disc, though, there’s no commentary to give the scenes context or explain why the scenes were cut. Zombie’s decisions in this regard seem pretty arbitrary: any number of scenes in this collection could be swapped with scenes from the movie without significantly changing the overall experience. There is one really good scene between Mya and Laurie before they find Annie that was probably cut because Zombie felt it was overstating the obvious, but I think it actually would have made an already powerful scene even better and added a bit of suspense to the last act of the film.
There’s a Blooper Reel (4:26) that’s not nearly as funny as the one for Halloween, probably due to the fact that Leigh and Loomis had very few scenes together so McDowell and Dourif didn’t have the chance to ham it up. On his own, McDowell seems a bit crusty and on edge. I guess you had to be there.
More Audition Footage (9:37) is again included. Zombie certainly has an eye for talent even if he’s not always able to best utilize that talent on screen. I found this collection of scenes gave me a greater appreciation for the actors since they’re selling their performances outside of the environment of the set. Chase Wright Vanek actually gave me chills at one point. I can’t tell if Angela Trimbur was acting or just being herself but if she was acting, then she’s simply amazing. This feature is a good length and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
There’s some Make Up Test Footage (3:35) included. Nothing special here.
Extended versions of Uncle Seymour Coffin’s Stand Up Routines (8:40) have lousy location audio, which I guess doesn’t matter much considering the material. I’m not sure if his jokes are supposed to be of the “so bad it’s good” variety. They mostly just suck. The footage does boast extra nudity for those interested, and he reads a letter from “Malek,” perhaps in reference to Malek Akkad?
Music videos from Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures (19:11) are your usual produced for DVD videos that blend low production value footage of the band with clips taken from the movie. While not the best horrorbilly music ever (a bit too much emphasis on the “billy” for my tastes), it’s nonetheless fun music to listen to, although you’d be better off just putting the music on your iPod.
Writer/Director Rob Zombie provides another Audio Commentary. With his articulate, soft spoken tone you’d think he was commentating on an Oscar bait drama. The shoot for Halloween II seems like it was absolutely hellish, with Zombie and his crew having to contend with rain, footage lost to and from the lab as well as studio-ordered reshoots. Zombie’s engaging as usual but he sounds like he’s really unhappy with the finished film, even though it’s his director’s cut. There’s an odd moment during Mya’s death where the commentary cuts out nearly midsentence for a couple of seconds before Zombie resumes talking. I’m not sure if this constitutes a technical glitch or studio censorship?
Lastly is the BD Live Movie IQ feature. When activated, an information box pops up at the beginning of each new scene detailing IMDB type info – cast, crew, music, etc. Seems kind of pointless to me, but if you’re the type of person who consults IMDB 20 times on your iPhone while watching a movie, it might be helpful.
Even marred by Zombie’s usual excesses, Halloween II still feels leaner than the first and more of a piece. Instead of cramming two disparate halves uncomfortably together he tells an actual story that has a beginning, middle and an end, is populated with characters that are sympathetic and have motives we can understand, and even manages some truly intense set pieces along the way. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s a strong film and a totally worthy entry into the Halloween pantheon. Based solely on the strength of the movie, this Blu-ray release gets a mild recommendation despite lacking in presentation and supplements.
I really agree with everything in this review. After laughing my way through Zombie's bratty, immature attempt at provocation in HALLOWEEN, I could not believe how much different a film H2 was. It still had a lot of loopy logical problems (the dream sequence syndrome) but it had some haunting sequences and a beautiful 16mm aesthetic. It took a lot of balls to completely 180 after setting expectations with the first, but Zombie actually succeeded in making a movie of worth.
In our vapid remake era, I predict that looking back years later, this will be one of the few horror films of distinct worth to come out of Hollywood. It's a mess still, but a pretty nuanced and personal one. You won't find a lesser fan of Rob Zombie than I, but if he can continue to make movies as direct and distinct as H2, then I'll see you all there in the seats.
The Halloween films have always held that special place in me. The original introduced me to horror as a kid and I have the tattoos to profess my love of the series so when I heard Zombie was doing the remake, I figured what the hell, the story already has alternate universes with the separation of the 1,2 and H20 storylines and the 4 thru 6 storylines so I thought it would be interesting to see Zombie's take on things. The first one was pretty much what I expected, more back story with a hyper sped up version of the original with a dose of Zombie's trailer park characters and dialogue thrown in. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. However, H2 actually impressed me. I've seen this movie just downright slammed by a lot of fans, but I actually enjoyed this one. Zombie actually showed some specks of honestly good filmmaking in this one. They were scattered throughout here and there and pieced together with old scotch tape, but they were there. I thought the scene where Brackett goes home and finds Annie was very effective with the addition of Danielle Harris' old home movie footage. It actually made me feel something. Sure, he pulled the same trick in House of 1000 corpses, but I guess this time it just hit home with me having that nostalgia factor with her being in Halloween 4 and 5 which I can remember rushing to the theaters to see. In time I can actually see Zombie becoming a great filmmaker. He's still working out the kinks, but he's getting there.
As mentioned in my post in the review for the first Halloween remake- it is sad the blu comes only with the unrated directors cut- I feel the theatrical ending is much better- but I did like the additional scenes with Annie - do not understand why both were not included.
FYI for anyone interested in what exactly was changed between the theatrical and the directors unrated cut:
I noticed some of the differences immediately but not all of them- this blogger seems to be pretty thorough.
Oh, I got it! This is the trick instead of the treat; hahaha, you got me!
I truly wish I could find something to appreciate in this film. But I hate it more than any other. Zombie's additional creative control resulted in a film almost completely devoted to his utter fascination with ugliness. Is there anything scary about the initial hospital scenes where Laurie's wounds are cleaned? Not to me. Unpleasant? Yes. Scary? No. And what's compelling about the innumerable scenes of Michael dispatching characters who haven't been developed AT ALL? Michael doesn't even lurk. Now he walks around in plain sight--DRESSED LIKE A HOBO. And grunting and killing people we don't care about.
Aren't other hardcore Halloween fans angry about what Zombie chose to do with this series? He took possibly the most iconic female heroine in horror history and made her completely unsympathetic. His Loomis is a selfish asshole instead of a loveable Captain Ahab figure. And his Michael Myers is an 8-foot-high bearded redneck who grunts like a male pornstar at the moment of climax--because that's so much scarier than pure evil.
Zombie's obvious contempt for the original series really angers me. I question the ethics involved in making radical changes to such an established series. But the real sin is that his changes bring such diminished returns. Michael, Laurie, and Loomis are all less compelling characters when viewed through Zombie's white trash kaleidoscope. And there aren't even any scares to salvage the wreckage.
I won't even discuss the ludicrous white horse concept or all the painfully amateurish scenes with Sheri Moon--and the pathetic tacked-on motivation that they establish.
There's no doubt that this is Zombie's movie all the way. I agree with all of you on that. I just don't enjoy spending time in his world. And I can't think of a vision more ill-suited to this particular universe.
I really hate this movie. Please Lord, return the real Michael Myers to the big screen at some point.
Agree 100% with Shape22.
It's hard to be super angry at Rob Zombie over what he did to this series because as far as I'm concerned it's been damaged goods since Halloween 5. Part five was garbage. Part six was even worse and to me was the worse of the series. This doesn't take away from the original movie because the prior sequels already did that.
I wasn't a fan of his remake at all but I did enjoy the sequel he did. He did enough to make it so different and bat shit absurd and more importantly his own (for better or worse) that at the very least it was fresh although he did fall for the usual Zombie pitfalls.
These past two movies were about Michael Myers the giant psychotic who's come from a terrible environment and a hack for a psychiatrist and not the boogie-man known as The Shape. It shows because this current Michael Myers has no screen presence. You even see what's on his mind and what does he see? Some pumpkin headed royalty at a buffet eating his sister while his mother is all Vampira like but with a white horse. There's a lot going on in this movie. Damn.
I actually root for him because Rob tends to put him in positions where you root for him. Rob has two hillbilly's brutally attack Myers unnecessarily. You want Myers to kill them and he does. Same goes for the bouncer who for some reason decides to talk shit to a scary seven foot tall mountain man. He even throws the first punch. Again you want Myers to kill him for being a dick. Even the ambulance drivers are these necrophiliac sick fuckers and you want Myers to kill them and he obliges. You even get to see some genuine good acting from this movie. Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris are great in it. Brad really elevated this movie with his performance. The movie has flaws but it has more going for it than you think.
Thank God I'm not alone! While I found Zombie's first film to be overlong, dull, and annoying, I thought that his sequel was much better. Sure, it still suffered from some of the flaws that pervious posters have pointed out (too many useless characters, ghost mom/Young Michael, wayyyy too many f-bombs, etc.), but it told a very human story. It was an uncomfortable film, sure, but I admired what Zombie was trying to do with it. Danielle, Scout, and Brad were just plain wonderful and displayed so much more pathos than any mainstream horror film in recent memory. I truly felt for them.
The opening dream scene, while wonderfully done, was a total cop out. Couldn't they have just shot him and then he disappears? It would have made it a little less cheap, IMO!
All the stuff with Michael actually bored me to tears. I was more into the emotional journey of Laurie and the Bracketts than anything else. I would have been content if everything Michael Myers related (rednecks in the field, strip club people, etc.) was removed and they built up Michael's return for Laurie, her friends, and the Bracketts. It would have made for a much stronger film.
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