Tuesday, September 1, 2009


No, you don’t have to be a degenerate to enjoy director Rob Zombie’s violent remake/sequel of “Halloween 2.” Director Rick Rosenthal’s original “Halloween 2” (1981) qualified as a one-dimensional, no-brainer sequel bloodbath with stabalicious Michael Myers prowling a hospital and killing everybody in sight, not always with a knife. Michael assumed a supernatural omnipotence in “Halloween 2” and he survived virtually everything, even being blinded by Laurie. Nevertheless, “Halloween 2” told us nothing new about Michael other than he derived satisfaction from killing more people in different ways. Writer & director Zombie doesn’t make this mistake with “Halloween 2” (**** out of ****) and it is virtually as brilliant and psychologically insightful as its predecessor. The cinematography and the songs, especially “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues, enhance the atmosphere of this chiller. Zombie’s “Halloween 2” is a surreal saga and a commentary about family values. This remake of “Halloween 2” is far more ambitious, gruesome, and psychological than the original.

Briefly, in the prologue, Zombie flashbacks to 10-year old Michael in the mental asylum conversing with his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie of “House of 1000 Corpses”) about a white horse that she has given him. The first thing we see is a definition of a white horse and that it symbolizes the rage of the protagonist. Meanwhile, the Michael that talks with his mom is the Michael before he retreated behind behind mask. Sure, it is unfortunate Zombie couldn't bring back Daeg Faerch to reprise his role as young Michael. According to Zombie, young Faerch had grown too old to play a 10-year old. Nevertheless, Chase Wright Vanek brings his chilly presence to the role, resembling a murderous munchkin.

Thereafter, Zombie’s “Halloween 2” replicates Rosenthal’s “Halloween 2” as ambulances deliver both Laurie and Annie (Danielle Harris) to Haddonfield Hospital where the emergency room physicians perform miracles on them, especially the hacked up Annie. Meanwhile, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif of “Dune”) orders the coroner to lock up Michael's body until he can examine it. No sooner have the two sleazy attendants loaded Michael and driven off than they slam into a cow on the highway, killing the driver instantly, smashing up his partner, and allowing Michael to escape. At the hospital, Laurie isn’t doing so well. Laurie is frantic about Annie, and she still suffers from the trauma of having emptied a revolver into Michael. Just as she is regaining her grip on reality, Michael comes a-slashing and nobody can keep him out. He chases a hysterical Laurie during a storm around the hospital and corners her in the security guard shack with a fire axe. He chops his way into the shack, but Laurie manages to escape.

Indeed, Laurie escapes by waking up. Dreams, hallucinations, and nightmares pervade “Halloween 2” and you can never be sure when each or all aren’t masquerading as reality. Michael is driven by the image of a giant white horse held on a rope by his dutiful mom Deborah, with himself standing alongside of her as an angelic 10-year adolescent. Family solidarity is important to Michael, and Michael has sworn to reunite the family, even if it means butchering Laurie like a steer. However, Zombie shows us a deeper, psychic linkage between Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Michael. When Michael (Tyler Mane of “ Troy ”) slaughters a dog and gnaws on its remains, Zombie cross-cuts images of Michael devouring the dog with Laurie eating a pizza. Psychically, Michael and Laurie are on the same wavelength and Laurie winds up at the toilet tossing her stomach because she can taste the dog meat. Without coming out and embroidering it in dialogue, Zombie tells us that it is this deep, psychic connection between Michael and Laurie as blood kin that enables him to track her down.

Life after Halloween has not been a picnic for Laurie. She spends time with her therapist (Margo Kidder of “Superman”), works at an old hippie-style coffee house run by none other than Howard Hesseman of “WKRP in Cincinnati ,” and hangs out with two trippy girlfriends who live life as if it were an endless party. Repeatedly, Laurie has lurid nightmares about Michael’s attacks, but Michael is in fact nowhere nearby. Indeed, he has gone into hiding in the woods, a kind of hibernation until a truckload of pugnacious rednecks test his resiliency and realize their error shortly before he dispatches them in the least merciful way. As in the first “Halloween 2,” Laurie has no clue that she is Michael Myers’ sister and this revelation warps her mind to no end.

The third party in this threesome is Michael’s life-long psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell of “A Clockwork Orange”) and he is wrestling with his own demons. Remember, Dr. Loomis barely escaped Michael in Zombie’s “Halloween.” Now, he has mutated into a egotist and is touting his book about Michael as he tours the country, signing copies of his tome for his fans. The media latches onto him like the leeches that they are and attributes the blame for Michael's massacres to Loomis. Loomis learns quickly that escape is not possible from either the cynical media or parents of Michael’s victims. Ultimately, Loomis seeks redemption by going back to Haddonfield when Michael comes back for Halloween.

Laurie Strode is the chief protagonist in “Halloween 2” and the film justly belongs to Scout Taylor-Compton as she struggles to survive in the wake of her debacle. She lives now with Annie and her father at their rural house. Not only does “Halloween 2” look different from its predecessor, but also Zombie emphasizes the rural quality of the area. In his remake of “Halloween,” we were trapped along with the principals in what appeared to be a rural suburb. “Halloween 2” takes us back to the woods. Michael spends his time communing with nature and the visions of his mother, the white horse, and himself as an innocent adolescent before he resumes his murderous ways.

Not surprisingly, the violence in “Halloween 2” is gruesome without being sickening. In other words, we only see Michael hack away at his victims with a knife, stomp their faces in, or cut their heads off and usually in ways that make it ugly instead of glorious. We don't see the knife contact flesh when he goes into stabbing mode. Zombie’s favorite tactic is to let Michael strike just as things are calming down and part of this involves sudden movements and things like glass or wood shattered by his fists. There are moments when the violence takes on a traumatic weight that will scare the daylights out of the squeamish while gore hounds may yawn at some of Zombie’s discretions.

“Halloween 2” is both a triumph in style and substance with an ending that suggests Zombie may pull the biggest surprise in the franchise should the saga continue.

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