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.


“633 Squadron” producer Lewis J. Rachmil let “Girl Happy” director Boris Sagal recycle exciting aerial combat footage from “633 Squadron” for his generic World War II thriller “Mosquito Squadron,” (** out of ****) starring David McCallum and Charles Gray. This lackluster epic combines elements of 1964’s “633 Squadron,” principally the plywood built De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers, with 1954’s “The Dam Busters,” with a bouncing bomb designed to destroy a top secret German weapons facility. The Germans are developing the V-3 rocket, and British Intelligence has located the site in the French countryside at the Chateau de Charlon. Air Commodore Hufford (Charles Gray of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) assigns Squadron Leader Quint Munro (David McCallum of “The Great Escape”) to bomb it with special ordinance. This low-budget melodrama set in England and France has very little to recommend it. Again, 90 percent of the shots of Mosquitoes winging their way over enemy country were appropriated from Walter E. Grauman’s classic “633 Squadron.” The prefabricated screenplay by Donald S. Sanford and Joyce Perry antes up one surprise, but everything else is formula served up without verve by Sagal.

Our British heroes are streaking toward their target, a V-2 rocket launching pad, on the French coast as “Mosquito Squadron” opens, using footage from Michael Anderson’s “Operation: Crossbow.” Incidentally, Anderson directed “The Dam Busters,” too. The British manage to destroy the missile launching ramp, but a flight of Messerschmidts jump them and blow Squadron Leader David 'Scotty' Scott (David Buck of “The Mummy’s Shroud”) out of the air. Quint Munro spots no parachute at the crash site and assumes ‘Scotty’ is kaput. Scotty’s death elevates Quint to Squadron Leader. Worse, our protagonist has lost a friend who was as close to him as a brother. Scotty and Quint grew up together because Quint’s parents died and Scotty’s parents raised him. Quint even handed off one of his former girlfriends, Beth (Suzanne Neve of “Bunny Lake Is Missing”), who wound up marrying Scotty. After a reasonable period of mourning, Beth and Quint take long bicycle rides in the country.

Air Commodore Hufford sends Quint off on a reconnaissance mission to photograph the Chateau de Charlon where the British insist that the Germans are working industriously to make a V-3. V-2 rockets are falling on London and wrecking havoc. Hufford shows Quint some film footage of a bomb that bounces on any terrain, no mean feat. In real life, the bomb was the genuine article and was called a ‘Highball’ and had been designed to use on battlewagons like the Tirpitz. Meanwhile, now that the Germans realize the British are interested in their installation at the Chateau, they drop a canister of film which shows that they have gathered British POWs as hostages against any bombing runs. The revelation that Scotty is among those prisoners comes as a quite a shock to Quint. Security prevents him from telling Beth about it. Initially, nobody wants to give the Germans a propaganda coup by killing their own men. Quint devises a way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only will they destroy the laboratory tucked into an underground facility with the ‘Highball’ bomb, but also they will breach the wall at the Chateau so the French Resistance can storm the Chateau. The closest thing to a villain in “Mosquito Squadron” is a German Lieutenant named Schack (Vladek Sheybal of “From Russia with Love”) who suspects that the Allies prisoners are plotting something when they all turn out for mass on a Sunday, especially when some of them aren’t Catholic. The suspicious Sheybal shows his villainy when shoots a Catholic priest with a machine gun. The POWs overpower their guards and fortify themselves in the chapel as the Mosquitoes appear to bomb the premises.

Quint and his Mosquito Squadron destroy the underground facility, but our hero has to crash his plane. Once on the ground, Quint runs into Scotty, but Scotty cannot remember his own identity, and he sacrifices his life heroically by blowing up a German tank with a bazooka after several others have tried and failed. A wounded Quint makes it back to England and reunites with Beth. As it turns out, Beth never learned that her late husband survived the crash only to die in France as a casualty of a combined British & French Resistance operation. There is a subplot about Beth’s younger brother who has to show the film that the Germans have dropped for the benefit of our heroes. When he threatens to spill the beans about Scotty, the authorities lock him up for the duration.

“Mosquito Squadron” qualifies as a hack attempt to cash in on “633 Squadron,” “Operation Cross-Bow,” and “The Dam Busters.” Boris Sagal made a couple of memorable movies and television shows, but “Mosquito Squadron” isn’t among them. Worse, “Mosquito Squadron” was cranked out by Oakmont Productions which ground out several cheapjack World War II thrillers, including another Sagal saga “The One-Thousand Plane Raid”, “The Last Escape,” “Hell Boats,” and “Submarine X-1.” These movies ranked as half-baked epics with neither a shred of atmosphere nor credibility. Sagal has to stage several shots on a studio set, principally the drive in the country that Quint and Beth take in his red roadster to see Scotty’s bereaved parents has our stars seated in an automobile mock-up with scenery back projected behind them. Sagal generates neither suspense nor sense of urgency. The cast walk through their roles like automatons delivering uninspired dialogue written by Sanford who went on to write the equally lackluster “Midway” and Joyce Perry who wrote teleplays for juvenile television shows like “Land of the Lost.” McCallum gets the best line in the movie when Hufford asks him about the odds of the mission succeeding: “About the same as spitting in an Air Commodore's eye from an express train, sir.” In “Mosquito Squadron,” Suzanne Neve and McCallum never generate any chemistry so it is difficult to believe that they love each other. Mind you, it is always a pleasure to watch David McCallum act, but “Mosquito Squadron” gives him very little to do.