Saturday, August 29, 2009

Halloween II (2009) review

Once again, Rob Zombie amazes, frightens, horrifies, and even enlightens us with another film which is being called the final installment of the new story-arc in the Halloween franchise. If you really love having the living crap scared out of you, this isn't going to disappoint at all. Zombie continues his theme of the horror of violence in American life and culture and its repercussions, giving us the best of both worlds: b-horror bliss fused with elements of high cinema and social criticism.

The original 1981 sequel was a terrible disappointment, even coming from writer/director John Carpenter and the late Debra Hill (a woman whose loss I'll always mourn, a great movie producer), it wasn't good at all and the direction was flat and uninspired, and we won't even go into how bad Halloween III (1983) was, it's unwatchable and literally has nothing to do with any of the series in any incarnation.

Part of this is because it took a good two years for the original Halloween to gain a following, and by that time, Carpenter was putting the finishing-touches on The Fog (1980) and beginning pre-production on the infamous remake of The Thing (1982). He and his production company were stretched too far, and it showed in that original sequel that can only be called a meaningless and gratuitous piece of drivel. But there's still no real reason for the existence of the original sequel to the legendary Halloween other than money, to keep a franchise going, and it would get unimaginably worse as time went on. That's not the case with Rob Zombie's sequel to his own reimagining of Carpenter's and Hill's original storyline, and that's why he felt the responsibility to have meaning and a message behind the violence of the film that is both unflinching and even self-accusatory, a very brave act for a filmmaker of almost any stature.

The basic story elements of the original sequel are in-place: Michael Myers somehow survives being shot and enigmatically disappears, returning to kill Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). It's been established already in the first Zombie remake that Laurie is really Michael's sister, and he wants a family reunion. This was never handled with any real insight or imagination by the original sequel, but Zombie takes a page from expressionist film and also introduces us to Jung's concept of the "shadow self" and the archetype (deep psychological symbols common to all humanity), this time in the form of phantasms of the young Michael and his dead mother (Sherri Moon Zombie), sometimes accompanied by a white horse. There is a hinting that Michael and Laurie have some kind of psychic-link, but this is kept very ambiguous and there are no real answers, a nice touch. The 1981 version is almost entirely isolated to a hospital, not the case in Rob Zombie's version, which wisely dispenses with just about the entire plot of its original.

After a prologue that I don't want to give away, we're taken into Laurie's very sad life just one year after the horrific events of the first film, and another Halloween is approaching. While she's treated well living with Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris), her life is tormented. This isn't the same girl we met in the first film at all. She's become very traumatized and cynical, and it shows. Her preoccupation with nihilistic youth culture makes that pretty loud and clear, and her nights are punctuated with nightmares of that night...but also of some very curious archetypes of Michael Myers as a child and his late mother, dressed in white, signifying a strange obverse of purity. Bizarrely, Laurie begins seeing archetypes from the mind of Michael Myers (starting with the dreams, very Jungian), and on one occasion, as he's disemboweling and eating an animal on his path to her and destiny, she connects with it and becomes nauseous and has a bout with vomiting.

In the mean time, Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm MacDowell) has become even more famous as a bestselling crime and psychology author, and it shows. He's become what he calls himself in one later scene when he views himself and his shadow self in the mirror: an "asshole." He couldn't be more correct. His new book on Michael Myers and his primadonna behavior at PR events and book-signings shows us that Dr. Loomis has become nothing more than an exploiter and an opportunist, and his new book exposes and damages the life of Laurie in telling the world that she's the sister of Michael Myers. The psychological effect on her is profound and permanent and there's no going back afterward.

Even Loomis's literary agent hates him for it, one of the movie's real shockers! As in the original 1978 Halloween and Zombie's reimagining, these lives will eventually converge with tragic results, but it all began back in the squalor of the Myers home during the 1970s, hence the occasional nod to past pop songs, a nice tip of the hat to Kenneth Anger whose style is also echoed in the visual style of the film. And so, after leaving a trail of dead bodies, things finally do converge once again in Haddonfield, Illinois, with "mother Myers" beckoning Michael and Laurie to an inevitable conclusion. To tell you any more would be to ruin it, but rest assured that there is a finality to it all, even with the ending that's right out of the original Psycho (1960).

Interestingly, the only moment of the film where John Carpenter's original score cues come are in the final scene and the credits. Welcome to the dark side of America and the products of abuse and neglect, coupled with a culture rife with violence cues and the actual thing itself. The shadow world is here, now, and Zombie's trying to show us the bloody-maw before it's too late. Family truly is forever in the world of the mind, the Platonic forms, and the realm of the archetype, birth imagery-and-all. A must see. Ignore the bad reviews, this is the real deal, real horror.

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