Halloween II (2009)

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It’ll be interesting to see what people think of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II.” With this sequel to his remake, he has not made your typical slasher flick even though it does contain some amazingly brutal and bloody moments. One crushing death plays like an homage to the fire extinguisher scene from Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible.” I have also heard some complain because this sequel doesn’t even feel like a “Halloween” movie to them, but wasn’t that the whole point of this re-imagining? Do you really want the same old slasher formula we have long since gotten burned out on? Isn’t this why Zombie was brought on to do the remake? You know, to give this long running series a much-needed re-invigoration?

Zombie’s vision of Michael Myers may not be as scary as John Carpenter’s was, but I wasn’t expecting that to be the case. With Zombie’s take on the “Halloween” saga, what have here is more of a character study of how Michael became so infinitely evil, and this something we have seen much of in this never-ending franchise. “Halloween II” is definitely on a par with Zombie’s previous film, and everything comes around full circle to where there’s no doubt family is forever.

“Halloween II” starts moments after the previous film with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) walking down the street all bloodied up after shooting Michael dead at close range. However, it turns out Laurie didn’t kill him. The bullet must have bounced off his skull knocking him unconscious or something else along those lines. This seems to be a reasonable excuse to bring Michael back, and it is step from previous “Halloween” movies which managed to come up with ridiculous excuses to bring Michael back for another round with horny teenagers.

As Laurie is wheeled into the hospital crying hysterically, the first of many times she does so, shades of Rick Rosenthal’s “Halloween II” emerge, but this cannot be mistaken as a remake of sequel. Meanwhile, the drivers of the coroner van carrying Michael’s body end up smashing into a cow leaving them severely injured. This allows Michael to escape to live and see another October because, in the end, what is Halloween without Michael Myers?

Meanwhile, we see Laurie getting patched up in surgery, and the extent of her injuries is unsettling. The detail given to the doctors working on her is horrific very realistic, just the way Zombie wants it to appear. You look at Laurie’s mangled body, and you think to yourself it’s a miracle she lived through this dark, dark night.

“Halloween II” then moves to a year later as Laurie, still deeply traumatized by that horrific evening, struggles to go on with her life. She has since been adopted by Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and lives with him and his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris). While the previous movie was told through Michael’s eyes, this one is seen through Laurie Strode’s perspective, and she is no longer the person she once was.

One of the big differences with this sequel is the way it was filmed. Whereas Zombie’s “Halloween” was filmed in 35mm, he instead filmed “Halloween II” is in 16mm which gives everything a much harsher edge. This worked very effectively for him on what is still his best movie, “The Devil’s Rejects,” and it makes the killings in “Halloween II” feel all the more brutal. Michael doesn’t just slash his victims; he pounds them to a bloody pulp.

Tyler Mane once against gives us the most lethal and threatening Michael Myers ever unleashed on the big screen. Being as tall and hulking as Mane is, it’s a wonder why anyone would be foolish to take him on. Here’s another interesting thing about Michael in this one, he has a beard. That’s right, for the first time ever we get to see this iconic character with facial hair. This is ironic because Michael has proven to be very useful with knives to where I am convinced he can give himself the closest shave without ever having to use any shaving cream. Then again, Michael has more on his mind than facial hair.

Taylor-Compton’s Laurie Strode is not the chaste and resourceful character Jamie Lee Curtis gave us in the original, but she digs deep into this role and takes Laurie to places no ordinary person would dare go. You think she is at bottom when the movie starts, but she’s not anywhere near it. Taylor-Compton makes you care about Laurie as she comes to the realization of who she really is, and you want her to escape the abyss she is drowning in. You want to help her.

One especially good performance comes from Brad Dourif as he gets more screen time here. The sheriff he portrays here is not your typical clichéd stupid cop who makes all the wrong decision, but instead a caring adult and who is constantly looking out for Laurie and Annie. Dourif is great here in a way you would not usually expect an actor to be in a film like this, and he is one of the most underrated character actors working today.

That’s the great thing about Zombie’s “Halloween” movies; he is not out to give us the usual slasher flick. With these two films, he has taken the time to develop his characters to where they are not the usual pack of one-dimensional stereotypes the horror genre keeps relying on. While he still does employ the usual white trash characters who utter disgusting dialogue, it is clear he is moving beyond them now. This shows growth on his part which makes me look forward to his future work.

Zombie also conjures up some truly weird imagery throughout as we get a closer look into Michael’s deeply disturbed psyche. Sheri Moon Zombie returns as Michael’s mother, but this time she speaks to her murderous son from the grave and convinces him that if he kills Laurie, he can bring the whole family back together. Some may still criticize her acting abilities, but she is better than people tend to give her credit for.

Danielle Harris also returns as Annie Brackett, but Zombie doesn’t have her doing the same old things she did previously. Considering how Annie almost died, she is nowhere as foolish this time around (not completely anyway). Annie, along with her dad, is desperate to life Laurie out of her emotional abyss even as Laurie makes it incredible for them to even try to do so.

But of course, we cannot forget Malcolm McDowell who returns as Dr. Sam Loomis. This time around, the “Clockwork Orange” actor gives us a Sam Loomis who is a pure asshole getting high off the fame he obtains by exploiting his involvement with Michael and his family. Loomis is no longer the helpful psychiatrist he was before and is instead a profiteer off the misfortunes of others. His sudden change of heart towards the film’s climax may feel a little forced, but McDowell sells it to where we really feel his pain when he comes to accept the damage he has wrought on others.

The brilliant sound design in “Halloween II” also needs to be mentioned as well. Michael doesn’t just crash through windows and walls in this one. You feel him bashing his way through everything in his path, and it this movie a visceral thrill the other “Halloween” sequels could only dream of offering. Zombie is not out to give you a bunch of cheap scares, but is instead out to horrify you as much as possible as we suffer along with Laurie as Michael continues his endless pursuit of her.

Zombie also does a better job with suspense this time around, and it really boils in certain moments when our anticipation gets the best of us. We know Michael is going to strike, and we fear the bloody damage we know he will brutally inflict. I’m glad Zombie came back to do this sequel even though he originally wasn’t planning to. Having anyone else direct this follow up would have been a mistake.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” was a one of a kind film which was never intended to start a horror franchise. Zombie is not trying to outdo Carpenter, but to merely make Michael Myers and all these characters his own. While “Halloween II” is not a masterpiece, he does stay true to his vision of this unstoppable monster and improves on his previous film quite a bit.

NOTE: The DVD and Blu-ray release of “Halloween II” contains the director’s cut of the movie. This version changes a few things and adds more scenes which focus on the characters more, and it’s even better than the theatrical version as it gives you an even clearer sense of what Zombie was trying to accomplish.

Theatrical Version: * * * out of * * * *

Director’s Cut: * * * ½ out of * * * *

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Halloween (2007)

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This one is a remake of one of the best horror films ever made. What could be the point of remaking it other than to make a quick buck? So many people have been milking this franchise dry for decades. Just when you thought Michael Myers was finished once and for all, he springs back with some utterly lame excuse for still being alive.

But what this “Halloween” remake has going for it is Rob Zombie who gave us “House of a 1000 Corpses” and the brilliant grindhouse flick “The Devil’s Rejects.” We all know just how much he loves John Carpenter’s original film, and we believed him when he said he would make this “Halloween” his own. If there was ever going to be a “Halloween” remake, who better to do it than Zombie?

This reimagining proved to be polarizing for “Halloween” fans in general. They either loved it, hated it or had a mixed reaction to it. One thing for sure, it is far more brutal than Carpenter’s film. Zombie does not try to hide from the ugliness of violence, and there is no campiness to be found here.

The first half is the freshest part as it deals with Michael Myers as a child and looks closely at what made him such a monster. This is where Zombie’s “Halloween” could have been disastrous as things tend to be scarier in a horror movie when the motives of the killer are barely described or explained. But what Zombie does is force us to look at Michael as a human being instead of an indestructible force of nature, and this makes his version all the more compelling.

Michael could not have come from a more dysfunctional family if he tried. His mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper at a local bar, his step dad (William Forsythe) is an abusive prick who has nothing nice to say about anything or anybody, and his sister Judith (Hanna Hall) would rather make out with her boyfriend than take her little brother trick or treating. On top of that, he is constantly bullied at school and has this little hobby of killing animals which is typically a serious warning sign of someone about to embark more homicidal adventures.

Zombie succeeds in making you feel for Michael even as we condemn him for the violence he inflicts on others. We fear him but also empathize with him because we see the pathetic hell he has been put through.

The adult Michael is portrayed by Tyler Mane, a huge individual whom you never ever doubt will leave some serious damage in his path. I thought it was genius of Zombie to cast such a tall actor in this role. When he was at a Fangoria convention, Zombie said it made more sense to cast a very tall actor in this role as opposed to a regular height kind of guy. Michael has to be a formidable force of evil, and Mane gives us the best version of this character since Nick Castle played him in the original.

After spending a lot of time on Michael’s back story, Zombie moves us through the “Halloween” we grew up on as we get introduced to Laurie Strode and her friends from school. Many of the scenes from the original are repeated here which brings this movie down some as they remind us of just how great Carpenter’s film was. Zombie moves through those scenes at such a rapid pace to where the characters never seem as fully realized as they could have been. Laurie Strode is played by Scout Taylor-Compton, and she is one hell of a screamer! She may not be on the same par with Jamie Lee Curtis, but she does make the role her own and is fun to watch.

Playing Laurie’s babysitting friends are Kristina Klebe as Lynda and Danielle Harris as Annie Brackett. Harris is a Michael Myers veteran herself, having played the daughter of Laurie Strode in “Halloween 4” and ‘Halloween 5.” It is important to note she was not cast in this movie as a result of her previous work in the franchise, but because Zombie said he was truly blown away by her audition. She does deserve a lot of credit for playing such a believable teenager even though she was 30 when the cameras started rolling.

Zombie casted many of his friends like Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, and Ken Foree as well. There are also cameos from B-movie actors like Dee Wallace Stone, Sybil Danning and Clint Howard. One of the best performances in “Halloween” comes from Sheri Moon Zombie herself. As the mother of Michael Meyers, she shows a lot of range here we haven’t seen before as her character proves to be the only who truly cares about Michael and what he is going through.

Another awesome actor featured here is Danny Trejo whose character encourages the young Michael to live inside his head so he won’t feel so boxed in when inside his prison cell. The way Trejo spoke those words must have come from a real place as he once served time in prison. His performance and scenes with Michael are haunting, and I would have loved to have seen more of him in this movie.

Overall, I liked Zombie’s ever so brutal vision of Michael Myers. It does not quite equal what Carpenter gave us, but it is certainly much better than several of the sequels which were inflicted on us. Zombie has created a movie which truly shocks and unsettles the viewer. Whereas you cannot help but snicker at the usual clichés in every other slasher movie, this one throttles you back into your seat. At the very least, it is the best remake of a John Carpenter movie yet. After the dismal remakes of “Assault on Precinct 13” and especially “The Fog,” this one fares much better in comparison.

* * * out of * * * *

 

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED!

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” is actually one of the best films in this long running franchise, and it did more than just drop a bunch of bloody good killings on us with little regard to everything else which makes a movie strong. There was actually some thoughtful work put into the screenplay, the acting is better than you might expect it to be, and it does have some very scary moments the other sequels seriously lack.

The “Halloween” movies often defy the timeline of events they set up for themselves because logic doesn’t always apply to horror movies. Despite the huge explosion which ended “Halloween II,” Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis somehow managed to survive. It never seemed likely either of them would have come out of the burnt wreckage without turning into shish kabobs which were left on the barbecue for far too long, but this sequel shows you can’t keep a doctor or an evil monster down.

“Halloween 4” starts off with a couple of doctors assigned to transfer the seemingly comatose Michael back to Smith’s Grove where he should have stayed from the beginning. But of course, Michael wakes up and kills his naïve caretakers who think he is nothing more than just another prison transfer. These doctors also make the mistake of mentioning how Michael has one living relative left, his niece Jamie. Guess where she lives…

Going into a description of the plot is tiring, but you know what happens from there on out. “Halloween 4” is genuinely scary at points. The first appearance of Michael through the reflection of the mirror definitely had me standing up straight, and childhood terrors like the monster under the bed are exploited to strong effect. The movie does play around with the clichéd moments we often find in horror movies, but then it manages to pull the rug out from under you. You think you have a good idea of what is going to happen, but the filmmakers smartly play on your misplaced confidence to pull a fast one on you.

“Halloween 4” was directed by Dwight H. Little who later went on to direct one of Steven Seagal’s best movies, “Marked for Death.” Little deserves credit for not just doing everything according to formula. What he accomplishes here isn’t groundbreaking for the horror genre, but he pulls off something stronger than your average slasher flick. Instead of doing the usual opening with the pumpkin, he fills the screen with symbols of the October holiday which eventually leads us into the dead of winter. With that, he perfectly sets the mood and atmosphere for this particular sequel. He remains respectful of the original and does the right thing by keeping Michael hidden in the shadows like Carpenter did in the original. When that mask of his peeks out of the darkness, it becomes even more unnerving than watching him tilt his head.

The writer, Alan B. McElroy, managed to finish the script just mere hours before the 1980’s writer strike began. Listening to his audio commentary from the Anchor Bay release, McElroy makes it clear he came to this film as a fan of the original and was not about to throw the usual crapfest at us. He also gives us characters we actually come to care about and who don’t always do the stupid things we expect them to do in the average horror flick. You even find yourself caring about that hunk of a man Brady (Sasha Jenson) even after we find him cheating on his girlfriend with the movie’s obligatory big breasted lady (who also happens to be the sheriff’s daughter no less).

In retrospect, “Halloween 4” was one of the last slasher movies which featured actors who looked and felt down to earth. After this sequel, the genre was invaded by beautiful models with bodies very well taken care of or surgically enhanced. Whether or not they could act was another story, one which usually didn’t matter to the financiers.

This one is also not as bloody or gory as the other sequels came to be. Granted, there are a couple of nice bloody shots which illustrate how creative Michael is at killing people after coming out of a long coma. On top of sinking his thumb into a doctor’s skull, he also rips a big hole in a beer guzzling vigilante’s neck. Actually, this does bring up a weakness in the movie which involves a subplot with a bunch of middle aged guys who are regulars at a local bar. They almost seem tossed in as an afterthought, and their own hunt for Michael leads them to do the dumbest things.

Watching Danielle Harris here is a little weird as she has since grown up and gone on to play a completely different character in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” movies. She plays Jamie, the daughter of Laurie Strode who was said to have been killed in a car accident along with her husband (Curtis would later return in “H2O”). You have to admire any young actor who does a horror movie at the age of 11 because it’s like we’re asking them to become emotionally scarred for life. On top of having a great set of lungs, Harris instantly wins our sympathy gives this movie one of its scariest images.

Ellie Cornell, who plays Rachel Carruthers, does Jamie Lee Curtis proud. We’re not talking an Oscar winning performance here, but she gives us the heroic female character we want to root for as she goes from being vulnerable to Sigourney (“Aliens”) Weaver tough.

And, of course, we have the only returning actor from the original “Halloween,” the late Donald Pleasence. Having miraculously survived the fiery explosion which should have killed him were a highly profitable box office possibility not taken into consideration, Dr. Loomis has become absolutely single minded in his pursuit to destroy Michael once and for all. Even if Pleasance was slumming by doing this movie, he still played this role to the hilt and gave this particular entry a legitimacy which eluded future installments. Heck, it probably would have been criminal to do a “Halloween” movie without Dr. Loomis at that point as he was an essential part of this franchise.

Actually, there is another “Halloween” veteran who returns to the fold here: Alan Howarth. Along with Carpenter he scored “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and they also provided great scores for “Prince of Darkness” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” Howarth goes solo on this one, but even without Carpenter he composes a memorable and atmospheric score, and his opening theme to “Halloween 4” is one of the best pieces of music in the franchise.

Stunt performer George Wilbur plays Michael here, and he does good work as the heavy-breathing killer. While no one can touch what Nick Castle did in the original, it’s nice to see a Michael who more mobile than Dick Warlock’s was in “Halloween II.” Wilbur gives Michael a formidable look which strikes terror in us even when this murderous character is not onscreen. The thought of Michael Myers in this one is just as scary as seeing these characters come face to face with him, or it as Dr. Loomis describes him:

“You’re talking about him as if he were a man. That part of him died years ago.”

DANGER! DANGER! SPOLIERS AHEAD!!!

Now let’s talk about Halloween 4’s” ending. Michael has been shot dozens and dozens of times in a scene which reminded me of the scene from “Predator” when Schwarzenegger and company blasted a forest to waste with their massive weaponry. Everyone is back home and safe, but then a scream erupts from upstairs. Loomis runs up to find Jamie has stabbed her stepmother with a pair of scissors and is covered in blood, looking much like young Michael did after murdering his sister. Like Pleasance, you find yourself screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!!!” Harris holding those scissors ranks as one of the series’ most chilling moments. Indeed, the corruption of innocence is a terror that can be all too real onscreen as well as off it.

Now this could have led the franchise in an inspired direction, but the producers wussied out and instead found a way (they always do) to bring Michael back from the dead yet again. Perhaps the late Moustapha Akkad felt the fans would never accept any killer other than Michael himself. It’s a shame because this brilliant plot twist could have made the series even more frightening than ever before, but the demands of the box office always dictate just how much you cannot change a winning formula.

Regardless, “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” still proves to be a strong entry in the undying franchise, and this is especially the case when you watch the two sequels which followed it.

* * * out of * * * *