I'm sort of torn when it comes to musician-turned-director Rob Zombie; in a landscape littered with genre fakers, filmmakers who seemingly embrace affect for no other reason than to simply further their careers, he's a not-untalented guy who comes across as the genuine article, and someone who obviously has a well-honed knowledge and appreciation of the exploitation and horror genres in which he likes to trade, as the unrelentingly brutal The Devil's Rejects amply demonstrates. Visually and tonally, he's made savvy use of his devil's minion image, finding a way to marry that tattooed, "hellbilly," devil-may-care outsider sensibility to the film projects — derided limited release castoffs at first, but increasingly commercial fare — he's managed to mount.
All of which brings us to Halloween II, a sequel to Zombie's 2007 remake/re-branding of the seminal 1978 horror flick, which has grown in stature and spawned its own cottage industry of sequels, books, fan festivals and the like in the years since its release. I was not really a fan of what Zombie did with his first, umm, stab at Halloween, but colleague Luke Y. Thompson's impassioned defense of what he pegged as the movie's skewed point-of-view and admirable ambition definitely intrigued me, so I settled down with the unrated director's cut DVD (clocking in at just under two hours, or about 16 minutes longer than the theatrical version) with a mixture of plodding, dutiful franchise loyalty and legitimate anticipation coursing through my bloodstream.
The plot doesn't take us too far afield; it's that time of year again, and adolescent killer turned hulking slasher Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), powered on by visions of his mom Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), has returned home to sleepy Haddonfield, Illinois, to take care of some unfinished family business. Picking up at the end of Zombie's first film, with a dead Myers in hand, Halloween II concocts a resurrection/car crash escape, and then flashes forward a bit, following the aftermath of Myers' latest murderous rampage through the eyes of heroine Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton), who herself is suffering from trauma, nightmares and possibly delusions. While Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) tries to protect both his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris), and Laurie, who is living with them, things go terribly wrong, naturally. Myers' antagonist/surrogate father figure, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), is also back (and nuttier than ever), having penned a new cash-in book on his famous patient.
Zombie is hellbent on trying to make the body counts in his movies mean something, but all the merry depravity and over-the-top gore in this film (unsurprisingly, it was not screened for critics) doesn't particularly aid one in a more sophisticated reading of its narrative. What Zombie is good for is a certain collagist sensibility that is refreshingly out of lockstep with modern horror conventions; he's also not afraid to let our putative heroes, or more redemptive characters, show a nasty side, or dark streak. That makes his narrative miscalculations in both armchair psychology and churned-up viscera (the more violent the killing of an innocent or passerby, the more deeply an audience will feel it, he seems to posit) all the more disappointing. His touch with actors also seems uneven; Compton is allowed to rant and rave to the point of drama class embarrassment, and various over-articulated, spat-out iterations of the word "fuck" are liberally sprinkled throughout the dialogue, which has the weird effect of giving greater dramatic heft to small arguments over larger scenes of physical imperilment. Taken together, Zombie's Halloween films achieve a certain air-quote modernity, in that they are gritty, vulgar, and showcase an analytical preoccupation with cause not present in slasher films of years gone by. They do not, however, haunt or unnerve like John Carpenter's original films.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Halloween II comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track that captures the sounds of plunging knives and bloodcurdling screams with sickening volume and clarity. The ample slate of supplemental material makes for slow navigation on most DVD players, with several seconds elapsing between many menu screen selections. A hearty collection of deleted and extended scenes, 25 minutes worth, seems to run counter to the assertions of slashed scheduling and fine-tooth comb budget consciousness that Zombie mentions in his audio commentary track (more on that in a moment), but you have that material if you want it; a lot of it is of the slightly tweaked variety, with a couple clipped, inessential (often vulgar) dialogue exchanges within a given scene. There is also audition footage, make-up test footage, a couple music videos and a bit of stand-up routine footage (seriously — it's part of an outdoor festival that figures into the movie's final act), in addition to the requisite collection of preview trailers. Oh, and there's also a scored, four-and-a-half-minute blooper reel, which includes footage of McDowell eating it outdoors, tripping on a branch, as well as Dourif giving the slow burn to a day-player who fails to hear her cue for entrance.
As mentioned, there's also an engaging (and, naturally, spoiler-heavy) feature-length audio commentary track with Zombie, who talks about the movie's Georgia shoot, and explains how the loss of several scheduled filming days informed some of his choices, most notably in two third act chase/kill sequences, in which he uses a cross dissolve and slow motion to skip ahead from Myers' final two kills. He also shares a couple amusing anecdotes, including one about how balsa wood was apparently trimmed from the budget, leaving a very pissed-off Mane to get in touch with his inner method actor, and break through a real door. Most explicitly, though, I'm sorry to say, for my friend Luke, Zombie dismisses the notion that his movie is a paranoid fantasy of any sort. Yes, he says, the film is about Laurie's increasingly tenuous grasp on reality (hence the kiddie version of Michael that she hallucinates at film's end), but in Zombie's mind, it was always his intention to show that Laurie dies, and that that is the closure of the homicidal Myers narrative. The final shots in the movie do not represent an institutionalized flash-forward, but a dying Laurie's attempt to sort through her family scrapbook, and make peace with it. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Movie) B- (Disc)