Sunday, January 17, 2010

One A Week reviews #3: Halloween II

I can understand why people were so resistant to both the Halloween Rob Zombie reboot and the sequel that touched on the original "H2" then went off on it's own way. I think the resistance was mostly to the "revisionism" more than anything else. However, as someone who read comic books as a kid and fiction all his life, I have no problem with the idea of revisionist history and divergent story-lines.

Halloween II - which has probably been blogged more than enough and I can keep this short and sweet - starts with a first-quarter faithful to the original hospital-and-bad-wig-bound Halloween II. After that, it quickly diverges off into the study of a very post-traumatic-stressed girl who instead of being a paragon of "final girl virtue" instead lives in squalor on anti-depressant medications. I think it's a great choice, personally. That story is a more realistic look at a damaged life spiraling out of control... this is the fate you figure the original Laurie would suffer if you thought about it too deeply. For this more realistic Laurie, it's inevitable. I'm not even sure I can be empathetic to her path since it is so right that she'd end up down the path to lunacy.

By opening up the timeline and creating a new story as opposed to part two of the same night makes this an entirely different H2. Having the Laurie character generally losing her marbles. Her finding out she's actually "Angel Meyers" in Loomis' super-insensitive true-crime exploitation book is an inspired touch.

However, when you add the White Horse, the Guy Maddin-inspired dream sequences, and Sheri Moon Zombie doing her best to be the new Millennium's version of Tim Burton's lovely ex-muse Lisa Marie... I've personally never found Moon to be anything less than a charming presence and thinks she gets short-shrift in most reviews. In the original Zombie Halloween she's great in the role of Michael's mother.

I'd also like to see the painting in Danielle Harris' attic - she's playing more than 10 years under her age and looks impeccably right doing it. You've seen decades of people in their late 20s playing teens, but for a girl born in 1977, she looks absolutely 19 in this movie. Harris is realistic and easy to relate to. Her character's demise (intercut with her discovery after) winds up grisly and more affecting than it should be. She's representative of what I think is one of the other main objections to Zombie's Halloweens - the stunt casting.

Since she played Jamie in Halloween 4 and 5, she's iconic shoehorned in here as Annie Brackett. But it's the bit players that get people. Margot Kidder, an unrecognizable Howard Hessman, Betsy Rue (so boldly naked and jiggly in My Bloody Valentine 3-D), Weird Al Yankovic. There aren't as many "hey, it's that guy" moments as the first Zombie Halloween, what with Danny Trejo, Richard Lynch, Leslie Easterbrook, Dee Wallace, Sybil Danning, Mickey Dolenz, and more. Brad Dourif's Sheriff Brackett again proves he's an actor with great skill and presence. He remains my favorite character in both movies.

I think stunt casting generally ruins a mood in movies, though the genre vets who appear in these two Halloweens make mostly comforting appearances. Makes up for some glaring omissions - the near total absence of the iconic Halloween score and gratingly stupid "Rockabilly & Topless Dancers" Halloween party scene. It just screams "something that only happens in movies." The Rocky Horror Halloween costumes and "shaggin' wagon" right outta Prom Night are two touches I happened to like a lot, though.

Malcolm McDowell is good, channelling a kind of evil pomposity as always, and Scout Taylor-Compton (who I inadvertently met and was completely charmed by at HorrorHound Weekend in November without immediately realizing who she was) does a good job in the Laurie role, though seems more misguided waif than the living-in-squalor trappings of her room, wardrobe, and friends suggest. The visions of Mother Meyers and little Michael had by both Laurie and Michael do grate. They're a touch you have to either embrace or reject and I don't think they add to the proceedings.

They do, however, make for an inspired way to explain Laurie's growing detachment from reality and way to incorporate Moon back into the storyline. The super-bright and white Moon clashes with the gritty visuals. Movie's too damn dark in most places. I don't need Mama Moon and baby Michael showing up constantly to haunt the final half-hour of the movie, either.

The gritty, "realistic" visuals clash with the dreamy Moon hallucinations and I think are off-putting in the end. The choice to switch drop the audio of the environment for silence (Michael surprising and attacking Annie) or music (Sheriff Brackett breaking down upon seeing Annie's body and the cut-in of some totally manipulative "Annie as a child" video footage) is a stronger stylistic choice that worked on me. (We've seen this before - the first time I can remember encountering it is the end of Godfather III. Still works.) I like Moon, but could have done with a lot less of her "Galadriel and the horse" and a whole lot more of Dourif and McDowell going head to head as they do FAR too briefly towards the end.

On the whole, I'm calling Halloween II flawed, but worth giving a chance to. It's a very different animal than what was expected. A ghost-haunted mashup into a franchise with baggage I'm not sure it all works. I'll give it to Rob Zombie that it's an individual vision and I'm inclined to favor it on the whole. My response is just about the same one I always have to the flawed-yet-individual movies of another writer-director... John Carpenter.

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