No critics' screenings for Rob Zombie's Halloween II. Disappointing, of course, considering my long history with this series. But when I finally sat down and watched it yesterday afternoon, I just became outright desperate to get a discussion going.
I count Carpenter's Halloween as one of my most important formative experiences, and now it's practically impossible not to know the cliches of this genre. But when things started to heat up in this (probably final) iteration of the same story, I was surprised to find that I was fearfully rejecting the classic movie-killer logic when told on Zombie's terms. "No, that's impossible. How could he have made his way back to the Bracketts' house that quickly? Why is he moving away from Laurie?" It was an odd feeling, after years of expecting and forgiving this form of cinematic teleportation, to be anxiously wondering how and why this monster was traveling his route. Zombie's first Halloween was strictly an intellectual exercise, but here, I think, he finally applied those ideas into a premise that turns the original series' goofiest ideas into something--well, not nearly as goofy. Terrifying, even. The psychic links and the hitherto-unspoken bloodlines have finally plugged into something about the confusion attendant to loss, identity, youth and trauma. I even thought I detected a little contempt in the prologue, which not only takes place in Rick Rosenthal's infamous hospital but also featured the film's most overt and excessive acts of violence. (And why does "Nights in White Satin" replace "Don't Fear the Reaper" as Michael's Manchurian trigger?) By the end of it, similar scenes were wrought with a kind of sad, senseless, impending doom that I don't think I've felt since the Shape popped out from the backseat of a car in Carpenter's most shocking, most "unfair" sequence. Why?
It's still not scary, exactly, but full of existential dread; giving the famously-skeletal Halloween a backstory finally bears some fruit by implying that the mere structural concept of a motive is enough to throw your entire world into disarray. Because Zombie gave us (and gives us) the impression of Oedipal issues with the spectral reappearance of Michael's long-dead mother, his indulgence in fragmented dream sequences becomes that much more disorienting--and the attempt to make some sense out of it somehow makes it worse. Truth be told that Michael Myers barely plays a role here, relegated to the role of a marauding mountain man--but, appropriately, the whole film is haunted by ghosts. The ghosts of history, the ghosts of failure, the ghosts of responsibility. This is the rare horror sequel that feels appropriate to the concept--the same characters back again, fully scuffed-up from their experiences, trying and failing to pick up the pieces. Everything that they inflict upon themselves seems infinitely worse than whatever bloody mayhem will follow.
Laurie Strode's response to discovering her family lineage is to fling herself headlong into a drunken stupor; Halloween II joins Adventureland as a film wracked with worry about kids too young to be throwing their lives away over regret and alcohol. And how do you explain the moment that finds Michael's angelic/phantasmic mother eventually demanding that she be loved by her offspring? Hell, even Pamela Voorhees took Junior's love for granted. Of course, the discussion about unhealed wounds can't get much more literal than it does with Danielle Harris' Annie Brackett--her lacerated face once again warped with sarcasm--but couple that with Brad Dourif's wonderful performance as Sheriff Brackett and you detect something sticky and abstract about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and the fear of disappointment that emanates from all sides. I'm still not entirely sure what this film is about, but it fascinates me to no end.
What do you think? Seen it yet? How about The Final Destination?
UPDATE - 9/3/09: Whoopsie! The rumor mill is already spinning on a third Halloween film without Zombie. The director supposedly taking his place? Why, Steve Miner, of course, the guy who made a career out of being a destitute man's John Carpenter. So, yeah, uh--will this theoretical third film go direct to video? Maybe. Will it be a disaster that has absolutely no bearing on Zombie's thematic vision? Pro'lly. Will it be a patchwork amalgam of imitation and re-imagining, plucked from random moments in the series' long history? Well, I'm curious, at least...