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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Halloween II

People who like horror movies are like people who like cats. You either do or you don’t. It’s not a “take it or leave it” situation. If you ask anybody their opinion about scary movies you are bound to elicit an animated reply, which can range from a disgusted sense of superiority to a sudden bond of surreptitious brotherhood, as the person on the other end of your question will no doubt respond with passion and an unsolicited recollection of their favorite scene from their own personal favorite film. There’s just something different about horror that distinguishes it from any other type of movie except maybe porn, which brings us full circle again back to the subject of pussies.

I happen to like pussies and scary movies (porn, not so much). I also happen to believe that felines and films share something else in common ~ you can never have too many of them, even if not all of them are your favorites. Still, you’ll cherish each and every one, even those that mostly just turn out to snore in a corner all day. Some of the Halloween series has been like that, though it’s better to be repetitive or a tad dull than outright stupid or just plain awful like most of the other notorious horror franchises, like Leprechaun, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, all of which became embarrassments after a while. Including this week’s reimagining of John Carpenter’s 1981 version of Halloween II, there have been ten movies in the franchise, and I can’t say any have been outright terrible (well, except maybe Halloween III, but that’s because it had nothing to do with the Myers’ saga and illegitimately bore the ‘Halloween’ label only because the studio allowed it). This chapter is probably among my favorite three since the original in 1978. Now that’s saying something.

Gads! When the original Halloween debuted I was barely older than perpetual victim Laurie Strode herself (then played by newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis). Thirty-one years later (and one rebirth later as well having been killed in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection), poor Laurie (now Scout Taylor-Compton; Obsessed) returned in 2007’s reimagining of the original Halloween, under the direction of horror-meister Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects), who breathed a whole new life into the aging series. Now he is back with Halloween II, a continuation of his version of the Michael Myers legend, which deviates quite a bit at this point from the original story.

Zombie’s Halloween expanded on the mythos of Michael Myers, the serial killer behind the William Shatner mask in the first movie, but he stayed close the John Carpenter’s plotline from 1978. In Halloween II, he uses the Carpenter story as astepping-off point rather than a blueprint to create his own slaughterhouse full of teen angst and blood-letting that is tense, clever, thoughtful and funny. For those expecting the same characters to act as they did in the movies thirty years ago there is going to be nothing but disappointment. For everyone else, there will be surprises and insights into how the world has changed in the past three decades, especially when it comes to the glamorization of murder by the media.

This Halloween II pays homage to the perfect films of horror fans’ past with tips of the hat (even the gold, glitter-covered formal variety) to movies as diverse as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Wizard of Oz, Cat Ballou, A Clockwork Orange, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and Psycho. What it doesn’t do is follow the John Carpenter story which dealt exclusively with Laurie’s hospitalization the same Halloween night as her attack by Michael in the original 1978 Halloween. In this Halloween II, Laurie and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris; Super Capers),who survived in Zombie’s world whereas she didn’t in Carpenter’s story, make it to another year and have grown closer as they have both had to deal with their shared post-traumatic stress from their encounter with Michael Myers. Because Laurie is an orphan she lives with Annie and her father, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif; Born of Earth), unaware of her familial connection to the serial killer who tried to take her life the year before. That’s until Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell; Bolt) releases his new book, A Devil Walks Among Us, about Michael’s rampage on Halloween of the previous year, which includes the shocking personal revelation that Laurie is actually Michael Myers’ youngest sister Angel, the only survivor of his family from the night of his first murders fifteen years ago. That’s not the sort of thing you want to hear about from a friend on the phone or from browsing through the Best Sellers’ rack at your local Borders.

Well, as you might imagine, this causes a lot of unpleasantness and it only gets worse when Laurie and the rest of the town slowly realize that Michael isn’t nearly as dead as they seem to have thought. Of course, for a lot of those people that realization comes too late to do much about it, but that’s what makes Halloween II all the more fun! Michael is still up for the challenge of offing just about anybody and everybody who crosses his path, and he does so with panache as always. Believe me, if I ever need someone to get rid of a cockroach, I know exactly who to call after seeing how well Mikey can stomp on a pest! Oy!


Zombie brings back his real-life wife Sheri Moon Zombie as Michael’s mother Deborah, this time as a spectral vision of her former (aka Halloween) self who, along with young Michael (Chase Wright Vanek also of Halloween), appear before the hulking giant (played by Tyler Mane, the original Sabretooth in X-Men for those who wonder what he actually looks like behind the mask) to direct him in his quest to “reunite” Angel with the rest if the family. In this respect the character of Michael changes significantly than in previous incarnations as he seems to have fallen into a familiar niche for sadistic cinematic serial killers ~ that bond with mom. Can we say Jason Voorhees or Norman Bates anyone? Before now, the one thing that set Michael apart from the pack was the mystery of his motives and Zombie has somewhat demystified that by pulling the veil back on the Myers’ white-trash family dysfunction. By showing us just how human Michael really is Zombie makes it difficult not to acknowledge how possible it just might be for us as audience members to cross that line and pick up a knife and follow Michael down his dark path, and, after all, isn’t that the real goal of a successful horror movie? If we can feel ourselves siding with the killer, then surely the writer and director (in this case both Zombie himself) must feel great satisfaction.

The ending of the movie (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling!) is bound to be controversial, and it is probably the only bit I wasn’t all that thrilled with because it seemed a bit trite to me. I understand where Zombie is going with it (Halloween III obviously), but it just seems like an obvious conclusion after an otherwise brilliant event. But I’m still going to love this one, even if it has a couple of fleas on it.

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