Sunday, August 30, 2009

Halloween II (2009)

After having some time to mull over Rob Zombie's Halloween II, in which the masked Michael Myers sports a look that my wife describes as being like a baked potato, I'm still of the mind that it was terrible. Which, in itself, isn't such a big deal. I mean, sitting through lousy movies is par for the course for any dedicated horror fan. But in regards to Halloween II, I can't help feeling annoyed with Rob Zombie. I mean, I believe the guy could make much better films if he wasn't so apparently in love with his own shit. On the one hand, you can't fault someone for being pleased with their own work but on the other hand, from reading his comments in interviews - in which he frequently describes his movies as "awesome" - I think a healthier regard for his own shortcomings wouldn't hurt.

Directing from someone else's script might be a good step - or at least to work with a co-writer who could shape his ideas, spot for obvious gaffes, and work on consistent characterizations. Take Zombie's handling of Annie (Danielle Harris) in Halloween II, for instance. Here's a character that survived an attack by a homicidal behemoth - a homicidal behemoth who is believed to be dead but technically is still at large. Given this, does her father take preventive action and move out of town? No, he and Annie stay put. Ok, that's fine. Dumb, but fine. But to have Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) feel as though Annie might be in some kind of danger again - Michael Myers-type danger - and just send one dipshit cop to watch over her? That's ridiculous. Why wouldn't this character err on the side of caution and send half the force to his house? Or why not go himself? Better yet, why not bring Annie to the station and keep her under real protection? Zombie could still have Michael get to Annie eventually, but just not make it so easy in a way that makes these characters seem foolish and unbelievable.

If nothing else, you would think that as a lawman, Brackett would keep a firearm or two in his house and that he'd make sure that Annie and Laurie knew how to use them in case any kind of attack - either by Michael Myers or from anyone else - were to go down again. Annie is short of five feet - you'd think that Brackett would make damn sure this tiny girl would have a chance to defend herself against a bigger, stronger adversary. If Michael came after Annie alone again, why not have her be ready to fight back and not just whimper, scream, and run? It does a disservice to the character and it defies all logic as well. Zombie has a habit, though, of portraying his villains (or more likely what he sees as his film's heroes) as all-powerful and their victims to be incapable of scoring any kind of win against them and his treatment of Annie is indicative of that.

I suspect that Zombie doesn't want to give any credence to any characters in his films other than to his monsters and anti-social deviants for fear of appearing as though he might have some allegiance to the everyday, normal world. Throughout his filmography, Zombie has seemed almost pathologically afraid of showing any kind of empathy or understanding of everyday life. A lot of what good horror is about, however, is showing the invasion of chaos into order. But as Zombie has no patience for order, when chaos enters his character's universe it's hard to notice or care. Halloween II is the most extreme example of this so far, in that every character is damaged goods - or at least Zombie wants them to look that way. The two residences that we see in the film - Brackett's house and the apartment of Laurie's work buddies - are art-directed to look as inviting as a serial killer's lair (Laurie even has a poster of Charles Manson over her bed).

I know that Zombie wants us to see that Laurie, Annie, and Brackett have been changed by the experience of the last Halloween but if you look at the actual survivors of violent crimes, often times you see people who became stronger by their traumatic experience, not weaker. It's a cliche to say that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger but it is often true. There's the famous case of the Central Park Jogger, who was beaten, raped, and left for dead in an 1989 attack. This woman struggled with her recovery - both physically and emotionally - but has gone on to became a motivational speaker for victims of violent crime. In Zombie's case, I think in revisiting his Halloween characters, it was easier for him to take the route of saying "Great, now I have an excuse to make my characters fucked-up! I can do 'fucked-up' in my sleep!" And in doing that, I think Zombie reveals his insecurities and limitations as an artist.

If Zombie were ever to remake The Exorcist, I imagine that he'd make Regan into a tattooed, pierced goth chick before she ever got possessed because otherwise he wouldn't be able to 'relate' to her. Or that he'd begrudgingly make her normal but be happy when he could finally get to the possession because only then would she become 'interesting.' Zombie's films aren't the work of someone exorcising their inner demons, they're the work of someone not wanting to suffer any damage to their street cred - and that to me is the sign of someone who's transparently afraid of showing weakness in front of his crowd. These movies are not the work of an outlaw, but rather the work of someone who doesn't want to get caught shopping at JC Penny. Zombie's brand of bad-ass is a cosmetic affectation more than a deeply felt personal statement and that's why his movies don't have any real bite to them.

It's like a college chick who works at Target with a dyed-black mohawk, eybrow ring and tattoo sleeve. She's making a statement but that statement is "I need everyone to know I'm different. Really different. And edgy, too." And what I'm saying is "That may be true but you'd better off trying to surprise people instead. And by the way, don't put the kitty litter on top of my powered donuts."

Click over to Shock Till You Drop for my Halloween II review.


Matt-suzaka said...

I couldn't agree with you more, officers of the law make pretty decent money, especially when they are the Sheriff. So why do they live in the slummiest of homes?! And I found the Manson poster to be a little odd since Laurie was almost murdered by a killer.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, technically we know that Mason himself wasn't a killer (wouldn't want to give the guy a bad rep!) but he's hardly the kind of figure who you'd think a survivor of a violent attack would want plastered on their wall. But then Halloween II is filled with these kind of idiocies.

J. Astro said...

Great approach... I'm duty-bound to see this for myself tonite anyhow, and I've already heard a lot of the same, usual criticisms that get leveled at movies like these... so I'm glad you took a slightly different angle w/ your criticism of the movie and focused a lot on the (perceived) actual motivations of the filmmaker himself.

My own idea has been that mostly Zombie can work in the visual shorthand which suits music videos or stage shows, but he runs out of things to say when he has to fill a full, coherent movie running time. Once his 'central theme' peters out a third of the way in, he resorts to petty stylistic overkill and more "stunt casting" of cameo parts to prove that he knows all kindsa cool genre figures...

I also can't help but think you're right about most of your own analysis, and I wonder how Zombie would respond to these observations about himself?

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for the comments, J. - good luck with the movie! Maybe going in with lowered expectations will help. As for what Zombie would think of my critcisms, I expect he'd call them total bullshit but I think I'm fairly on the mark.

On one level, someone like Zombie can call out his detractors as jealous bitches and it's true that I'd sure love to be in his shoes. But I just think that while he talks a good game, his movies are a mess and that he too-readily glosses over their faults.

Blue Seven said...

I thought House of a Thousand Corpses was kinda crappy, though not without its charms. Sid Haig in particular was hilarious. I really enjoyed The Devil's Rejects, though it had its flaws (cgi blood and nepotism to name two). I suppose I'll get around to seeing his 2 most recent movies at some point, but every respected opinion I've heard so far leads me to believe it's going to be a tough row to hoe. I mean, there are so many movies people love, that aren't remakes of movies I myself love, that I haven't gotten around to seeing yet...

kindertrauma said...


Here is another example of us having a differing opinion!
It's funny only because I'm usually freaked out by how close your views are to mine.
I enjoyed H2 far better than the Friday remake you backed ( I watched F13 again recently and I still felt undernourished)
and I was thinking that the difference (for me) was that there was no human emotion in F13
people reacted to the predicament they were in like they had gotten a flat tire
I love that there is some spiritual squirming in H2 and that it is unpleasant.
Your jogger story is the preferred outcome to crisis and I think we all wish and hope that we'd react to adversity in such a way but it is one lone story.
Not everybody reacts to hardship like that. I think we all know somebody who just buckled under the pressure and fell under the wheel.
There should have been more in H2 exploring this theme for sure. From the trailers I presume that some of it was sadly left on the cutting room floor.
Still, part of what I like about H2 is that there is real pain present & it wasn't some kind of retread survival romp.

Anyway, thanks for making me feel all Siskel and Eberty!


Jeff Allard said...

Unk, it's always a kick when we disagree on a movie 'cause it happens so rarely! I don't know - maybe when RZ does The Blob, that'll be the one movie that really brings us together (one way or the other!) on the cinematic career of Rob Zombie!

Bob Ignizio said...

I agree with everything you said. My biggest problem with the movie, though, is that Zombie didn't seem to know what movie he was making. There seemed to be at least 3 or 4 different ideas for a film.

And of course, not only does Zombie indulge in his stunt casting cameo fetish once again, he feels the need to re-stage numerous scenes from other horror films (I noticed 'Prom Night', 'Psycho', 'Night of the Living Dead', and of course the mini-remake of the original 'Halloween 2'). If you're going to steal from other movies, at least do something to make the stolen property your own.

Making the movie even more disappointing were the handful of scenes that were actually done well, and the strong performances by actors who deserved better.

Jeff Allard said...

Hey Bob, I agree - Zombie lifts from a lot of uncredited sources here, which is funny given that his fans love to cite his originality! But like you say, the raw material for a good movie is here. What's galling is that I don't think Zombie is motivated to get critical with himself and push himself to do better. There might be a good filmmaker buried in Zombie someplace but as long as there's enough people blowing smoke up his ass, I doubt if we'll ever see it.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Smart review.

The franchise is, as of last Friday, dead (to me, at least).

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks, Phantom! Glad you liked the review!

senski said...

I saw the movie on Labor Day - the only person in the theater. I have to ask (you alluded to this in a Kinder post)...was there a feint in the direction of pulling a Haute Tension-type twist? Specifically - and I'll try to avoid spoilers here - Loomis' line "There's no one holding you," and then the intercutting between Laurie being held by Michael-As-Child / Michael-As-Adult / no one. I had a momentary thrill that the movie was going to attempt something audacious...but then my brain seized up at the utter impossibility of such a turn, and I just curled up into a fetal position and prayed for it to be over.

You could also look at the extended dream sequence and the "psychic link" as reasons to be suspicious, and it would have been fascinating to see a sequel that attempted this. Maybe this is why RZ is in such a self-congratulatory mode; he came up with a truly revolutionary concept for the series (albeit one that's a bit hackneyed for horror fans), lacked any of the writing or directing skills to pull it off, and still kept the thing in the finished project.

Jeff Allard said...

Senski, when Laurie comes out of the shack at the end with Michael's mask on, I thought for a split-second that RZ might be trying to pull a Haute Tension ending. Then I realized that'd be impossible to pull off given how the movie had established the independant actions of both Michael and Laurie. But I think it would've been an exciting, audacious move if RZ had been able to manage it. However, it wasn't even on his mind, apparently, as in an interview he says making Laurie into the killer was never a consideration.

As for why RZ is in a self-congratulatory mode, the simple reason is that he's one of those people incapable of smelling their own bullshit. Halloween II gives garbage a bad name but I'm sure in his mind, he's just misunderstood.