Rob Zombie's sequel to his 2007 re-imagining of John Carpenter's classic Halloween is like all other Zombie pictures: maddening. Not because of the content, but because of Zombie's lack of consistent style. Here's a horror film that feels fresh and scary and ruthless and brutal for all the right reasons one moment, and then the next moment it feels gratuitously ruthless and brutal with laughable acting. Halloween II picks up right after Laurie has shot bogeyman Michael Myers on Halloween night…you know, the night he came home. What's interesting about what Zombie tries to do with the sequel is take it away from the usual hack and slash sequels – where the viewer is treated to a relentless onslaught of violence and terror by the killer all in the name of revenge – and takes it to a more psychological place. That's impressive for a horror film I thought was going to be nothing more than highly stylized violence filtered through Zombie's demented lens. The film doesn't hold up to Zombie's lofty narrative aspirations, though, and Zombie is the only one to blame for this because of his inconsistent aesthetic and reluctance to truly move the genre into new realms. But I'd be lying if I said it was all bad as it contains some of the more impressive horror sequences I've seen in years.
Oh boy. Where do I begin with this one: Well, I liked the opening…a lot. I liked the white horse symbol and how Zombie links it to Michael's (and Laurie's) psyche. I also loved the moment in the security guard's office where "Knights in White Satin" is playing on the television. I also loved how Zombie literally has the ghosts of Michael's past following him around, and there's a great shot near the end as Michael carries Laurie away from a burning car, and he walks away from the fire with his past family members "in tow". So, if I love all those moments then why do I not give a damn about this film? That's because it seems so…unnecessary. There's much to admire here as a horror fan, and Zombie is clearly trying to reach beyond the norm as far as sequels – let alone modern rehashes and reimagining's – are concerned, and for that I'm grateful as a fan of the genre; however, the film is a narrative mess, and its editing is all wrong – too often leaving me scratching my head instead of finding something to clinch onto tightly.
What's not good about the film, and what keeps it from being one of the better horror experiences in recent memory, is what I generally disliked about Zombie's Halloween, and that is his constant need to brutally realize and de-mythologize "the shape" – the surreal and otherworldly bogeyman concept that John Carpenter made so famous. I understand that this is Zombie's film – his vision – but it's too often too grungy, and it's just not the right look for this kind of horror film. I don't want to hear Michael Myers grunting while he kills people, that's not scary or creepy. Let me backtrack a second…it's not just that the film is grimy and dark, it's that the film is filmed that way. Some scenes are incomprehensible...like to the point where I didn't know what was happening and to whom it was happening to. That's just bad filmmaking, and it's frustrating because clearly Zombie has some style, he just needs to settle on one.
This is also Zombie's most artistically schizophrenic film as he can't ever seem to decide between washed out, small town look; grainy grindhouse; or shaky in-the-moment horror. He switches aesthetics too often for the viewer to get any kind of bearings on what kind of horror film this is supposed to be. Are we supposed to be scared because of the psychological implications that Laurie and Michael are the same, and the horror of that realization in the final moments of the film is enough to give us the chills as we realize Laurie's psychotic rage has been living in her subconscious until now, and that Michael just gave in to it at a much younger age. Or are we meant to be grossed out and sickened by the visceral nature of the horror on screen – the grunting and the water-balloon-against-the-wall sound effects when someone is stabbed. Zombie is a fine enough auteur in the horror genre at either option, but it seems odd to try and mix the two. I found the latter tolerable and even an advantage of sorts in a film like The Devil's Rejects because there's a very clear initiative from the onset of how Zombie wants to make us feel.
Another thing that seems odd about the film is that at times it's just really confusing. Aside from the aforementioned camera murkiness I didn't understand the need to re-introduce the Loomis character (Malcolm McDowell). Loomis seems an unnecessary plot device (a convenience really). There are also times when Michael just comes in and out of the film to randomly kill people. Now, normally that would be okay by me, but Zombie so clearly wants to make this film about Laurie and her dealings with the events of a year ago – more specifically how do the after effects of such a horrifying moment affect those it happened to – and finding out that she's related to Michael. So, it's a little hard to buy the moments where we're asked to sympathize and mourn with the characters in certain scenes (especially at the end in the house). It's not just that those moments are horribly acted (the acting is universally dreadful sans the wonderful Brad Dourif), but it's the fact that we're not sure what we're getting: is this a straight-up hack and slash, or is this supposed to be something more cerebral and serious?
Zombie's film gets points for trying something more cerebral with the basic slasher genre, but then he goes and ruins a lot of the goodwill he earns in that opening segment by trying to have it both ways: a serious horror films about the psychological implications of horrific attacks, and showing in gruesome detail said horrific attacks. Aside from the amazing opening I'd also like to point out one more great thing about the film (I feel like I'm being too negative here): the ending. I like how Zombie films that last shot. It's about as perfect a shot can be for this kind of film, and I especially love how he chooses to fade out at the end. This seemingly small and inconsequential editing technique speaks volumes to Zombie's intentions with his "series": he's done with it. And it's a smart decision by Zombie to fade out on his movie – like the closing of a book – instead of simply cutting to black after we see Laurie's sinister smile (which usually suggests there's a sequel on the way).
I realize there hasn't been much plot synopsis here (really though do we need one for a film like this?), but a lot of that is due to the fact that stories going on here conflicted so much to the point where I didn't always understand what was happening, just why they were happening. That being said I can appreciate what's going on in Halloween II, hell, I even think the film is worth seeing for the fantastic opening 20 minutes which is about artistically impressive and frightening a horror sequence since Neil's Marshall's The Descent, but overall the film is a mess; a jumbled, murky olio of brutality and gratuity (another thing I hate about some Zombie films is his penchant for gratuitous profanity) that is only saved by the very brief moments that remind us should Rob Zombie ever decide on a concrete tone and not feel the need to bludgeon us over the head with his myriad of styles that he just make a perfect horror film one of these days.