“Halloween II” cuts to the heart of exploitation
Somewhere between Quentin Tarantino’s witty, pop culture-infused banter and the sly commercial sleaze of the “Crank” series, people forgot what true exploitation cinema is like. Aggressive, offensive and always in poor taste, few modern filmmakers have the chutzpah to venture over such tough terrain.
Not Rob Zombie though. The metal rocker turned filmmaker is still devoted to serving up real exploitation films – the kind that leave viewers gasping and respectable critics retching all over their memo note pads. (Ones writing for their college daily need not apply.) With “Halloween II,” he doesn’t disappoint.
Picking up where his 2007 “Halloween” remake left off, Zombie’s sequel catches up with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, in a role better suited to Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis) shortly after she’s unloaded a round into masked killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). She’s quickly shipped off to Haddonfield’s I.C.U., where, in a clever nod to the original 1981 “Halloween II,” the bloodbath continues.
Even before the body count rises, the opening scene is the stuff of nightmares, giving us an insider’s glimpse as fingernails get clipped off and faces get sewn back together on the operating table. It’s vicious and repugnant, but it’s Zombie doing what he does best.
Fast-forward a year later. Laurie’s traded in her bellbottoms and pullover sweaters for prescription drugs and shredded band tees. The memory of last Halloween still leaves her tossing and turning at night. Shacking up with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Douriff) and his considerably less rebellious daughter Annie (Danielle Harris), Laurie goes through the motions, all the while maintaining a tenuous footing in reality.
Zombie’s affection for Brackett and Annie seems palpable. Perhaps because Danielle Harris has been outrunning Michael Myers since she was 11-years-old, Zombie keeps her around long past her due date. Sadly, he doesn’t have the same fuzzy feelings for Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). Aside from giving the good doctor little to do, he turns Loomis into the story’s only veritable bad guy. (Myers, as antihero, doesn’t count.)
It’s a far stretch for Loomis, the stalwart savior who always seemed to arrive in time to cry out emphatically, “Don’t you get it? He’s Baaaaaccck!” Zombie twists him into a fame-seeking dirtball, eager to get rich off a tell-all of the murders. If Zombie were a better storyteller, he’d have something here, but instead he pushes Loomis to the fringes of the narrative, until its time for him to get what Zombie surely thinks are his just desserts.
Like most worthy exploitation films, “Halloween II” is an acquired taste. Zombie’s taste errs toward the tawdry, making it an exploitation flick in every sense of the word. In his 2007 “Halloween” remake, he enhanced Michael’s white trash pedigree, suggesting (in his own flimsy, roundabout way) that redneck rock and a lousy childhood were the impetus for Mike’s future homicidal instincts. But such dime-store psychology didn’t really register with audiences; all that Zombie did was strip away the mystery that John Carpenter worked so hard to create initially.
To his credit, Zombie neglects no part of the franchise. While visions and a prophetic connection between the Myers clan gets introduced later, in 1989’s “Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers, ” Zombie brings vision to the fore in his sequel. His wife Sherri Moon Zombie (a walking case for nepotism if there ever was one) returns in visions – along with a white steed and a bad wig – as the ghostly specter of Michael’s dearly deceased mama.
It may be a little wacky, a little faux-Lynchian on Zombie’s part, but at least he offers up a creative vision. The “Halloween” series has been devoid of such since 1981. Still, some critics have gone on record, claiming that they prefer “the smooth, well-ordered universe” that Carpenter created in the original to the senseless sadism that Zombie unleashes here. What Carpenter did was help set a standard. Tellingly, he quickly distanced himself from the series (although he collected writing credits for the original “Halloween II,” he didn’t direct it).
Zombie’s sequel is sleazier than Carpenter would have envisioned in 1981 – more graphic, even, than the many films that followed in the franchise. Zombie doesn’t go for the jugular like he did in “House of 1,000 Corpses” or its salacious sequel, “The Devil’s Rejects.” In a sense, it feels here (as it did in his promising but hurried 2007 remake) that he’s too tied down with reverence for the franchise to really break out and make it his own.
But his Michael grunts as he attacks his victims and he devours raw animal organs – both ghoulish touches that lend an air of menace to the all-too-familiar killer. His blade produces a loud, walloping sound as it penetrates chest cavities, making the act of killing seem more vicious and visceral. What Carpenter did for creepy ambiance, Zombie seems to do for ultra-violence, before getting stuck in a slasher movie spin cycle wherein all the killings become imitations of each other.
Ultimately “Halloween II” might not impress critics, but it doesn’t have to. It’s for those who still curl up every October 31 to watch the movies (especially the original) air on AMC. And especially for those who, probably like Zombie, still relish every thrust of the blade and every repetitive death sequence. While he’s not a revisionist in the strictest sense, at least Zombie conjures up a little mayhem for them.
Shayna Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org