Pros: The lead characters give good performances; more time is dedicated to them. Artistic flashes.
Cons: Pretty gruesome. Lapses into horror cliches a lot. Not faithful to Carpenter's originals at all.
I recently went on a viewing marathon of all nine of the Halloween movies that featured Michael Myers, including watching both the theatrical and producer’s cuts of Halloween 6. After enjoying Halloween H20 and having my intelligence downright insulted from Halloween: Resurrection, I was a bit hesitant to move on to the next movies in the series: Rob Zombie’s remake of the original Halloween and its sequel. I had watched about half of Zombie’s previous film, The Devil’s Rejects, before deciding the movie wasn’t really my style and leaving the room, and I figured him remaking Halloween would be more of the same.
After watching Zombie’s prequel/remake of Halloween and fully expecting it to be awful, to my surprise I found myself thinking it wasn’t half bad. Of course, Halloween diehards hate that Zombie humanized the main antagonist, Michael Myers, by giving the entire first hour of that film to explain his backstory and why he started to kill. There was also little to no suspense and the movie was much more graphic than the original (two criticisms that still hold true in this sequel, for the record). However, the film was profitable so Zombie was convinced to make a sequel. Calling his first movie a “remake” is a bit misleading – only the second hour focuses on the events that happened in the first Halloween – and saying Halloween II is a remake is even more wrong, as the names of the central characters and a dream scene that takes place in a hospital are all this movie has in common with the first Halloween II.
The main drawback of Zombie’s first Halloween was the second-half of the film that focused on Haddonfield and the teen characters of the first film. In particular, I found Scout Taylor-Compton to be an incredibly irritating and awful successor to Jamie Lee Curtis in the “Final Girl” role of Laurie Strode. She weaved back and forth between “bookish babysitter,” “mean b-tch” and “girl who demonstrates sexually fingering a bagel to her own mother.” She was an absolute mess. And while I thought Malcolm McDonald was a pretty decent successor to Donald Pleasance in the role of Dr. Sam Loomis, the film did not examine or develop the victims in Haddonfield nearly as well as it had developed Michael Myers (Tyler Mane in both movies).
Unlike its predecessor, Halloween II does focus a lot on its protagonists and tries to make them more human. In the director’s cut, which is the version that I watched, it is two years after Michael attacked, and Laurie and Annie (Danielle Harris, who also played Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 4/5) are trying to get on with their lives after surviving that night. Laurie now lives with Annie and her father (Brad Douriff from the Child’s Play series) and has constant nightmares about Michael, goes to therapy sessions and resents Annie for the scars on her face being a reminder of what happened. Annie tries to be understanding but is getting fed up with Laurie’s crap. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis has released a new book profiting on the events of the first film, to the disgust of his manager and the families of the victims of the first film.
More of Michael’s madness is revealed in this film. Michael is shown to hallucinate visions of his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), inspiring him to kill and try to find Angel (Laurie’s birth name) to reunite the family. While some would criticize Sheri Moon’s scenes as pointless or pretentious, I feel they add a creepy, artistic vibe to the film. Michael’s hallucinations of Deborah include her dressed in all white and accompanied by a wild horse, the symbolism of which is defined at the start of the film. Laurie is also beginning to see the visions of Deborah Myers, and seems to have a telepathic connection to Michael (similar to Jamie’s link with Michael in Halloween 5), teetering her even closer to insanity.
The main strength of the film in the director’s cut are the interactions of the main characters, which give them some development that was sorely lacking in the first film. Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris have great chemistry together as a father and daughter duo. Sheriff Brackett has become very protective of Annie after she barely survived the events of the first film and he delivers one very emotional scene over Annie toward the end. Harris is incredibly cute and makes Annie one of the film’s most real and likeable characters. The conflict between Annie and Laurie as survivors is very interesting as well: Laurie wants nothing to do with Annie anymore, while Annie tries to be understanding and conceals her dissatisfaction at Laurie’s selfishness, leading to a major argument that was apparently cut from the theatrical release.
Dr. Loomis’ story arc throughout the film seems unnecessary for most of the film, and Halloween purists would surely complain that Pleasance’s rendition of Loomis would be NOTHING like this, but he does start to show remorse over profiting over the pain of others with his books and it triggers his actions in the finale. McDonald does fine in this sequel, making the character more of his own rather than trying to channel Pleasance like he did in the original. Laurie’s descent into insanity is quite intriguing as well, as we see her struggling to maintain control over her psyche throughout her therapy sessions and the very symbolic ending. Scout Taylor-Compton is much improved here, compared to how she inconsistently portrayed Laurie in the first film, although the character still has almost nothing in common with Curtis’ version of the character and drops a lot of f-bombs. I did get the sense that Laurie was losing her mind for much of the film, and her characterization was more consistent than the first movie's.
Adding to the artistic, trippy vibe of Michael’s hallucinations of Deborah is the soundtrack. The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” plays a major role in Laurie’s dream scene at the hospital and the song is flipped on its head due to the “white” imagery of Deborah and the horse. In the director's cut, the movie also ends with a chilling version of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” from the first remake; the theatrical cut instead ends with some of Carpenter's score from the original film, with the main Halloween theme playing during the credits of both versions. I have to give Zombie much credit for his song selections in both of his Halloween films, as they fit into the films flawlessly and add greatly to the movies.
The film does have a lot of the same old horror clichés that bog down my rating. We, of course, have standards like chicks running around topless just because; stupid teenagers drinking and having sex before the killer du jour offs them; a bunch of stock characters who are either one-dimensional or have no character at all and exist only to up the body count; and Michael Myers’ penchant for being able to teleport back and forth between settings. One particularly awful instance of this is when Michael is shown at Annie’s house, then at a party with Laurie and her new friends, then back at Annie’s house all within the span of about fifteen minutes. There's also some pretty stupid dialogue from Laurie's new friends, like one greeting the others with "Hey, dick lickers!" and the other saying "Ms. Too Coolio for Schoolio" in one of those "so bad you have to laugh" moments.
Also, Zombie’s use of “white trash” side characters played a major role in the first film and it’s just as wince-inducing here. For example, there’s a scene where the coroners drive away with the body of Lynda from the first film and we’re presented with a lovely debate between the two about necrophilia. A lot of instances of this nature seem added to the movie for no other reason than pure shock value. The violence and gore is more implied than shown, but there are several unsettling murder scenes, including one where Michael stomps a man’s face into a pulp and another in which he smashes a stripper repeated into a mirror. I’m usually desensitized to deaths in slasher movies but some of the deaths in the unrated version were gruesome and hard to watch. Another fault is that bringing back Michael after Zombie insisted that he was writing him as a human being is a bit stupid after the ending of Halloween - as such, I would have been completely fine if they downplayed Michael's role, which was mostly him killing off pointless side characters, and focused more on the dynamics between Laurie, Annie, Brackett, and Laurie's hallucinations of Michael and Deborah.
So while the film is far from containing the subtle tension of John Carpenter’s original Halloween, I actually feel this movie is pretty solid and even better than Zombie’s original remake. The main characters are examined more thoroughly than the typical slasher film, there’s some trippy and artistic hallucinations and song selections, and the acting of the main leads is actually very good for a horror film. Of course, Halloween fanatics who can’t separate Carpenter and Zombie’s interpretation of the Michael Myers character probably won’t stand for the film (for example, Michael talks at the end of the movie – while it’s only one word, it caused a firestorm on fan forums because “Michael isn’t supposed to talk,” just like “Michael isn’t supposed to be sympathetic” was a big criticism of the first movie), but I say “different strokes.” This isn’t even close to being the best of the Halloween franchise, but it certainly isn’t the worst for my money either.