Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween II (Rob Zombie, 2009)

Originally published at the now defunct Cinespect.

Rob Zombie’s 2007 “Halloween” remake loosely applied the director’s quickly coalescing tics to the John Carpenter-directed original, recasting the blank, seemingly motivationless killer Michael Myers as a hollowed-out hick with family issues and eyes that looked as if they’d taken on a paint-huffing-induced glaze while still in utero. Yet the film, Zombie’s open concession to mainstream genre demands, while cementing his style, left cracks in it. Those minuscule fissures are blown open by “Halloween II” (2009), an ostensible cash-grab that proved, especially in its slightly but meaningfully altered director’s cut, the best horror film of the last five years.

The sequel continues the story along a path that seems logical until one realizes how few horror franchises do it, caring less for the further exploits of monsters and their victims than for the aftershocks of the original trauma. “Halloween II” presents a group of characters irrevocably poisoned by their brush with evil, among them Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), who is hawking a book to profit off his ghastly failure to cure—or even contain—Michael’s psychosis, and Michael’s sister, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton), who is in total emotional freefall.

Laurie’s situation establishes the film’s focus as one in which the monster is as much post-traumatic stress disorder as it is Michael Myers. Taylor-Compton is no great shakes as an actress, but she gives what may be the most Cassavetian performance to ever grace a horror film. It’s an unvarnished, all-consuming portrait of madness that makes it difficult to sympathize with Laurie, especially when her caustic emotional pain is juxtaposed with the more visible scars adorning her friend Annie, who tries to handle her own trauma with more poise.

So pervasively does Taylor-Compton yoke the film into her character’s warped soul that one could argue that Michael Myers never truly returns in this film, and that his subsequent rampage is but a product of her mind. Various dream sequences offer some support for that notion, though buried amid Laurie’s own anxieties of genetically inherited and trauma-induced mania are explicit critiques of the Oedipal and misogynistic traits that the character of Michael Myers set loose upon the slasher genre, which the original “Halloween” (1978) helped establish 35 years ago.

The nightmares break up Zombie’s style, which was previously marked by a use of medium and long shots to capture action. The camera frequently presses in close on Taylor-Compton’s face, but not without a hint of resistance that suggests it wishes it could pull away.

Other aspects of Zombie’s aesthetic change as he shakes the cornmeal breading off his demented carnival look, adopting a more dreamlike state that can be seen fully realized in his latest film, “The Lords of Salem” (2012). His humid imagery gives way to an autumnal chill, light flickering through cool blue air as demons inevitably begin to stalk Laurie and those around her. And the deliberation of Michael’s slashes—pneumatic extensions of the elbow that send the knife down with mechanical simplicity—bring brute poetry back to a genre that arguably had not enjoyed it since the first time Michael Myers invaded the screen.

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