Let’s get the formalities out of the way…
If you haven’t yet seen Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II, and want to go in cold, don’t read the rest of this.
If you’re on the fence, and don’t mind knowing the general gist and what I think about it on a yay-or-nay basis, go check out my E! review.
If you’ve seen it, and are ready for an impassioned defense, follow the link above to my E! review first. Then come back here. Then click the link below to continue reading.
HALLOWEEN II begins with what is apparently a flashback, where little Michael Myers in the asylum is visited by mom, and she gives him the gift of a toy white horse, establishing a recurring motif throughout the movie. Now, I say “apparently” because as we all know based on both prior Halloween lore and Zombie Redneck-O-Ween lore, little Mikey was never this talkative. My conclusion? This scene did not, in fact, actually happen.
Here’s why: I seem to be the only one getting that the entire movie is a questionable flashback, from her asylum cell, via the deteriorating mind of Laurie. Not everything you see is “real,” and in fact, I would argue that the scenes she could not have been present for never did happen, especially the Dr. Loomis stuff – in which he not only acts like a total dick but even realizes that he’s doing so — negatively colored ex post facto by her reaction to his book (she even imagines Weird Al giving him a verbal smackdown, I mean, come on). The white horse is all in Laurie’s head, not Michael’s (a neat act of misdirection) – this is made explicitly clear during the climactic scene, when Momma talks directly to her.
I’ve recently had various dreams about dead loved ones, in which I’m talking to them as if I went back in time and know they’re going to die…the visions of mom work on that level for me. And the fact that she envisions a more talkative little Michael, too – I remember before my brother could talk, I would have dreams where he talked to me. It’s a bold gambit, though – audiences not into the whole deal just laugh at it, and it is indeed easy to bash Zombie for casting his wife yet again.
So what does that say about the scenes of hobo-Michael, walking alone, hallucinating mom and junior Michael? It says to me that there’s a good chance these didn’t happen either…they are Laurie’s after-the-fact perceptions of her protective big bro coming back for her.
I think there may even be a case to be made for a HAUTE TENSION interpretation, in which the kills Laurie is present for were actually done by her. The key to thinking this also comes at the end…when Loomis enters the shack, he focuses on Laurie, not Michael, and when she comes out, she is both wearing the mask and wielding the knife, which doesn’t entirely make logical sense…unless she WAS Michael. This image then begins flickering and fading out into the present reality of Laurie in an asylum – the way a schizo mind might actually shift.
Seems to me an ambitious way to do a sequel, as it also nicely sidesteps the issue of bringing seemingly dead characters back to life. Since nothing we see is reliable, maybe they’re still dead. You can then argue that therefore nothing is at stake, and possibly so…except her sanity.
Haven’t seen part one since it opened…but doesn’t it also look like Annie (Danielle Harris) is once again dead in exactly the same position, and from the same cause, as last time?
Now, I was kind of brainstorming the idea off of my colleague and friend Todd Gilchrist, to which he responded by asking why, if the hobo-Myers scenes are imagined, they fall into such slasher clichés? I think that makes sense too, if you understand Laurie’s character arc. She went from being a good wholesome all-American girl to immersion in chaos – her bedroom, and her side of the bathroom, are painted chaotically, she has posters of Alice Cooper and Charles Manson, likes to rock out when things get chaotic…it’s no stretch to suspect that she has undergone a crash course in metal/horror/extreme pop culture that might make her think in terms of horror clichés. Especially since she just lived through a version of the story that arguably started them all to begin with. It also suggests a correlation between her chaotic sense of room decoration and the chaos in her head.
I’m not certain that Rob Zombie has fully thought through the ramifications of this way of telling the tale, which is why I applaud his ambition but gave him a B rather than an A. I suspect there are inconsistencies if you look hard enough, and that a more artful director might have been more thorough, or created key visual cues. (It should also be noted that Alex Aja didn’t fully think them through either).
But so many of the so-called inconsistencies being called out by other reviewers simply are not. It particularly bugs me when people wonder why the hospital is so empty at the beginning — how can it be clearer that that is a DREAM? She wakes up screaming from it, and there’s also the matter of the ever-looping Moody Blues on TV. Then she specifically says afterwards over breakfast that it was a dream.
Even if you don’t like the execution…it strikes me as an ambitious and artful way to approach a slasher sequel. And it’s frustrating that I cannot make this argument in a mainstream review because it spoils too much.
But, a skeptic might also say, it doesn’t matter if Zombie had good ideas if he fails at executing them. I can’t agree that it doesn’t matter at all if they’re not executed successfully — I do think credit where credit is due can be given for attempting something new, or “A for effort” as they say. A totally different kind of example of that would be THE WHITE RIBBON, where I think I get and appreciate what it’s trying to do, and admire many smaller scenes with in it, but ultimately find it boring as hell. I won’t dismiss it totally, but I won’t recommend it.
LAND OF THE LOST is another good example of an interesting failure. I really like where they were trying to go, but don’t think it ultimately pulled it off. Bits in there I enjoy a lot, though, and if it gets Brad Silberling off his whole death/mourning theme, it’s a good thing.
But I like HALLOWEEN II better than both those examples — maybe because the grungy redneck aesthetic is somehow inherently more my thing.
I’ll quote Todd again in a way I hope he won’t mind, because he frames the idea as succinctly as anyone: “I think it’s often easy to ascribe certain choices to films like these because people want to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
This is true not just of these kinds of films, but all kinds. I truly believe what I said that if it were the same movie but in French, it would be given a lot more benefit of the doubt on the other side (HAUTE TENSION, y’all). But it is primarily our duty to be able to defend why we like something…and even if we see something the director didn’t consciously put in there, I don’t care so much, because his subconscious could have put it in there, which is equally valid. Case in point: Every David Lynch film ever.
The problem is there’s a reverse corollary, where it’s easy to insist that because it’s a horror movie, the director couldn’t possibly be smart or deep enough to have more than the surface elements going on. The first three SAW movies, for instance, taken as a whole, have this great, complex student-mentor-platonic-lover dynamic at their heart, but are just dismissed offhand as “torture porn.” (parts 4 and 5 lost that arc, and are markedly inferior for it.) And if you’ve spoken to Tobin Bell, you know he thinks as deeply about his role in those as any actor ever has in more serious stuff.
None of us can persuade anyone to like a movie they dislike. I can but try to make a case for what I got out of it.