First things first: I thought writer/director Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of Halloween was an interesting, brutal alternate-reality version of the Michael Myers story. Many of the complaints I've heard about it are about the changes Zombie made from John Carpenter's 1978 original, which makes no sense at all to me. If you're going to remake a movie, it has to fall somewhere between the two extremes: not-at-all different (The Omen 2006) and so different as to be almost unrecognizable (Dawn of the Dead 2004). The whole point of remaking a movie instead of creating an original work, in my opinion, is to explore an angle that the original movie contained but left untouched. People can claim up and down that the psychology of Michael Myers doesn't need to be explored because it takes away the mystery that, for some, made him terrifying to begin with, but that's a complaint that should be directed at the final product, not Zombie's vision.
That brings us to Halloween II. Let me state in no uncertain terms that unless you understand two facts completely and without reservation, you will probably not enjoy this movie. One: this is a film made by someone with a singular vision. There are no cracks in it into which viewers can slip their own interpretations; this is a movie that really takes an idea and runs with it. Again, whether or not anyone likes it is really a criticism that should be directed at the final product, but either way, the viewer has to be willing to accept what Zombie wants to do or they'll just become increasingly frustrated (something I see has already happened). The second fact should be obvious, but I guess I feel it needs to be stated anyway: this is an extrapolation of everything Zombie did in Halloween 2007. If you didn't like any of that, why would you expect to like any of this? These aren't John Carpenter's versions of Laurie and Loomis, these are a continuation of Zombie's version of them, and he's only taking them farther in new directions.
The first of Zombie's core ideas with the sequel may be the hardest to grasp. Given its psychological nature and the general unwillingness of audiences (including myself) to accept armchair analysis of movie characters, this may be a dealbreaker right off the bat, but it runs through the entire movie. (Spoilers ahead. I'll try to keep them to a minimum, but it's hard to review this movie without them.) Michael (Tyler Mane) have visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and a white horse, which Zombie explains using an opening title card as iconography in Michael's waking dream state. Personally, I didn't feel it was that problematic. Not only is this a re-interpretation of the characters to begin with, I've never really thought of Michael as having that distinct a personality. I'm sure the die-hard Halloween fans will get up in arms and email me the numerous details that separate Michael from his illegitimate offspring like Jason Voorhees, but at least one of the elements people are defending seems to be that Michael is a mystery, a blank slate onto which any terrors can be imagined. I suppose those people would be just as quick to argue that sequels, both to the Carpenter original and Zombie's remake, are unnecessary, but the undefined nature of slasher icons like Michael is almost certainly what caused us to get to the twelfth Friday the 13th film. Zombie wants to tell a story, not create an empty, masked killing machine. I hate to keep reiterating this, but whether or not it works is a separate argument; all I'm saying is that Zombie's basic logic seems sound to me.
The second level to this is that Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has her own psychological issues stemming from the events of the earlier Zombie film. In fact, the film even goes so far as to suggest that there's a bit of a mental bond between Michael and Laurie. I'd say it isn't particularly pronounced other than a scene where Laurie becomes sick while Michael is eating, but I'm sure people will make a huge deal out of it. Some of this portion is overdirected, filled with abusive quick-cutting and shots of Laurie screaming, but it leads into Zombie's other idea, which is easier to grasp. Rob has stated in interviews that the heart of the story stems from what it'd be like to learn that you were the sister of Charles Manson, and Halloween II does a good job of presenting this idea to the audience. Sure, the movie doesn't delve particularly deeply into the subject, but even Carpenter's original isn't a deep film, just a creepy one.
Apparently people don't think Zombie's version of Myers is creepy, but I disagree. At the very least, I'd hope even the most fervent 2007 hater would agree that the film had strong visuals, and the sequel is no different. Zombie and cinematographer Brandon Trost have created a number of stunning images, and many of them are equally chilling, especially a nearly silent shot of Michael's silhouette passing by an upstairs window. I also thought that Mane's version of Myers was frightening in his brutality, which has not lessened. Early commenters have already complained about the grunting, but I thought the sight of Myers viciously stabbing someone in a hospital was plenty scary. There's even a moment when Michael is pulling a woman from the cab of a truck that I felt was a bit of a visual homage to the way Michael terrorizes a nurse in the original.
Aside from Zombie's vision, it's nice to see Brad Dourif in a meaty role as Sherriff Brackett, and while there's still a brief, annoying scene at some sort of goth bookstore/coffee bar, both Taylor-Compton and Harris turn in better, more likable performances. I also really enjoyed the Loomis plotline that turns him into a bit of a leech-like, exploitative sell-out, something Malcolm McDowell digs into with relish. But Zombie's vision is all that drives this project, and even though the world seems clearly ready to hate it, I thought it was great. It's a strange, demented vision of Haddonfield that's unlike any of the other Halloween films. To many, this will be a bad thing, and it may even top Resurrection as the most hated entry in the franchise. At least we've traded Busta Rhymes for Weird Al. That's something, right?
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