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Halloween II: Unrated Director's Cut (2009)

Sony Pictures // Unrated // January 12, 2010
List Price: $28.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted February 8, 2010 | E-mail the Author
"The fear everybody seemed to have was, 'Oh, Laurie won't be likable.' When in reality, that's not really the issue. This girl's been through hell, so whether or not she's likable is--to me--irrelevant.
This way, it plays much more real."

--Rob Zombie

The Movie
What a great trip down memory lane. I remember how much I loved this sequel the first time, especially because of the cool killer: A lonely psycho who wandered the woods and lived off the land, finding refuge in a sparse shack where he has visions of his dead mother--who asked him to seek revenge on those who wronged them. Yep, Friday the 13th Part 2 sure was a fun ride. What's that? Oh, this is Halloween II? My bad...but I loved that, too. Remember that great sequel set in the spooky hospital, the perfect setting for a stalk-and-slash flick with a hobbling heroine fighting for her life in the near-empty facility? Oh, sorry again...this is Rob Zombie's Halloween II? Hmm...on third thought...

Much like Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Rob Zombie's second franchise effort has "rush job" written all over it. As with his 2007 installment, maybe I have unfair expectations. But prior to Zombie, three of the previous four Halloweens were awful--so his arrival gave fans something to salivate about. And while I admit the man has style and vision--and this entry is certainly watchable and pleasing enough as a mindless slasher--his Halloween II takes the worst parts of his 2007 film and magnifies them to near unbearable levels, overshadowing the solid aspects of this otherwise decent sequel.

Things weren't looking so good for Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) and Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) at the end of Halloween. It appeared that both were goners--Loomis at the hands of The Shape, and Myers at the hands of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who fired a bullet into the serial killer's head. But something funny happened on the way to the morgue (remember that sanitarium transfer from Halloween 4?), and two years later (changed from the theatrical version's "one year later" for this director's cut) his body still hasn't been recovered. Yet for some reason he's presumed dead, one of many giant logic lapses you'll have to overlook (would a paramedic be decapitated like that in an auto accident?!).

The whole ordeal has left Laurie--who still doesn't know she's Michael's little sister--a little frazzled, and not enough drugs, booze or visits to the therapist can ease her mind. She now lives with scarred pal Annie (Danielle Harris, in her fourth franchise film)--the only other survivor from Michael's rampage--and Annie's dad, Haddonfield sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif). In addition to her haunted memories, Laurie also seems to have another connection to Michael that soon starts to manifest (another similarity this installment shares with Part 5). Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis--having survived his wounds--has morphed into an egoist set to publish his new novel The Devil Walks Among Us, an expose on Michael and the killings: "I'm selling the sizzle, not the steak...bad taste is the petrol that drives the American dream!" It comes out on Halloween, and contains a little tidbit that is certain to send Laurie further over the edge.

For the first 25 minutes, Halloween II had me in its grip. Paying homage to the 1981 sequel, it follows Laurie to the hospital immediately after the carnage--she's rushed into surgery and drugged up, her IV fluids her only companion. But why are there so few workers at Haddonfield General? And where did that nurse go, anyway? Laurie soon realizes she's in for another fight, and the movie picks up steam as the chase ensues. It's a highly effective sequence, and I almost wish Zombie spent the whole film in the hospital and went for a full-on "revisioning" of the 1981 entry, which still remains the strongest sequel in the series. Instead, the opening sequence is ruined (you probably pieced it together if you saw the trailer) and we jump ahead two years--where we have to contend with a few major hurdles.

By far the biggest obstacle to enjoying the film is Laurie--not only how she's written, but also how she's performed. I have no problem getting behind a tortured hero with some big character flaws (see Jamie Lee Curtis in H20), but Laurie (and Compton) is so far from relatable, sympathetic or likable that I was praying for anything--including her demise--to get her to shut up. If that was Zombie's goal, he accomplished it beautifully. But the story would have been far more effective if we had something to grab onto with Laurie, who has been reduced to a brat of the highest order. She complains, she drinks, she whines, she blames, she cries and she cusses--oh dear lord does she cuss!--to degrees so laughable that they take you out of the film ("I wanna party! I wanna fucking get drunk! I don't fucking care anymore! I want to fucking party!").

Along with friends Mya (Brea Grant) and Harley (Angela Trimbur), she spouts out dialogue that continues to baffle me. That includes Harley's naughty enocunter with a werewolf ("A blowjob? Is that what you guys call them still? I call 'em suckin' a dick!"), and this exchange right before the trio rock outs at Uncle Meat's Java Hole:

Harley: "What up, dick lickers?"
Mya: "Would you please convince Miss Too Cool for School that our costume idea is totally rad?"
Harley: "Dude, suck it up, ho! We got a fucking theme going on!"

Laurie isn't done any favors by the set designers, who go so overboard--primarily at the Brackett house, the Java Hole and Mya's home--that it's impossible to ignore. Forget for a second how crazy it is that Sheriff Brackett lives in a secluded house in the middle of nowhere two years after the body of the mass murderer who tried to kill his daughter goes missing (great idea, Sheriff! Real safe!). Instead, look at all of the crazy inside the homes, where Annie, Laurie, Mya and Harley have adhered to the graffiti and bumper sticker school of design: "Wake the Fuck Up", "The System's Fucked", " I ♥ Happy Endings", "Keep Your Side Clean Bitch", "Fuck Off and Die", a pentagram, Alice Cooper, a middle finger poster, a crude eye chart, "Wipe Yo Ass" by the toilet paper...who, I ask, lives like this?! When the sets become this distracting, it's a problem.

And the most mind-boggling bit? Why does Laurie--so distraught by the memory of a cold-blooded killer--have a poster of Charles Manson above her bed with "In Charley We Trust" spray-painted on her wall? It's all too much--Zombie has no sense of restraint, his set design far too crowded for its own good. We get it...Laurie & Co. are bad ass hard-partying party girls, counter-culture hippy rocker chicks who want to screw the establishment! Can we move on now, please?! (Sigh, I guess not...there's more white trash shenanigans at the Rabbit in Red...)

Things don't work much better with Grizzly Adams--sorry, Michael--who spends a lot of time walking through fields as he makes his way to Haddonfield, biding his time eating animals and killing trespassers. A lot of the character's spook quotient is sapped in this installment--Michael is frequently seen without his mask (many times during the day), with his super-long mustache and beard forcing me to double-check that Zombie himself wasn't filling in for Mane. Of all the Halloween installments (save for the Myers-less Part III), this one relies the least on the iconic mask, and that's a shame.

So is the film's driving force, which demands comparisons to Jason, Michael's comrade in carnage. In the opening title card, Zombie shares the concept of "The White Horse" from the (I'm presuming fictitious) Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams. The animal is "linked to instinct, purity and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction." The opening scene in the sanitarium is a flashback with young Michael (played here by Chase Vanek, filling in for a presumably now too old Daeg Faerch)--white horse in front of him--talking with his mom (Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon-Zombie). The force of those two elements stay with Michael as he grows older, with visions of his now-deceased mom--draped in white and glowing--and a white horse constantly reminding him of his mission.

I understand that it shows Michael's mental state and (in his mind) explains his actions, but the tactic doesn't quite work because--once again--Zombie relies on it too much. It doesn't help that Sheri Moon's delivery is far too wooden--in the 2007 film, Deborah Myers injected a little heart and emotion into the story. Here, she's reduced to a caricature--with most of her lines (including "We're counting on you to bring us home this year!" and a few new to this unrated edition like "He's still out there--rich and famous--all because of our pain!" and "Only a river of blood can bring is back together!") coming across as hokey.

Zombie also continues to employ stunt casting, which I can't complain about too much considering my boyfriend Chris Hardwick of Web Soup gets a brief appearance as a talk show host. Also popping up are Black Christmas and Sisters vet Margot Kidder as Laurie's therapist; Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2's Caroline Williams as a doctor; The People Under the Stairs' own Roach--Sean Whalen--as an unfortunate do-gooder; Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, as Uncle Meat; and Weird Al Yankovic in a challenging role as...himself.

As for the kills, it's a mixed bag. Zombie has once again given us one of the goriest and brutal entries in the franchise, and I'll certainly give him style points. But like the Annie sequence in the 2007 film, a few of the kills here feel rushed and tacked on--almost like they were added in later just to up the body count. That includes Michael's encounter with a trio of hillbillies and his quick disposal of two teens at a party--a sequence Zombie really drops the ball with. The thought of a masked Michael wandering through a huge costume party filled with drunk teens is full of potential, but the director does virtually nothing with it after so much build up. Two other great jolts were spoiled in the trailer (including a haunting bathroom mirror shot and poor Mya's demise, even if it copied a scene with Annie in the 2007 film).

I realize I've just deconstructed the film to a perhaps colossally unfair degree, and will be the first to admit it. Taken as just a fright flick, there's still plenty to enjoy and appreciate about this effort. It's certainly well made, stylish, brutal, decently acted (for the most part) and has a structure and point to its story. I like the Loomis subplot and wish more was done with it (in part to see more of Mary Birdsong, who plays Loomis's put-upon publicist), and Harris is--once again--the coolest character here (if only Annie was the lead!).

I also like the towering Mane, one of the best men to don the mask--he's one of only three performers (along with the original, Nick Castle, and Part II's Dick Warlock) to give Michael a true presence. Zombie also offers some striking visuals (a dark shot involving the silhouette of a tree is pretty neat), and the film has two very strong sequences that save the picture. Even with its disappointing ending (which will be obvious: "Nights in White Satin" by the The Moody Blues ain't that subtle!), the opening hospital scenes pack a punch (I've always loved the original Halloween II). And a long sequence in the Brackett house also gets the heart beating fast--and is even better given the additions in this unrated director's cut.

So what exactly is different? This edition runs 14 minutes longer than the theatrical cut (which, damn the studio, is only available in a separate edition). There's a little more gore, but the bulk of the new material seems to come from three sources: Laurie with her therapist, Laurie's relationship with Annie (lots of extra fighting) and Michael's visions of his mother. You also get extended footage at the Phantom Jam. Some of the material works--it's nice to see Annie call out her friend on being a bitch, echoing our own frustration; I love a brief gruesome shot in the opening hospital chase (Zombie calls it "the pit"); and the lengthier version of the Brackett house discovery adds genuine emotion. Others additions don't work as well--especially a few of the scenes with Michael (shown more in daylight without his mask) and his mom (including Deborah strutting her stuff down the stripper runway and a scene where the two--along with young Michael--stand in front of a billboard).

Then there's the ending, which gets to basically the same place in a different way. I wasn't a huge fan of the final shack standoff in general--it's a little anticlimactic along with being repetitive (from the 2007 film as well as Part 4), and it just feels too "small" for what is supposedly Zombie's final stab at the story. There are parts I like about both versions, but there is one thing I hate about this new one. Zombie also closes this unrated cut with a song that you'll either love or loathe (hint: we heard it in his 2007 film)--my initial reaction was laughter, as I was reminded of the hilarious funeral scene from To Die For (different song, same vibe). But upon further reflection, I can see how it works.

So where does that leave us? With a stylish effort that can easily be seen as one of the strongest in the series--if you aren't too discriminating with slashers. But I was expecting more from Zombie--fairly or not--and would pop in a handful of other franchise installments before this one if I needed a Halloween fix. At least the director has a vision, and he sure as hell sticks with it. With less Ghost Mom and a lot less of bat-shit-crazy Laurie, this could have been a much better film. As it stands, a few very strong sequences still make it worth a watch. As for the rumors of another (Zombie-free) effort--in 3D, and possibly again starring Taylor-Compton? Let's just say I'm in no rush to see it...

The Franchise

"You know it's Halloween...I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare, huh?"

To help put my thoughts on the series and each film into perspective, let's take a look at my rankings of the 10 entries in the series...

The Classic
Do you really need to ask what clocks in at No. 1?

1. Halloween (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Score by John Carpenter
The Shape: Nick Castle

After all these years, the original is still stunning. Halloween is one of the finest horror films ever made--slasher or otherwise--and it accomplishes that feat with virtually no blood and zero gore. A young boy inexplicably murders his older sister on Halloween night, then 15 years later breaks out of the sanitarium and returns home to wreak havoc again on an unsuspecting town. It's Boogeyman vs. Babysitters in John Carpenter's low-budget hit, one of the most influential films in history. Along with Black Christmas, it's the gold standard for slasher fans--and proves that you don't need anything fancy, just the basics--to scare us. The director does everything right--he isn't in a hurry, showing how important pacing and timing are in building and maintaining suspense (he makes us wait, and it's worth it). Along with director of photographer Dean Cundey, he uses the camera--and every inch in the expansive frame--to maximum effect. The two get remarkable mileage out of The Shape (brilliantly played by Nick Castle), who lingers in so many shots that keep you on edge (my favorite being the stare into the classroom). They also use his breathing as another tool of terror, and don't get me started on that mask--the creepiest of them all (and you have to hand it to Carpenter for making a station wagon this terrifying). Donald Pleasence hits just the right notes as the doctor in hot pursuit of Michael, but it's the trio of likable high school friends that make it work so well. As the bookish Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis gave birth to the term "Scream Queen"--her innocence and natural charisma with the camera and her co-stars is the lifeblood of the film (her meekness may explain why she dropped that knife twice! Oh Laurie, didn't you learn the first time?!). Little touches like nervously twirling her hair or escaping into song are just a few of the reasons the actress is so brilliant here, proving that understated charm goes a long way. Equally "fantastic!" are P.J. Soles as freewheeling cheerleader Lynda ("Totally charted!") and Nancy Loomis as wisecracking pal Annie ("Hey jerk! Speed kills!")--the trio immediately makes you invest in their lives. There are so many superlative shots and sequences here, it's impossible to list them all, but here's just some of what makes Halloween so perfect: the lengthy stalking of Annie; Tommy's discovery through the blinds, perfectly blended with the sounds of The Thing from Another World on TV; Laurie's slow walk to the Wallace house; and the final shots of the film. And my two favorite moments still send shivers down my spine: the shot of Bob's demise, complete with Castle's subtle reaction, proved Carpenter could get just as much mileage out of silence; and the shot where Michael's mask slowly surfaces from the darkness behind Laurie at the top of the stairs is the single scariest shot ever filmed, anywhere (which may be why some sequels copied it, best done in Part II). In addition to the pitch-perfect visual composition, the film also floods your ears with one of the most memorable and effective scores ever. Carpenter's synthesizers assault your senses--not only do the opening credits envelop you, but cues throughout the film (like a jarring sound that accompanies a light switch upstairs in the Myers house) are unsettling, showing how powerful film can be when sight, sound and story are seamlessly woven together.

Terrifying Treats
Not nearly the classic that the original was, these two sequels are still stellar--and easily rate as the next best thing in the franchise; their selection (and ordering) was easy.

2. Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
The Shape: Dick Warlock

In the wake of Halloween's success, the slasher genre was born. It took Carpenter & Co. three years to craft a sequel, and by then the Golden Age of the genre was in high gear. Two Friday the 13th films, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Hell Night, The Funhouse, The Burning and Jamie Lee Curtis vehicles Terror Train and Prom Night had already been released by the time Halloween II hit theaters. Picking up immediately where the first film ended, it follows Laurie to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital--where a small staff is about to get a rude awakening. Feeling the heat of the gore explosion, Carpenter wanted director Rick Rosenthal to up the splatter. While this is a bloodier entry, it still has plenty of the old-fashioned chills that made the original so successful. Helped by the dark hallways of the desolate hospital, the solid work of Dick Warlock as The Shape and Rosenthal's adept hand behind the lens (he understood framing and composition better than any other sequel director), this is a highly satisfying entry that--while not as good as the original--stands as one of the best of the copycat slashers. There are very few things I don't like about it (Michael's early "jump" attack, Jamie Lee's wig and Laurie's remarkably good marksmanship being a few), and plenty I love: The setting (and the security cam shots); the stalk sequence through the boiler room (the red lighting and the elevator get my heart racing every time) and the parking lot; the striking visual of Nurse Alves' fate; the clogs hitting the floor; the return of Nancy Stephens (Rosenthal's wife) as Marion; and a bevy of spooky shots with Michael looming in the background (the best finds the killer in the maternity ward). Also look for a cameo from Nancy Loomis and an uncredited Eddie Benton/Anne-Marie Martin (the bitch from Prom Night, where she gave us one of the best chases ever!). The film has likable characters, a well-crafted story that flows and makes sense (including one revelation that would influence all of the sequels), a signature kill (hot tub!) and one of the best alternations on Carpenter's legendary score (love the bolstered theme that plays over the opening credits). And Rosenthal's inclusion of "Mr. Sandman"? Genius. Now if only we could get a special edition of this one (including the ample extra scenes used for the TV version: "He won't die, momma!"), life would be good.

3. Halloween: H20 (1998)
Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg
Score by John Ottman and Jeremy Sweet
The Shape: Chris Durand

The complete opposite of the first two films in terms of its look and feel, H20 is polished, glossy and self-aware, a product of the post-Scream generation (something acknowledged by the film: look for Scream 2 briefly playing on TV). That may seem blasphemous to diehards, but the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie was a wet dream for fans. H20 sports a solid cast and a very capable director in Steve Miner, whole helmed the second and third installments in the Friday the 13th franchise. Wisely ignoring Parts 4-6 (where Laurie was deceased), H20 picks up 20 years after Halloween II and provides the perfect closing chapter on the saga. With Michael's body never recovered from the flames, Laurie faked her death and changed her identity. Now a single mom and the head mistress at an exclusive prep school in Northern California, she's convinced Michael may one day return. That has our heroine losing her mind--and turning to drugs and alcohol for relief. When the student body heads off campus for a weekend retreat, four students--including Laurie's son (Josh Hartnett) and his girlfriend (Michelle Williams)--stay behind, and Laurie's worst nightmare soon takes shape. H20 is tight and taut, its story unfolding with assured force and a sense of purpose--it doesn't feel the need to explain Michael's return or kill every character in site, which is refreshing. H20 is well made and acted, my only gripe being the awful mask which is all sorts of wrong (there was more than one version; the filmmakers really should have paid for the rights to the original image). Beyond that, the film features a great opening sequence (yeah! More Nancy Stephens! And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too? Nice!); cool opening credits; one of my favorite Halloween kills ever (poor Jodi Lyn O'Keefe...ouch!); a few loving nods to Part 1; more of "Mr. Sandman"; and an emphatic, unforgettable ending. And while humor isn't usually a match for Halloween films, this installment injects tiny doses that actually work (including an ode to Jason and a few lines from Adam Arkin that are actually funny)--the only franchise entry to accomplish that difficult feat. And how can you not love seeing Curtis teamed up with real-life mom Janet Leigh (in her final feature film role), who rides away in a killer car after a Psycho-inspired riff plays over the score?

Worth a Watch
This is where it gets tougher...on any given day, Parts 3, 4 and 9 can be shifted. All are enjoyable; Part 10 is right where it should be--not nearly as strong as the six best films, but not as awful as the three duds.

4. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Written and Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
Score by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

It's probably not fair to include this Michael-free installment on the list, but since he makes a few appearances via television, I'll allow it--especially because (despite its bad reputation) I absolutely love this one, warts and all. Convinced they were going to make a standalone Halloween-themed film each year, the producers opted for this off-the-wall tale about a mysterious toy manufacturer hell-bent on conquering the world through possessed masks. When a patient is murdered in a hospital after an encounter with a superhuman man in a suit, Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, fresh from his role in Carpenter's The Fog) becomes suspicious. And when said-victim's daughter Stacey (Ellie Grimbridge) tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, it leads the duo to "The Factory" in an isolated Northern California town inhabited by a large Irish community. It's fittingly called Santa Mira, an homage from writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace (the production designer/editor for the original, he turned down Halloween II) to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers--a film this one shares a lot with (along with then-recent genre entries Dead & Buried and Coma). Season of the Witch is dark and disturbing, a somber tale with little hope and an antihero in Dan, a womanizing alcoholic who's also a neglectful parent. That dark mood is maintained throughout by the fantastic synthesizer score from pros Carpenter and Howarth, who make the ever-present music its own character. Like The Curse of Michael Myers, this one has a mystical subplot that asks a lot of you--and for all intents is too silly to take seriously (hello, laser beams!). But even with the laughable Wonder Woman computers and the Stonehenge connection (best line: "We had a tiiiime getting it here! You wouldn't believe how we did it!"), there's something oddly refreshing in how the film embraces its bleak outlook. The kills are mean and memorable, Dan O'Herlihy is a great villain, the grizzled Atkins is perfectly cast, kids are in peril (hell, one even dies in one of the most memorable sequences), Nancy Loomis (!) makes a cameo--and that inevitable ending is as awesome as the '80s vibe this film channels. I even adore the undying robot arm (one wonders if Sam Raimi was a fan). Equally rad? That Silver Shamrock jingle, a ditty that ingrained itself into my brain the second I heard it--and hasn't left since.

5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Written by Alan B. McElroy
Score by Alan Howarth
The Shape: George P. Wilbur

Five years after the Michael-less Halloween III bombed at the box office, producer Moustapha Akkad decided it was time to bring Myers back. And while Return doesn't bring anything new to the franchise, it's a well-made effort that actually has a suspenseful set-up. The beginning is pretty cool, too--in addition to a short but sweet Michael escape (he's being transferred back to Smith's Grove Sanitarium), Part 4 also has a great score from Howarth. In particular, the opening credits and lead-in scene are accompanied by a subtle piece that perfectly sets the mood--it feels like a windy autumn night, the unease slowly building. It's been 10 years after the first two films, and the now-deceased Laurie (Curtis wasn't interested in a sequel at the time) has left behind a niece. Young Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, in her first of four appearances) now lives in Haddonfield with a foster family, including older sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell). Convinced that Michael survived the ambulance crash, Dr. Loomis frantically tries to warn the town that it's in danger (sound familiar?). But when night settles in and the town's power supply goes out, a small group seeks refuge in the sheriff's house, one of the film's strong sequences. Director Dwight H. Little shows some restraint and builds the suspense nicely, one of the few sequels to do so. This entry has a few "stunt" scenes that are hit and miss, and this entry is a little too "action-y" (explosions! gunfire! car standoff!) for its own good, and I don't quite buy the pickup truck massacre. I also wish Little kept Michael in the bandages longer--it's a creepy visual (kind of like potato sack Jason!), and the mask could have been introduced later to better effect. Sadly, this entry also marked the change in the Myers mask, now brighter and less distinctive. It's something we all have to just deal with--outside of the first two films, none of the non-Zombie sequels got it right (and while George Wilbur is good at the stunts, a few key shots here make it look like Michael has no neck). Thankfully, the main characters are also solid--Harris is one of the few child actors who is actually good and likeable, mature far beyond her years. Cornell is equally engaging, and Beau Starr makes an excellent sheriff. There's a lot to love here, and overall it's an entertaining watch: the design elements are solid, I dig the rooftop scene and the ending--despite being derivative--still works beautifully, giving this installment its signature.

6. Halloween (2007)
Written and Directed by Rob Zombie
Score by Tyler Bates
The Shape: Tyler Mane

Perhaps the most anticipated of all the sequels (with maybe the exception of Part 4), this one also had (unfairly or not) the highest expectations placed on it--primarily because three of the four worst franchise films preceded it. In many ways you could argue this installment deserves to be a lot higher: The production values are high, the gore is plentiful and well done (a stark contrast to the original, the carnage here may annoy the purists), the acting is (for the most part) decent and the scope is huge. Instead of going for a straight-up remake, Zombie broke the story into three parts: Michael's childhood, his time in the sanitarium and (for the second half of the film) his return to Haddonfield, where it most resembles the original (with a key plot development from Part II also included). This is balls-out brutal, and Zombie's tone is harrowing and effective. Malcolm McDowell is perfectly cast as Dr. Loomis, while the towering Tyler Mane finally makes Michael truly scary again (joining Nick Castle and Dick Warlock from the first two films as the best). And Zombie has crafted some memorable sequences and shots that hold up well: the (pseudo) freeze-frame on the Myers house crime scene; young Michael's encounter with a sanitarium nurse (poor Sybil Danning never saw it coming!); and the final chase, which has some cool elements (like the empty pool) despite being (like the film) a tad too long. But there's just enough that bugs me about this film that prevents me from digging it as much as I'd like. The portrayal of the Myers family in the opening segment goes way off the white trash deep end--everyone's an ass, and it's no wonder Michael cracks (had the family been more "normal", his transformation would be much more chilling). I don't buy the family dynamic for a second, and it lessens the impact of what follows. Equally annoying are the teenagers we've come to know and love--while Danielle Harris is engaging in the role of Annie (who Zombie sadly gives a highly unnecessary topless scene), Scout Taylor-Compton (as Laurie) and Kristina Klebe (as Lynda) are irritating from Frame One. And for me, Daeg Faerch is miscast as young Michael--he isn't convincing in the tough role, failing to hit the right notes. The same can be said of the score, which slightly mishandles the original's iconic elements (although it's nice to hear "Mr. Sandman"). I appreciate Zombie's intent and ambition, and I still enjoy watching this film. It just feels like he tried to do too much (sadly, not enough is done with Dee Wallace and the Strodes, roles that are wasted), cramming two features into one.

7. Halloween II (2009)
Directed by Rob Zombie
Written and Directed by Rob Zombie
Score by Tyler Bates
The Shape: Tyler Mane

This one makes the "watchable" cut...barely. Not nearly as entertaining as the six films above, it's still a hell of a lot better than the junk below. The biggest problem here is Laurie--while she was annoying in Zombie's previous film, she was at least tolerable. Here, the character--and Taylor-Compton's portrayal--is exaggerated to epically awful proportions. Cussing and complaining in every scene, it's impossible to warm up to our heroine--who almost single-handedly derails the film. (For advice on how to write and perform a screwed-up character that we actually care about, Zombie and Taylor-Compton should check out Jamie Lee in H20.) This sequel--apparently Zombie's last franchise flick--was rushed, and it shows. It picks up two years later, where--against all common sense--everyone seems to think Michael is dead even though his body was never recovered from an ambulance "accident". A mentally unstable Laurie--now living with Sheriff Brackett and Annie (Harris thankfully returns, but is underused)--has trouble coping with her grief as Halloween approaches, and discovers she may have a mystical connection to Michael. Meanwhile, Loomis has used his notoriety for fame, set to publish his tell-all book about the killer--and drop a bombshell on Laurie. As the dreaded night nears, we see a bearded, mask-less Michael wandering through the fields on his way home to finish the job. He has visions of his deceased mother (Sherri Moon-Zombie returns, hamming it up) who--doing her best Betsy Palmer impression--tells her son to kill for mommy. The director certainly has a vision, and he sticks to it--resulting in a highly uneven film that ends with a whimper. Still, the production values are strong, the gore is gross and the effort still has a few solid moments: The opening 25 minutes--an homage to the original Part II--take us back to the desolate hospital, while a later sequence at the Brackett house is well done. I can watch this and enjoy it, but it's a draining experience that makes me a little too angry a little too often.

Terrible Tricks
Easily the worst three films in the franchise, these tragedies can shuffle ranking at the bottom--I know which one I hate the most (it may surprise you!).

8. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Directed by Joe Chappelle
Written by Daniel Farrands
Score by Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns
The Shape: George P. Wilbur

Backed into a corner by the absurd ending to Part 5, Curse--for reasons I can't explain--decided to run with it instead of starting over and ignoring its awful predecessor. Now at Dimension and under the guidance of fan (and rookie writer) Daniel Farrands, the franchise was set for its most troubled shoot (although, mercifully, we didn't get the "Michael in Space" story that was considered at one point). It's been six years since Myers was busted out of jail by the mysterious man in black, who also kidnapped young Jamie. Now a prisoner in a cult (and not played by Danielle Harris, wisely opting out of the effort), she gives birth to a child and makes her escape--but doesn't make it far. Meanwhile, back in Haddonfield the teenagers are growing restless since Halloween was banned. Living in the Myers' house is Laurie Strode's uncle (let's call him "Bad Taste Strode") and family, including daughter Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her son Danny (Devin Gardner)--who's starting to have some spooky visions. Across the street in a boarding house lives Tommy Doyle (the tyke Laurie babysat in the original), now a Peeping Tom so obsessed with Michael Myers that he's come up with a theory--based on Pagan rituals and constellations--to explain the killer's madness. The gang eventually ends up in an expansive facility that leads to all sorts of wild revelations and off-the-wall shenanigans. This is the most ambitious of all the Halloweens--and the least capable of handling it. Curse crumbles under its aspirations, and looks too cheap for a film that demands a bigger budget. The story (no one noticed that baby beforehand?!) and the script ("I see only one bastard in this house!") are silly, the Jaime character is given no respect, poor Donald Pleasance (who died shortly after principal filming wrapped) just looks tired and the ending is awful. Much has been made of the alternate cuts of the film, which still haven't been released. A director's cut adds a little gore (the best being the face-through-the-bars kill), while the infamous "Producer's Cut" has some modifications including a slightly bigger role (and different demise) for Jaime (J.C. Brandy) and a different ending that is definitely better (despite those ridiculous rolling rocks) and gives Pleasance a little more respect. But it also deletes the operating room massacre, and it still doesn't save this movie from being a hot mess. Still, a few sequences work (like the stalking of poor Mrs. Strode and the creepy line "Mommy, it's raining red!"), and I like the idea of a town cursed and obsessed with Michael. And how can you completely hate a movie that features the debut performance of Paul Stephen Rudd (!) as wack job Tommy? While Clueless was definitely a better move for him in '95, he still gets the funniest line here: "I feel like I've been drugged..." Gee, ya think?!

9. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Written by Larry Brand and Sean Hood
Score by Danny Lux
The Shape: Brad Loree

The bad news: Tyra Banks. The good news: Tyra Banks gets killed. The bad news: We don't see it. How could Rick Rosenthal, director of the best franchise sequel, be responsible for such crap? But I can't blame him...Resurrection smacks of producer interference, the concepts (this came at the height of the reality TV craze) and characters created for demographic dollars. It also makes the most egregious of errors in the opening scene, killing off Laurie Strode (Curtis returns for a contractually bound appearance, and can't get off the set quick enough) with a ridiculous explanation for H20's seemingly definitive ending. It's a plot development I refuse to accept, much like the rest of the film. Back in Haddonfield, the money-hungry entrepreneurs of Dangertainment have concocted a brilliant scheme for Halloween--select six "wisecracking posing wannabes" to spend the night in the Myers house, their exploits broadcast to the world on the internet. Unbeknownst to the fame-whoring college students, the house has been booby-trapped--and things are about to get a whole lot worse when Michael comes home. The only (sort of) likeable teen is Sara (Bianca Kajlich), but her cohorts are some of the worst the franchise has seen. The character types were taken from Slasher Films for Dummies, and it's painfully obvious the cast was told to model their performances after certain celebrities--including Katee Sackhoff channeling Brittney Murphy (a performance all the more sad now) and Luke Kirby as Christian Slater (Sackhoff, with Battlestar Galactica under her belt, is now forgiven; sadly, American Pie's Thomas Ian Nicholas can't say the same, and for some unexplainable reason Sean Patrick Thomas gets a "Special Appearance By" in front of his name). The Michael mask is also a mess, the killer now apparently fond of eyeliner and lipstick. And if you thought H20 was influenced by Scream, you ain't seen nothing yet: The party scene, where the teens watch a would-be victim in peril, comes straight from Gale Weathers' hidden camera (also watch for a chainsaw scene straight from Friday the 13th Part 2). Thought by many as the worst in the series, Resurrection comes close--but if I had a gun to my head, I'd probably watch this before at least one other entry. Rosenthal is a lot more competent behind the camera, and this film is at least technically proficient. And the digital age story--even as poorly as it's executed and written--at least makes some kind of sense. Oh, what's that? I failed to mention the profanity-laced tirades of Busta Rhymes, who karate chops Michael and also shocks him in the groin? [insert shudder here] It's so terrible, I've erased it from my memory...just fast-forward through his scenes, and this film is a little better.

10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard
Written by Dominique Othenin-Girard, Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman
Score by Alan Howarth
The Shape: Don Shanks

With the huge success of Halloween 4, production began almost immediately on the next installment to cash in. Released just one year later, this should have been decent--primarily because it returned the principal players (including Donald Pleasance, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris and Beau Starr). But under the guidance of director Dominique Othenin-Girard, this entry is all sorts of awful. Even producer Moustapha Akkad admits it was a rush job, and he acknowledges another fatal mistake: killing off Rachel (Cornell's character) far too soon, her disappearance oddly written off by her shitty friends ("I guess she decided to go out to the country with her parents! Tee hee!"). Why they did that is a mystery, but Rachel's absence in the bulk of the picture is inexcusable--filled with annoying characters, Part 5 could have been partially redeemed with Cornell's extended presence (ditto Starr, also wasted here). Instead, we're left with the awful Tina (Wendy Kaplan) as Rachel's kooky, free-spirited friend ("I'm never sensible if I can help it!"), one of many new (and terrible) character types introduced into the franchise. She looks out for Jamie, now mute and stuck in a children's clinic. The scarred kid now has a telekinetic link with her uncle and tries to warn people (tough when you don't talk!) after having premonitions of his kills. Meanwhile, Michael is nursed back to health by a recluse in a shack (?!) before making his way back to Haddonfield as an equally crazed Dr. Loomis--laughably overplayed here--spends lots of time being a dick to Jamie, including using her as bait. You also have to suffer through Tina's annoying friends (this is the first entry where you hate everybody), who are killed in suspense-free scenes (some in daylight); a pair of bumbling cops who get their own circus-inspired sound effects in the score; an awful chase in a field that includes Billy, Jamie's stuttering bud from the loony bin (Seriously? Two kids trying to play hero?!); lots of Michael standing and posing for the camera (and driving, and not wearing his mask); and a standoff in the Myers house highlighted by a ludicrous moment where Loomis gets too close and comfy with Michael. This entry lacks any cohesion or flow--Othenin-Girard had no idea what he was doing, further evidenced by the random "man in black"/cult symbol scenes inserted for no other reason than to be arty and vague (they doomed the equally awful Part 6 from the start). Given what they had to work with, this is the most inexcusably bad installment in the series, the one that angers me the most when I watch it. Is there anything I like about it? Hmm...the opening pumpkin-carving credit sequence is kinda cool...


I saw this in the theater, and remember thinking how dark and grainy it looked--so I'm sure this anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer represents the intended look of the film. This is a very muddy, grainy effort with washed out colors--brown tones are frequently employed, and at times it looks like there's an absence of color (green is used for the hospital sequence). This is a very dark film, a little too dark for my tastes--especially with scenes in the Brackett house, where the people are practically disappearing in the shadowy surroundings. Still, many close-ups show more detail, and the look fits with the film's tone--I just wish it was a little more detailed and sharp.

The 5.1 track is excellent, and doesn't over-do it like so many horror films. Clarity and separation is solid, and the rear channels are frequently used to keep you in the scene--sirens, crickets, rain, thunder and gunshots are just a few examples. The music is also kept at just the right levels. Subtitles are available in English and English SDH (Subtitling for Deaf and Heard of Hearing).


"Everybody seemed so up in arms to be able to see Michael Myers' face in the daylight. I never thought it was a problem, because we've completely re-created the legend of Michael Myers. He's not the Boogeyman in the shadows, he's this other creature--he's a living, breathing I had no problem with it."
--Rob Zombie

After the mammoth documentary that accompanied Zombie's 2007 effort, it's a little surprising that there's no "making of" feature here. Still, a decent amount of extras offers some things worth your time. Zombie gets the ball rolling with an audio commentary, during which he frequently references the abbreviated shooting schedule mandated by the studio. He didn't have enough time to do the full film he wanted, and much of what you see was constructed at the last second (including the white horse motif). Zombie--who says they had to shoot fast and furious--doesn't have the fondest recollection of the shooting experience, with many problems (including damaged film that forced re-shoots, bad sound on the first day of shooting, a problematic fake cow, less-than-optimal locations and the recurring rain in Georgia) getting ample discussion. Here are a few of the comments:

  • "Due to our incredibly accelerated post schedule, sometimes you make editing decisions that ultimately you regret...thank God for the Director's Cut. You put it all back in and the movie makes sense again."
  • "We never had any real rehearsal time with the actors, which unfortunately is always a drag."
  • "I just had the girls scream obscenities straight into the camera...I didn't know why. I just thought it would be something that I would use later. It wasn't a master plan."
  • "It felt like we were rushing through everything."

Overall, the tone here is more somber than enthusiastic, which is kind of disappointing--and the director spends more time on technical aspects of the shoot, not so much his goals or influences (zero mention is made of the original Halloween II, odd considering it clearly influenced a large portion of his film). Still, there are a lot of interesting tidbits and thoughts here, and I'm glad I listened to it. Zombie points out most of the changes/alterations in the director's cut (as well as many of the inserts added later, many shot in Connecticut); I don't agree with his reasoning on all of them, but it's nice to hear his thought process. He also discusses his intended ending (shown in this cut) and why he prefers it over the theatrical cut, as well as the overall difference in the two versions: "All these additional scenes give you a completely different movie. It's a different emotional journey about a character named Laurie Strode. It's not a slasher movie about Michael Myers. And that's what we set out to make...that's why I believe this version is much stronger."

Other random bits of note: The studio was oddly very picky with who played Loomis's publicist, and Mary Birdsong arrived at the last second and pleased both Zombie and the studio; it was Web Soup host Chris Hardwick who invited Weird Al Yankovic to the shoot--Zombie knew he needed another guest for the talk show scene, and Hardwick recently had dinner with the musician and came up with the idea; the studio oddly lost the rights to the name "Lou Martini", so for this installment the character's name had to be changed to "Big Lou"; seven calls from Georgians were made to the police complaining about the Rabbit in Red sign; and Jeff Daniel Phillips, who has two roles here (the bouncer and Uncle Seymour Coffins) made a name for himself as one of the cavemen in the Geico commercials (which Zombie admits he loves...really, Rob? I'm more of a Progressive Lady kinda guy...)

Up next are 23 deleted scenes (totaling 23 minutes). The majority of the footage adds nothing new, although a few stand out: "Hanging" provides a cool quick spook; "Strip Club Kill - Alternate" offers a little extra carnage, as does "Beer Man"; while "She's Like My Sister" should have been included--it makes Laurie slightly more likeable. "Bigfoot" was a wise exclusion, as was most of the other entries, including "Horny Lou" and a few scenes where Zombie uses a few characters to rant ("Vinyl has soul, ya dig?").

A blooper reel (4:20) has a few decent chuckles. Seven cast members are also represented in audition footage (totaling 9 minutes), worth a look for Hardwick's response to the question, "And your height is...?" Also represented are Birdsong, Chase Wright-Vanek, Angela Trimbur (who reads a scene that would have been a little better than the one in the film), Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Richard Brake and Octavia Spencer.

The rest of the footage is mostly dull, led by the yawn-inducing Make-Up Test Footage (3:14), which includes clips of Tyler Mane (indoors and out) and Sherri Moon Zombie. Uncle Seymour Coffins' Stand-Up Routines (8:30, in four segments) are sort of like deleted scenes, with Phillips on stage at the Phantom Jam party (surrounded by plenty of topless women). Also included are six music videos by fictitious group Captain Clegg and The Night Creatures, the band that performs at the Phantom Jam (film clips are interspersed throughout). You get "Zombie A Go Go", "Honky Tonk Halloween", "Redneck Vixen from Outerspace", "Dr. Demon & the Robot Girl", "Transylvania Terror Train" and "Macon County Morgue", which is a full performance of the band performing at the party (and thus could also be considered a deleted scene).

Trailers round out the package, but oddly none for Halloween II (!), which had a pretty cool trailer. Sadly, you also don't get the theatrical ending, not even as a deleted scene--shame on you, Sony!

Final Thoughts:
In the realm of Halloween films, this effort is somewhere in the middle. The second installment from Rob Zombie is as brutal as his previous effort. He's got style, and in many ways the production values, vision and acting should place this toward the top of the franchise pack. But the director never met an annoying character he didn't like, and his inability to edit himself and show one ounce of restraint is frustrating--and keeps Halloween II from being as good as it could be. Laurie Strode and Momma Myers almost destroy the movie, but two very solid sequences still make it worthwhile. If you're a franchise/slasher fan, I'd be silly to expect you wouldn't want this in your library. For that reason alone, this comes very mildly Recommended. Seen through my non-slasher glasses, this only deserves a rent it. Decide who you are and react accordingly...

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