Monday, October 29, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween II (2009)

The Halloween franchise gets weirder than ever.

A sequel was going to be made to writer/director Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of the 1978 classic Halloween, but Zombie had no intention of coming back to make it. In 2008, Zombie was focusing on making an "incredibly violent" '70s-style action movie called Tyrannosaurus Rex for Halloween distributor Dimension Pictures, and even shared concept art for the project online. While he was working on that, Dimension hired the Inside duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury to write and direct the Halloween sequel, and I thought they were an excellent choice, as Inside had shown that they were capable of doing suspense sequences similar to those in the original Halloween, as well as brutal, gory scenes of violence like Zombie brought to his Halloween. Unfortunately, less than six months after it was announced that Bustillo and Maury were making Halloween II, they left the project. In December of 2008, word came out that Zombie would be returning to make Halloween II after all. The reason he agreed to do this sequel he didn't want to do is because the fate of Tyrannosaurus Rex depended on it - Dimension either told him that they would greenlight Tyrannosaurus Rex if he made Halloween II, or that they weren't going to make Tyrannosaurus Rex but would give him the rights to the project so he could shop it to other studios if he made Halloween II for them. Either way, Zombie made Halloween II because he really wanted to make Tyrannosaurus Rex, but ten years later Tyrannosaurus Rex still hasn't been made.

Halloween II was aiming for a September 2009 release, so the film was in production just three months after Zombie signed on. The resulting film is the most surreal and outlandish entry in the Michael Myers saga, and the fact that it's so unique gives the impression that Zombie had even more creative freedom on this one than he did on its predecessor. Rumor is, though, that there were a lot of clashes with Dimension higher-ups on this one, which would explain why Zombie never worked with Dimension again. In his audio commentary, there are several references to an unnamed "someone" at the studio doing things he wasn't happy about. He also jokes that there would be lawsuits if he commented on everyone listed in the credits, and indicates that there are names in there that got booed at the cast and crew screening.

Like there are multiple cuts of the first Zombieween, the sequel has two distinctly different cuts that are available for viewing - the theatrical cut, which is 105 minutes long, and an unrated director's cut, which runs 119 minutes. There's also a ton of extra footage in the special features of the home video release; 25 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, almost 9 minutes of a character performing a stand-up routine at a party, and 19 minutes of that party's musical act. A lot of the director's cut's extra 14 minutes are extended character moments and dialogue, some of which sheds a different light on the Laurie character, and there's major differences at the end.

At the beginning, it looks like Zombieween II is going to follow the same path as the original Halloween II, beginning at the very moment its predecessor ended. After shooting slasher Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) in the head on the front lawn of the abandoned Myers house, bloody and battered heroine Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) goes wandering through the streets of their hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois... And this is one of my favorite scenes, because Zombieween II was filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia area, including in the town of Covington, Georgia, the town that was used for Crystal Lake (renamed Forest Green) in the 1986 Friday the 13th sequel Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. So Covington has been both Crystal Lake and Haddonfield. A notable structure in Covington is the clocktower, which is featured in Jason Lives and can also be seen in this sequence of Laurie walking through town, lit up in the distance. The shot might even be looking down the same street the police department was located on in Jason Lives. There are good shots of the clocktower later in the movie, too.

Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) happens across Laurie and has her taken off to the hospital, then heads over to the Myers house, where it takes six people to load the body of Mane's hulking, 6'8" Michael Myers into the back of a coroner's van. Michael's body is then driven away by Coroner Hooks (Dayton Callie) and his sleazy assistant Gary (Richard Brake), who jokes around about having sex with the corpses in the morgue. As you might have guessed, Michael isn't really dead, and regains consciousness in the back of the van - after the vehicle has already been totaled in a collision with a cow that has wandered into the middle of the road.

Michael disappears from the back of this crashed van and hacks off Gary's head with a shard of glass before wandering off into the night, but for most of the film the characters remain convinced that he's still dead. I'm not sure how they rationalize that for themselves.

Laurie wakes up in the hospital and starts wandering around the place, finding that Michael has followed her to the place and is killing his way through the staff, including future Oscar winner (and three time nominee) Octavia Spencer. The original Halloween II was all about Michael making his way to the Haddonfield hospital and killing security guards, doctors, nurses, and paramedics on his way to Laurie's room, so this portion of the film is actually a remake... But then it leaves the remake path before the 30 minute point, as the hospital stalk and slash sequences is revealed to have been a nightmare Laurie is having long after the night she shot Michael in the head and he vanished from the coroner's van. The security guard Richard Riehle plays in the nightmare sequence, a fellow named Buddy, is even meant to be a human version of Laurie's teddy bear Buddy, that's how off-the-wall Zombie's thought process for this one was.


We catch up with Laurie on October 29th either one year after the events of the previous film (that's what it says in the theatrical cut) or two years after (the director's cut), and we find that she's having a hellish time moving on from that traumatic night. She has been taken in by Brackett, so she now lives with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris), Brackett's daughter, but the girls have a very contentious relationship, which makes sense because Laurie has become a tough person to deal with. Formerly bookish and responsible, she's now a wild party girl who has apparently become a fan of Charles Manson and is prone to flying into an intense rage at the drop of a hat. She has so little respect for the people who have let her into their home that she has made a total mess of her living space, and has spray-painted all over the place.

Laurie is recovering better in the theatrical cut than she is in the director's cut. In Zombie's preferred version she isn't exactly likeable anymore, but the trade-off for that is that Zombie is making an interesting attempt at showing just how much damage Michael caused her. The wounds aren't just physical, they're mental. He killed the people who raised her, killed her friends, destroyed her life. Plus, she doesn't know it yet, but she is Michael's sister and it turns out she shares some of the same issues he has. His attack has brought them to the surface. Along with, maybe, some murderous impulses of her own. The nightmares plaguing Laurie aren't just about being attacked by Michael, she also dreams that she becomes the attacker, including a nightmare in which she kills Annie in the same way Michael killed William Forsythe's character in the remake. She goes to therapy sessions (her psychiatrist is played by Margot Kidder), she takes prescription medication, she's self-medicating, nothing seems to be helping her much.

Michael's former psychiatrist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) has also become an unlikeable character in the wake of Michael's recent rampage. Having survived what looked to be a grievous wound in the previous film but now showing no ill effects, Loomis has dedicated himself to cashing in on his headline-making patient and has become a total diva while promoting his books, doing signings and appearing on talk shows. Loomis is off on his own side adventure of being a prick for most of the movie, and only realizes what a douche he's become after a disastrous appearance on a show hosted by Chris Hardwick where his fellow guest is 'Weird Al' Yankovic. I never would have guessed that 'Weird Al' would show up in a Halloween movie someday.

Loomis seemed to get his head crushed in Zombieween, in Zombieween II he has a swelled head, but those two things are not related.


Where has Michael been for this last year or two? Living somewhere out in the wilderness, descending even further into madness. The portrayal of Michael in this film is even more controversial than the version of the character Zombie and Mane created for the previous one, and it is very different than any Michael we've ever seen before. For one thing, he has added layers over his coveralls, including a thick, hooded jacket. A lot of his scenes are played without the iconic mask, Michael's face obscured only by his long hair and the long, thick beard he has grown. When he does put on the mask, it's so rotten and damaged that it's barely there anymore - almost half of his face is still visible. The differences were too drastic for many viewers, and this iteration of the character earned the derisive nickname Hobo Myers. He does look like he should be carrying a classic bindle. I can't bash it all that much, though, because Zombieween already established that this isn't the Michael Myers I ever knew, so Zombie can do whatever he wants with this guy.

We're given further insight into Michael's twisted mental state through glimpses of surreal visions he's having - he's seeing images of his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), dressed in white; of his younger self (Chase Vanek replacing Daeg Farch, since Farch had grown too much between the filming of the two movies); and of a white horse, which text at the head of the film informs us 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". This white horse stuff was something Zombie just decided to throw into the movie in the middle of the production, and he establishes Michael's connection to the concept with a flashback to a moment when Deborah gifted Michael with a toy white horse while he was in Smith's Grove Sanitarium. The white horse is another element that gets mocked because it's not classic Halloween, but as far as mid-production additions go at least it's better than the Man in Black being dropped into Halloween 5.


Michael imagines that Deborah is telling him that he needs to spill a river of blood so they can be properly reunited with Laurie, or "Boo" as Michael called her. So he starts walking back into Haddonfield, stopping here and there to kill people and eat a dog. My favorite of the weird visions Michael has along the way (Laurie has some of these, too) involves some people who appear to be royalty and have pumpkins for heads sitting at a large table. It's wacky stuff.

One of Michael's first stops is at the Rabbit in Red, the strip club Deborah worked at seventeen (or sixteen) years earlier, which still has the same owner, Big Lou Martini (Daniel Roebuck). The clock strikes midnight and we reach October 31st as Michael makes messy work of Big Lou and a couple of his employees, one of whom is played by Jeff Daniel Phillips, who turns up in a different role just a few minutes later.

Phillips' second role is that of local horror host Uncle Seymour Coffins, who drunkenly hosts a party called Phantom Jam, where he's joined on the stage by live musical guests Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures and a couple of topless women who may well have been employees of Big Lou, too. Phillips wasn't supposed to have two roles in this movie; Uncle Seymour Coffins was originally set to be played by Bill Moseley, who had already played a character who was killed by Michael Myers in the theatrical cut of the first Zombieween. An image and video of Moseley in character was even released online before the actor had to drop out due to scheduling issues. Phillips was on set and had made a good impression on Zombie, so he became Moseley's replacement. Thankfully the character's makeup and teeth somewhat obscure the fact that he's the same person we just saw Michael murder.

Laurie and her friends Harley (Angela Trimbur) and Mya (Brea Grant), her co-workers at Uncle Meat's Java Hole coffee shop and a pair of characters who aren't really given a whole lot to do, attend the Phantom Jam together, dressed as The Rocky Horror Picture Show characters Magenta, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and Columbia. Laurie is hoping the party will take her mind off her living nightmare on this Halloween.

A fun fact about the Phantom Jam is that Life Between Frames contributor Jay Burleson is an extra in that party sequence. Somewhere in that crowd, Jay is dancing with a fellow extra and talking to her about Rob Zombie's first Halloween movie.

Laurie's issues have been made even worse by the fact that Loomis's new book about Michael, The Devil Walks Among Us (there was thought given to calling this movie Halloween: The Devil Walks Among Us at one point), has just been released. Looking through that book, Laurie finally finds out a secret Brackett has desperately been trying to keep from her: she is Michael's younger sister, Angel Myers. She is, understandably, not happy to learn that information. There's never any mention of how or why Laurie is having visions of Deborah and young Michael even before she leafs through this book, or if she realizes who those people are when she does have the visions. They become much more intense after she reads the book, though.

In some areas, Zombie was attempting to take a more realistic approach to his Halloween than Carpenter took to the original, but he chose random little details to focus on, like wanting to make sure Michael's stolen coveralls were dirty. The dirt level was very important. We have pumpkinheaded royals here, but at least Michael is appropriately dirty. Another example of this realism is the fact that Zombie's Michael doesn't drive. After Michael Myers escaped from Smith's Grove Sanitarium in the original, a doctor who doesn't agree with Loomis that the escaped patient is a threat points out that "he can't even drive a car", since he had been locked up between the ages of six and twenty-one. But he actually drives a car just fine. That works for the original Michael Myers, a being of pure evil, but Zombie felt it wouldn't make sense for his crazy guy Michael, so he doesn't do any driving. It doesn't matter, as even without a vehicle Michael is able to just show up wherever Zombie needs him to be. To paraphrase the Melanie song "Brand New Key", for somebody who don't drive he goes all around the world. This guy is bouncing around all over the place. It takes him two days to walk to Haddonfield, but once he's there he can go over to the Brackett house, kill Annie, then go over to the Phantom Jam, kill Harley and a guy she's hooking up with, then get back to the Brackett house just as quickly as Laurie and Mya can drive there.

While roaming the streets of Haddonfield during trick or treat time, Michael crosses paths with a little kid who asks him, "Are you a giant?" A moment straight out of The Ghost of Frankenstein. Zombie was attempting to turn Michael into a sympathetic, Frankenstein's Monster sort of character, but it's tough to feel sympathy for him when he's tearing people to pieces.

As mentioned, Annie Brackett does die in this film. It's really sad, seeing her survive a vicious attack by Michael in the first movie and then suffer another vicious, this time fatal attack in the sequel. Scout Taylor-Compton and Brad Dourif play their reactions to Annie's death exceptionally well, and the director's cut drives home the sadness even further by having Brackett flash back to a moment of happiness with his daughter when she was a little kid. That flashback is achieved through actual home video footage of a young Danielle Harris, probably shot not long before she worked on Halloween 4 and 5.

As he did at the end of the first movie, Michael captures Laurie again here and carries her off for a family reunion, this time taking her to a crumbling shack in the countryside instead of the Myers house. Zombie probably didn't want to return to the Myers house because he didn't want to repeat himself that much, but the house does appear in the movie... and the scene where it appears probably could have been cut out, because the house transformed between the two films. That's because the previous movie was shot in California and this one was shot in Georgia, so two different houses were used. There's not as big of a difference as there was between the house in the original Halloween and the one in Halloween 5, but it is noticeably different.

Casting breakdowns released during pre-production reveal that there was supposed to be another scene at the Myers house, one in which police officers Sarah Lyons and Fred King (characters played by Meagen Fay and Mark Christopher Lawrence) were sent to check the place out and end up getting slashed to death by Michael, but that scene isn't in either cut of the movie, or in the deleted scenes.

A cut kill that is in the deleted scenes was set on Halloween morning at the Rabbit in Red. A beer delivery man shows up at the club to find the bodies and discover that Michael spent the night there. This ill-fated guy was played by Ezra Buzzington, who had also played a cemetery caretaker who got killed by Michael in a scene that was cut from the previous film. So Buzzington has been murdered by Michael Myers twice, but has never actually appeared in a Halloween movie.

There was also a casting breakdown released for an ambulance driver Ted Adams, who was said to have a "healthy sex life" with his artist girlfriend Penny. Ted and Penny were supposed to be killed by Michael during "a rare night off" for Ted, and Ted's death involved a "brutal stabbing and skin removal". I have no idea how the characters of Ted and Penny were supposed to fit in there, because there's no room for them in the finished film. They must have gotten cut out at the script stage.

Once Laurie is inside the shack Michael takes her to, her mind completely snaps. While Brackett and the Haddonfield police force surround the shack, Michael is just standing by and watching while Laurie shares his visions of their mother and the younger version of himself. I don't know how they have the same visions, maybe this is some of that Halloween 5 psychic connection stuff.

Loomis shows up at the shack with the intention of redeeming himself... And the theatrical cut and director's cut go in different directions once he steps inside that madhouse. Neither direction is a good one for Loomis, though. In the version that reached theatres, Michael attacks Loomis inside the shack and hacks and slashes him to death. Spotting him through a window, Brackett then snipes Michael with a rifle, knocking him backward to be impaled on some farming equipment. It was nice to have a "sniper Brackett" moment in here, since earlier in the film Brackett is talking about Lee Marvin movies and references the scene in Cat Ballou where Marvin's character takes a shot and can't hit the broad side of a barn. Obviously Brackett would be capable of hitting the barn.

Laurie then crawls over to Michael, appears to be trying to comfort him, tells him, "I love you, brother." Michael seems to die then. You can never be too sure with slashers, though, so Laurie takes his massive knife and stabs him repeatedly with him, screaming "Die!" over and over. She then puts his crumbling mask on, which is even bigger on her head than the mask was on 10-year-old Michael's head in the previous movie, and steps outside. After walking a few feet, Laurie drops to her knees and removes the mask. The scene fades to a long white hallway in a sanitarium, where Laurie sits on a bed in a hospital gown and sees a vision of Deborah and the white horse approaching her. She smiles. So in this ending, Laurie has completely lost her mind and is now locked up like her brother once was.

The director's cut has Zombie's preferred ending, where Michael tackles Loomis through the wall of the shed when he attacks him. With the police force watching, Michael pulls off his mask, yells "Die!" and plunges his massive knife into Loomis's stomach. The police then open fire on Michael, blasting him down like Zombie originally intended to happen at the end of the first Zombieween.

Seconds later, Laurie comes walking out of the shed and goes over to Michael's body. She picks up his knife and goes to Loomis, looking like she's going to stab him as well. So, to Brackett's terror, some members of the police force open fire on her as well. Laurie is struck by several bullets, and when she collapses the scene fades to that sanitarium hallway scene. She's not meant to be locked up in this version, for Zombie this scene is the final thought going through her mind as she dies.

The director's cut ending wraps Zombie's Halloweens up as a complete story, while a sequel could have been made that continued on from the theatrical ending. Dimension was going to do just that, and by the time Halloween II was in theatres that had already hired the My Bloody Valentine 3D duo of writer Todd Farmer and director Patrick Lussier (who edited Halloween H20) to put together a 3D Halloween III that was on the fast track for a Halloween 2010 release. Due to budgetary issues, things fell apart as quickly as they came together. What Farmer and Lussier wanted to do, though, was make a sequel set in the world of the Zombieweens while bringing the character of Michael Myers closer to "The Shape" from the original John Carpenter Halloween. The story involved Michael coming after Laurie at the sanitarium.

Nine years down the road, we now know that the Zombieweens are a complete two film story, and it's probably not very likely that anyone will ever go back and try to make a third chapter in this version of the Michael Myers saga. That's fine, and the fact that the original Michael Myers has since made his way back to the screen makes the Zombieweens easier to accept as standalone entries. Zombie got to tell his story and the franchise has moved on. If you didn't like his take on Halloween, don't worry, it's over and done with. The only lasting impact it's had is that it kept the series alive with a couple financially successful films.

The Zombieweens didn't give me what I was looking for from Halloween movies, but taking them as something separate from the rest of the series I can accept and enjoy them as a pair of dark and twisted, sometimes ridiculous slasher flicks.

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