When I was putting together the Horror Movie A Day book (out this Christmas! Watch this space!) I was amused by how many movies I had come to like in the time since I had posted the review saying otherwise. In fact, the biggest drawback of doing the site (besides the toll it took on my free time) was that the "need" to get reviews up in a timely manner meant I couldn't really chew on a film as often as I would have liked. I noticed whenever I'd go to Comic-Con or on vacation or something (where I'd be watching every day but not writing until I had returned) that the reviews tended to be harder to write because there would be five or six movies' worth of thoughts rattling around, making it hard to focus and really pin down why a movie did or didn't work, forcing me to sometimes rewatch the movies in order to write a coherent review. So I'd always try to get a review written in between viewings for the rest of the year, but that of course meant writing something up within hours of seeing it. Granted, some movies didn't exactly warrant further thought, but others probably needed a few days, and it was a luxury I didn't often have.
The exception was for early screenings where I was embargoed. When that happened, I'd post "Can't talk about today's movie yet, come back in a week!" or whatever just so people would know I didn't skip a day, and use that time to really chew on a film before posting. Of course, this meant the resulting reviews were terrifyingly long, and if it happened to be a movie or series I really cared about, that issue would grow exponentially. Long story short, my reviews of Rob Zombie's Halloween films are the longest in the site's history by a wide margin, thanks to seeing both of them early (presumably to give blurbs I could not offer at the time) and of course, my well-documented obsession with this particular franchise. My review of the first is mostly negative and probably wouldn't change much; the movie just doesn't work beyond a few scenes (the institution stuff works really well, I think), but for his 2009 sequel I was mixed, and over the past six years (and the release of a superior director's cut) I've grown to like it even more. Low bar as it may be, I honestly think now that it's the best of the Dimension era that began with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and has remained ever since.
I should stress that I certainly didn't feel that way at the time; I recognized that it was slightly superior to his 2007 film, both of which were always better than fucking Resurrection*, but if you asked me then I would have said that Curse and H20 were superior films. But in the six years since, I've found myself less interested in those films; neither of them are terrible, but H20 has aged very badly and Curse, even in producer's cut form, still can't overcome the fact that the behind-the-scenes drama is far more exciting than most of what is onscreen, and I will never ever warm up to all the cult nonsense. Say what you will about Zombie's interpretation of Michael Myers, but at least he stays true to his basic MO of killing his family and everyone associated with them just because he feels like it. If you're going to swear by Carpenter's concept of the character, you have to recognize that, at least in that respect, Zombie stayed truer to it than the people who made Curse.
But the thing that I really like about the movie, and why it's improved in my eyes, is the fact that Zombie truly made it his own this time, and that's what I wanted him to do the first time around. Ultimately, the biggest hurdle his Halloween II has is that it's a terrible followup to his own movie, which causes distractions during its two-hour runtime. The look changed, the town changed (he shot the sequel in Georgia instead of the original California), Loomis is completely different, and most troubling - he offers no explanation for where Michael has been for two years. He starts killing on October 29th here, so any silly notion that he waits until Halloween has to be ignored, but makes his actions puzzling - what exactly set him off this time? Laurie hasn't even moved out of town, so why has he been waiting to find her? If you want to enjoy the film you really have to ignore the logic of its being a sequel, and just embrace it entirely as its own thing.
And that's a lot easier to do when you focus on all the weirdo shit Zombie brought to the table this time. Whereas in the first he was seemingly torn between making his own movie and making a remake of Carpenter's (particularly in the disastrous second half), here he barely bothers with anything that might recall the original Halloween II or any other movie in the series. The biggest complaints about his first film was how he was "ruining the character" and what not, and while such complaints are dumb to me, such critiques would be fewer had he not copied what Carpenter did so often. It'd be a lot easier to accept his changes, I think, if there wasn't so much that was the same.
Luckily he mostly learned his lesson here. There's a hospital-set sequence early on that of course will cause 1981 flashbacks, but it's only a five- or ten-minute chunk of the film and it's ultimately revealed to be a dream anyway. After that he's completely in original territory, focusing on the heavy toll that the events of the first film have taken on Laurie, Annie, Loomis, and even Sheriff Brackett (another reason this one's an improvement - way more Brad Dourif). Everyone is dealing with the fallout in a different way, making the film the rare slasher sequel that really focuses on what this kind of event can do to a person (does Nancy in Dream Warriors seem particularly fucked up?). Laurie is a total mess, and her friendship with Annie is on the rocks - they spend nearly all of their scenes together fighting, as Annie seems to be trying to put it all behind her and growing increasingly frustrated with Laurie's constant "woe is me" behavior. Brackett has seemingly adopted Laurie (or, at least, lets her live at their home) and is trying to be a dad to both, protecting them from the evil that he's not sure is gone. And Loomis is just high on his newfound celebrity, not caring about Laurie or Michael anymore (he's convinced the latter is dead) and spending nearly all of his scenes showing up at promotional events for his book while harassing his assistant about tea or whatever.
Loomis' book serves as one of the movie's other issues that's hard to ignore - the fact that Laurie still doesn't know she is Michael's sister. In the original Halloween II, there's a bit that sets it up plainly, when Laurie hears that Michael Myers was the one who was after her and she recognizes the name from the bogeyman stories but doesn't know why he'd come after her (makes sense since at that point in the movie we hadn't learned their relation, either). But the audience here is way too far ahead of Laurie; we knew it in the LAST movie and after two years you'd think she would have found that out by now. Or, at least, if she didn't, you'd think Zombie would make sure the audience understood that, in order to make the scene when she does find out - 2/3rds of the way into the movie, when she reads Loomis' book - a much more tragic moment. It's that sort of disconnect that added to this movie being so hated by fans and critics alike (at least compared to his first one); even as a defender it's hard to get around the idea Zombie bungled a major character point in his character-driven sequel.
But it's just so fascinating to watch! Sure, I can poke more holes in the narrative (why does he kill the two kids in the van?), but let's focus on the positive, like the fact that this is visually the most memorable entry since the third film (Silver Shamrock masks forever!). Zombie works in a lot of his crazy music video stylings in this one, with creepy pumpkin-headed dudes, coffins, sped up footage of people screaming into the camera, Sheri Moon (as the ghost of Michael's mother) and her white horse... an average fan probably needs to watch a few minutes of a random sequel to know right away which one it is, but even someone who only saw each of these films once would probably instantly peg Halloween II if it was on, just because it's so completely out there in relation to the others. Even with my love of the series, I'll be the first to admit that Zombie is the first director to really put his own unique stamp on his respective film since Carpenter. The Dimension films in particular are otherwise completely devoid of much directorial personality - it's no surprise that their directors (Joe Chappelle, Steve Miner and Rick Rosenthal) have filmographies that are largely comprised of episodic television. When a series has gone this long and had this many changes, I think it's the right idea to hand it over to filmmakers with a distinct voice - even if it doesn't always work, at least it will make the films rise above generic slasher fare. Halloween deserves better than that.
Of course, that's assuming that the series ever continues at all. With this most recent attempt falling apart (again), we'll now have at least seven years between entries - the largest ever gap in the series' history. I think that's also part of what's made the film more appealing - imperfect as it may be, I kinda love the idea that it was so nuts that it actually killed the series for once. I mean, it even bounced back from Halloween III quicker than this (a six-year gap, equal to what it would have been had this year produced a new entry), so it's kind of impressive that Zombie and his white horse did what Conal Cochran could not. With any new entry that may come along almost assuredly ignoring Zombie's series and starting over yet again (hopefully taking a cue from the opening of Jason Goes To Hell or Freddy's Dead and not picking up from any established continuity, just having a "stock" Michael Myers as we know him up and about), the time off gives the producers plenty of options with how to proceed, whereas any immediate sequel (i.e. the Halloween 3D version that was originally planned for 2011) would probably have to stick to his series despite the fact that everyone was definitively dead.
If you're confused by that last part, you haven't seen the director's cut of Halloween II yet, and for my money that's the only one to watch (it's the only version available on Blu-ray, in fact - and thus the only one they offered in the boxed set last year). In addition to adding back more of Danielle Harris' role (cut down to almost nothing in the theatrical version) and making the hospital sequence even more dream-like, Zombie also went back to his original ending, in which Michael kills Loomis before being gunned down by the police, and then Laurie is also shot to death by the same cops after raising a knife. His theatrical ending was very ambiguous, but this one is pretty clear - they're all dead. Granted, it's easy enough to resurrect Myers for whatever reason, but doing the same for Loomis and/or Laurie would be something Zombie would never agree to, I'm sure (let's not forget that in Zombie's d-cut of the 2007 film, Loomis' injuries are far less severe and he is still alive the last time we see him - killing him in the theatrical/now non-canon version was presumably someone else's call). Let's put it this way - Sony will have rebooted Spider-Man twice since we last saw Michael Myers on-screen, so I think there's precedent to wipe the slate clean and hire someone who can make not only a good Halloween movie - but a good (insert interesting director name here) movie as well.
Until then, the series ends here, with some wacky concepts that are hit or miss, a future Oscar winner (Octavia Spencer is one of the first victims!), and a glimpse at what a relatively big budget full-blown Rob Zombie movie might look like (the budget was more than Devil's Rejects and 1000 Corpses combined, and equal to his first Halloween where people were seemingly looking over his shoulder more often). He'd go even further out there with his next film, The Lords of Salem, but that film's minuscule budget resulted in some unfortunate compromises (particularly in its finale), making this more satisfying on that level. Would I rather see him go all out with 15 million dollars on an original movie? Hell yes. Would I like to see another bland Halloween entry that sticks to the basics and ends up being something that can't even hold my attention? Absolutely not. It may have taken me a while to realize it, but this is a pretty good solution.
*RANK: Halloween, Halloween III, Halloween 4, Halloween II, Halloween 5, Halloween II (2009) (director's cut form), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, H20, Halloween (2007), any fan film, the Atari game, Halloween: Resurrection