The Squeaky Reel

An outlet for my thoughts on film, music, books, and various off-topic ramblings.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Halloween II: The Tragedy of Michael Myers

Okay, so Rob Zombie's Halloween II is out.
Full disclosure: I was an extra in the movie. I worked on it for a day (I was supposed to work on it the second day, but overslept and missed the bus to the town of Newborn, Georgia where it was filming).
As a longtime supporter of Zombie's work, both on record and on screen, I had somewhat high expectations for this. I didn't hate his remake of John Carpenter's classic, and from what he'd been saying about the film (and what I saw during the shoot), it sounded like this was going to be closer to House of 1000 Corpses than the previous film. More direct-from-the-head-of-Zombie.
But man, is this thing ever compromised.
There are some good things about it. Brad Dourif is excellent as Sheriff Lee Brackett. Danielle Harris does a really good job with her role as his daughter, Annie. Zombie gets some good footage during the film -- he clearly shows that he has a great eye for composition, and that the visual sense of HO1KC and The Devil's Rejects (and some of Halloween) was no happy accident. He's a talented filmmaker, I'll still contend. But it's all in service to so little in this movie.
Over a third of the running time, it seems, is taken up with a disconnected subplot involving Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Samuel Loomis and his agent Nancy McDonald (Mary Birdsong) basically going on a promotional tour to support his new book which exploits the events and deaths seen in the previous film. There is no contact between Loomis and any of the principal characters in the movie whatsoever until the last few minutes. Some say that this is because McDowell's contract to appear in the film wasn't signed until after shooting commenced, and that he was given a subplot that would be easy enough to remove from the film in case negotiations fell through. At any rate, his tacked-on storyline feels artificial and completely separate from the rest of the film. And from reports (and what I saw on set) there was *so much* that was shot that didn't make it in, and I'd say largely because of the necessity (contractually-speaking) to spend so much time in McDowell's company. And the plot of this film needs more time spent on fleshing it out, not spent on Loomis grumpily toddling about the book tour circuit getting flak for writing his tome. Because of this (and also probably because of some last-minute reshoots), coherence is thrown out the window. Plot mechanics don't work. Shared visions take place without there being any reason for their existence, or our learning anything meaningful about them. Characters appear only to be killed a moment later, with no real connection made to them. Elaborate sets that were built for the film are not seen. Establishing shots are cut short. Scenes start and seem to be cut as short as possible to squeeze everything in, almost cutting away in mid-sentence.
Overall, you get the feeling that Zombie is *trying* with this film, but that he's been hamstrung by the situation. He took over the film in December of last year without a script. He had only a few weeks to get a script put together for shooting in March, for an already-cemented August release date. He was, according to his twitter feed, only 100% finished on August 14, only 2 weeks away from opening day. But it's the equivalent of handing me a 1,000 page novel that I've never read, and telling me that I need to write a report on it due the following morning (and then stepping in at 4 AM and telling me that I need to take 1/3 of my essay in a different direction). I'm going to work my ass off to get it finished, but you can't really expect it to be any good. And you get that sense of desperation from the final film. Elements are tossed at the story in hopes that they'll work, and if they don't, that's just too bad because there's no time to change them. There's the thing with shared visions that winds up being half-baked. There's the fact that Laurie discovers that she's Michael's sister, but her dealing with this fact only happens in the last 1/3 of the movie, and isn't touched upon with any depth. There's the Sam Loomis plot. There's Laurie's emotional and physical scarring from the previous film. There's the sense that Brackett's life has been turned upside down from the events of the previous film. None of it given time to develop, none of it given the thought to see if it works in the film's context.
It's just not any good. Like I say, there are good elements lurking within it, and I think that given a chance, it could've been a good movie (Zombie's first assembly ran 4 hours -- there's got to be some stuff in there that would flesh out any one or two of the underdeveloped bits mentioned above that would have improved the movie). But as it stands, it's just too flawed to survive. At least in this cut.
The thing I resent the most, though, is that I'm gonna have to cough up the dough for the DVD just to still-frame through the "Phantom Jam" sequence to see if I can be glimpsed. And sitting through it again isn't something I'm gonna relish, even if it is in slo-mo.


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