Halloween II: Unrated Director's Cut
Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris
(Dimension Films; US DVD: 28 Aug 2009 (General Release); UK DVD: 28 Aug 2009 (General release))
(Warning: this look at the new DVD version of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.)
It was an iconic moment that no one got to see…until now. In it, everything about Rob Zombie’s reboot of the John Carpenter classic was spelled out in simplistic, symbolic terms. Michael Myers, the Shape, the Boogeyman with the big knife and the even bigger urge to kill, is finally unmasked, his haggard, mountain man façade explaining what two years in the wilderness will do to someone. With his psychological barrier finally broken, with his last exasperated breath, the soon to be legendary slayer speaks.
That’s right, the notoriously mute and monstrous visage, known for his silent seething rage, actually opens his mouth and says the first words he’s spoken in nearly three decades. And what is said magical sentence? A single word - “DIE!” And who is it aimed at? Not his long lost sister Laurie Strode/Angel Myers. Not the haunting vision of his dead mother. No, the emphatic demand is leveled at the man who has tortured and tormented him as much as any other “father” figure in his life (including an incredibly abusive step-dad who jumpstarted this overall urge to destroy). That’s when this version of Michael Myers, this giant mountain of menace, takes his long blade and sticks it, sadistically, into Dr. Samuel Loomis.
Doesn’t sound familiar, does it? That’s because Zombie was forced to change this intended ending, and much of the sequel Halloween II in general, to satisfy a studio desperate for another late Summer horror hit. When it was announced a few years back the that dread rocker would update the 1978 suspense/slasher epic, the decision was meant with almost universal groans. Who could top the Carpenter classic? One wildly successful statement later and Zombie looked like the winner. He had overcome fanboy fidgeting and general critical consensus (while reviled initially, it is now seen as a decent to definitive redux) to bring his vision to the screen - and it was a dark and disturbing one at that.
Now, two years later, he was back and being second guessed all over again. Indeed, the most insightful element of the new DVD release of Halloween II: The Unrated Director’s Cut is that Zombie would have delivered yet another near masterpiece had the powers that be not tried to cram his square peg concepts into the ridiculous round hold of the standard genre type. For them, it was all about money and marketing. For Zombie, it was a chance to play in his scare tactic sandbox once again. Add in some wild fits of fear geek fancy, a complicated thematic counterbalance, and enough edgy arty archness almost redefine the format, and you’ve got something that was bound to cause concern. The firestorm over Halloween II, however, was less about the internal elements Zombie explored, but the outer mandates of an already tentative demo.
In short summary, the sequel story picks up right after the original remake ended, with Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) supposedly killed. A bloody and battered Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is rescued by Sherriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and taken to the hospital for treatment. Our villain escapes the meat wagon on the way to the morgue. Fast forward two years and our scarred heroine is a mental mess. She needs medication to control her unusual hallucinations and therapy to try and decipher the reasons for her disintegrating mind.
Michael, on the other hands, is now a violent, roaming vagrant haunted by images of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and the white horse figurine she gave him while he was institutionalized. Returning to Haddenfield to ‘bring closure’ to his lingering family issues, Michael seeks out everyone who survived last time around - including Brackett’s daughter Annie (Danielle Harris) - in order to ‘put things right.’ In the meantime, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is on a book tour, promoting the tell-all he wrote about the deadly night when Michael “came home”.
To say that Rob Zombie’s take on the slasher film is all subtext and no scares is rather obvious. For him, this masked killer with psychotic vengeance on his mind is all brutal aggression and psychological underpinnings. It’s not about the cleverness of the kills or the unique ways the murderer manages death. It’s not about the sexed-up teens who trip, dope fiend foolishly, into the maws of this outsized maniac. Zombie is here to emphasize the blood and the backstory, not the stalk, slice, or dice. This is perhaps why many reacted so negatively to his updates. Carpenter’s original Halloween was a dread experiment worthy of Hitchcock. The rocker relegated such suspense mastery to the fringes while he, instead, forged a vision that was far more guttural, more like a gut punch than of a Grand Guignol Argento Giallo cat and mouse.
It helps that the new DVD and Blu-ray offer his director’s cut, since it emphasized elements the theatrical version purposefully left out. Annie and Laurie are no longer allies, but clear combatants, their mutual guilt and anger over what happened stressing their already tenuous interpersonal connections. Sheriff Brackett is also shown to be far more devastated by the past than his half-hearted heroism initially suggests. Even Michael is less a monster and more a disturbed man-child, the controversial “visions” used throughout the film illustrating exactly what goes on in his troubled, fantasy filled mind. It’s intriguing that Zombie turns the character into someone striving to salvage ‘family’. Unlike other spree killers, who would probably dream about corpses and carnality, Michael is confused by his feelings of loss - of his mom, of his sister, of his childhood. He, in turn, uses vivisection and decapitation as a way of getting ‘closer’ to that parent/child dynamic.
That just leaves Dr. Loomis, and for many of the Halloween faithful, this radical change from champion to chump really stings. The late great Donald Pleasance always played the well-meaning medico as a man haunted by his inability to cure Michael. He runs to Haddenfield as much out of consequence as culpability. McDowell’s version, however, was always a bit of a huckster. From the hippy dippy version that begins the first film to the cutthroat media whore of the second, we can see that little of his attention has revolved around mitigated disaster. Instead, this Loomis plays the hand he is dealt - even if it makes him look like a mercenary. The last act denouement, the need to step in and try and “solve” the stand-off between Michael and the police is not made out of nobility. It’s a pure PR move, an attempt to wash away the backlash building over his seemingly heartless money grab. This makes Michael’s final actions all the more potent.
In fact, the biggest difference between Zombie’s version of the mythos and anything that came before is that it is coldly centered in reality. Granted, the images of ghostly horses and ethereal mothers may not jibe with such a sentiment, but for the filmmaker, the only place for fantasy is in the mind. Almost all other horror films are fictional cautionary tales, narratives based in the made-up buffoonery of horny adolescents, brain dead cops, supernaturally superior psychos, and the consequences of messing with each. In his take on Halloween and Halloween II, Michael Myers is genuine. Sure, he seems capable of almost unbelievable brutality - and the taking of same - but we never once envision him as some manner of ancient architect of a pagan cabal. This is a real man with real issues - indeed, everyone in the film comes across as cut from the cloth of day to day existence.
This doesn’t make Zombie’s ideas any more meaningful, but it is telling to see his cut of the film (as well as all the additional deleted scenes not included) since it showcases how fevered his motion picture premise really is. Indeed, anyone who dismissed Halloween II when it was released back in August 2009 needs to revisit it again. The new edit brings out more of the important facets of Zombie’s approach, as well as smoothing out the jagged, jumpy bits that distracted most viewers. Taken together (and it will be interesting to see where the next film goes - already announced without the rocker in charge - considering how things play out here), these movies represent the true spirit of horror fandom. Zombie has always been the genre’s biggest cheerleader. With Halloween and now the “Director’s Cut” of Halloween II, viewers can rejoice as well.