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MOVIE REVIEW
Halloween II (2009)

H2_07334
Marsha LaMarca/Dimension Films

Those dizzying, chilling and iconic synthesizers — the theme music for John Carpenter’s original 1978 “Halloween” — are nowhere to be heard throughout Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II.” In his first stab at reinventing “Halloween,” Mr. Zombie weaved Mr. Carpenter’s self-orchestrated score in and out of the film, from the most inspired of moments to the most unfitting. When the tune would creep into a mundane scene of dialogue, Mr. Zombie seemed pinned down to reminding audiences of his film’s predecessor. The 2007 version’s destructive second half — essentially Mr. Carpenter’s entire film lazily condensed into one hour — could be explained in similar fashion. “Halloween II” saves the synthesizers for its last shot (a final close-up taken straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”), a nod to Mr. Carpenter’s groundwork that’s more of an afterthought than a salute. Mr. Zombie’s sequel is only a traditional “Halloween” film by title and character names, more so for worse than better.

Much like that infamous music, a clear-cut vision is nowhere to be found in “Halloween II,” either. The film is better off without Carpenter’s score — if it were to prominently play here, the unevenness and ball-dropping of Mr. Zombie’s work wouldn’t even stand a chance of exciting in its own bad-meaning-good ways. With Mr. Carpenter’s looming shadow no longer above Mr. Zombie’s shoulders, the musician-turned-filmmaker steers “Halloween II” into the darkly-lit, rednecks-gone-satanic veneer of his one great film, 2005’s underrated “The Devil’s Rejects.” He also curiously injects this sequel with a heavy shot of the cerebral. Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), the legendary white-masked slaughterer, is often seen alongside his all-white-dressed deceased mother (Sheri-Moon Zombie) and the child version of himself — a traveling undead family reunion. There’s a symbolic white horse that loves slow-motion movement, too, and sporadic dream sequences that aim for an art-meets-grind-house aesthetic. The problem, though, is that Mr. Zombie is sharper with blades-to-skin than executing the film’s abundance of forced artistic psychosis.

Mr. Zombie’s script attempts to follow three characters (the “Halloween” franchise’s trinity of Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers) into a penultimate confrontation, but only one of their story lines — that of Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) — possesses the slightest bit of intrigue. Ms. Taylor-Compton reprises her role as Laurie, the teenage survivor of Myers’s previous slaughter that left her adoptive parents and friends butchered and breathless. As “Halloween II” opens, Laurie is seen walking through her hometown of Haddonfield, Ill. holding a gun and covered in blood, shuffling about in a catatonic state minutes after she shot Myers in the face at the end of the ’07 “Halloween.” Cut to the local hospital, where Laurie soon reunites with Myers in an intense, vicious homage to 1981’s “Halloween II,” a passable sequel that was set entirely in Laurie’s hospital of recovery. A nurse is pummeled with a butcher knife; another is strung in a stairwell like a corpse pretzel; and Laurie comes face to face with an axe-wielding Myers. This all happens within the first 20 minutes of “Halloween II,” and it’s a dynamite set-up.

Once the film leaves the hospital and it’s “one year later,” “Halloween II” descends slowly but surely into incoherency. Laurie, now living with her best friend Annie (Danielle Harris), a fellow survivor from the first film, and Annie’s sheriff father (Brad Dourif), is gradually losing her sanity, plagued by nightmares that transpire like a Hammer Horror version of “Alice in Wonderland.” The girl sleeps with a Charles Manson poster hanging above her bed’s headboard for crying out loud. Mr. Taylor-Compton — grating in a woefully underwritten role the last time around — earns way more sympathy this time around, giving a performance that’s mostly cries and shrieks but still works. Seeing how Laurie loses her mind is the strongest pull that “Halloween II” has, and Mr. Zombie shows surprising character ability whenever Laurie is on screen.

Rather than keep “Halloween II” anchored in Laurie’s experience, though, Mr. Zombie treats the celebrity exploits of Myers’s former shrink, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), with excessive interest. Loomis, also a survivor of the Myers massacre, should’ve been kept dead in Mr. Zombie’s previous film. Given a second lease on life, he’s written a tell-all book about the incident, promoting the insensitive tome with a publicist in tow and arrogance intact. Mr. Zombie seems to think that there’s worthy satire on media bloodlust to be had with Loomis, but the doctor’s subplot is pointless. Every time the film switches to his story, “Halloween II” stumbles into irritable distraction, leading to a Loomis payoff that’s both abrupt and strangely dismissive. Including Loomis here is only necessary to work in a late-game reveal about Laurie through the doc’s book.

“Halloween II” is strung together by a series of perfunctory money shots, the prerequisite murder sequences that in this type of film are always welcome — but if only if they serve a purpose. Myers wanders through the wilderness on a mother-driven quest to find Laurie, a nomadic journey that conveniently presents him with several opportunities to fillet random bystanders. A sequence set in a strip club recaptures the earlier hospital set piece’s horrific muscle, but the rest of Myers’s encounters prior to Annie are nonsensical — not to mention, handled with so much shaky cam direction that the scenes are rendered largely incomprehensible.

As shown in “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” Mr. Zombie has the chops necessary for truly effective horror. Why he can’t seem to conquer the “Halloween” universe, however, is a mystery that’s no longer worth trying to solve — two tries, two cheaply entertaining but immensely sloppy films. Dig through “Halloween II” with a fine comb and several minor bumps can be found: How Myers is supposed to be a few years shy of 30 yet looks like a 50-year-old hobo, or why the masked killer would make brutal work of Laurie’s scantily-clad friend outside of a costume party but not go after Laurie, who’s only a few hundred feet away, at all. The answers to both are obvious but still — like “Halloween II” as a whole — extremely frustrating.

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