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As I was typing up some notes on Rob Zombie‘s Halloween II, this CNN headline flitted through my newsreader: ‘Victims of repeated abuse suffer complex trauma.’ It’s a truth that might jokingly apply to fans of the Halloween series, as the years since John Carpenter’s standard-setting original film have seen so many pointless, insipid sequels.

More seriously, you can apply it to the characters in Halloween II. Zombie seems quite interested in the psychological effect of violence on his characters. No one touched by Michael Myers is ever whole again. Those not carved into physical pieces are broken into traumatized shards. But while Zombie’s movie has ideas and intent, it is no more expressive than Myers’ white mask. Despite heavy doses of extreme violence, the most frightening thing about the movie is that it is unremittingly dull and inert.

Zombie splits his story into three parallel lines: Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) tries to recover from the trauma of encountering and killing Michael Myers. Dr Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is working the PR circuit to promote a book about the Myers killings. Loomis is selfish and self-righteous; he scorns journalists and is unwilling to consider that he might be part of the problem. And Michael roams the countryside near Haddonfield, a Shape seemingly brought back to life through Laurie’s dreams. Mute, he expresses himself in artlessly vague dreams visions dominated by his mother.

Zombie’s primary failure with this, his fourth feature film, is an inability to recognize the point where his characters become worthy of attention and interest. Alone, Laurie, Loomis and Michael are at best dreary, irritating and inscrutable. Sparks almost fly when they come together, but that doesn’t happen until the film’s final minutes. If the three leads had any hooks when acting alone, I’d be a lot more willing to deal with the film’s other frequent failures.

Prior to H2‘s climactic family reunion, we suffer an hour and a half of plodding ‘horror’ that flips between drama-free dialogue and violence that is brutally executed but frequently disconnected from the story. Brad Dourif livens up a few scenes as Sheriff Lee Brackett, Laurie’s adoptive father. But Taylor-Compton doesn’t make much of Laurie’s life in Haddonfield, and her friends are far less interesting. I’ve always gone to bat for Tarantino’s Death Proof; now I know how detractors felt during that movie’s extended conversations.

Rather than serving up some supernatural machinery to explain the resurrection of Myers, Zombie attempts to explain the motive that draws him back to Haddonfield with violent intent. Myers experiences frequent visions, in which we see that he remains an emotional child, development forever arrested as a kid in a clown suit. Mike wants to have his family back, but for reasons that I think are meant to be evident (they aren’t) can only express that through violence.

Zombie isn’t much more articulate than Myers. The dream sequences highlight the killer’s mother (Sheri Moon Zombie, lightweight and ineffective) and a white horse. The imagery is as juvenile as Michael’s core. An epigraph attempts to explain the white horse, but fails. The dream angle comes across as not even half-baked.

Same goes for a few scenes suggesting a psychological link between Laurie and Michael. The franchise is far from sacred territory, and creating an intriguing reason for Myers to attempt to stick a knife in Laurie at Halloween would be welcome. But the film plays like it was improvised more than written. The ideas Zombie is trying to get across here are, to be generous, completely elusive.

If the psychological context worked, it might make a better shell for the violence, which feels truly egregious, even in the context of a slasher sequel. I’m sure that’s the point, in some measure. Halloween II plays like it wants to filter the slasher genre through Funny Games. Indeed, where else do you take the genre now, if you’re going to play it with any awareness of the actual impact of violence? Yet the murders in this film feel like Zombie is rubbing our noses in blood even as he’s enjoying the act of spilling it. He can’t have it both ways (there’s a reason the Funny Games violence was off-screen) and that’s the point where I finally gave up on Halloween II altogether.

/Film score: 2 out of 10

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About the Author

Russ Fischer lives in Los Angeles. For film reviews, the 1-10 scale breakdown goes like this: anything over a 5 is positive. (twitter.com/russfischer) or (russ.slashfilm at gmail.com)

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