Halloween II Set Visit Report. Update: Post-Screening Verdict

Post-Screening Update: In short, my verdict on Halloween 2 is that it's superior to Rob Zombie's first effort and a far more entertaining film. Zombie definitely listened to criticism that the first film wasn't holiday-oriented. In this one, he stages a trippy Last Supper with Jack-o-Lanterns. And moreover, it works for chrissakes. The critics labeling the film a by-the-numbers "rote slasher picture" either didn't see the movie or haven't been paying attention to recent  "rote" horror flicks like Prom Night and Platinum Dunes' stillborn Friday the 13th.

I ask these critics to show me a comparable "rote" horror film this well-shot that stars the excellent Brad Dourif (Blue Velvet, John Huston's Wise Blood) reminiscing about Lee Marvin. Or how about one with a fun Malcolm McDowell thinly and hilariously disguising contempt for movie journalists who trash certain directors with trigger-happy aimlessness. The early hospital scenes set to The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" make for only one of the sweet, sweet uses of music therein. Sidenote: I enjoyed seeing actress Silvia Jeffries' (Tracy on Eastbound & Down) play a stripper who receives a priceless tip from Michael. Like most, I was worried that Sheri Moon Zombie would take a sizable Yoko-like chunk out of the movie, but she's merely a muse to Michael (and Zombie) here. And sure, the dream sequences are different from previous Myers installments, but is that a bad thing? They add genuinely creepy flourish to Zombie's grisly murder scenes. It's only been an hour since my screening let out, but I'd say this is the second best Halloween movie in existence: inferior to John Carpenter's first (obviously!) but better than Rick Rosenthal's original sequel. I doubt the critics hating on this movie (and Zombie, for whatever reason) can debate my closing statement. And tellingly so. Rob Zombie put Laurie Strode in a Black Flag shirt and dragged her to hell. And I liked it!! And it makes me wonder: are sites like CHUD and STYD, that profess love for horror, this out of touch per the genre? They really prefer the dated Abercrombie bottle blondes of Platinum Dunes to Zombie's girls, who for Halloween go as guys dressed as girls and leave parties to shag a werewolf in a van? Weird.

Set Visit Report: Earlier this year, /Film went down to Georgia to visit the set of Rob Zombie's Halloween II. The sequel to 2007's remake was shooting in a quaint, charming town called Newborn—an hour or so outside of Atlanta—that is tucked behind sprawling farmland and reached by hilly roads outlined in dead trees. Spring was in session, but outside it was already chilly and the approaching darkness and anticipation made it feel like Halloween night. After spending an hour completely lost and staring at a cow in search of cell phone reception, /Film finally reached the set. A handful of other peers including STYD's Ryan Rotten joined us as we piled into a van and drove down a dark street to watch what publicists said was a climatic action piece in the film.halloween_ii-20On the Set

Rob Zombie and Co. are filming a scene next to a vast soybean field that seems to hypnotically appear and disappear by way of a helicopter spotlight. Indeed, we are just feet away from the two-story house of Sheriff Brackett (Deadwood's great Brad Dourif), and underneath the helicopter, Michael Myers is hiding unseen in a small, dilapidated shack. This is a manhunt, but whether it's taking place in a dream or in reality is not clarified by anyone on set. The small shack is whipped by blasts of dead leaves, steam, and weeds, and surrounded by flashing cop cars. Smiles are earned from us as Myers eventually bursts through the shack's walls and steps into the light. Rob Zombie is watching the footage several feet away under a tent. And, in one of countless instances, he takes off his headphones and nearly hops to the shack to speak with Tyler Mane. Zombie looks equal parts happy, focused, and possibly over-caffeinated.

To the left of the shack, about 100 yards away, there is an unidentified car overturned at the bottom of a hill. It's ablaze and remains this way for the duration of the shoot—at least five hours. A fire truck is parked on the road above it and water hoses are being sprayed to no avail.  Outside the shack, an encounter suddenly occurs between Myers and Dr. Loomis, who is positioned on the ground and appears wounded. Myers rips off his mask and—to our surprise—seems to yell the word, "Die!" while attacking Loomis. After countless takes, the action then verges into spoiler territory. During breaks, Mane walks past us, dead silent, his filthy weird-beard protruding. It's hard to tell if Mane's gone completely method, is just putting on a show for the journos, or is just fed up with this helicopter that has taken on the role of a loud insect. As he walks by, he leaves a trail of cigar smoke. Apparently, Mane's as big on stogies as Ron Perlman. I guess that rules out the method process.

h2Some thoughts on Rob Zombie's standing in the horror genre. And Halloween II's producers extend on Zombie's role in the franchise

If you haven't been following my coverage of Halloween II, I have a great respect for Zombie and dig what he accomplished with 2007's remake/reboot of John Carpenter's inarguable classic. By no means was it a perfect film, but I think it's more than time that a major horror director put his/her unique spin on the iconic Myers. This is a character/monster that will likely be on screen 20 years from now, and Zombie's contributions will forever stand out amongst countless sequels that blur into each other. In the days up to release this week, I have grown as perplexed as ever by the way that Zombie passionately divides moviegoers, including many commenters on /Film.

And there's no way in hell that I'll ever understand the mindset of horror fans who profess a love for—or at least offer an indifferent pass to—Platinum Dunes and their shitty, whorish reboots of Leatherface and Jason Voorhees, but proceed to attack Zombie's take on Myers. His Myers is informed by a love for the genre, of serial killer lore, rock 'n' roll and original stylings. Platinum Dunes is informed by test screenings, blow jobs, and Hollywood idiocy. Often, this online vehemence towards Zombie reaches a level not even allotted to countless and brainless slasher remakes like Prom Night. In considering this observation my analogy would be: I don't care for the Arcade Fire, but I understand why they have fans. Moreover, I'd rather a non-deal-breaker band like Arcade Fire kick around and experiment in the mainstream to balance out the constant flood of glossy sham acts like Black Eyed Peas (aka Platinum Dunes).

One aspect that is oft-overlooked about the Halloween franchise is that the Akkad family has been with it from the beginning and is 100% behind Rob Zombie's fresh take on Myers and canon. Here's what producer, Malek Akkad, had to say on set...

"Starting out, we were looking into how we could go into a normal sequel. We actually had a couple writers do a draft and what have you. But that didn't work out, so we said, 'Let's get Rob back,' so he can finish off what he started. And I like Inside and I met the Inside guys [who were previously attached to write/direct], but it wasn't them as much as just as Rob. Rob's sensibility, that he brings to that, you can't get that. And these were guys were French, so there was something lost in translation somehow [laughs: /Film, Ryan Rotten]. When you're dealing with the fans, obviously Halloween, and Michael Myers is a very American horror icon. And Rob gets that, and what I love, is that we really hit on the Halloween holiday [in this film]. And the first one, the fact that he was doing a remake, there were some constraints involved and certain elements...that he had to flesh out in his own. But with this one, he's really taking it in his own direction. He brought new elements into the franchise that we've never seen before."

"After the first one, I obviously built a lot of trust in Rob. But with the first one, the one thing that really stood out, is that we had gotten into the habit of using a stunt man for Michael. And Rob insisted on using an actor, which I agreed with 100%. And I trusted Rob 100%. When we started on the sequel, I told Rob,'Don't feel hindered by any sort of rules that we've had in the past. I want this to be your vision, and feel free to really express that vision.' And I think it's good. I think it's needed. We need to break out from these kind of rules that have been established over the course of the franchise. I'm really thrilled."

Rob Zombie has expressed that he's done contributing to the franchise (Note: Yes, as he did after the first film). Akkad discussed where the franchise goes after Halloween II...

"Well, the way it works is that, our deal with Dimension, is that hopefully they can opt to do another one. And that's a legal technicality, and a whole other issue. But I think Rob has ended it in a way that he's very satisfied with, it feels very complete. It feels like these two films are really Rob's take. And, you know, we'll address [a sequel] later. Rob has just given it a lot more depth than a regular slasher film. I think fans will love it, because it's just a different level. Where we go from here is anyone's guess. There's going to be the diehards that are never going to be happy unless it's frame-for-frame like John Carpenter's version. [laughs] But we don't want to get in a trap where we have to please everybody." [Helicopter hovers directly above us; rest of interview inaudible; somebody says, "Fucking helicopter."]

Producer Andy Gould, who has worked with Zombie in this capacity for years on all of his films, also spoke with us. He reiterated his desire to see Tyrannosaurus Rex be Zombie's next film (as of yesterday, apparently The Blob will be next for them). He also shared Akkad's sentiments...

"This movie is definitely a 'Rob Zombie Halloween Story,' whereas [the remake] was taking elements [from Carpenter's]. With the look of Michael, your'e kinda damned if you do, damned if you don't. Especially with the real fans, the diehards. But  I like what we're doing, taking the idea and messing with it. Like, I remember when they did the picture-for-picture version of Psycho. [laughs all around] It's different."


After she had wrapped shooting for the night, and after we had downed 40 gallons of coffee and hot chocolate to stay warm, we visited with Scout Taylor-Compton in her trailer. Her boyfriend—who had a dark emo 'do—was present, but got up to leave shortly after we entered. Some tasteless jokes were quietly exchanged. Sidenote: We will never forget watching that guy tell Malcolm "A Clockwork Orange" McDowell that V For Vendetta is the best movie ever made and continue to excitedly share its superlatives with him over dinner. A penny for the thoughts of McDowell at that moment. Sidenote: Speaking of which, we weren't able to speak with McDowell on set, but he came up to /Film at dinner and greeted us with a friendly, quite awesome, "Good evening, gentlemen!" To which we replied, "...Oh, um, good evening to you sir." Class act, him.

Taylor-Compton, who recently signed on to play Lita Ford in The Runaways, slouched against the make-up area of her trailer and puffed a cigarette. She reminded me of one of those cool stoner girls in high school who transfers to a private school in the city. As we chatted, she was bundled up, but beneath remained the ripped stockings from the shoot. Her face and hair were spattered with blood and dirt. She seemed used to the look. We were all pretty tired.

We asked her what she thought of the direction Laurie Strode was taking in the sequel: a damaged path of physical and psychological healing that is upended with the return of her brother. This time around, Taylor-Compton is the main character, which came as a shock to her, since Zombie wasn't expected to return. (And she implied gently that she might not have either...)

"I know that my friends are dead, my parents are dead, and it's two years later. And here's this rundown Laurie Strode that nobody thought would be able to...she's just rundown, and she just learns these things [about Michael] and it's just more and more adding to her. She doesn't know how to deal with it. I did a scene with Margot Kidder. ...The first scene is me with the psychiatrist expressing my feelings. And I just told [co-star] Danielle Harris [in character]: I hate expressing my feelings. And here I am developing this friendship with my psychiatrist. But then I just freak out and I go apeshit on her. I'm yelling and screaming at her and it was empowering. And I remember Rob saying, 'Oh my God, I didn't know you had that in you.'"
"All [Rob Zombie] said was, 'Be ready to kick ass.' I had no idea what the script was about until I read it on the plane. I had no idea what Laurie was going to go through. Then [she read the script] and was like 'Holy shit, this movie's about me!'"
There were several other questions, but my recording was damaged in a recent move. The following question might have had something to do with sleep being on my mind at the moment, but I asked her if she has nightmares about Michael Myers...

"You know what? I used to be scared of Michael Myers. My uncle would wear the mask all the time and it freaked me out. [laughs] And I hated that mask so much! But by filming the movie, it kind of brings me back to that time, especially filming the first Halloween. But now, I'm used to it. I mean, Tyler [Mane] is like my dad now."

Hunter's Previous Coverage of Halloween II on /Film:

Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[at]gmail.com and on twitter.