Unreliably billed as the “final chapter” of an eternal nightmare, “Halloween II” resuscitates knife-wielding slayer Michael Myers while lying creatively comatose, even by the standards of a sequel to a remake. Repellent not only in content but in visual style, writer-director Rob Zombie’s hatchet job on the series he revived so artfully two years ago plays like a violent act of euthanasia upon the huge, brain-dead body of work inspired by the 30-year-old “Halloween.” Engineered to make a quick killing, the Dimension release likely won’t haunt theaters for long, and certainly not for the eight weeks until All Hallow’s Eve.
Zombie’s first “Halloween,” which grossed a solid $58 million domestically, was effective in many ways, not least for its blunt sociological bent — transforming the “pure evil” of John Carpenter’s original into the vengeful victim of ordinary child abuse. In place of this, all “Halloween II” has are the killer’s surreal visions of a white horse — images that are meant to be psychological but just look silly, particularly in the dark, sludgy Super 16 aesthetic the director has chosen to replace his prior film’s lushly composed, vividly hued widescreen 35mm.
After a flashback to young Myers (Chase Vanek) having rare moments of calm in the company of his loving mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), the sequel commences in the immediate aftermath of the previous film’s carnage, as lone survivor Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is discovered in a bloodied, catatonic state by Illinois sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and is rushed to intensive care.
Meanwhile, Myers (now played by Tyler Mane), presumed dead, escapes from a coroner’s vehicle after it conveniently crashes and makes his way to the hospital in Haddonfield, thus allowing Zombie to butcher the Carpenter-written “Halloween II” from 1981. Cut to a year later, and Laurie, now a punk-styled record-store employee, remains plagued by bad dreams despite the work of her therapist (Margot Kidder, in a brief but welcome role).
As the mask-clad Myers continues carving up random caricatures of horror-film victims, poor Laurie becomes borderline psychotic at the discovery, via a bestselling book by publicity-grabbing Dr. Loomis (hammy Malcolm McDowell), that she’s the killer’s younger sister. Eventually it’s clear — as much as anything is clear in Zombie’s bloody mess — that Myers means to reconstitute the core of his family, with dearly departed Mom as a well-preserved ghost.
Like all of Zombie’s films, including “House of 1,000 Corpses” and its brilliant sequel, “The Devil’s Rejects,” “Halloween II” isn’t a horror film so much as a form of punishment, not scary so much as sick-making. The difference is that this pic, understandably withheld from reviewers, appears lackadaisically conceived in visual terms and generally slapped together, an impression borne out by the end credit list of “additional photography” in Connecticut and Los Angeles, each shoot with its own crew.
At least Zombie’s cut-rate sequel isn’t stupider than the “Halloween II” of 28 years ago. Alas, it isn’t smarter, either.
Carpenter’s classic synth score — chillingly deployed by Zombie throughout his previous entry — appears here only in the final minutes. Elsewhere on the soundtrack, the selection of 10cc’s upbeat “The Things We Do for Love” is nothing if not ironic, particularly as Zombie’s thing looks to have been done for other reasons.