Thoughts they cannot defend

Film criticism is funny; since the beginning, published material was (and is) largely derived from a singular, recent viewing - and, obviously, if a movie is strong enough (or weak enough), it should leave an immediate impact either way. Right? I mean, that's fair, but it's also ignorant to the laws of subjectivity and evolution. Who here's never started to have strong feelings for a film once you started to get to know them better - or, just as easily, parted ways with a picture because you've simply grown as a person (or you're just afraid of commitment)? In the most perversely extreme example, the album Thriller hasn't changed in nearly forty years; it still has all the exact same beats and notes and lyrics it had in 1982, but for many listeners today, it quite literally sounds different due to context. ...But isn't that cool? The art itself almost doesn't exist; the quality and consistency only lives in the eye/ear/mind of the audience. It's the whole 'tree falling in the woods' thing.

What I'm getting at is that we rarely talk about brand new stuff on here, and that's often a conscious choice, and that choice is rarely made for the reasons you're thinking of. After all, I'm about as interested in reading someone's "hot take" as I am about writing one - which, is to say, not at all really. But I might be more inclined to read a positive review or analysis of some firmly established classic: "Sure, I'll donate my time to yet another deconstruction of Pierrot le Fou - maybe I missed something in the last twenty essays."
But something I'm infinitely more interested in is a passionate, articulate argument in support of an otherwise underrated, overlooked, flat-out hated flick that perhaps even myself would've never given a second thought. And the tricky treat of seeking out these abandoned love letters is they're not always, in fact, articulate, and this forces one to discriminate and search for and discover new and exciting voices - which, at its root, was once the joy of reading film criticism.
And they're out there - those unliked movies - walking silently amongst us, remerging only to become the source of a social media argument from time to time. And because of the certain circles and groups and pages and articles I glance at, I'm constantly aware of a broad, unconstructive hate for the 2009 version of Halloween II (or better known as Rob Zombie's Halloween II, or, to save time, RZ's H2).

I don't know about you, but when folks dislike something I like, or, when they like something I dislike, it forces me to look inward; not to question my tastes or motives, but rather fine-tune and sharpen my interests and throw my views under a magnifying glass - and the balance between maintaining openmindedness vs. staying true to oneself is a stunt I can pull off with great ease.

And that's why I'm thrilled to talk a bit about H2 - a movie that even the "hardcore fans" (fuck that phrase, btw) have nominated as the worst entry in a franchise of countless 'worst entries.'

Unlike the uncomfortably polite review of Freddy's Revenge I posted a few months back, this will be a defense. It will be confrontational. I also won't hesitate in referencing any & all the other movies in the series for comparative leverage. This is the season for hard-R blood & guts and the unstoppable will of "pure evil" - the end of summer. No mercy.

The first time I saw it, I didn't like it. I wasn't particularly thrilled with his remake of part one either, but I was still shamelessly receptive to the 'gritty,' handheld departure from the cartoonish House of 1000 Corpses. At this point in time, if he did anything that mildly resembled Devil's Rejects aesthetically, he'd clearly matured as a visual artist. And H2 has a handful of 'surreal' dream sequences and hallucinations that recalled his early, amateurish music video vibes, and those sour shots stayed with me more than the rest of the film. What I took away from it was a confounding regression in style, which hurt my feelings deeply; I, like probably a lotta other people, had still been on a high from the shock & freshness of Devil's, and any kinda departure from that flavor (as shortsighted as it sounds) was an obvious abomination, and demanded to be ostracized, or ignored (I chose the latter). Had I never gone back to it (which wasn't for several years) it would've drifted off as a forgotten misstep in an uneven film career; a lackluster sequel to an ambitiously underwhelming remake. No hate, no disgust, just mild disappointment.

Cut to a few years later and I revisit it as the "Unrated Director's Cut" (as the only way it's available on disc). Initially, it still feels mostly the same (though I'd admit the short list of added material really did flesh out more of a texture), but without the inaugural impact of whatever let me down the first time, I was better able to absorb the picture more thoroughly as to how it was (probably) intended: an even more realistic, more visceral, more expository exploration of the force of nature who was thought to be more than human, but was actually more of an animal - which I think was the point of the previous installment, but that's another story. And this concept doesn't deviate too far from the original series; the paranormal angle of Michael Myers as we knew him was barely there -- never mind anything Loomis ever said (which was never explicit), the only subtext that ever alerted us to the idea that something was weird was that Michael was impervious to injury and death. It wasn't until Part 6 that they really tried to push some convoluted origin story (which, on my list, is the worst of the franchise).

No one was particularly psyched on Rob's hillbilly backstory for Michael (myself included), but what H2 does (without much subtlety) is lets us know that we all maybe missed the point in the first place: Michael wasn't a monster because he came from a broken home full of violence and cursing. If anything (in this story), he's a contemporary Norman Bates, complete with a psychic connection to his mother whom he believes is instructing him to kill. And despite how clumsily they beat this dead white horse, I still find this scenario infinitely more interesting than any backstory bullshit from the first eight movies. I love John Carpenter, but his copout of "he's just pure evil" is exactly that. No, we never needed a Myers explanation, but as good as the original '78 movie was, it's driven by as much misguided motivation as The Shape himself; the course of events indicate that there's something going on that we need to know about, and it feels less like a spooky unsolved mystery and more like the underwritten indie film that it is. The '81 Halloween II does little to explain away any of the deeper, potentially mystical stuff, but it does establish the family bloodline thread - which added practically nothing to the originals, but does plenty for RZ's stuff. In the remakes, the familial connection is there the whole time, and it's a much less incidental development as it is the supernatural ingredient that pulls us further away from 'remake' and moves towards 'reimagining.' And this is where people get bitchy.

The complaints regarding the first half of the '07 remake were only matched by the complaints about the second half -- no one didn't point out that it was merely a rehash of the original movie. This is where remakes start to demonstrate their futility: "do you want something different, or do you want the usual?" I'll answer for you: you want the usual. There are still folks out there who can't handle Halloween III. And so, what, Parts 4 through 8 worked so well for you? (I ask this ironically even though I know some of y'all dig those). But if you wanted something original, if you wanted a gory, psychedelic spin on an otherwise sparse Horror classic that deconstructs the slasher genre into brutal realism with shades of ghosts, madness, and clairvoyance, look no further than Rob Zombie's Halloween II.

Or don't, whatever. This wasn't meant to be about the state of film criticism or a deconstruction of the plots of various Halloween movies. My intention was to put forth exactly why I like H2 - which has very little to do with its cerebral storyline, its relationship to the other films, its brand, or its broad, narrowminded unpopularity.

I started watching it regularly in 2013 around October (naturally) and then consistently on the holiday itself for the past four years, and right off the bat, the reason for this (which is its biggest selling point for me) is that it could be the best Halloween movie -- as in, like, October 31st. Most pictures that take place during the season often come across as phony: transparent, staged, overkill, forced, warm, green, sunny Southern California usually. It's my favorite holiday, and disregarding whatever I've chosen to do on that day at any stage in my life, no movie has ever mirrored my activities, depicted my mood, or captured the crisp flavor of the atmosphere quite like 2009's Halloween II. Daytime scenes are sparse (which is accurate), and when the sun is out, the light is right & low in the sky. In October, it's usually dark and it's usually cold - this is a movie clearly made by a guy who grew up in New England. You may spot some decorations or a jack-o-lantern or a trick-or-treater, but the month is never a gaudy orgasmic Disney Channel light show -- even when I was a kid, it was still grim and spooky, like it goddamn should be, and like a Horror movie titled Halloween goddamn should be.

So, the vibe is in place, and who the hell can argue that away? I'll tell you who: people who require more than autumnal moods and expertly crafted ambience. Perhaps folks who seek graphic violence and interesting kills...

I've seen swift stabs and blows with knives, machetes, and axes, and I've seen meticulous torture scenarios featuring various razors and needles and shards of glass and other implements of Giallo, but never had I seen victims dispatched with such malicious fervor and viscous tactics: Michael beats these people to death with the business end of a kitchen blade with a ferocity that causes him to grunt and scream louder than the poor souls he's obliterating. And maybe apart from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I'd never seen a "slasher" demonstrate such legitimately gruesome, realistic frights. But, again, audiences didn't respond to anything that was uncharacteristically 'Michael,' and nothing is further away from Michael Myers than realism. Until, of course, this movie.
The supposed 'gritty,' 'realistic,' Dark Knight approach to Slasher Horror was something we hadn't seen much of around that time (again, not since Chainsaw Massacre in '74), which is a shame; Michael as an unkempt drifter on the outskirts of Haddonfield is both a brilliant and logical scenario that its cartoonish predecessors would've never touched. It's a more interesting approach and, in turn, more scary. Of course, no one liked it.

I love Jamie Lee - she's always great and her efforts in the '78 original are iconic. Though I'll say without an ounce of shame or irony that Scout Taylor-Comtpon really runs the gamut in an incredibly demanding, raw portrayal as a convincing PTSD victim in H2 (which may be unfair to Jamie Lee, since Laurie was literally sedated for the bulk of the original sequel). It was a performance I hand't really considered until I took a look at the Director's Cut with an additional scene between Scout & Margot Kidder: Laurie's losing her shit and crying and speaking incoherently and just fucking killing it, and the whole thing's composed with jarring edits and sound design and it's exciting and touching and all of it just makes a strong case for how much Scout, Rob, and the film are all working on a whole different tier than any other Halloween movie (Season of the Witch included). Most other slasher flicks don't even come close to a sequence of this intensity, and they could have really used some - the Elm Street movies especially.

The movie's actually littered with strong performances (which you can say about most of RZ's features), but I gotta point out the genius of casting Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell - two of the sweetest honey glazed hams this side of the genre - together in not one but two movies. And, again, I'm still mildly down on Rob's first Halloween, but these two actors spiked the punch in all the less potent parts. But in H2, both actors (Dourif in particular) regress way back into the realm of accomplished, respected, good actors where they used to reside. Brad inhabits the role of a seasoned veteran of life (which he is) with a quiet, understated, and heartbreaking eloquence that should no longer go unnoticed after a career of abrasive show & camp.
And I think the same could be said for Malcolm, who went largely unnoticed in this short series because he (naturally) evolved into a bit of an antagonist, which, yet again, was a refreshing departure from the jittery, inept Loomis with which we'd come to comfortably familiarize ourselves. Of course, fans hold Donald Pleasence's contemporary ne'er-do-well Van Helsing in high regard and in a place in their hearts, but those're the kinda lines I like stepping over: adding depth (in either direction) to an otherwise one-dimensional character.
It's just fucking fiction, folks.

The hyper-stylized hallucinations and dream stuff that had initially turned me off of the whole thing I now find to be substantially better-crafted than the redneck VHS crap in 1000 Corpses - and also an obvious foreshadow into his talents as a surrealist in Lords of Salem. And having seen this movie numerous times now & standing back from it, these trippy breaks from ho-hum wall-to-wall stalk-and-kill setups are not only integral to the premise they were going after, but give the movie a stylistic range that's as balanced as it is necessary. And, most importantly, it's the touchstone of my argument that, sometimes, we should go back to see if we (the audience) have changed or grown.

And with that, I've gone back and checked all my answers & all the circles appear to be filled.
Look, I really hate words like "underrated" or "under-appreciated" - by definition, they're fucking stupid, and in this, now, the Rotten Tomatoes age, these entitled, solipsistic words and phrases are only becoming more common as acceptable points of view. Underseen would be a more sophisticated term for the outrage people feel when their movie isn't known and/or loved by all. But alas, I don't seek this sentiment, nor am I some weirdo who roots for the underdog in a desperate attempt to assign myself a false sense of character. For me, this was just a short journey of what I thought was a barely mediocre remake/reboot/spinoff/sequel, and how it became a holiday tradition for myself and my family. And why not: as an abstraction - with its chilly autumnal tone and excessive gore and 24 hour "Nights in White Satin" station and a Halloween bash to end all graveyard smashes - it's sorta becoming my go-to Halloween entry. And that forces me into a dark closet, wielding a knife and coat hanger, because a definitive choice is looming: Do I like it more than Carpenter's Halloween? I'd always felt Part III was closing in on that coveted spot, but I never cared enough to cement any kinda list of such an esoteric nook of Cinema. H2 is certainly one of my favorite Holiday movies, which, in terms of this particular holiday, it has cause to simmer as a potential Top 100 movie. Given time, who knows? This ain't no hot take, this ain't no disco - this is something I strongly consider every October 31st as I settle in with a large steak & cheese and a gallon of sangria and take in what is supposedly, inexplicably, the worst Halloween movie to date, and think to myself, "I wish the Slasher genre had always been this rad."

- Paul

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