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Highbrow, lowbrow mix in disappointing “Halloween II”

Halloween_II

Is it me, or is Michael Myers starting to look suspiciously like Leatherface?

A mere 10 minutes in and with some help from a white horse and his kohl-pencil loving wife, Rob Zombie loudly announces his intentions for “Halloween II”: He’s out to make a thinking man’s movie about Michael Myers. One where the immortal murderer sees his dear departed mum (Sheri Moon Zombie) in spooky, hazy midnight hallucinations and she lays out a master plan for family togetherness that involves dispatching young Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton). She also offers motherly advice about future kills (“now go have some fun”) and strokes her hulking son’s furrowed brow.

In a word: Spare me.

Or perhaps I should say spare us, Zombie-comma-Rob, and by “us” I mean all the Michael Myers fans who have been hanging in since the start, the ones who have seen every petrified crap-pile remake and sequel and meta-sequel with the tiniest shred of hope that this director saw the original, or at least read the blurb on the back cover of the DVD. Zombie’s first attempt, “Halloween,” showed a wee flicker of promise because there was an eerieness there (thanks to Daeg Faerch) that nearly balanced out the gore. Not so with “Halloween II,” a mindless, pointless exercise in blood spillage interrupted frequently by crazy, acid-like dream sequences. So “Halloween II” isn’t just a stupid movie, it’s a pretentious one. The fact that Zombie attempts to combine these qualities is about the only original thing this huge, lumbering disappointment has to offer. 

Right off things don’t look so bad, since “Halloween II” begins where its not-so-bad predecessor ended: Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has survived the Halloween massacre of her brother Michael (Tyler Mane), but not without serious physical and psychological scars. Now living with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris, whom you might remember from “Halloween 4” and “Halloween 5”) and Annie’s father, Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif), Laurie’s wracked with nightmares and panic attacks. Her anxiety only deepens when Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) outs her as Michael’s sister and proceeds to turn her name and Michael’s victims into big book sales. Slowly slicing and dicing his way into this storyline is Michael, driven by hallucinations to find his baby sister and stage the kind of family reunion that would make the Firefly family squeal with delight. 

That’s really all that happens in “Halloween II” in the way of plot. There’s some random teen-age sex (in a van, no less) that’s generic in its sluttiness included for good measure, or perhaps because that’s a horror movie requirement, but mostly “Halloween II” is a veritable smorgasbord of crunched bones, split throats, stomped-in craniums and severed heads. It’s crass and pointless, and what’s more it’s not inventive or even terribly interesting. If Zombie’s out to startle us with gore, he more than missed his chance — the “Hostel” and “Saw” movies long ago killed off the shock centers of our brains. What “Halloween II” serves up in the way of violence barely merits a raised eyebrow, let alone a quick dip behind the popcorn bucket or a hands-over-the-eyes maneuver. This is positively run-of-the-mill, and on its own the gore would be enough to make “Halloween II” an average horror movie.

The bigger problem here is that Zombie tries to merge Michael’s self-consciously arty and trippy visions with all the killing, and it just plain doesn’t work. There’s a serious disconnect between these two stories that never gets repaired; in fact, it seems like Zombie wrote two movies and tossed both scripts into the air, grabbing the pages and putting them in random order. Either approach would have made a decently watchable movie, but together these storylines create a big mess.

There’s probably not much point in mentioning the acting, since McDowell is no Donald Pleasance, Laurie’s friends are largely dispensable and Taylor-Compton makes Laurie into a potty-mouthed, whiny Anyteen who can barely keep our interest, much less our sympathy. She does, however, get one good line: “Nightmares are chewing at my head again … they just seem to be getting worse.”

After sitting through “Halloween II”? Yeah, I’d say my brain felt decidedly nibbled.

Grade: D

No. 10: “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)

“I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.”
~~David St. Hubbins

Gearing up for his band’s Stonehenge-tinged concert, rocker/dim-bulb philosopher Nigel Tufnel* (Christopher Guest) serves up a delightfully vague introduction about the Druids, so mysterious that “no one knows who they were or what they were doing.” He might as well be talking about Spinal Tap, a heavy metal trio in which the members are legends in their own minds. So enraptured with their own mythology are these lovable dolts that they don’t find it odd they play venues with corridors that lead everywhere but the stage.

This is what Rob Reiner gets so perfectly right in “This Is Spinal Tap,” a satire (albeit a kind one) of giant metal egos wading infinitesimal pools of talent: He gives us an in-depth look at not one heavy metal band, but every larger-than-life band that ever existed. Spinal Tap is Everyband, a motley collection of stereotypes (a band member dead from choking on vomit; a Yoko/Paul-esque conflict that splits the band in half) that turn out to be as revealing and universally true as they are hysterical. The men who head up this band are idiots, but they are our idiots, DiBergi assures us, and through his admiring eyes we cannot help but love Spinal Tap, woman-degrading, glove-smelling album covers and all.

In the opening of “This Is Spinal Tap,” we learn that director Marty DiBergi (Reiner himself) has decided to take time from his dog commercial career to create a documentary of his favorite band, Spinal Tap, a two-decades-old English metal band composed of lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), named after the patron saint of quality footwear; lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest), who believes D minor is the saddest key of all; and bass guitarist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), who sees his role in the band as the “lukewarm water” that tempers the fire-and-ice combo of David and Nigel. DiBergi follows Spinal Tap as the band attempts to tour America and reconnect with fans. This is a huge mistake, the band assuming they have fans to reconnect with. Years of LSD trips and perpetually croaking drummers and horrendous albums — one’s reviewed as a “pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms”; another’s summed up simply as “shit sandwich” — have obliterated the American fanbase.

Nearly all of the droll, wonderful comedy in “This Is Spinal Tap” emerges from this tour, which rapidly devolves into a succession of misunderstandings and shabby bookings by their slimy manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). It’s like “The Three Stooges” meets VH1’s “Where Are They Now?” with razor-edged British humor lobbed in for good measure. Spinal Tap plays second fiddle to a puppet show. The guys “headline” a military dance and the aforementioned show where nobody can find the stage, so they don’t perform. Making matters worse is David’s shrewish girlfriend (June Chadwick), who clashes with Nigel over who deserves the credit for being Spinal Tap’s “mastermind.” Watching David, Nigel and Derek crash headlong into the reality of their disappearing fame is reason enough to manifest undying love for “This Is Spinal Tap,” with its mix of satire and slapstick. 

The film’s crack team of comedic actors and Reiner’s direction, though, seal the deal. Nobody whips out one-liners with more deadpan perfection than McKean, a blockhead who says things like “it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever” and doesn’t see how those words apply to him. Shearer’s the understudy here, but he makes a definite impression. Guest somehow manages to tap into Nigel’s oddly touching vulnerability and give us a thrash rocker who’s almost childlike in his naivete. Reiner nicely underscores these performances by treating “This Is Spinal Tap” as an authentic documentary, amassing hours of footage, and so we come to see David, Nigel and Derek as wholly human in their cluelessness; we laugh at their antics, but we want them succeed, or find happiness elsewhere. They matter to us, weird as it sounds, because Reiner makes them real people. And that’s the kind of achievement that never gets old.

*That’s Nigel “We’ve Got Armadillos in Our Trousers” Tufnel to you.