Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 28, 2009, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

There’s a subtheme running through Halloween II about the exploitation of the Michael Myers name for profit, and Exhibit A is Halloween II itself. The movie that Rob Zombie first said he’d never make, and then got rushed to the screen by Dimension Films when he either changed his mind or got talked into it, adds nothing to the mythology established by John Carpenter and Debra Hill in 1978 and embellished by Zombie two years ago, reduces Michael from a malefic All Hallows’ spirit to a lumbering, easily distracted hulk and, most crucially, is almost never scary.

Whether due to the hurried development and production or to rumored behind-the-scenes meddling, Halloween II feels half-hearted and even less thought out. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the numerous scenes in which Michael (Tyler Mane) has visions of his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek, a pallid replacement for the previous film’s Daeg Faerch). Clearly their presences are supposed to reflect a deeper exploration of the murderer’s damaged psyche, but in the end they reveal nothing that wasn’t already made clear in Zombie’s original, and the moments where Deborah appears holding the reins of a white horse (despite an opening title card explaining the latter’s symbolism) border on the laughable. Nor is Zombie able to stylistically bring off these ethereal moments amidst the rest of the action; he can do hard-edged grit with the best of ’em, but surrealism is not his strong suit.

Unfortunately, his penchant for white-trash characterizations is also in full force here, to seriously diminishing returns. The narrative engine that’s supposed to drive the film is the terror Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) feels that Michael will return to stalk her anew, but she needn’t worry so much, since for most of the running time, he’s content to fritter away his time bumping off assorted hicks, rednecks, floozies and other human cannon fodder whom you can’t be concerned about for one second, which diminishes the fright factor. A couple of the kills have visceral blunt-force impact, but Michael isn’t spooky anymore; rather than make the most of his trademark white-in-the-darkness visage, Zombie has him hidden under a large hood and shadows most of the time, a big stalker without distinction.

Meanwhile, off on the sidelines for almost the film’s entire length, Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is touring the country promoting his new book about Michael, snarling lines like “If I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you” less because they’re consistently in character than because someone thought they sounded cool, and generally behaving like a sour, obnoxious jerk. Gone is the likable eccentricity Donald Pleasence previously brought to the role, or the sense of dedication to his job in McDowell’s previous turn. Loomis is now no fun to be around—which may be Zombie’s point, but it turns the doctor’s scenes into dead weight.

And then there’s poor Laurie, still bearing deep psychological scars a year after her first encounter with Michael. Now living with Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) and her sheriff dad (Brad Dourif, giving what is easily the movie’s most empathetic performance), she’s in therapy—with a shrink played by Margot Kidder, of all people—lacking the spunk that makes the best slasher-film heroines memorable and subject to too many “It was only a nightmare!” moments. (SPOILER ALERT: One of the latter takes place in a hospital that is just as bereft of doctors and other patients as the one in the original Halloween II.) At least she’s gainfully employed, working alongside a couple of hot-to-trot chicks (who swear like sailors, of course) in a used-book-and-record store run by an old hippie played by former WKRP in Cincinnati star Howard Hessemann—one of several elements blurring the fact of whether this movie takes place in the ’70s or the modern day.

One of the things that made Carpenter’s Halloween, and Zombie’s to an extent, so effective was the contrast between the inviting, autumnal atmosphere of suburban Haddonfield by day and the menacing darkness that overtakes it when Halloween night falls. The new Halloween II hammers on a note of gloom from the beginning, and while some of cinematographer Brandon Trost’s intentionally grainy images are visually striking, the overall lack of modulation in tone prevents the movie from building much suspense. Still, one can be thankful that there aren’t more attempts at intentional humor—at least if they would have wound up like the film’s most embarrassing moment, which sees Dr. Loomis on a snarky talk show where his fellow guest is “Weird Al” Yankovic. Later on, Loomis is seen watching the program during its broadcast in his hotel room, and, evidently as mortified as viewers are likely to be, he buries his face in his hands and moans, “It’s over.” Truer words—at least, one can hope—were never spoken.

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