Let’s float a notion: Rob Zombie is the greatest horror-movie director never to make a great movie. Zombie has a gift for horrifically beautiful compositions and a feel for atmosphere and character, letting quirks and background details suggest history and depth. He speaks the language of classic horror films, but his taste for the extreme puts him at home in an era in which Saw sequels have become institutions.
And yet it rarely all comes together. House Of 1000 Corpses felt like a try-out. The Devil’s Rejects is easier to admire than recommend; its many virtues ultimately get obscured by an excess of screams and viscera. Zombie’s 2007 remake of John Carpenter’s masterful Halloween found him trying (largely successfully) to squeeze a distinctive vision into a box created by slasher-film expectations. Where Carpenter’s original left killer Michael Myers as mostly an unknowable mass of bloodlust, Zombie’s version delved uncomfortably into serial-killer psychology. That was a bold decision, though it didn’t let Zombie make a better movie than Carpenter. But it did make his Halloween distinctive, and distinctively sad, amid a lot of horror remakes that simply pump up the volume on their source material.
Borrowing a trick from the first sequel to the original Halloween, Halloween II picks up minutes after its predecessor. Opening in the aftermath of the previous film’s slaughter, it circuitously returns to the same small town a year later. After his “corpse” disappears en route to the morgue, Myers (played as an adult by wrestler-turned-actor Tyler Mane), spends a year living in the woods as a wild man, and emerges with long hair and a shaggy beard that makes him look uncannily like Zombie. It doesn’t take long for hair and beard to disappear beneath a familiar-looking mask once Halloween is in sight, however.
Halloween II provides ample spotlights for Zombie’s visual gifts, but—apart from some striking Oedipal fantasy sequences featuring Sheri Moon Zombie as the spirit of Myers’ mother—we saw most of this last time around, and a lot of promising material leads to dead ends. Malcolm McDowell returns as Myers’ fame-hungry former psychiatrist, but the many scenes sending up his misadventures on the book-tour circuit turn out merely to be marking time. It’s a shame, too, since Zombie invests his film with wicked humor, even though it doesn’t match the rest of a movie that otherwise devolves too fast into a string of interchangeable slayings. Zombie does a lot extremely well. Maybe someday he’ll find a movie into which it all fits.