Here's something you don't see every day "? or every year: a horror movie that has something to say about serious issues. It's time to quit dismissing writer/director and sometimes musician Rob Zombie ("The Devil's Rejects") because of his name, appearance and chosen genre. This guy's the real deal.

Although it's not a remake of the first "Halloween II," this one starts as an homage to that 1981 film. It begins immediately after the events in Zombie's 2007 version of "Halloween," in a hospital with Michael Myers (Tyler Mane, "X-Men," "Troy") as a one-man death panel eliminating patients and staff with equal determination in his pursuit of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, "Obsessed"). I won't tell you how the picture jumps from there to the title "One Year Later," but horror-movie veterans can figure it out by themselves.

Laurie is now living with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif, TV's "Deadwood") and his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris, "Halloween 4," "Halloween 5"). One of Zombie's themes is the way horrific events change the lives and worldviews of survivors. Laurie, the good girl next door, is now a death rocker with an Alice Cooper poster in her room. Even an old guy like me appreciates the message under her bathroom mirror: "Wake the F*$% Up."

Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, "Bolt," TV's "Heroes"), the psychiatrist who treated the murderous young Michael (newcomer Chase Vanek), is now a pop doctor made wealthy by lecturing and writing books on the Myers case. His latest, "The Devil Walks Among Us," reveals secrets that send the rest of the characters into a frenzy.

Zombie's second major theme is the responsibility, if any, of those who exploit the horror of others for entertainment and a quick buck. Loomis is guilty and he tries to avoid the misery he creates by reminding his audiences that he was attacked and nearly killed by Michael, too. His appearance on a lightweight TV interview program is made ridiculous by another guest, musical parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic. Weird Al's presence may seem like a senseless detour, but his stupid jokes at Loomis' expense underline the fact that the doctor has turned the Myers case into a sick joke.

The adult Michael, who has been hiding and nourishing his mania for a year, returns home on Halloween to complete his task of killing Laurie. Under the guidance of his dead mother (Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, "Grindhouse," "The Devil's Rejects") and deceased younger self, he goes after Laurie and shares his psychosis and violence with her.

The acting is horror-movie acceptable and it's nice to see old favorites Howard Hesseman and Margot Kidder in cameos.

We're reminded several times that Zombie is a macabre renaissance man. His eye for stunningly creepy design and makeup is sharper than ever. Mother Myers' first ghostly appearance is skin-crawlingly effective.

All this said about the virtues that make the movie worth watching, be warned, too, that the gore content is high and the violence is heightened by the casual way Michael dishes it out.

This is the first horror movie in a long time that followed me home. Now if I could only get it to leave so I can get some sleep ...

"?Doug Bentin

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