Halloween II (2009)
Dir. Rob Zombie (2009)
As Laurie Strode attempts to heal from the trauma of her first encounter with her brother, Michael does his best to make sure there is a second.
Full disclosure: I was not a fan of this movie the first time I watched it. Far from it, in fact. In my discussion of Rob Zombie's first take on the franchise with The Killer Point of View podcast, I adamantly insisted this was the worst film in the entire series. After multiple viewings and further consideration, I have changed my perspective a good bit, and I feel that the rest of the horror world is overlooking this film the same way that I did for so long.
This is the tenth and final Halloween film that we're going to cover today, and it is, surprisingly, the most divisive film of the entire franchise (at least until DGG made his trilogy's final film last year). Rob Zombie's Halloween II is either brilliant or entirely nonsensical, depending on who you ask. It's also gory, brutal as all hell, and features some of the best meditations on trauma and its aftereffects that you will ever see in horror. As such, it's worth it to take a deeper look at the film than you might experience at first glance, and it's worth breaking down a little bit deeper than you perhaps would another film of its kind.
HII starts immediately following the events of Zombie's first Halloween film, just like the original Halloween II. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is in the hospital following her brutal attack, and Michael, escaping from an ambulance driven by Sons of Anarchy star Dayton Callie and the always impressive Richard Brake, heads to the hospital to try to finish what he started. After Laurie escapes and Michael is once again put down, Laurie and the healed Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) are doing their best to support each other through their continuing (and continual) bouts of PTSD. Meanwhile, Loomis is on a book tour, insisting that The Boogeyman is dead, while Michael is roaming the countryside as a homeless derelict, trying to make his way back to his sister and being guided by ghostly visions of his dead mother.
That last bit is the reason why most people consider this the worst Halloween movie. Rob Zombie takes some extreme risks this time around, making this movie as dissimilar to his first Halloween film as that one was to the other films in the franchise. Whereas 2007's Halloween focused on upping the violence and the white trash backstory, Halloween II goes full-on magical realism. Michael is driven by the apparition of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie again), a white-garbed specter who invites him to reunite his family by creating a "river of blood." The dream sequences in which she appears are rife with meaning, drenched in symbolism and metaphor that addresses the reason for Michael's madness. They're also shared by Laurie, visions of the mother she recently learned she had that give her a sort of psychic link to her brother.
This bizarre inclusion is intriguing, and perhaps in the hands of a more traditional filmmaker, could've set HII far above the other films in the franchise. The main problem with the visions is that they don't work that well within the context of the world that Zombie already created. Had they been present in the original film, or had they even been alluded to, it could've made all the difference. As it stands, in order to truly appreciate Halloween II and recognize it as a brilliant piece of art, you almost have to view it as a completely separate entity as the film it immediately succeeds. The visions themselves, as creepy, disorienting, and alluring as they are, feel misplaced at times, a further alteration from the original franchise through a path that was ballsy but perhaps misplaced. Through these scenes, Halloween II becomes almost more supernatural horror than brutal slasher.
Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of gory mayhem afoot, and II is even bloodier than the first one. The assault on Danielle Harris in the bathroom of the Brackett home is extremely difficult to watch, perhaps designed as an allusion to the Charles Manson poster hanging above Laurie's bed. The resemblance between this scene and the Sharon Tate murder is uncanny and hyperrealistic, providing a gut-churning backdrop of true horror for the macabre violence shown on-screen. Other scenes show broken bones protruding from skin, heads stomped into oblivion, and stabbings whose visual viciousness is only surpassed by Zombie's excellent use of thudding, icky audio.
The supernatural violence is not the only notable change within the film. Malcolm McDowell's Loomis has become a monster himself, unleashing the inner asshole that we knew he had in him all along. The disappearance of Michael has made him feel invincible, and his guilt is driving him to show on the outside what Michael's victims claim is on the inside. He is but a footnote in Halloween II, there to seemingly provide comedic relief until the end, when he inserts himself back into the story's conclusion in a way that was neither necessary nor particularly fitting. It makes sense from the perspective of the series as a whole, but it doesn't feel like it really belonged within the context of these two films.
For all of its shortcomings and outlandish choices, Halloween II is still an extremely watchable slasher. If you view this film like I advised you to view its predecessor, as a film wholly different from any that came before and a reimagining rather than a remake, it's far better than almost anyone will tell you that it is. The decisions made are brave, to be sure, even when they don't hit on all cylinders. The discussion of trauma, inherent evil, and psychological aberrancy are interesting inclusions in a franchise that should've been dealing with these issues all along. Even as a huge fan of Rob Zombie, I'm not entirely convinced that he was the one who should've done it. Either way, both Halloween and Halloween II are ferociously violent additions to the best franchise in horror, and if you're able to separate them from Carpenter's original story, they're actually pretty damn good.
Who this movie is for: Slasher superfans, Rob Zombie apologists, Knights in white satin
Bottom line: By far the craziest of the Halloween franchise (and that's saying something), Rob Zombie's Halloween II is a visually complex and metaphysically fascinating take on trauma and the perpetuation of evil. It's far better than almost anyone will tell you, and if you're able to view the film as a separate entity, you may very well enjoy it. It's supernatural gory arthouse, and despite the bizarre changes that won't be appreciated by all, it's one of the better films Zombie has made so far. Give it another shot.