In Retrospect: Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween II’ — Monstrous or Misunderstood?

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ith a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) arriving in six months, now seems as good a time as any to chew over the tenth and most recent instalment in this unrelenting franchise: 2009’s Halloween II, which itself is a direct sequel to Halloween . . . Rob Zombie’s Halloween, that is. Not Carpenter’s.

Confusing, eh?

“I know he’s not gonna come back just because of some stoopid holiday!” spits a disheveled, beaten-down Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) during a discussion with her shrink (Margot Kidder, cameoing). The dreaded ‘he’, of course, is Michael Myers: the maniac that butchered her parents and the majority of her pals on Halloween night a year ago. C’mon, Laurie, surely you’ve seen the other movies? The boogeyman always comes back.

Much like his first foray into sequeldom (2005’s blistering Devil’s Rejects), Zombie’s second assault on the Halloween series—a continuation of his quasi-effective ’07 remake—sticks a defiant middle finger up to its predecessor, brazenly establishing its own unique temperament whilst tearing off down a treacherous path of destruction. It is essentially a grindhouse picture suffused with art-house ingredients, blending the raw brutality of the director’s back catalogue with spatters of Lynch-lite surrealism.

By evading the usual story beats of exploitation fare, Zombie’s focus on diligent characterisation—chiefly, the (d)evolution of his anguished heroine and her nosedive into hysteria—lends surprising layers of gravitas to the grisly goings-on; seldom do we see a genre piece attacking the issue of post-traumatic stress with such tenacity (the meatier, pathos-laden director’s cut nails it best), and Taylor-Compton emotes with all her might. As Laurie’s benevolent father figure, Brad Dourif also brings leverage to the table, his poignant turn proving he’s truly one of the industry’s finest. It is the jarring metamorphosis of Dr. Loomis—now a cutthroat media whore—that proves the pic’s masterstroke, however, with a bolshy Malcolm McDowell devouring the opportunity to resuscitate the once-solemn psychiatrist as an egotistical arsehole. (“I’m not going in there until you get me a cup of PG Tips with a splash of milk, and I want it sizzling hot!” he barks during one exchange with his hapless PA.)

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On the visual end, sequences starring snowy cemeteries, pumpkin-headed demons and a spectral Ma Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) provide bucketfuls of unearthly eye candy; Brandon Trost’s 16mm photography, all shadows and grain, is exquisite. A little more questionable is the recurring motif of a milk-white stallion, described at the intro as being related to “instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces”: as ethereal décor it’s nothing if not dazzling, but the underlying pseudo-psychology feels contrived.

Naturally, this being the brainchild of Rob Zombie, over-the-top bloodshed far outweighs any true terror (he explored the art of suspense more successfully in his subsequent Lords of Salem (2012)), while his trademark potty-mouthed dialogue wears thin. Still, nine years on, H2 stands proud as a singularly strange work from the dexterous hands of one of horror’s bravest craftsmen, and it is the refusal to conform to tired tropes that has cemented its stature as by far the most radical—and divisive—Halloween to date.

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