ith a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) arriving in six months, now’s 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 (2007), that is. Not Carpenter’s.
“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 remake—sticks a defiant middle finger up to its predecessor, establishing its own unique set of rules whilst tearing off down a perilous path of destruction. It is essentially a grindhouse picture with art-house ingredients, blending the raw brutality of the director’s back catalogue with vehement spatters of Lynch-lite surrealism.
By evading the typical story beats of exploitation fare, Zombie’s focus on character development—chiefly, his heroine’s psychosis—lends a surprising gravitas to the grisly goings-on; it is rare to see a genre piece tackle the subject of post-traumatic stress with such tenacity (the 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 that he’s truly one of the industry’s finest. But it is the jarring metamorphosis of Dr. Loomis—now a cutthroat media whore—that proves the film’s masterstroke, with Malcolm McDowell patently relishing the opportunity to play the iconic 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.)
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 lensing, all shadows and grain, is exquisite. A little more questionable is the recurring motif of a milk-white horse, described at the intro as being related to “instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces”. As sheer decoration it is nothing if not dazzling, but the underlying pseudo-psychology feels contrived.
Naturally, being the brainchild of Rob Zombie, over-the-top bloodshed far outweighs any true terror (he explored the art of suspense more adroitly in his subsequent headfucker, 2012’s Lords of Salem), while his trademark potty-mouthed dialogue wears thin. Still, nine years on, H2 stands out as a singularly strange work from the hands of one of the genre’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.