As with his reboot, Rob Zombie chooses to draw heavily from source material within the franchise, but he chooses to begin with a misnomer. Though the opening twenty minutes establish that the film will be another closely drawn remake of Rick Rosenthal’s first feature in the series as Myers begins his onslaught on Haddonfield General Hospital, Zombie chooses to reveal that this is just one in a series of nightmares that has been plaguing Laurie since that fateful night two years prior. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Halloween II is most inspired by connection between Jamie and Michael that was explored in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Like Jamie, Laurie’s psyche begins to attach itself to Michael’s as she acts out his attacks and begins having the same visions of their shared mother and a white horse. While his first film felt like a combination of excessive repetition with minimal insight, Halloween II feels like it repeats the highlights of the sequels in order to accomplish a greater, more fleshed out mythos for its antagonist and final girl. In this sense, Zombie’s exploration pays more dividends than those original films; this film belongs to Laurie, shows her mental deterioration in the wake of tragedy and the unexpected revelation of her ancestry, and progressively draws larger parallels between the siblings. While the ending isn’t as shocking as the final sequence of Halloween IV, but this makes the narrative feel a lot more earned.
As with any Rob Zombie film, though, the final product remains a mixed bag in spite of its interesting narrative evolution. If there’s any Halloween sequel that should have been great, that could have leant emotional depth to its characters, it’s this one. While the first film gave Myers a detailed background that largely missed, Halloween II one attempted something even bolder: to get inside the head of this fictional world’s most notorious serial killer and explore his psychosis both personally and through the development of his progeny. This flirtation with excellence makes the film more and more frustrating to watch as Zombie’s hackneyed misdirection, reliance on cliché and problematic choices continue to hold it back. One such problematic choice is his handling of Dr. Loomis; in this film, Zombie chooses to make his character an opportunistic business man rather than the harbinger (and protecter) that Pleasance brought to life in the first five Myers films. Making a change to the iconic character, however, is not the problem; in fact, it is clear that Zombie is twisting the role of protector to predator in order to make a statement on contemporary American culture. Had Zombie have added some nuance, it may have even been a parallel for how the horror genre exploits violence and tragedy in the same manner that The Devil Among Us does; it’s telling that even Myers, upon seeing the billboard, feels as if the doctor is profiteering off his pain. The problem is that Dr. Loomis’ plot is made incidental and his role in the film is quite minor, thus the character arc never satisfactorily reaches a moment in which his turn in the ending is earned nor is it explored quite enough to lend thematic resonance to its inclusion in the film. While the Weird Al cameo an unexpected highlight, this b-story is continually hampered by crass dialogue and laughable statements such as “bad taste is the petrol that drive the American Dream.”
This is a shortcoming, however, that is relegated to most of the rest of the sequel. While the characters are all positioned in a manner that should have thematic resonance, Zombie’s insight is superficial and deeply reliant on banality. In particular, this problem sinks Laurie’s story. A part of what made a film like Halloween H20 so successful is that its exploration of the emotional consequences of the attack created tense personal relationships and manifested in Michael Myers as both a psychical and psychological specter haunting the original victim. The question that this engendered was whether the Myers on screen was a hallucination of the past or a viable threat, and the film’s powerful ending saw Laurie beheading her brother as a means of finally confronting her literal demon in order to move on from the past. While it attempts to delve into the ramifications of Myers attack just two years prior, Halloween II doesn’t really contain this sort of insight into Laurie; whereas the Laurie of H20 was a sympathetic protagonist, the Laurie of II does all sorts of cliché things like deciding to like Alice Cooper and drink and pop pills and write all sorts of angsty things over the walls of her room. This may be a more personal reaction, but it made her character hard to connect to because it all felt pretty shallow. When she donned the outfit of the maid from Rocky Horror Picture Show, I struggled to figure out whether Zombie was trying to make a point about her attempting to feel some sort of liberation that night or just including a reference for reference’s sake; even if it transcended Easter Egg status, this probably wouldn’t make the costume choice worth obsessing over. That’s one of the main flaws of the film; the feeling that, unlike its predecessor, it is so close to saying something or to reaching that moment that pushes it over the edge, but the fact that something keeps pulling it back into mundanity.
Zombie’s attitude towards violence lingers as he continues to problematically blend nudity or torture with the death of many female characters, often for no reason at all, or as the major male characters continually objectify the women in a manner which feels disgusting (talking about the corpse, for example), yet there is no clarity as to whether this is any sort of commentary as it just sort of pops up. I’m not sure how many lines I’ve cringed at to the degree of the stripper insisting, after the clock hits midnight on Halloween, “So what? It’s not like my p#ssy is going to turn into a pumpkin.” I mean, that’s a line that made it past rewrites, editing and studio review. How, on earth, is that a line that’s in the final film? Seriously, how?
While subtlety has rarely been mentioned as Zombie’s forte, what depth the film tries to probe is often so no the nose that it hurts; and this extends to his stylistic choices. Zombie’s misdirection constrains the film’s effectiveness in a number of cases, but the biggest offender is the sequence in which the Sheriff finds Annie. The transformation from the horrible acting out of a “no” line to slow motion, and Zombie’s use of music made a potentially affective moment more humorous than anything. These moments keep popping up through the film, but the strongest recurring stylistic trait I noted in this film is quick cuts between violence shown in long shot and graphic close ups that foreground the brutal wounds. The film commences with quick, close cuts of the stitching of Laurie’s wounds, and in many death sequences it oscillates between long and close shots in order to try to create cinematic chaos. The moment at which this pays of the best is the final sequence in the shed, where quick, disorienting shots of violence illuminated haphazardly by the surrounding police are used to contrast the battle that is taking place in Laurie’s head with the actuality that Dr. Loomis is viewing, situating the viewer in the gap between what is real and what is in the head. It’s perhaps one of my favorite moments in the film, but its quickly deflated when, at the end of the battle, that atrocious cover of Love Hurts pops up again. Speaking of which–Michael says his first words as an adult in the entire franchise in the final moments of this last film, as he says “die” to Dr. Loomis. It’s an interesting moment because it is out of character in terms of what the spectator has learned about the antagonist over eight films, yet his anger at Dr. Loomis for taking advantage of his pain makes it seem as if it is the only thing that he could, or should, have said. In a sense, I do like Rob Zombie’s version of the Michael Myers as a traveler in order to better explore his psychosis, but I do wish the film that surrounded it was……better? While there are parts of Halloween II that hint at could-be brilliance that make this a better view than Zombie’s reboot, it is still a far from perfect film.
With that, we come to the conclusion of our visit to Haddonfield. In many ways, it seems like a justified spot to end on: so much of this series hinges around the promise of something more, but rarely do the films capitalize on the opportunity for transcendence, often retreating back into the comfort zone of the slasher film the original entry pioneered. As noted in prior entries, this move is often predicated on satiating audience expectations; a tone was set when the brilliant Halloween III: Season of the Witch was rebuked for its attempt to move beyond Myers into anthology, and it was retreaded after Halloween V completely side stepped the bold ending of its predecessor. The franchise also stands up as a cautionary tale about how to handle a villain; sometimes, revealing too much about intentions can cheapen the scare or just, plain confuse the audience about runes. Yet, if Zombie’s Halloween II teaches anything as a final note, it is that there is a possibility to explore the psychosis of a killer without damning a film, even if his final product is far too uneven to praise. Interestingly, our visit comes at a good time, as its been announced that the Cloverfield series is attempting to do something along the lines of what Carpenter had tried all those years ago, taking a popular brand and expanding it into an anthology series. That leaves me on a note of wonder: what would have happened all those years ago if Season of the Witch was as well received as 10 Cloverfield Lane? Would the series have still hit its peaks and valleys, or would it have encouraged greater artistic license in a horror landscape littered with unimaginative sequels?