Halloween II opens with a middle finger. I haven’t encountered anyone who thinks that the first Rob Zombie Halloween was at its best when it was slavishly mimicking the beats of the 1978 original in its second half. I certainly don’t. So Halloween II taunts us by using its opening 20 minutes to show Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) chasing down and horrifically attacking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) in a hospital as she recovers from his initial attacks… which, you’ll recall, is exactly the premise of the original Halloween II from 1981. Are we due for another beat-by-beat retread? Nope! Poof, it was all a dream! We’re actually two years in the future, and Laurie has PTSD nightmares! (Note: I watched the Director’s Cut of this film, whereas the Theatrical Cut reportedly fudges the timeline to make it one year.)
I tend to think that dream sequences used as rug pulls to trick the viewers are stupid, and this is no exception. But it does serve a couple of purposes. The first is to set up the mission statement that this is going to be the most bone-crunching, flesh-ripping, viscerally violent Halloween film yet — it’s a gruesomely gory opener. The second is that it sets up the theme that the places Laurie holds safe will be literally and figuratively a danger to her; but this is hardly the only Halloween to build tension from that. And the third purpose of this intro is for us to meet the most daunting and terrifying Myers ever put to film. Mane’s towering, brutish frame makes it genuinely plausible like he can crush humans with his bare hands and survive bullets and stabs.
The last outcome of this intro, I suppose, is to remind us of the less pleasant features of Zombie’s vision of Haddonfield. The town is populated by cartoonish white trash: One of the opening scenes features some necrophilia and anal sex jokes. And, dear God, the incessant screaming; it’s so damn shrill: a ringing scourge on the eardrums.
I still very much dislike this aesthetic of horror. I’ll concede that, at least this time around, there is some skin-crawling, stomach-turning thematic value in emphasizing the brutality of the violence in a murky, fucked-up world. But this persistent dourness and gore doesn’t make the films necessarily more scary or thrilling; rather, I just feel kinda bummed out I spent two hours in a nihilistic shithole.
Nonetheless, I find it admirable the way that Halloween II brings the series to one of its philosophical endpoints. In addition to being the most harrowing, this is the most psychologically devastating film in the franchise by a mile. It is the polar opposite of the carefree Halloween: Resurrection, which is a satiric thrill ride; each victim little more than a fleshy prop to be stabbed in some darkly comic way. Here, the suffering clings to you and debilitates you like food poisoning or a bad hangover.
The Halloween series has had its share of unforgettable final scenes: the original, Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4, and Halloween H20 all have some claim on the best ending. You can add this film to that list. The final showdown between Myers and Laurie is unexpectedly hallucinatory and perfectly constructed. It has so much gravity and finality to it: it’s tragic and anti-cathartic in a way that caps the Zombie films perfectly.
On the other hand, I could have done without the broad satire of exploitative true crime via Malcolm McDowell’s Sam Loomis. McDowell felt more theatrical than anything else in the first Zombie Halloween, and he’s even more out of place here, written and acted as if he’s in a totally different movie. Laurie’s PTSD, too, is a bit on the nose, but at least feels like it’s trying to psychologically align with the rest of the movie that’s so dark and weighty.
Certainly, this is one of the most visually effective Halloween films. Zombie brings a diverse color palate that contrasts the grungy browns with some silvery-white hallucinations and some terrifically-lit shots full of disorienting, trippy glare. Long stretches of it are over-dark, but that feels intentional, both for thematic purposes and to add contrast to the brighter segments.
Halloween II is not my favorite in the series. I’m not even 100% sure it’s a better movie than its cheesy 1981 namesake. But I can see why it has become perhaps the most cultishly adored in the series. It swings for the fences and takes the film to daring, challenging places it’s never been before. For the tenth movie in a series, that’s a hell of an accomplishment.
- Review Project: Halloween Retrospective