How ‘Halloween II’ by Rob Zombie paved the way for a New Kind of Horror

How 'Halloween II' by Rob Zombie paved the way for a New Kind of Horror

Since the beginning of cinema, filmmakers have used horror as a means of exploring serious topics. Unfortunately, while we’ve had award-winning hits like The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, many of the more experimental horror films of the past were doomed to be critical and box-office disappointments, only to be acknowledged as classics years later. Only in the last decade have “serious” horror films such as The Witch, The Babadook, and Get Out found popular success and a new audience.

How ‘Halloween II’ by Rob Zombie paved the way for a New Kind of Horror

Today, I’d want to discuss a film that was at the forefront of the Arthouse Horror renaissance, but which was released a few years too early and so missed out on the trend. Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is an underappreciated inversion of Slasher sequels that employs horror conventions to create an introspective story about trauma and family legacies. While Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween was a commendable attempt at re-imagining the original’s hazy mythos, the film’s second half breaks apart when the filmmaker is obliged to replicate complete sequences from John Carpenter’s classic. While I still appreciate the film and believe it boasts the franchise’s most horrifying Michael Myers, the film’s mediocre second half demonstrates that Zombie is at his best when he’s given the freedom to experiment outside the confines of a pre-existing tale. That is why I consider his Halloween II to be a significant improvement over the original. While it begins with an extended homage to Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel, placing an injured Laurie in a creepy hospital as Myers tries to complete what he started, the film swiftly subverts audience expectations by becoming a sad character piece.

Zombie gives dimension to people who were once disposable caricatures by focusing on the psychological ramifications of surviving a mass murder spree. Instead of just reenacting the events of the previous film, this results in a unique sequel that tackles the terrible consequences of a Slasher movie. Following the terrifying prologue, Halloween II follows Laurie Strode as she attempts to overcome the Haddonfield killings and her personal connection to the killer. Meanwhile, Michael Myers is still on the loose, living as a tramp and being haunted by visions of his mother telling him to find his long-lost sister. While the details differ depending on whose version you’re seeing, both the theatrical and director’s cuts depict the same story of a young woman coming to terms with the Myers family’s past as evil returns to Haddonfield. Aside from the heightened severity now that Michael is shown as a nightmare brute, the film’s main lure is Laurie’s growth as a fully-fledged character, from the playful schoolgirl of the previous film to a broken mess of a person.

She lashes out at those closest to her, haunted by both tangible and metaphorical scars, with the audience gradually learning that Laurie has more in common with her older brother than she wishes to accept (especially in the director’s cut). Indeed, I like the hypothesis that Michael died at the end of the first film and that his subsequent appearances are all part of Laurie’s psychosis. Scout Taylor-Compton, of course, has a lot more to do this time around because of the added subtlety in the writing, and she beautifully nails her depiction of Laurie as a tragic figure driven insane by circumstances beyond her control. Regardless of whose version of the film you watch, she gives an enthralling performance that culminates in a truly devastating conclusion. She also pairs nicely with genre mainstays like Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, and Malcom McDowell’s Dr. Loomis reincarnation. It was McDowell’s idea to turn Loomis into a publicity-hungry media vulture wanting to profit off the Myers tragedy, with the actor insisting that he’d only return for a sequel if he was given the opportunity to give a fresh performance. Ironically, the character’s general lack of empathy when exposing victims’ lives for personal benefit was inspired by the real-life Dr. Phil.

Despite this, Loomis redeems himself towards the end of the film. While many fans were offended by this drastic shift in personality, I think it’s an interesting and realistic depiction of how the character may react after being exposed to evil for so long, especially after miraculously surviving his own close encounter with Myers in the previous film. Unfortunately, not all of Zombie’s ideas made it into the film, which was marred by a series of botched visual metaphors featuring Sheri Moon Zombie and an actual white horse, not to mention the bloated running time. The film’s unsettling usage of Nights in White Satin and Nan Vernon’s interpretation of Love Hurts, as well as Zombie’s usual use of great songs to highlight emotional scenes, gets a little out of hand at times. The film’s sloppy pacing and structure are the most evident flaws, while this makes sense when you consider that it was the consequence of both a problematic production and excessive studio intervention by the Weinsteins. It’s a miracle that Halloween II came out as well as it did, given regular setbacks like unexpected rainstorms, airport security accidentally losing material, forced reshoots, and even crew members allegedly stealing from the budget.

Even without these flaws, I find it easier to overlook most of the film’s flaws when you consider that it was made by a true auteur who, for better or worse, battled the studio every step of the way. Even so, Halloween II’s nihilistic implication that lunacy might be inherited, dooming some of us to repeat our forefathers’ mistakes, is a really horrifying and unquestionably distinct take on the genre. It’s a shame that the film was panned by critics and moviegoers upon its initial release, but I’m delighted that it’s received some attention in recent years as fans recognise how it set the way for future subversive horror films. Even leading to Zombie’s most serious feature to date, Lords of Salem. I’m confident that if Zombie’s vision had been supported by the studio and the film had been released a few years later, when audiences were more accustomed to established horror franchises renewing themselves and experimenting with more serious ideas, Halloween II would have been a huge smash. In any case, now that Halloween has here, I’d say that this often-overlooked sequel is still worth revisiting as a study of the dreadful implications of a Slasher film.

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