Filmmakers have been using horror as a tool to explore serious issues since the very dawn of cinema. Unfortunately, while weve been treated to award-winning hits like The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, many of the more experimental horror flicks of the past were doomed to become critical and box-office flops, only being recognized as classics many years later. It was only in the past decade that we saw a boom of serious scary movies like The Witch, The Babadook and Get Out that managed to find mainstream success with a brand-new audience.
Today, Id like to talk about a certain film that was at the vanguard of this Arthouse Horror revival but was released a few years too soon and missed out on the trend. That film is Rob Zombies unfairly maligned Halloween II, an underrated subversion of Slasher sequels that uses horror tropes to tell an introspective story about trauma and family legacies.
Zombies 2007 remake of Halloween was an admirable attempt at re-imagining the originals vague mythology, but the experience kind of falls apart during the latter half of the film when the director is forced to recreate entire sequences from John Carpenters classic. While I still really enjoy the movie and think that it features the franchises most terrifying incarnation of Michael Myers, the lackluster second half makes it quite clear that Zombie is at his best when hes allowed to experiment outside the confinement of an already-established story.
Thats why I view his Halloween II as a marked improvement over the first one. While it still begins with a lengthy homage to Rick Rosenthals 1981 sequel, placing a wounded Laurie in a spooky hospital as Myers attempts to finish what he started, the movie quickly subverts audience expectations by turning into a somber character piece. By focusing on the psychological consequences of surviving a mass murder spree, Zombie adds depth to characters that were once disposable archetypes. This results in a unique sequel that explores the tragic aftermath of a Slasher flick instead of simply recreating the events of the first film.
Few things are scarier than family.
After the nightmarish prologue, Halloween II follows a deeply disturbed Laurie Strode struggling to overcome the Haddonfield murders and her personal connection to the killer. Meanwhile, Michael Myers is somehow still on the loose, living as a vagrant plagued by visions of his mother instructing him to reunite with his long-lost sister. While the details vary depending on which version youre watching, both the theatrical and directors cuts tell similar stories about a young woman coming to terms with the legacy of the Myers family as evil once again approaches Haddonfield.
Other than the increased brutality now that Michael is depicted as a nightmarish brute, the main draw of the film is its development of Laurie as a fully-fledged character, seeing an evolution from the playful schoolgirl of the first film into a broken mess of a person. Haunted by both literal and metaphorical scars, she lashes out at those closest to her (especially in the directors cut), with the audience slowly realizing that Laurie has more in common with her big brother than she cares to admit. In fact, I personally love the theory that Michael truly died at the end of the first film and his appearances in the sequel are all a part of Lauries psychosis.
Of course, this extra nuance in the script means that Scout Taylor-Compton has a lot more to do this time around, and she absolutely nails her portrayal of Laurie as a tragic figure driven mad by circumstances outside her control. Regardless of which version of the movie you watch, she delivers a fascinating performance, leading to a genuinely heartbreaking finale. She also works really well alongside genre favorites like Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif and Malcom McDowells reinvention of Dr. Loomis.
It was actually McDowells idea to turn Loomis into an attention-hungry media vulture attempting to cash in on the Myers tragedy, with the actor claiming that hed only return for a sequel if he was allowed to deliver a different performance. Ironically, the characters overall lack of empathy when exposing the lives of victims for his own personal gain was inspired by the real-world Dr. Phil, though Loomis ultimately redeems himself by the end of the picture. While this dramatic change in personality rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, I think its an interesting and realistic take on how the character might react after being exposed to evil for so many years, especially after miraculously surviving his own close encounter with Myers in the previous film.
This could have been a great music video.
Unfortunately, not all of Zombies ideas contributed to the story, with the film suffering from a series of clumsy visual metaphors involving Sheri Moon Zombie and a literal white horse, not to mention the bloated runtime. Zombies characteristic use of classic songs to punctuate emotional moments also gets a little out of hand at times, though I really love the films eerie use of Nights in White Satin and Nan Vernons cover of Love Hurts.
The most obvious flaw here is the films messy pacing and structure, though it makes more sense when you realize that this is the result of both a troubled production and heavy studio interference by the Weinsteins. With constant setbacks like unexpected rainstorms, airport security accidentally destroying footage, forced reshoots and even crew members allegedly stealing from the budget, its a miracle that Halloween II turned out as well as it did. Even without these issues, I find it easy to forgive most of the films shortcomings when you consider that, for better or worse, it was made by a genuine auteur fighting the studio every step of the way.
Even then, Halloween IIs nihilistic suggestion that madness can be an inherited trait, dooming some of us to repeat the mistakes of our families, is a truly terrifying and undeniably unique take on the franchise. Its a real shame that the movie was rejected by critics and audiences back when it first came out, though Im glad that its seen some reappraisal in recent years as fans realize how it paved the way for future subversive takes on horror, even leading to Zombies own Lords of Salem, his most serious film to date.
Had Zombies vision been supported by the studio and had the film come out just a few years later, when audiences were more used to established horror franchises reinventing themselves and playing with more serious ideas, Im thoroughly convinced that Halloween II would have been a massive hit. Either way, now that the spookiest season is finally upon us, Id say that this often-overlooked sequel is still worth revisiting as an exploration of the horrifying consequences of a Slasher flick.
Hobo Myers is somehow even scarier.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero