Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” (2009)

A sequel to Rob Zombie’s re-imagining of HALLOWEEN (2007) was inevitable.  The HALLOWEEN series had already seen earlier entries, and Zombie’s efforts were always intended to reboot the franchise for the 21st century.  Zombie himself was not interested in doing a sequel, stating that he had said all he had wanted to say with the property via his original film. When Dimension finally gave the greenlight to HALLOWEEN II in 2009, Zombie found himself in something of a bind—should he pass on the project (and let another director potentially sully his vision?), or take on the job himself and build on the foundations he had previously laid?  The directing profession requires a bit of ego, so it’s not a surprise to me that Dimension’s greenlighting of the film prompted Zombie to sign back on in order to protect the sanctity of his vision.

Making a sequel to a remake of a film that itself had spawned several sequels (dizzy yet?) is a tricky proposition.  Do you simply re-make the sequel?  If you do, you risk falling into the trap of re-making all the subsequent installments.  Thankfully, Zombie wasn’t interested in re-making Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel (also called HALLOWEEN II)—instead he saw a way to build out from his original vision.  He was no longer beholden by a reverence for Carpenter’s creation.  He was free to make a HALLOWEEN film as if it one had never been made before.  But the ability to fully indulge in one’s directorial vision without a system of checks and balances carries its own risks, and in the case of Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II, his excess ultimately derails his efforts.  His gritty, overbearing vision and exploration of Laurie Strode’s shattered psyche, while commendable for not resting on its laurels, led to modest box office, savage reviews, and arguably the highest-profile failure of his film career up to this point.

Much like Rosenthal’s HALLOWEEN II, Zombie picks up right where we left off, with a re-animated Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) tracking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) down to the hospital where she’s currently recovering from the events of the first film.  But unlike the 1981 sequel, Zombie reveals this all to be an extended dream sequence.  In the reality of the narrative, it’s now two years later and Laurie is living with the Brackett family and attempting to move on with her life.  She’s devolved quite noticeably since we saw her last, having adopted a grungy, goth style and lashing out at her friend Annie (Danielle Harris), who she forgets also barely survived Michael’s reign of terror.  Laurie is tortured by horrific visions and a general hopelessness that even her psychiatrist can’t help her dig out of.  Meanwhile, Myers has been in seclusion—biding his time until he can return to Haddonfield and find Laurie, his long-lost baby sister.  He’s driven by visions of his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), who has taken on an ethereal, vengeful form and urges him forward on his unholy quest. Simultaneously, Dr. Sam Loomis (Michael McDowell) has been quite busy, having released a lurid new book about the Myers family.  His success has blinded him to his out-of-control ego and misogyny, and when Michael once again pops up in Haddonfield, he is overcome with a desire to redeem himself and help put a stop to Michael’s killing spree once and for all.

Taylor Compton reprises the role of Laurie, now noticeably traumatized and perhaps resigned to her fate.  She’s adopted a goth style of dress, and has forsaken her best friend Annie for a pair of similarly-styled suicide girls from work.  This iteration of the character is a much meatier role for Taylor Compton, who completely eschews the cute, geeky demeanor she had in the previous film.  Now, she flails around venomously, sinking even deeper into a pit of despair.  This was an interesting writing choice on Zombie’s part to explore the psyche of someone trying to move on after experiencing horrific trauma.  How would that change your fundamental character and your outlook on life?

Also reprising his role as Dr. Loomis, Michael McDowell’s character has taken a turn towards the worst.  His penchant for indulgence and theatricality has reached its logical zenith: an insatiably egotistical asshole.  He’s gotten rich off exploiting the Myers family tragedy, and it’s blinded him to the hurt he’s causing the survivors.  McDowell’s arc is one of redemption, with his tacky, misogynist behavior giving way to a reawakening of conscience upon Michael’s re-emergence.

Tyler Mane also returns as Michael Myers, the silent psychopath and star of the HALLOWEEN series.  Rather boldly, Zombie chooses to depict Michael for the majority of the film’s runtime without his iconic mask.  Instead, he appears as a giant hobo, complete with full mountain man beard.  He feels much more human in this installment (disregarding his superhuman resistance to things like bullets or shovels, obviously).  Zombie’s HALLOWEEN films are strikingly different than any other slasher property out there, because he takes the time to explore the psyche and intentions of his monster.

Zombie’s supporting cast is much more concentrated than it was in the previous HALLOWEEN.  Zombie’s wife and most-recurring performer, Sheri Moon, returns as Deborah Myers, but no longer as the caring single mother she once was.  In death, she has become an ethereal Lady In White, appearing alongside a white horse and coldly commanding Michael to kill Laurie so their family can be reunited in the afterlife.  As Sheriff Brackett, Brad Dourif is older and wearier, even having let his hair grow out.  He’s a little more laid back than he was in the previous film, nearing retirement and old age.  His general joviality belies the fact that he has the most to lose from Michael’s re-emergence.

HALLOWEEN series veteran Danielle Harris again returns as Annie, now physically and emotionally scarred from her encounter with Michael.  Unlike Laurie, she has largely moved on and is trying to live a normal life.  Her sarcastic sense of humor is still intact, but Laurie’s increasing distance from her becomes a source of stress and conflict.  Because Zombie’s focus is scaled down on a small number of characters, he has to go without several of his key repertory players for the first time in his career—actors like Sid Haig, Bill Mosely and Tom Towles have to sit out this round.

Zombie further distances his vision from any associations with Carpenter via the look of HALLOWEEN II, which departs quite noticeably from even its predecessor and easily becomes the most stylized film of the series.  Unlike the relative polish of HALLOWEEN’s 35mm anamorphic presentation, HALLOWEEN II revels in amplified grain and darkness via handheld Super 16mm film.  Colors are substantially drained from the picture leaving behind a steely palette of blues, grays, and greens.  Even the blood takes on a black, brackish quality.  Zombie’s camerawork is inconsistent, veering wildly from handheld closeups to strangely out-of-place aerials shots of Michael walking in the countryside—shots that belong more in THE LORD OF THE RINGS franchise than HALLOWEEN.

Cinematographer Phil Parmet, who has reliably shot Zombie’s work since THE DEVIL’S REJECTS in 2005 is replaced in HALLOWEEN II by newcomer Brandon Trost.  As such, Zombie’s shooting style changes ever so slightly.  The picture as a whole is decidedly darker, the violence more brutal and distant.  Zombie’s compositions are more considered, shooting through prisms and bars to create visual abstractions in the frame, or shooting into the light to create expressionistic silhouettes and lens flares.

The subplot of Michael having visions of his mother requires Zombie to stray from his gritty aesthetic and convey a surreal dreamscape, which he achieves through bold light, ethereal costumes and heavy color grading.  His visual treatment of Haddonfield has also changed, conveying a look that’s much more rustic than the suburbia depicted in the previous film. This might be due to the fact that the filmmakers shot not in Hollywood and Pasadena, but in rural Georgia to take advantage of its natural, woodsy beauty (and a convenient little tax break).

Tyler Bates returns to score the film, and one of the most notable things about his contribution this time around is the virtual absence of Carpenter’s iconic theme.  It doesn’t appear at all until the film’s final scene.  The extent of Zombie’s imprint on the film was so pervading that any trace of Carpenter felt off-tone.  Every time Zombie and Bates tried to incorporate the classic HALLOWEEN theme, they consistently found that it didn’t work.  Instead, Bates chose to build on the pulsing, ambient electronic sound he developed for the previous film, evolving it into a score that’s very industrial and a-tonal.  One of the score’s missteps is a weird choral requiem that happens when we find one of Laurie’s friends dead.  It sounds like some cheesy Enya song, unlike anything Zombie would ever allow into his work.

On the source track side of the music, Zombie uses his gifted ear to find some inspired selections.  He uses The Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin” to chilling effect during the hospital sequence, along with a few other country and punk songs that help to fill out the world of the story.  In the version of the film that I watched (The Director’s Cut), Zombie even incorporates a callback to his first film, ending his story with a haunting, minimalized cover of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts”, and in the process creates an unexpected theme song for the ill-fated Myers family.

I’m not sure what it is about sequels with Zombie, but he has a habit of making his second installments considerably different, and usually grungier, than the originals.  He did it with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS by swapping out the lurid, big-budget 35mm theatricality of the former with the handheld 16mm grit of the latter.  The same goes for his two HALLOWEEN films, with Zombie opting for the lower gauge 16mm film stock to amplify grain and “dirty up” the image.  The film is filled with imagery that’s become an indispensable part of his aesthetic:  Halloween decorations, masks, carnivals/clowns, rednecks with long greasy hair, neon-bathed strip clubs, burlesque, and mixed media (like the inclusion of a standard-definition VHS clip showing Danielle Harris as a child).

To his credit, Zombie doesn’t approach HALLOWEEN II as a run-of-the-mill horror film.  He makes very bold, unconventional choices and distances himself from Michael’s carnage— the kills are consistently seen in wide compositions, or filtered through an abstraction in the foreground.  One memorable kill is a very wide shot that sees Michael appearing literally from out of the blackness of the frame, confidently striding up to a policeman and taking him by surprise.  Zombie even uses Malick-esque cross-cutting and parallel action to layer a kill, letting us hear the bloodcurdling audio while footage of the police descending upon the location plays over it.  It’s in the experimental execution and exploration of the horror genre’s cinematic language that Zombie’s approach is most satisfying.  It elevates an otherwise middling horror film into something inspired and different.  Zombie could’ve played it safe with a more-conventional approach, and it would have undoubtedly resulted in better numbers and critical reception.  However, I have to respect Zombie’s desire to transcend the constraints of the genre and find new ways of expression.

But for all his efforts and best intentions, Zombie ultimately couldn’t transcend a deep-seated ambivalence.  Remember that he had never wanted to make sequel in the first place, and he only signed on so it would at least be done on his terms.  It’s incredibly hard to supersede a fundamental opposition like that, so whatever inspiration he was able to muster up could only carry the film so far.  In a sense, the film was doomed before a single frame was ever shot.  Critics smelled the blood in the water, and they tore it apart.  Bad reviews led to diminished box office returns, and HALLOWEEN II went down as Zombie’s biggest failure.

Zombie’s career is still recovering from the blow—his later works have all been low-profile television and indie projects.  It’s easy to dismiss HALLOWEEN II, as I had originally done when I first saw it years ago, but watching it in the context of Zombie’s other works, the film’s subtle layers revealed themselves and provide an interesting insight into how Zombie’s approach to film craft has evolved.

HALLOWEEN II is currently available on high definition Blu Ray via Sony.


Produced by: Malek Akkad, Andy Gould, Rob Zombie, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein

Written by: Rob Zombie

Director of Photography: Brandon Trost

Production Designer: Garreth Stoyer

Edited by: Glenn Garland, Joel T. Pashby

Music by: Tyler Bates