When Rob zombie took on the seminal, prototype slasher ‘Halloween’, everyone was up in arms about it (including me) but when I got to see the final product I thought it was pretty good, except where it had to re-tread old ground in the last 25 minutes, but I thought the ending was suitably brutal.
Going into a sequel of a remake you are free of any expectations and can play with the formula as much as you like…and boy, did Mr. Zombie play. The reactions to ‘Halloween 2’ ranged from butt hurt fan boys to critics accusing Zombie of everything but war crimes. My defence of ‘H2’ will perhaps not convince you that the film is a ‘good’ film but simply that it isn’t the piece of reviled celluloid crime that it has been labelled as and that it is not deserving of the hate and has some merit.
‘Halloween 2’ starts off, with a definition – the first thing that viewers had complaints about –
White Horse – linked to instinct, purity and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction.
— Excerpt from the Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams
This definition, whilst quite blunt and heavy handed, was explaining what was to come, and it should have keyed everyone off to the fact that this wasn’t going to be the ‘Halloween’ or the Myers that you knew (and possibly loved). It further continues the heavy exposition with Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) presenting (a re-cast due to young actor aging) young Mike Myers with a white horse.
The film then starts properly, a few moments after the first films ending, and we find Laurie Strode (Taylor Scout Compton) wondering through the deserted streets, bloodied and broken. She is soon found and taken to hospital, this has some of the most more horrific moments in any Halloween film, the hospital surgery, the doctors discussing what happened all matter-of-fact whilst the surgery continues. In what could be described as a condensed version of ‘Halloween II’ Zombie creates a pretty terrifying sequence that ends with the old “it’s a dream” trope – that sure pissed people off, but let’s not forget the whole film is about dreams and dreamscapes, annoying as it might be, it ties in. Zombie milks these dream sequences for all he can, they are bizarre and weird but provide some very striking images.
At its core ‘H2’ is about mental illness, post-traumatic stress and – god forgive me – family. Laurie is an absolute basket case as you would imagine. Some have criticised the posters in Laurie’s room, saying that she wouldn’t be into all the dark things – (like the Mason poster for example), despite the fact that with the tiniest piece of research you can find some Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome papers that state PTSD victims are all liable to do this or totally go the other way, so it is an unfair criticism to begin with. She consistently drives away the people that want to help her, has huge mood swings and self medicates, all consistent behaviours with PTSD. Taylor Scout-Thompson puts her all into this and it’s a brave performance because people would find her annoying, accusing her of being hysterical all the time (which they did) but I found it to be a decent, if not emotionally over-wrought performance. Staying with her friend Annie (and her father Sheriff Brackett whom I will get to later), who was also attacked in the event of the first film but survived, carries her scars as well but Annie seems more withdrawn never once in the film do we see her outside of the house. This is a semi-real life examination of how people surviving something as horrific as that attack may act. Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) is Annie’s dad and Laurie’s step dad. Brackett is far and away the best performance in H2, in fact I’d go so far as to say it is one of the better performances in a horror film; trying to hold everything together, he is a guy walking on eggshells the whole time, not wanting to upset anyone, wanting to protect the girls all the while trying to piece together his own life. It’s a really great performance bringing empathy and weariness that comes from having to accept things as they are.
This leads up to the two main protagonists, Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers himself, perhaps the two most controversial choices in the film.
I’ll start with Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) in short, he is an A-hole – note the capital “A”. This is one of the main issues people have with the film, however I’ll put it to you that Dr. Loomis in all other Halloween films is an A-hole, always trying to make up for his past errors and in the process people get killed.
As for the Malcolm McDowell Loomis – It is one of those “how would you react?” roles. Loomis has turned his back on what would be his obvious grief and feelings of failure and guilt to give his life some different kind of meaning. There are plenty of real life examples of where this has happened in which money has been made from tragedy. Loomis keeps everyone at arms-length as everything about him now is false – possibly he is wearing his own mask by becoming this jerk?
Now onto Michael Myers – A totally different take on Myers which had never even remotely been tried before. I’ll be the first to admit that as a ‘Halloween’ fan, messing with Myers is sacrilegious. However I will give Zombie praise here for having the balls to try and put a different spin on Myers. For a start, he makes loud sounds, which is nothing all that new, you hear him breathing all through the other Halloweens, it’s just louder here. Remember this isn’t Myers of the original ‘Halloween’; for the first time Myers spends long stretches of the film without a mask. But Michael Myers IS the mask, I hear you say? Well whilst this may have been true, this Myers has evolved somewhat. His mask was something to hide behind, something to wear to hide away from the world. In ‘H2’ he is hiding in plain sight and the mask is a very much a ‘game face’ for when he kills.
(Besides having no mask is much less conspicuous than following a bunch of girls around in a mask in the day time).
Now onto Ghost Mom, whilst this was a way of shoe-horning his wife into the film (not the first time a director has done that either) and the fact that a lot of it didn’t work, the idea behind it was good, perhaps if it were handled in a different way in, a voice over maybe; it may not have been as distracting as it was.
Zombie’s film is gritty and is certainly not the usual ‘Halloween’ setting – he creates some amazing visuals and the make-up creates some truly brutal effects. Zombie’s writing has never been his strong point and that is on show here. There is also the major issue of the ‘Halloween’ music; it is not used until the end of the film, which was a bone of contention for many. However, I feel that this version of ‘Halloween’ really didn’t need or warrant the original score. Zombie seemed to want to be its own beast set inside the ‘Halloween’ universe.
With ‘H2’ being called out about the fact that it wasn’t really a ‘Halloween’ film and that the franchise had been irrevocably destroyed, I think all these remarks are very short sighted. Yes Rob Zombie took some major risks, some of them copped a backlash, however one thing horror fans crave is originality – Zombie gave that to them in spades in this film, unfortunately though it seems that we all do want original ideas, we just don’t want them with franchise characters. So whether or not you see this film as an abject failure that killed Halloween (it hasn’t and you can guarantee it will be back sooner rather than later) or just bad film, it remains that this film cops a really bad and unfair wrap. If everyone can seem to be ok with Busta Rhymes fighting Myers with Kung Fu, then you should be ok with this.