‘Love Hurts, Love Scars…’ – On Rob Zombie’s Halloween II

Written by Dominic Thornton, Edited by Harry Russell

“I’m not me! Do you understand what the fuck I’m saying?” screams Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) during the second half of Halloween II (2009), part of one of her many vivid and lingered on breakdowns in Rob Zombie’s reimagining of the Halloween franchise. It’s a film littered with such moments of vulnerability, with Taylor-Compton’s Laurie hanging on by a thread the entire runtime due to the events of the first film, her trauma central to Halloween II’s ideas of slasher films and their aftermaths.

Zombie’s first stab at a Halloween film, his remake Halloween (2007), is a frustrating experience. The first half completely distances itself from John Carpenter’s original, with Zombie delving deep into the psychology of Michael Myers as a young boy. It’s an interesting approach to start, but unfortunately, the film has to succumb to its second half, where the film abruptly remembers that it is actually a remake of Halloween (1978), deciding to sideline the interesting approach to Myers’ psychology to focus on Laurie and all her friends being murdered in a less effective way than the original. Of course, the great thing about watching the weakest film from a beloved filmmaker is trying to find that filmmaker in there somewhere, and Rob Zombie’s aesthetic and his deep love for horror is there to be found, which is more than can be said about most other 2000’s horror remakes.

“Before long it is clear that while her body managed to escape that night, her mind managed no such thing.”

Halloween II begins immediately after the close-up of Laurie’s blood-soaked mouth that ended Zombie’s original, an image and its implications that become central concerns of his sequel. The opening twenty minutes appear like an inverse of 2007’s remake, with it taking place in a hospital much like the original Halloween 2 (1981). Unlike that film, Zombie presents a minor masterpiece of a slasher, with Myers stalking Laurie through the hospital in a more terrifying and barbaric fashion than the entire runtime of 1981’s entry. Soundtracked to snippets of The Moody Blues’ ‘Nights in White Satin’, the lyrics of which echo thematic and emotional ties central to the film (“Gazing at people, some hand in hand/Just what I’m going through, they can’t understand[…]And I love you/Yes, I love), the aftermath of 2007 is also firmly felt, with scattershot close-ups of slashings, surgical procedures and murderous intent lingered on. It’s immediately apparent that wounds were created that night, and Zombie wants you to feel every single one. Following this opening, we catch up with Laurie two years later, the film deciding to sever any ties it may have had to the original series, instead fully exploring its own ideas and interests. Laurie is, understandably, a mess. The events of the first film still being relived, Laurie lashes out and alienates those who try to help her, including best friend Annie (Danielle Harris) and guardian Sheriff Bracket (Brad Dourif). Before long it is clear that while her body managed to escape that night, her mind managed no such thing.

Film critic Willow Maclay has stated that Halloween II is “closer to Halloween: Fire Walk With Me than a mindless slasher sequel”,[1] and such is true not only in audience and critical reception, but also of tone and style. Gone are the wide scope long tracking shots of wandering teens in Haddonfield, scored to anxiety-inducing synth, replaced instead by dream images of a family reunited and the trauma we can’t escape. True too is in how both Halloween II and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) deal with the character at the centre. Fire Walk With Me was largely criticised and disregarded due to its abandoning of what made Twin Peaks the TV show so successful, instead deciding to depict the mournful and dour final week of Laura Palmer. Similarly, Halloween II is much more a Laurie Strode film than a Michael Myers slasher, unflinchingly concerned with the female protagonist and her pain at the heart of the film.

Unlike most films which, rather unconvincingly, concern themselves with trauma, Zombie and Director of Photography Brandon Trost’s gritty 16mm photography captures the ugliness and brutality of having to live with a life-changing event. The established connection between Laurie and Myers helps double down such ugliness, with each murder by Myers viciously lingered on, each stab a reminder of the brutality. Take the murder of a nurse (Octavia Spencer) early in the film, with the camera pulsating with each stab of the knife, until the camera stops still, just silently gazing at the aftermath of the slaughter: a knife plunged into the nurse’s head. There’s no fun to be had with the kills here, the gore and intense violence more likely to elicit a pain in the heart than joyful excitement. Myers here may be the most frightening he’s been since 1978, Zombie lending him a very real guttural quality so that his unstoppable force appears inescapable. Yet the set-up of Zombie’s first film is ultimately fulfilled here, with continuous reminders that Myers is in fact human. Throughout, Myers is visited by visions of his dead mother, Deborah (an ethereal Sheri Moon Zombie) and a white horse, urging him to reunite with his sister. Halloween II leans heavily into the family aspect of the prior Halloween, Myers a man who just wants to be with family and loved ones that were seemingly snatched from him. It’s these moments of quiet that make the films of Rob Zombie stand out and have the impact they do: he understands that moments of humanity and calmness are necessary for the coarseness of abject violence to be felt, and nowhere else is this better represented than in the juxtaposition between Myers’ visions and reflections of family and the trail of blunt force he leaves in his wake. Love hurts, love scars…

As Myers journeys back to Haddonfield, Trost photographs the town with a true eye for atmosphere, perfectly capturing seasons in motion as October becomes November, Autumn becomes Winter, an entire absence of glowing colour. It perfectly mirrors the trauma that has infected each member of Haddonfield, from the now cynical sell-out Dr Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), to Sheriff Brackett, whose trauma is fully personified in the second half of the film upon the discovery of his murdered daughter’s body, his screams of pain intercut with images of his daughter as a little girl. People matter in the films of Rob Zombie, and their pain does too. But it is Taylor-Compton’s Laurie that is key to Halloween II, complicating its existence as a slasher sequel. An unforgettable sequence finds Laurie visiting her therapist: with Laurie recalling her morning through her scattered thoughts, Zombie edits with jump cuts, moving Laurie’s position around the therapist’s office and earlier in the morning, the edit taking on and emphatically representing her mind. This grinds to a halt as Laurie begins to break down, through tears practically begging her therapist for more medication until she reaches breaking point and lashes out. Taylor-Compton’s performance is raw and filled with vulnerability, as is Zombie’s sensitive direction – we may like to think that all the Final Girls can pick up where they left up, but there’s something here that understands that it’s never that easy, in fact, it’s much uglier and crueller.

Naturally, as is the case with all of Rob Zombie’s films, Halloween II was maligned by critics and basically forgotten by audiences. Yet recently it has been in the process of being rediscovered and reappraised by a few corners of internet cinephilia, a film reclaimed in a landscape that all but rejects it. Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is a film that understands that while wounds may heal, the scars they leave will remain. Pain presented in raw honesty; people just weren’t ready for it. Some may never be…

[1] Maclay, W. ‘The Size of Your Love: The Psychological Effects of Violence in the Horror Films of Rob Zombie’, Mubi. https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/the-size-of-your-love-the-psychological-effects-of-violence-in-the-horror-films-of-rob-zombie. (Accessed 23 October 2021)

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