For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
Note: Some of the scenes and thematic material referenced in this piece are based on the director’s cut of the film, which makes some major changes to the character of Laurie Strode, and is — in this writer’s opinion — far superior.
We all have mistakes from our past upon which we shudder to look back. Some are easily forgotten, pushed away deep into the recesses of our memories. Others continue to haunt us no matter how desperately we wish to forget them … like this negative review of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (henceforth H2) that I wrote for my high school newspaper back in 2009. Yes, to my great shame, there was a time when I thought that H2 was somehow a bad movie rather than one of the best horror films of that decade. Such is the folly of youth.
Right now, a different Halloween sequel is currently dividing fans for taking some huge narrative swings, but there’s really no understating how overwhelmingly negative the reactions were to Zombie’s sequel, which followed his already-polarizing 2007 remake. If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that fans rarely appreciate it when a filmmaker draws outside the lines of a beloved series. But unlike more divisive franchise entries such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, H2 doesn’t just playfully toy with audience expectations, it inverts them entirely.
If Zombie’s first Halloween took a Batman Begins approach to John Carpenter’s original — offering painstaking (and often uninteresting) explanations for Michael Myers’ transformation into Haddonfield’s boogeyman — H2 plays more like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games for slashers in how it deconstructs modern horror tropes by giving viewers the exact opposite of what they’ve come to expect and, in the process, commenting on the genre (or in this case, the Halloween series) itself.
It’s easy to understand why so many saw H2 as an affront to everything for which the Michael Myers character previously stood. And frankly, that’s because it is. Michael is no longer a silent, faceless specter whose motives are completely inexplicable. Here, his motives are front and center, his face is frequently unmasked and his kills are frequently punctuated with human grunts and shouts that betray a deep well of rage. If the appeal of Myers in the 1978 original was his complete inaccessibility, Zombie’s Myers (played by a hulking Tyler Mane) is almost perversely accessible — a repudiation of the idea that our slasher villains need to seem beyond explanation to be frightening.
That idea, however, can only work if the movie itself is actually scary, and thankfully, H2 is without question the scariest of the series. Despite the constant reminders Zombie gives us that Myers is in fact human, there is something about his sheer inevitability that instills the movie with an elemental sense of dread. Long, towering shots of Myers — decked in tattered clothes and an enormous beard — trudging across decaying midwestern fields directly parallel the creeping paranoia Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) feels as another Halloween night approaches.
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of H2 is the knowledge we have that Laurie’s fears will soon be confirmed. Two years after her encounter with Michael that killed her adoptive parents and one of her best friends, Laurie is an entirely different person, wracked by trauma and guilt. Where David Gordon Green’s 2018 reboot found Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie a tough-as-nails survivalist 40 years later, Zombie’s iteration of Laurie is a shell of who she was, prone to fits of mania and fury. Her relationship with her closest friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), is strained due to the responsibility Laurie feels for what happened to them both that night.
Laurie’s mental state wasn’t the only thing left in disarray from Michael’s rampage: The town of Haddonfield itself is now a dreary hellscape. Zombie chose to shoot this sequel in 16mm film, in stark contrast to the warm 1970s look of his first movie, and the cinematography’s grimy texture reflects the evil that has now wormed its way into the population’s psyche. Even the once-noble Dr. Loomis (a terrifically smarmy Malcolm McDowell) has turned into a money-grubbing diva, exploiting the town’s tragedy in a tell-all book about his time as Michael’s psychologist. It’s almost as if the moral decay of Haddonfield is what lures Michael back once again.
And the only thing more unsettling than the anticipation of Michael’s return home is seeing what happens to the people he meets along the way. Like the aforementioned Funny Games, H2 takes horror-movie violence to its logical extreme; there is nothing fun or creative about the kills here. Myers is an unstoppable force without any immovable objects to blunt his impact. People don’t just die in this movie, they’re wiped off the face of the earth, destroyed beyond recognition. The festering evil Myers represents is ugly and cruel, and Zombie wants to make sure there’s not a single moment for audiences to cheer. It’s a far cry from the series that, only seven years before, had Busta Rhymes delivering a roundhouse kick to Michael Myers’ face.
Halloween fans weren’t ready for H2 back in 2009. Even I was too shocked by how severely Zombie strayed from the series’ course to truly appreciate how unique a vision this was at the time and remains today. Every horror movie with an A24 stamp (and even the current Halloween trilogy) presents itself as a profound examination of grief or trauma, but very few actually make you feel the characters’ anguish in the visceral way Zombie did here. It’s a harrowing experience to be sure, and maybe in retrospect, it was foolish for Dimension Films to think this would hold any appeal whatsoever for casual moviegoers. But those looking for a crowd-pleasing Halloween have plenty of other options. I, for one, am just glad it exists.