Well, I hated Rob Zombie’s first Halloween, but I’ll give credit where credit is due: his sequel is brutally effective, a nightmarish vision that almost reaches arthouse pretensions. It still doesn’t work as a movie – it drags along with a near total lack of suspense or tension, looks so damn ugly, and all these characters are still unlikable – but as a visceral punch to the gut it delivers the goods.
Like the 1981 sequel to John Carpenter’s original, Halloween II picks up right where the first entry left off: it’s the same night as the events of the previous film, Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) has been ‘killed’, and Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) are taken to the local hospital.
Of course, Myers isn’t really dead, and he’s soon murdering nurses and watchmen and stalking Laurie through chilly hospital corridors. It’s taken right from Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, and while straightforward, some of the better work by Zombie in his sequel: there’s some actual pacing and atmosphere on display.
But it’s all too brief: the film suddenly diverges and we flash-forward to one year later. Laurie is now living with Annie and her father, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif); she still has nightmares about the events of a year ago and is seeing a psychiatrist (played by Margot Kidder).
Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) has turned into a media whore to promote his new book, which promises to reveal new secrets about Myers, who has become a serial killer phenomenon.
Ah yes, Michael Myers; his body was never recovered, though Laurie and Loomis adamantly deny he could still be out there. Orcould he? Yes, apparently Myers has been living in a makeshift cabin in the woods for the past year – just like Jason Vorhees – waiting to make his return on Halloween Day.
Zombie amps up the realism here, giving us a raggedy-clothed, long-bearded, rotted-mask wearing Hobo Myers, who does indeed return to Haddonfield to embark on another killing spree.
And thus we have a decapitation via a shard of glass, strangulations, endless stabbings, brutal bare-hand violence, and the showstopper, when Myers stomps a man’s face into a bloody pulp and then props him up for display. This isn’t your typical studio slasher film; the violence is realistic and sickening and with each thrust of the knife – we don’t usually see penetration, but the soundtrack fills us in – I was disgusted and uncomfortable.
I give a lot of credit to Zombie because this is exactly how on-screen violence should be depicted, and most cinephiles will leave his film feeling like they would after leaving Pasolini’s Salo. I only fear that the actual audience for Halloween II is receiving it quite differently.
Now, the rest of this movie is just as bad as his first, but Zombie at least takes it to such wildly divergent depths that he’s no longer mimicking a classic original and looking pale in comparison. John Carpenter’s original Halloween was a masterpiece that stood far above all the sequels and imitations and the slasher genre that it heavily influenced.
Zombie’s Halloween II is on the very fringe of that genre, with talk show excursions featuring Weird Al Yankovic and Michael Myers dream sequences featuring his younger self, his mother, a gallant white horse, and rotting pumpkin people gathered around a dinner table. It’s so far removed from the original that it fails to offend its memory, no matter how hard Zombie tries.
But there’s little atmosphere on display outside of a grungy cesspool. The characters (including Laurie Strode) are all vulgar trailer trash, Jerry Springer rejects that we come to hate and don’t mind seeing slaughtered.
McDowell is usually fun to watch, but to even the playing field, the Loomis character has been turned into an indefensible prick. There’s no suspense in the film; it’s all kill, kill kill. Admittedly, there are some memorable moments amidst the dreck.
Halloween II is too pretentious for mainstream audiences and too vile for most everyone else, though a select few may appreciate it and Zombie’s vision.