IN RETROSPECT: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II — MONSTROUS, OR MISUNDERSTOOD?

With a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween arriving in six months, now’s as good a time as any to chew over the tenth and most recent instalment in this unrelenting franchise: 2009’s Halloween II, which itself is a direct sequel to Halloween… Rob Zombie’s Halloween, not Carpenter’s. (Confusing eh?)

“I know he’s not gonna come back just because of some stoopid holiday!” spits a disheveled Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) during a session with her therapist. She is, of course, referring to Michael Myers: the maniac that butchered her parents and the majority of her friends on Halloween night a year ago. C’mon, Laurie, surely you’ve seen the other movies? Michael always comes back.

Much like his first foray into sequeldom (the blistering Devil’s Rejects), Zombie’s second assault on the Halloween series — a continuation of his ’07 remake — sticks a defiant middle finger up to its predecessor, establishing its own unique set of rules while tearing off down a perilous path of destruction. It’s essentially a grindhouse picture with art-house ingredients, blending the raw brutality of the director’s back catalogue with spatters of Lynch-lite surrealism.

By evading the usual story beats of exploitation fare, Zombie’s focus on character development — chiefly, his heroine’s psychosis — lends a surprising gravitas to the grisly goings-on; it’s rare to see a genre piece tackle the subject of post-traumatic stress with such vehemence (the pathos-laden director’s cut nails it beautifully), and Taylor-Compton emotes with all her might. Brad Dourif — as Laurie’s father figure — also brings leverage to the table, his poignant turn demonstrating that he’s truly one of the industry’s finest. But it’s the metamorphosis of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) — now a cutthroat media whore — that proves the film’s masterstroke, and McDowell relishes the opportunity to play him as an egotistical arsehole. (“I’m not going in there until you get me a cup of PG Tips with a splash of milk, and I want it sizzling hot!” he barks during one exchange with his hapless PA).

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On the visual end, sequences starring snowy cemeteries, pumpkin-headed demons and a spectral Mother Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) provide bucketfuls of unearthly eye candy; Brandon Trost’s 16mm lensing, all shadows and grain, is exquisite. More troublesome is the frequent appearance of a white horse, described as being related to “instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces” — as decoration it’s nothing if not dazzling, but the underlying pseudo-psychology feels contrived.

Naturally, being the brainchild of Rob Zombie, over-the-top violence far outweighs any true terror (he explored the art of suspense more effectively in his subsequent Lords of Salem), while his trademark four-letter dialogue wears thin. Still, nine years on, this stands out as a singularly strange work from the hands of one of the genre’s bravest craftsmen, and it’s the refusal to conform to tired tropes that has cemented its stature as the most radical — and divisive — Halloween thus far.

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