The Film: Rob Zombie’s H2: Halloween II

The Principals: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcom McDowell, Tyler Mane, Brad Douriff, Daniellle Harris, Sherri Moon Zombie, Rob Zombie’s unbridled ego.

The Premise: One year (or two years, depending on which cut of the film you watch) after masked killer Michael Myer’s (Mane) brutal rampage on Haddonfield Illinois, survivor Laurie Strode (Tayor-Compton) is a hot mess. When she’s not fighting with her therapist or her best friend and fellow survivor Annie (Harris), she’s working at the local coffee shop and partying with her party girl friends. To make matters worse, Halloween is approaching, and Annie is suffering from terrifying dreams of Michael stalking and killing her. When Michael’s former therapist Dr. Loomis (McDowell) publishes an exploitive best seller detailing Michael’s madness, he reveals to the world that Laurie is Michael’s sister, a fact to which she was previously unaware, and Laurie really goes off the deep end. But the worst is yet to come. Michael actually survived his “death” at Laurie’s hand a year (or two) earlier, and spurned by his own family-related visions, is returning to Haddonfield to finish what he started.

Is It Good: Yes! Wait wait wait…don’t go. Let me explain! OK, by all rational and possibly reasonable standards, Rob Zombie’s sequel to his rightfully maligned remake of Carpenter’s classic Halloween is, like the main character, a hot mess. On just a basic filmic level it is a shotgun blast of technique and editing that sometimes works in creating tension and horror, bit sometimes fails completely at creating, well, anything. Taken as an entry in the Halloween franchise, it is an insult. There is barely anything in here that Halloween fans can recognize from the films leading up to Zombie’s 2007 remake, and in fact if it were not for the cast, there would be barely be anything even recognizable from the remake itself. Haddonfield isn’t the same place, the characters have all gone through radical personality shifts to the point of being unrecognizable, and even Michael himself has traded his simple, iconic look for that of a raggedy-man hobo.  Change the character’s names and take “Halloween” off the title and you would have a slasher film that bore no resemblance to the franchise from which it was spawned.

And that is exactly the mindset you need to take if you are going to see what a glorious, unique snowflake of a horror film Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is. This movie is friggin’ nuts. It is a shrieking, gonzo, hyper-violent fever dream of a film, and while it does bear some of Zombie’s more tiresome fetishes as a filmmaker, it has that crazed “so-bad-it’s good” quality that fans of mondo cinema seek out. The film is 100 percent earnest in its intentions, a fact underlined by the bizarre title card which explains to you the viewer what the image of the white horse symbolizes in a historical context so that you’ll know what Zombie was up to when he shoehorns his awkward white horse imagery into the film’s many hallucination/dream sequences.  This is pretentious film-school bullshit stitched to batshit grindhouse, and the results are wildly uneven and unhinged in a way that is rarely seen in mainstream cinema and never, ever seen in a major franchise horror film. You may not like what you are seeing, but you have to at least respect the fact that it got there.

The main problem you are likely to have as you sit down to watch H2 is that there is barely anyone to root for in this thing. Much credit should be given to Harris and Douriff as the Brackett family because they are the only sympathetic people in Zombie’s redneck vision of Haddonfield, and Douriff really brings his academy-award winning A-game to the role of the town sheriff, becoming the closest thing the film has to a true hero.  Everyone else in the film is either hysterical, sleazy, or downright evil.  And if you’ve followed Zombie’s output as a filmmaker you know that this is the way he likes it. It was a really incongruous fit for his remake of the original Halloween; Carpenter’s seminal ‘78 film was about the faceless evil of the suburbs and Zombie’s vision would have been far better suited for a Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw remakes. He changed white-bread Haddonfield into white trash whenever it suited him, and the results were a film that seemed to miss the point of the original to a spectacular degree. Divorced from the need to homage the original Halloween (no one cares about honoring the original Halloween II, though Zombie does actually sort of manage to do that) Zombie is allowed to go nuts creating his carnival scumbag Haddonfield which taken on its own terms is a pretty fun place in which to unleash a giant hallucinating hobo slasher with a suitably giant knife. It’s a crazy backdrop for an even crazier story, if you can even rightfully call the content of H2 a story.

Yeah, I’m not going to defend the film on a story level. How could I? This is a narrative that contains 15 minutes of flashback/dream sequence (?) by way of introduction! Luis Bunuel or David Lynch couldn’t defend that as a reasonable narrative device! Logic and reason have no place in Zombie’s world, but if you are the type of person to enjoy the dream-logic horrors of 70’s Italian cinema, you may have what it takes to roll with the proceedings here. To say that the film has a structure is ludicrous – it is basically a magic carpet of crazy that takes you wherever it wants you to go, and where it wants you to go is someplace extremely unpleasant.  Once the film settles into its “narrative” it is basically just scenes of Laurie losing her shit and Michael murdering his way towards Haddonfield until they are brought together in one of the most bizarre climaxes ever given to a slasher film.  The side characters are all dealt with in one fashion or another, but this movie is really about two bugnuts siblings coming together in a literal bond of blood. And for me, that is the only “story” H2 requires.

This is a film that defies conventional criticism. To find plotholes and narrative flaws in H2 is a fool’s errand. This is a film that sets an extended stalk-n-slash sequence to “Knights In White Satin” and closes with a wispy Indie rock version of “Love Hurts”! You’re going to try to apply logic and serious critical thought to something that makes those types of artistic choices? Good luck with that. Half the time you don’t know what is real, imagined or a dream, and frankly my interpretation of the movie is that it is really just all one fevered hallucination. I choose to take it that way and I’m willing to bet Zombie wouldn’t even argue me down on that front. I think he just set out to make the craziest thing he could in the brief time he was allotted, and on that level I think he succeeded admirably. Does it make sense? Hell no, but for those willing to go along with the ride there are real pleasures to be had.

Look, I’m not going to begrudge anyone their hatred of this movie. Maybe you don’t have the “so-bad-it’s-good gene”, maybe you love the Halloween franchise too much to give this film a fair shake, maybe you can’t see past your hatred of Rob Zombie and his aesthetic. Or maybe you just think it sucks.  I will accept any of those reasons. But for anyone with a love of gonzo horror who doesn’t suffer from the aforementioned impairments, you owe yourself a viewing of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. The violence is brutal and visceral, the imagery is whack-a-do and sometimes even lovely, and the film is going to take you places you didn’t expect to go and might even scare you a tiny bit. In my opinion it is the true red-headed stepchild of the Halloween franchise, even more so than the crazy and incongruous Halloween III.  So instead of going for one of the easy classics, why not challenge yourself with a viewing of Rob Zombie’s fever-dream franchise entry this Halloween? You might, just might, be glad you did.

Random Anecdotes: Rob Zombie did not want to make a sequel to his Halloween, and only agreed to do so if given free reign to do whatever he wanted. It shows in the film. He also wrote the “script” in two weeks. That also shows.

Cinematic Soulmates: The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1,000 Corpses, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original), Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Halloween II (1978), Italian horror and Giallo cinema of the 1970’s.