Though I’d never much cared for Rob Zombie’s films, I was excited when I heard he’d be heading the 2007 Halloween remake. I thought the project would bring out the best in the writer-director, provide a familiar context for his vision while tempering his urge to glorify monstrous behaviour. The result, of course, proved disappointing. I expected a more thoughtful exploration of evil, a demented journey into the hearts of Michael Myers and his victims. As it turns out, I expected something like Halloween II.
The movie begins with an obligatory tribute to the original Halloween II (1981), in which Laurie, having just survived the first picture, spends an hour and a half running down empty hospital corridors in the hopes of eluding her mad brother. The cat-and-mouse bit is more effective in this version, providing genuine suspense and atmosphere, but the sequence is cut short in favour of actual substance. It’s nice to see a creative team finally break from the formula, which had grown stale over five sequels ago.
Jumping two years forward, the bulk of the story deals instead with the consequences of the previous instalment’s massacre. Haddonfield, Illinois, is a town in mourning. It’s also a farming community in Georgia all of a sudden, but never mind. Orphaned for the second time in her young life, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) now lives with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris), whose facial scars serve as constant reminders of their lost innocence.
There’s something endearing about the Sheriff’s inept attempts to bring joy and stability back into his teenage charges’ lives. Brad Dourif usually plays the monster or secondary psychopath in this sort of film, but here he makes his character a tragic hero, evoking the growing desperation of a fragile but goodhearted man facing impossible odds. His performance proves one of the most compelling in the franchise since Donald Pleasence’s portrayal of Dr Loomis.
In fact, Brackett has more in common with the original Loomis than Malcolm McDowell’s character, who spends most of the movie alienating everyone on his book tour. As the renowned psychiatrist milks the Haddonfield tragedy for all its worth, we get the sense of a man so consumed with survivor’s guilt he’s convinced himself a monster, playing the part with suicidal abandon. This leads to some fascinating turns, including a confrontation with the parent of one of Michael’s victims.
Zombie also makes great use of Danielle Harris, who’s now appeared in as many Halloween features as Jamie Lee Curtis, despite having quit the first series as a kid because she didn’t think getting raped by her uncle to spawn some sort of devil child a particularly interesting direction for her character (imagine that). For many fans, the actress has come to represent the light balancing Michael’s spiritual black hole, and her new role as makeshift mother figure to the deteriorating Laurie plays nicely into her iconic status.
The light and darkness in Halloween II don’t pertain to life and death, but to the struggle taking place in Laurie’s psyche. On the verge of a mental breakdown, the heroine externalizes every bit of hurt, reinventing herself as an edgy punk chick and lashing out at those who seek to heal her. Laurie also suffers from the same hallucinations as Michael. Whether they comprise repressed memories, a psychic connection, or the machinations of a malevolent spirit is left unclear. As the story progresses, so does the ambiguity, as we’re left to wonder if key visions belong to the girl or her murderous sibling.
Oh, yeah, Michael’s in this flick. Every now and then, the movie cuts to the escaped mental patient slaughtering his way back to Haddonfield in improbably gruesome ways, boring the audience with graphic slasher clichés. In fairness, the scenes focus less on gore than rage, providing several glimpses at the monster’s fractured identity. Intriguingly, Michael sees himself as three separate entities: the mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), the son (Chase Vanek), and the unholy shape (Tyler Mane).
Still, these repetitive kill sequences go on far too long, and I can’t help the feeling Zombie tacked them on to appease some bloodthirsty studio head. When it relates to the plot, the violence proves remarkably more effective, such as when tragedy hits Laurie’s new home. Consider the way the narrative skips over Michael’s actions, focusing instead on the aftermath of his cruelty and the loss felt by his victim’s loved ones. It’s like watching hope itself take one on the chin.
Given Halloween fans’ vitriolic reaction to the director’s first entry in the franchise, it’s hard to fathom what possessed the producers to give him free reign on this one, but they made the right call. Exploring the difference between surviving a calamity and living passed it, Halloween II stands out in both the Michael Myers series and Rob Zombie’s body of work because it understands every act of violence bears its consequences on the human spirit. I wish more slashers were this sensible.