AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS PIECE WAS PUBLISHED IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM ON “POP DAMAGE” TO COINCIDE WITH THE VIDEO RELEASE OF “HALLOWEEN II” IN JANUARY 2010.

There is a moment in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween that gets me every time. The “Love Hurts” montage. It is a moment of emotional audacity that one doesn’t expect. The hollow sadness on Deborah Myers’ (Sheri Moon Zombie) face as she dances at the Rabbit in Red juxtaposed with Michael’s solitude on the stairs before he murders the rest of the family. The dread I feel knowing what lay ahead for the family, being that it’s Halloween and Michael’s in his clown costume… It’s not a subtle move but Zombie completely goes for it anyway, and it kills me. I never dreamt there’d be a moment as bombastic in Halloween II.

In Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: Unrated Director’s Cut, it’s the whole damn movie. I was blown away by Rob Zombie’s Halloween II when it debuted in theaters last August. It was met with underserved hostility from a cross-section of critics and purists alike.

Let me start by saying that I believe Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (in both its Theatrical and Director’s Cut versions) is the best entry the franchise has seen since John Carpenter’s 1978 original. I also think it is important to note that Zombie’s films stand alone as the only instance in the series where an individual has completed a story arc spanning more than one film in both capacities as writer/director. It is a film that, from the moment it begins, creates an atmosphere of unrelenting sadness and horror that transforms the film into the darkest of fairy tales. As a fan, it was like getting the best present I’ve had in years. And it had been a long time coming.

THE RISE AND FALL OF MICHAEL MYERS: HALLOWEEN, 1981 – 1995

There was always trouble sequelizing John Carpenter’s Halloween. John Carpenter clearly wanted no sequels to his original film, and tried killing Michael and Loomis in the explosion at the climax of 1981’s Halloween II. Carpenter then produced the Myers-free Halloween III: Season Of the Witch in the hopes of creating a Tales from the Crypt style anthology series of holiday-themed horror films with no references to the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. Carpenter finally washed his hands of the franchise after failed negotiations for a more meta-textual (predating the likes of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) fourth entry.

Then came 1988, and Dwight H. Little’s triumphant Halloween 4. A back to basics approach, Director Little brought Michael back to the forefront of the series with an older, increasingly unhinged Loomis in tow. The film also introduced the framework on which future installments could be hung — the debut of Danielle Harris as Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie. Jamie shared a sort of telepathic link to her uncle Michael, which threatened to transform her into a destructive force, possibly as a future murderer in the franchise. Halloween 4 did solid business at the box office, and a fifth installment was slated for release just one year after its theatrical debut without a plan or a script. 

Halloween 5 was written without a clear idea of where core story elements would lead in future installments. It offers more of the same, with Michael pursuing Jamie, the extension of the psychic link established in Halloween 4, an ever more manic Dr. Loomis who’d I wager is more terrifying to kids than Michael Myers and an unfathomable ending which seems to give Michael a new accomplice. Halloween 6 writer Daniel Farrands has stated that no one, not the producers, writers, or director knew the identity of the mysterious “Man In Black” who facilitates Michael’s escape at the end of part 5. Farrands was left to create a cohesive mythos around disparaging elements, introducing the cult of Thorn (a nod to Michael’s scrawling of Samhain on a chalkboard in 1981’s Halloween II) the return of Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd’s first role) to act as a fellow crusader with Loomis, and the revelation of the Man in Black as Loomis’s colleague Dr. Wynn from the first film. These elements did serve to tie latter entries in the series to the first two, with better results in the unreleased “Producer’s Cut” of 6, and not-so-good results in the final mishmash that became the theatrical cut. For me, and a lot of other Halloween fans I know, that’s the end of the series proper. Other fans still hang around for what I consider to be the unkindest cuts of all: Halloween: H20 and Halloween: Resurrection.

THE CURSE OF BUSTA RHYMES: HALLOWEEN, 1998 – 2002

Kevin Williamson (Best known now and hopefully for all-time, as the creator of Dawson’s Creek) wrote a clever spec script called Scary Movie that effectively deconstructed slasher film conceits with self-reflexive humor and plot twists that toyed with the expectations of horror audiences before finally conforming to them. The script started a major bidding war, ended up as being filmed as Wes Craven’s Scream, and ushered in the mainstream post-modern horror film. The would-be wunderkind went on to adapt Lois Duncan’s young adult suspense novel I Know What You Did Last Summer into a straight slasher film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt’s breasts and strongly following the conventions he pretended to skewer in Scream. Well, Dimension thought, who better to help revive the Halloween franchise than the person who made them a mint?

Enter Halloween: H20, complete with a ridiculous T2 or ID-4 abbreviated title. Williamson wrote the story treatment, and did so much work on the film that it ultimately landed him a Co-executive Producer credit. Directed by Steve Miner, (who should have known better after helming Friday the 13th Parts Two and Three) Halloween: H20 decides to ignore the events of entries 4, 5, and 6 (Although, to be fair, these events were discussed in drafts of the script.) Dialogue in the film establishes that Michael Myers has been silent (no pun intended) for twenty years. So, depending on your level of awareness and/or devotion to “canon,” you either saw H20 as the true sequel to Halloween II or you saw the now adult Laurie Strode as a coward that left her flesh and blood daughter Jamie Lloyd in harm’s way, while faking her own death and running a boarding school. Then, instead of seeing the effects that the return of Michael has on the adult Laurie and her conceivably adult world, she is given a son through which the filmmakers were able to assemble a group of teens for Michael to kill (and grace the Scream inspired one-sheets that plagued horror marketing over the next few years. You know, shots of the good-looking young actors from what was obviously a publicity shoot and the thinnest suggestion of the theme of the movie. If you removed the hint of Michael’s mask from the H20 poster, you had yourself an ad for a hot new drama on the WB.) Most importantly, there is no Dr. Sam Loomis. No “Son of Loomis,” no Tommy Doyle, no one on a long standing righteous mission to hunt Myers down and put an end to his Evil (that’s right capital “E”-the way I always see it in my head when Donald Pleasance says it.)

The death knell for the series was sounded with director Rick Rosenthal (who, like Steve Miner, should have known better having directed 1981’s Halloween II) and the ironically named Halloween: Resurrection. All I’m going to say about this misguided attempt to continue the franchise is that Jamie Lee Curtis disappears after the first ten minutes, and rapper Busta Rhymes is able to mimic kung-fu moves from watching television early in the picture, thus besting Michael Myers in hand-to-hand combat. Halloween: Resurrection remains my least favorite theatrical movie experience to this day. I thought I’d never love again.

ENTER THE ZOMBIE:  HALLOWEEN, 2007 – 2010

Nothing Rob Zombie could do, short of replacing Michael Myers with a talking banjo, would do any more damage than had already been done by those who were supposed to be the caretakers of the Halloween mythos. Also, being a comic book fan, my embracing of the film came from the fact that like the DC Elseworlds comics, I knew I wasn’t going to be watching a normal Halloween film or sequel, but Rob Zombie’s Halloween. It, to me, would be an entity unto itself, like Andy Warhol’s Blood for Dracula. The previous series was dead and buried; ignored by two of its own sequels.

I greatly admire Rob Zombie’s Halloween. I enjoyed the expansion on the childhood of young Michael Myers and respected Zombie’s attempt to combine his gritty new direction with a faithful retelling of Michael’s first rampage. The new story of Michael Myers drew heavily from what the histories of most serial or spree killers have in common: Elements of poverty, abuse, neglect, unstable family environments, etc. Michael now displayed one of the tell-tale trifectas of potential serial killers: Cruelty to animals. (The other two signs being arson and bed-wetting, for those who were wondering.) Some critics were put off by the demystification of Michael’s troubles. Some fans were put off by the new portrayal of Loomis (now portrayed by Malcolm McDowell) as less than heroic. I wasn’t. For me, the crusading Loomis had died with Donald Pleasance, and there was still plenty about Michael that couldn’t be explained through natural means. (For example, how did a small boy get to be the size and weight of Sabretooth Tyler Mane while refusing to eat his institution food? Clearly, the supernatural force of his rage. How does he withstand so much physical trauma? Clearly, the supernatural force of his rage.) Laurie (as played by Scout-Taylor Compton), while not as bookish as Carpenter wrote her, was still precocious, likable and undeserving of the horrors that would befall her and her friends. There was a significant addition to the cast of characters: Michael’s mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie,) who as we already know, just breaks my heart. And the second half of the film is basically the first film retold through Zombie’s new filter, combined with the sibling revelation originally presented in Rosenthal’s Halloween II. The finale would boast an important change that reflects the journey we take in Zombie’s sequel. Laurie pulls the trigger on Michael at the film’s climax.

And so begins Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. We see young Michael (now portrayed by Chase Vanek in lieu of Daeg Faerch’s unfortunate growth spurt) while at Smith’s Grove Sanatorium visiting with his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie.) Michael relays a dream he’s had of his mother as a “really beautiful ghost” leading a white horse down a long white hallway, saying that she was going to take him home. This scene is interrupted a sharp cut to the Halloween II title card and audio track from the finale of Zombie’s remake. The audio is that of Laurie shooting Michael, followed by her own frenzied screams. For me, the gunshot in this context immediately recalled Deborah’s suicide and set the tone of the film as the further chronicles of a family’s (and community’s) complete and utter destruction. The gunshot serves as our tie to the events of the first film, with a bloody and battered Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) staggering down an empty road, ultimately being discovered by Sherriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) after her confrontation with Myers. We go to the hospital where we see Laurie being treated for her extensive wounds, and the film uses a nightmare segue to lead us into the proper timeframe for the rest of the film’s action. Two years later (one year in the theatrical, which didn’t make much sense) Sherriff Brackett has effectively adopted Laurie, and together with Brackett’s daughter Annie (Danielle Harris) the three try to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the wake of Michael’s bloody rampage. Laurie is desperately trying to heal in therapy, but with few positive results. She confides to her therapist (Margot Kidder) that Annie’s scarred visage serves as a constant reminder to Laurie of the horrors they have both endured, and which Laurie feels responsible for. Her feelings of frustration and helplessness are giving way to uncontrollable rage and resentment. Scout Taylor-Compton’s heart-wrenching performance is the anchor of this film, especially in the Director’s Cut, where her character’s progression towards madness is fleshed out by letting scenes that were truncated in the Theatrical Release to play out to their logical conclusions. Laurie has attempted to forge ahead with a new life and new friends, but the same traumas lie beneath the superficial changes, waiting to burst forth.

We catch up with Michael’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) who is on a publicity tour launching a new book (his second) on the tragedy of the Myers family. Loomis is now totally committed to the business of self-promotion. McDowell shines in this portrayal of an intellect grown lazy, and Zombie’s dialogue has Loomis speaking in trite aphorisms and jingoistic slogans that would have been stale by the time they would have fallen on Loomis’ ears (I was reminded of “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy’s failure to find the context of the phrase “When in Rome…”). Loomis spouts clichés like “I’m selling the sizzle, not the steak” as if the previous existence of the phrase justifies its usage in any situation. Loomis, in Zombie’s context, is a man who has grown financially successful from his greatest failure and who will betray every value he once claimed to have to keep the Myers gravy train rolling. Loomis’ long-suffering publicist (Mary Birdsong) provides an excellent foil, pointing out his moral decay, and their combative relationship provides the film with its few light moments. However, Loomis’ conduct and the content of his new book lay the responsibility for the fates of Laurie Strode and Annie Brackett directly at his feet.

Michael has been wandering for two years now, looking much as one would expect: a hulking, dirtier version of Rob Zombie. Michael’s mindscape is vividly realized on film by Zombie, who has Michael’s younger self represent that character’s perception of his own identity, accompanied by the previously mentioned spectral Deborah. The apparition sets Michael off on his quest to find his baby sister and reunite the family. He also has a larger score to settle with Loomis (clarified greatly in the Director’s Cut) and Loomis is, to Michael, another factor to be dealt with before the family can be together once more.

Zombie’s film is heavy, as is the desperation of all the characters involved. Laurie is trying anything to adjust to her life post-Myers. Sherriff Brackett is trying to keep both girls safe, while constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Loomis is trying to hold onto his celebrity and the limelight since he has nothing else. This desperation spreads even to the most incidental characters. For example, Howard the bouncer at the Rabbit in Red strip club (Jeffrey Dean Phillips, also featured in the film as party emcee Uncle Seymour Coffins) is trying to curry the favor of his boorish boss, Big Lou (Daniel Roebuck). He wants to be Big Lou’s right-hand man and tries to act the part, only to be emasculated by Lou and his stripper girlfriend (who from Howard’s grumblings seems to be his ex, a point confirmed by Zombie on the Director’s commentary.) Big Lou, stripper on his lap, says to Howard, “What does a stripper do with her asshole before she goes to work? She hands him ten bucks and tells him to TAKE OUT THE TRASH!” Lou and the stripper proceed to antagonize the toadie even further, driving him to a fatal encounter with Myers that elevates the sequence to a working-class mini-tragedy. Speaking of class discussion in these films, a friend of mine remarked in regards to Zombie’s Halloween II that he didn’t need to see another Halloween film dressed up with “white trash.” I was offended by the notion that these types of characters were somehow unreal or less valid. I grew up in a rural area where there were some unfortunate souls trapped in domestic circumstances not unlike the families in Zombie’s films. No serial killers, mind you, but plenty of kids in bad homes, some of who were working on their “trifecta” so to speak. Others were more like the peripheral characters, in appearance or speech. Now that may or may not be your cup of tea, but Zombie’s characters are wholly recognizable to me.

During the progression of the film, we keep moving out of the firmly established realism of Zombie’s series and more into the surreal. The audience is reintroduced to an element of the classic Halloween series, the “psychic link.” Here we have Laurie beginning to share in Michael’s delusional reality, falling prey to seizures and visions of Deborah and young Michael. In some scenes, it’s difficult to tell exactly where Michael’s visions end and Laurie’s begin. In the theatrical release this element gets a bit lost, with audiences (and my co-workers) wondering why Deborah is haunting Laurie, and hey, wasn’t Deborah just a good mom in the first film? Why is she evil here? Again, considering parts 4, 5 and 6 (Producer’s Cut, my personal preference) as canon, the psychic link was something I was willing to play along with right away as series tradition, and thus an acceptable plot device. Can it be explained any other way? Not quite. Zombie’s approach seems to lean a bit more toward the hereditary insanity present in both Michael and Boo/Angel/Laurie, so one wonders if older sister Judith would have manifested the same symptoms as her siblings? Why do Laurie and Michael share telepathic ability with each other and no one else? If Phantom Deborah is a product of Michael’s and Laurie’s madness as Zombie contends (which just happens to manifest in the exact same way), could Phantom Deborah be the manifestation of a more demonic force which then extends her influence to Laurie as well? Either way, she is clearly NOT their mother, and no one else can see her. I think “psychic link” works just fine. And I don’t mind taking that leap of faith. It’s definitely more in keeping with the Halloween mythos than anything in the two entries pre-Zombie. (I don’t even want to type their titles again.)

In further accordance with the old series, reminiscent of Halloween 6, the characters are all anxiously awaiting a huge Halloween happening. In Halloween 6, it was a party hosted by fictional shock jock Barry Simms, in this film we have the “Phantom Jam,” which serves to provide suitable seasonal ambience courtesy of the then fictional (Now real and touring with Zombie) Captain Clegg and the Night-Creatures. Whether or not this was intentional Zombie doesn’t say, but I welcomed the familiarity of the “Phantom Jam.” And, like Halloween 6, after the party all Hell breaks loose.

Spoiler alert, we’re almost near the end(ings).

I liked the “Theatrical cut” ending of Halloween II when I saw it in the theater, and still do. It works as a solid conclusion to the story that Zombie was telling. Michael, Laurie and Loomis are in an abandoned shack, and the police are outside. It’s the end of Halloween all over again. Michael hallucinates his mother saying, “We are ready. Take us home.” As if the phrase were the cue Michael’s been waiting for, he viciously kills Loomis. Sherriff Brackett hits two long range shots on Michael, which propel him onto some random sharp farm implements. Laurie and Michael have a bittersweet moment before she finishes him off with his own knife. Laurie stumbles out of the shack wearing Michael’s mask before falling to her knees. We dissolve to Laurie, who has obviously lost her mind completely and sits smiling in a sterile Kubrickian sanatorium, still seeing Phantom Deborah and the white horse, her companions on the road of insanity. The first time I saw the film, I sat satisfied during the credits. The Tyler Bates version of Carpenter’s classic theme played over still images of the dearly departed from both of Zombie’s films. Then, as the credits progressed, the music switched to an ethereal music box version of “Love Hurts” performed by Nan Vernon (who contributed the cover of “Mr. Sandman” for Zombie’s 2007 original). I won’t lie to you; I got a little misty. The track mourns the tragedies of all of the characters; after all the film series began with Michael’s love for his mother and sister as the only positive things in his life and now here we are: Michael’s dead (again) killed by Laurie (again) and Laurie’s on a cot in a madhouse. I remember thinking that the “Love Hurts” motif was too good to be left over the end credits. And it was.

The Director’s Cut ending begins very much like the theatrical ending. Loomis, Laurie and Michael are all in the shack. Michael’s mother commands, “Take us home.” Michael and Loomis crash through the shack’s exterior. Loomis pulls off Michael’s mask, and in a final moment of self-awareness says, “We are going to Hell, Michael.” Michael looks at the man who abandoned him, who profited from his family’s misery, and yells, “Die!” Michael stabs Loomis, and is gunned down by the police on scene. Laurie staggers out of the shack, picking up her brother’s knife. She sees both adult Michael, and young Michael dead on the ground. Laurie stands over Loomis, very likely looking to finish him off. Before we can find out for sure, an over-zealous police officer guns her down. We switch to an aerial shot showing our principals laying in tragic symmetry. “Love Hurts” plays over a slow zoom into Laurie’s dying consciousness. We dissolve to the sanitarium. An impossibly long hallway in a sanatorium. Laurie smiling during her (now) dying vision of her mother and the white horse. The song continues over the stills of the dearly departed, a requiem for the characters who were caught in this maelstrom of misery. And that’s the true end of the film, the ending that feels more satisfying and raises the quality of everything we’ve seen before it in both films. In closing, I’m reminded that audiences and critics weren’t very kind to another remake of a horror classic when it debuted in the summer of 1982. The film was much more violent and nihilistic than its predecessor but would reach classic status on its own terms as the years passed: John Carpenter’s The Thing. And that film was bombastic, too.