Sympathy for the Devil - Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Sympathy for the Devil – Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)

We failed (from Halloween)

We failed (from Halloween)

Now we come to the part of Halloween history that I have struggled with - Rob Zombie's 2007 re-imagining and the sequel two years later.

I was excited to see Zombie's take on the Halloween mythos.  His first film, House of 1,000 Corpses, was the style I hoped he would shy away from.  It felt like an over-the-top tribute to the horror films that he loved without much of a unique imprint from Zombie.  But The Devil's Rejects was one of 2005's best films, an unflinching and incredibly stylish take on the cycle of evil that the Firefly family brought on Texas.  I was working at the theater when I saw it, watching it in with beads of sweat dripping down my seat because the A/C was out, and when I watched Otis pantomime the god who wasn't there I was sold on Zombie remaking Halloween.

Zombie's Halloween doesn't ask for us to understand evil, but emphasizes the importance in trying (from Halloween)

Zombie doesn't ask for us to understand evil, but shows how disasterous it is to not even try (from Halloween)

Then I watched the film, and afterwards I was livid.  Rob Zombie had taken this incredible film with an existential demon made flesh and turned it into a hellbilly horror film with too much back story and brutality that went far beyond what I thought was necessary.  It still bore some moments of style and insight, like the devolution of Michael and the many masks he looked at the world through, but I was not happy.  How could he have taken this monster and made it a product of such a specific combination of nurture and nature?

Revisiting the film now six years later after watching the eight previous entries in the Halloween franchise I see that I was dead wrong.  Zombie's Halloween may not stand toe-to-toe with Carpenter's original, but that was and is an incredibly unfair assessment to make.  They are completely separate things and I was being a hypocrite comparing them like they should have been.  By now I had adopted the policy that the worst kind of remake is one that strictly adheres to the original, because why bother remaking something if its going to barely change it?  But a film that could adapt the story in a different way, shedding light through different cracks, is one worth pursuing.

Scenes with Dr. Loomis and Michael emphasize the distance between them, as Loomis sees Michael as only raw data for his next project (from Halloween)

The obstacles between Dr. Loomis and Michael are the focus of their scenes, as Loomis sees Michael's evil only as data for his next book and never as something he should try to understand (from Halloween)

Zombie's Halloween is very much a product of post 9/11 American society, but one that is more sympathetic and difficult to get a hold of.  Horror films had embraced torture porn as American audiences went out to theaters and watched their countrymen be slowly sliced apart for the crime of being different in a foreign land.  The same year that the Halloween reimagining was released we also saw Hostel: Part II and the difference between the two is immense.  Halloween is a film that puts the locus of blame on our society as a whole, skewering both hypocritical down home "traditional" values and the limp reassurances of left-wing intelligentsia who think they can explain everything.

This doesn't change that Michael Myers is still a monster.  It's unlikely that growing up in a different home would have changed the outcome much, but he's a monster in a world that is no longer willing to try and communicate with him, or anyone else for that matter.  The brutality of Zombie's film is a reminder that there are people who are left no matter what system is in place.  The many bleeding faces that Michael leaves in his violent wake resemble the masks that he made in the asylum over the years he was slowly forgotten.  He tracks Laurie down not to torment her, but because the blood they share makes it possible that he could instill in her the same mania that drives him.  That's why her attack breaks him, he was hoping she could be a sympathetic monster as well, but instead she turned her back on that side of her.  This is also why the final shot, of Michael forcing Laurie to put the gun in his mouth, is so powerful.  She becomes what she never knew she could be, and is traumatized by it.

Laurie ends with the Myers blood enveloping her, giving her a mask at last (from Halloween)

Laurie ends with the Myers blood enveloping her, giving her a mask at last (from Halloween)

That's why there is so much back story needed for Michael this time, and why Dr. Loomis' change from determined psychiatrist to opportunistic intellectual is so important.  The only person who views Michael as a person in his family is his mother, but to everyone else he's just another thing and, in many sterile scenes of color and grainy black and white, to Dr. Loomis he is just another story or book waiting to happen.  So when Michael appears to destroy the façade of Laurie's life by killing her friends and family it's a reminder that he is not an opportunity for success.  The brutality is needed to drive the point home for audiences that have more information at their fingers than ever before, there are some experiences that can only be communicated through blood and pain.

The messiah (from Halloween II)

The messiah (from Halloween II)

Halloween II, released two years later, is even more challenging and is every bit the equal of Carpenter's film, just in a different way.  I have less to say about it for now, but I've only seen it once, and given the incredibly dense nature of the film it will take some time to unpack everything.

But Zombie abandons much of the brutality of the first film for images that are more suggestive of the psychological torment that Laurie is feeling since she survived the end of the film.  We've had plenty of horror sequels that revisit the characters but it's more to see what danger they are going to get into next.  Halloween II is one of the only films I can think of that tries to get into the survivor mentality as directly as Zombie does and becomes one of the only truly distinct films of the franchise.  Freed from any duties to recall the original, Zombie's Halloween echoes the original sequel only as a nightmare, and instead forces us into a devastated mental space.

Dr. Loomis will always pale in his attempts to become infamous due to the Myers' (from Halloween II)

Dr. Loomis will always pale in his attempts to become infamous due to the Myers' (from Halloween II)

Whenever we go through a great trauma caused by a specific person, one psychological defense is to unconsciously adapt traits of that person to cope with the pain.  It just so happens that Laurie, who finds out she is the sister of Michael Myers, is less adopting traits as a coping mechanism but fighting against the blood lust that she now knows is inside her.  Scout Taylor-Compton gives a difficult and painful performance in both films, but outdoes herself in the sequel.  She is not a one note shriek of pain but someone who still can experience pleasure in muted and distant ways, trying desperately to ignore the impulses inside of her.

It's never clear that Michael is truly alive or whether Laurie's impulses have driven her to the point where she has broken into two to cope with the Myers blood.  Zombie plays with the feminist aspects of Carpenter's original by manifesting them in the form of Michael and Laurie's mother, in another difficult but impressive performance by his wife Sherri Moon Zombie.  She appears to them both leading a white horse, the woman who birthed them both who is able to tame the raw violence inside, and in the closing shot leads her to Laurie who, with that devilish smile, seems ready to take over.

She's ready to go home (from Halloween II)

She's ready to go home (from Halloween II)

I understand why people have reacted so badly to this sequel.  For those who would have just been looking for some cheap thrills Zombie's more cerebral imagery might be too much to cope with.  Those more critically inclined paid attention solely to the violence of the film and tossed off the images as brief spurts of genius in a film that couldn't sustain them.  Halloween II is much more complex than that, resulting in a sort of anti-horror film that tries to get inside the mind of survivors.

That's why the survival and evolution of Dr. Loomis between the two films is so important.  The small-scale black and white that he viewed Michael with in the first film has exploded into an out of control ego that places Loomis within the framework of the Myers household.  No matter how he feels though, he is tiny compared to the overwhelming drive of the Myers'.  He is our audience identification figure and is a terrible person, wondering how we can continue to use the suffering from those with uncontrollable urges to better our own standing in life.

I liked the design of Laurie's psychiatrist's office, filled with symbols that trigger signs of distress within Laurie that the doctor promptly ignores (from Halloween II)

I liked the design of Laurie's psychiatrist's office, filled with symbols that trigger signs of distress within Laurie that the doctor promptly ignores (from Halloween II)

Halloween II is a brilliant end to a series of films that has come to a temporary close.  Carpenter moved on to make other excellent horror films like The Thing and They Live, while Zombie directed this year's excellent The Lords of Salem.  What they both prove is that the threat of Michael Myers, whatever he chooses to be, continues on as an uncomfortable insight on our collective psyche.  We need someone like him to shake us of our complacency, to not abandon those who feel they have long become monsters.

...and to all a good night (from Halloween II)

...and to all a good night (from Halloween II)

I don't know if the series will continue, but if this is the final note, it is a resonant one.

Thank you to those who checked out these articles, and I hope you have an easier time sleeping than I have.

QvDPqd1383186025