There's Never Been a Better Time to Revisit Rob Zombie's Brilliant 'Halloween II'

With the disappointing 'Halloween Kills' now streaming and playing in theaters, why not give the 2009 sequel a chance?

micahel myers in halloween kills
'Halloween Kills' | Universal Pictures
'Halloween Kills' | Universal Pictures

Like the mass murder wearing a white Captain Kirk mask at its center, the Halloween franchise can't be stopped. Over the weekend Halloween Kills, the follow-up to 2018's quasi-reboot sequel Halloween starring original Halloween 1978 lead Jamie Lee Curtis, made more than $50 million in theaters while also debuting on NBC Universal's streaming service, Peacock. Its financial success sets the stage for Halloween Ends, the already greenlit third installment from director David Gordon Green that will probably not actually be the "end" for Michael Myers, one of the more indestructible characters of the last 50 years.

As a horror sequel, Halloween Kills is a frustrating experience, a movie that often feels like it's stalling for time to arrange plot threads for the next chapter and clearing its throat to deliver a muddled message rooted in self-importance. Where Green's previous movie used a game, wry performance from Curtis to ground some of its shopworn insights into grief and trauma, the sequel, which broadens the scope to include more residents of Haddonfield, Illinois, has a harder time finding the right tone. The plot bobs and weaves from one setpiece to the next, always in a defensive crouch despite the grisly subject matter. The larger ideas about vigilante justice, mob mentality, and collective rage feel tacked on, like an attempt to pin a thinkpiece (or a well-meaning Instagram caption) to a rotting corpse.

How do you follow a movie like Halloween? Green and his two co-writers, Danny McBride and Scott Teems, had multiple examples from history to pull from. 1981's Halloween II followed Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie into the hospital right after the events of the first film and built its narrative around the revelation that Laurie was actually Michael's sister, a twist that Green's new films (wisely) dropped from the mythology. The 1981 sequel has some impressive camerawork and a fun performance from Donald Pleasence, returning as the doom-saying Dr. Loomis, but Rob Zombie's far stranger, far more daring Halloween II from 2009 is the Halloween sequel to check out if you left Halloween Kills underwhelmed.

michael myers in halloween ii
'Halloween II' (2009) | Dimension Films

Largely dismissed by critics at the time of its release and earning significantly less than its predecessor at the box office, Zombie's Halloween II has beenreclaimed by a passionate subset of viewers in recent years, celebrated for its visceral intensity, thematic focus, and daring stylistic flourishes. Compared to Zombie's first Halloween movie, which feels more indebted to Carpenter's original, Halloween II is as thoroughly a Zombie movie as 2005's murder-spree road saga The Devil's Rejects, consumed with the director's obsessions and proclivities. Even if you find the bleak slasher off-putting in its brutality, it's difficult to deny Zombie's unwavering commitment to exploring the aftermath of a violent event by funneling you into the mental state of Laurie Strode, played with a haunting edge by Scout Taylor-Compton.

Fair warning: Zombie's Halloween II is a heavy, disturbing film. Laced with dream sequences and visions of a white horse, the story treats Laurie's attempts to mentally untangle herself from Myers with a startling immediacy. She drinks; she screams; she acts out. At the same time, Myers, pathologized and analyzed as a young boy in Zombie's first crack at the franchise, emerges as an almost mythical figure, one who moves through the world with a disturbing resilience. Look at this scene of Myers getting discovered in a field, beaten, and then delivering death to his attackers. Shot in 16mm, the movie, particularly in these eerie night scenes, has an otherworldly quality. Zombie's ear for plainspoken, vulgar dialogue—"I'm talking to you, shitheel"—is offset by the striking compositions.

More than anything, Zombie's Halloween II feels like a rejection of the concept of "world-building." Here's a movie that's not trying to set up a sequel or winkingly pay tribute to the past like Halloween Kills. It exists on its own brutal terms, content to destroy rather than create. Following Halloween II, Zombie made the equally uncompromising and fascinating Lords of Salem in 2012 and he's largely played in his own horror sandbox since then. Earlier this week, Zombie released the first images of his remake of The Munsters, a project that could be an excellent fit for his odd sensibility. Will his version of The Munsters be as radical as his take on Halloween? Who knows? Hopefully, it'll get a sequel.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.