In response to many horrible reviews I’ve read about Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween and Halloween II, and, well, nasty criticisms I’ve read about all of Rob Zombie’s films, I feel compelled to post a critical essay I wrote back in 2012 while I was a student at the Stonecoast MFA program. I analyzed the shit out of Zombie’s film, research that led to a much bigger paper—I did a creative collaboration project on sympathetic villains that features not only Zombie’s version of Myers, but also discusses the three main characters of his film The Devil’s Rejects. But that project is in the works for submission elsewhere and will not be posted on here, yet. One thing that I do mention in that essay that I don’t mention in the essay I’m posting today is that it was Zombie’s intension to create a more sympathetic version of Michael Myers than John Carpenter’s original version. As opposed to an invincible killing machine, Zombie gives Myers depth, vulnerability, and purpose; he makes him human with cracked armor. To see what Zombie says about his creative decision, go here: http://www.robzombiemovies.com/halloween/2/. and here:
The individuals who dislike, hate, and give terrible reviews of Zombie’s Halloween I & II fail to look deeper into the story. Yes, if you don’t like gruesome kill scenes you may not like his films. Yes, if you expect Carpenter’s original films to simply be regurgitated in the modern day with better technology, you will hate Zombie’s version. But if you look closer and think deeper, you will see and understand how Zombie creates a more complex and sympathetic character and story with his remakes.
Personal experience: When my husband and I first saw Zombie’s Halloween II in the theater, we witnessed one woman who walked out of the theater in tears. This made me feel less like a weirdo for having dried my eyes before the theater lights had come back on. When we got into the car to leave, all my husband could say was, “Wow,” accompanied by a heavy sigh. I responded with a heavy-sighed, “Yeah,” followed by, “I think I need therapy now.” Neither of us laughed. We had had plans to go out for dinner after the movie, but we proceeded to drive aimlessly around Portland in silence—no radio, no discussions, no small talk, no direction. Finally my husband asked where we were going. I had no idea and told him just that. I followed that with, “I just don’t feel right; I can’t think straight.” To this day, neither I nor my husband have any idea where we went or what we did after that initial viewing. The film had such a strong impact on both of us that we’ve watched it innumerable times since, and continue our love and admiration for Rob Zombie as a horror movie writer and director.
I hope you enjoy my essay, my thoughts, my research. If my in-depth views about Zombie’s Halloween II don’t turn the haters into admirer’s, I hope it at least prompts closer viewings for more understanding of why Zombie makes the changes he does with Carpenter’s iconic story and character of Michael Myers. I especially hope for other horror movie reviewers to think deeper about the films they write about.
Innocence Dies and a Killer is Created:
As Seen in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II
Written February 3, 2012
by Renee Young DeCamillis
Rob Zombie’s 2009 film Halloween II uses a subtitle—Family Is Forever, which is the seed hinting at why the villain, Michael Myers, goes on an unstoppable mission to reunite with his baby sister, Angel—better known as Laurie Strode. Throughout the film images of Michael as a child are frequent, not allowing the viewer to forget who this killer started out as, an innocent child, victim of his environment. Many of his killings are symbolic of his resentment towards the lifestyle that surrounded him as a child, the lifestyle that tormented and twisted his psyche, the lifestyle that assisted in turning him into a killer and locked him away, alone, in a sanitarium, the lifestyle that tore his family apart. Michael holds onto a tremendous love for Angel, but the two of them also share a strong psychic and empathic bond, which is how he is able to always find her no matter where she is, and is part of what drives her mad. Michael Myers is a character to sympathize with because evil did not always consume him; his childhood home environment and school experiences drove this sensitive child over the edge into the role of a psychotic killer in a desperate and delusional attempt to reunite with his estranged baby sister and his mental image of their mother through death. This essay will discuss how Michael Myers was pushed into psychosis, the numerous ways Rob Zombie elicits sympathy for his main character, as well as illustrate the psychic and empathic bond between Myers and his sister, Angel.
The opening scene shows Michael as a child in the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium talking and visiting with his mother. He tells her the gift of the white horse she brought him reminds him of the dream he had the night before. He says, “It was a good dream, a really good dream. You were dressed in all white, like a ghost, a really beautiful ghost. You were walking down this white hallway, with this big white horse, saying you were going to come and take me back home.” This scene represents Michael’s innocence, not only the innocence of him as a child, but also the innocence of his strong desire to be home with his mother and baby sister, Angel. It also represents his idealized image of his mother as innocent and as his savior coming to take him away from his isolation. The images of Michael’s as a child are woven through the movie right up until near the end.
In scene twenty-eight, when Michael is gunned down by the police outside of the shack, Angel walks out through the wall he busted through, goes over to Michael’s body and not only sees his dead adult self, but she also sees the image of him as an innocent boy lying on the ground, beside and in the same position as his adult body, riddled with bloody bullet holes. Seeing the image of him as a child in such a way instills sympathy for the innocence that Michael’s horrific home and school lives tormented and twisted into the psychotic killer he turns into as a result. This image is used to show that Michael’s life did not have to turn out the way it does; his innocence did not have to die. Because of all that happened to him, because of his weakness to overcome his childhood experiences, not only does the adult psychotic killer end up gunned down and bloody, but the innocent boy dies a bloody death too—In the words of Dr. Loomis from scene nine of Halloween, “Michael was created by a perfect alignment of interior and exterior factors gone violently wrong.” Child-Michael did not have a strong enough constitution to appropriately deal with the lifestyle his family lived.
The use of his child image is also an attempt to instill some understanding of why Angel is driven to grab the knife out of adult-Michael’s lifeless hands in order to stab Dr. Loomis to make certain he is dead. Loomis capitalizes on the pain of the Myers family, deeming Michael as “The Devil” who “Walks Among Us: He Was Born to Kill,” words Loomis uses to up the hype surrounding Michael’s story, which, in turn, ups the sales and fame of his book and make Loomis a bestselling author.
There is meaning behind Michael’s murders, which assists in creating sympathy for his lost innocence as a child—meanings that show his suffering. For instance, in scene fifteen, Michael commits horrific murders at the strip club because that is where his mother had worked as a stripper in order to support her children, a workplace that profits off objectifying women. Michael goes to the club and finds they still display her picture on a large advertisement on the outside of the building. It shows two images of her wearing nothing but Go-Go boots, and it reads, “The World Famous Red Rabbit Home of Deborah Myers Mother of Michael Myers ‘The Butcher of Haddonfield.’” Even after her death those who run the strip club objectify Michael’s mother to lure in business, relying on the Myers family tragedy and Michael’s brutal infamy to attract customers. In this respect, Zombie puts Loomis—a famous, well educated psychiatrist and bestselling author—on the same level as those at the strip club; they all capitalize off the story and the pain of the Myers family. Michael’s killings at his mother’s former workplace represent his resentment towards such an establishment, its employees and the way they conduct business.
When the man who is taking out the trash encounters Michael, the man immediately starts belittling him, like Michael’s stepfather Ronnie, Michael’s older sister Judith and the bully at his school had done to him as a child in Zombie’s film Halloween. In response to the current belittling, Michael picks the strip club employee up, slams him on the ground and proceeds to smash the man’s face in by stomping on it with his big heavy booted foot. The man’s face ends up unrecognizable. This is a very personal killing. Since a person’s face is the first initial means for another person to identify them, this action symbolically erases the murder victim’s identity, making him a nobody. This is how Michael sees him, as someone not worthy of recognition because people like him, bullies and strip club employees and clientele, are who surrounded Michael’s mother when she was alive, treating her with no respect, treating her like a sex object. Disrespect Michael’s mother and you end up dead, but it doesn’t stop there.
Michael’s killing of the stripper has the same conclusion—causing the face to be unrecognizable from the blows he inflicts. The symbolism in this killing does have a twist due to the use of the mirror and the fact that the stripper is the only victim killed by use of a mirror. Strippers rely on their appearance—superficiality—to turn on their customers; the more their customers are turned on, the more money the stripper makes by the end of the night. Michael could have smashed in her face on the large metal door she repeatedly bangs on in an attempt to escape, but instead he pulls her away from the door and smashes her against the mirrored wall. Michael’s weapon of choice is what creates the symbolism in this killing. Michael idealizes his mother and resents the demeaning work she relied on in order to support her family, the same job that kept her away from home and her children at night and left her family alone with the abusive Ronnie. The way in which he kills the stripper is his way of figuratively killing the existence of strippers, a profession that keeps mothers away from their children, a profession that is demeaning to women, a profession not good enough for his own mother or anyone else’s.
All the brutality caused by Michael in his attempt to reunite with his baby sister Angel, along with the psychic and empathic connection the two of them share drives her to madness in the end. One of the first hints of this psychic connection occurs when Michael escapes from the coroner’s van in the beginning of the movie. It is almost instinctual how Michael knows, like a homing pigeon, what direction to start heading on his journey to find Angel, his journey home to his family. Yes, Haddonfield, their home town, is a starting point for him to head, but there is no way for him to know she still resides there; it is all psychic, instinctive, and intuitive. The closer Michael gets to Angel, the stronger her psychic and empathic visions and sensations become.
One of the early empathic instances occurs during the pizza scene, scene thirteen, when Angel is eating pineapple off her slice of pizza; the film flashes to Michael as he is about to eat a dog, and once he bites a chunk out of the heart Angel starts gagging. It flashes back to Michael eating more of the dog’s innards, and flashes back to Angel, who, by this time, is puking. This represents Angel, the vegetarian, sensing the raw flesh in her brother’s mouth, as though it is in her own mouth. All the talk leading up to this—Angel says, “We need to get you off the animal products, Mr. B,” and he responds, “Man was meant to eat meat. We, all of us, have a little bit of caveman in us”—is woven with flashes to Michael eating the dead dog raw, like a caveman, and this is done in order to emphasize why Angel gags and pukes even though she never eats any meat.
More evidence of the psychic link between brother and sister comes in during scene fourteen when Angel has a vision in the bathroom the next morning, October 30th. She sees herself doing exactly what boy-Michael had done in Halloween when he killed their stepfather, except she does it to her friend Annie. As far as the movie shows, Angel has no way of knowing all those details: the exact clown costume Michael wore, what their house looked like, the fact that he sat at the kitchen table eating candy corn before the murder, the exact drawer he went to in the kitchen to get the knife and the duct tape, how he taped up Ronnie before he sliced his throat. It is possible that Angel knew some of those details of Michael’s first murder from police reports, but at the time of the murder she was only an infant. She could have, after her first encounter with adult-Michael in Halloween, researched his criminal history, but if that were the case those details would be included in this film.
This vision also shows images of Angel as evil with an upside down bloody cross in the middle of her forehead, images of their mother standing over a Myers headstone with a glass casket holding Angel’s body—at first appearing dead, but then looking trapped and trying to escape. The last detail of Angel’s inability to break out is symbolic of her position in the horror story that is the Myers’s family tale that she is unable to break free from, and her captivity within her unraveling mental state—the locked cage confining her. The image of her mother standing over Angel’s grave, and that Angel’s headstone has the name Myers on it shows that she is receiving psychic messages of her family relation, and what is to come for her—near death leading to madness. The image of Angel as evil with the inverted cross on her forehead is prophetic of her road to murderous intentions and of her getting committed to a sanitarium. These psychic messages tie her to Michael, seeing what he has planned for her, seeing the same image of their mother that he is seeing. As Michael gets closer, her visions and sensations grow in intensity and frequency, now happening to her while she is awake instead of sleeping.
One of these higher level intense visions occurs when Angel is at the “Phantom Jam” party, scene twenty-three. But leading up to that, in scene twenty-two, Michael psychically knows to go to this particular party to find her and her friends. Though he does not encounter Angel there, due to her leaving early with her friend Maya, he does know who her friend Harley is and how to find her in order to kill her and the guy whose van she is in. That is when, in scene twenty-three, Angel goes into an overpowering vision of her mother in the white gown with child-Michael beside her. Angel asks, “What do you want from me?” Her mother responds, “It’s almost time to come home, Angel.” Child-Michael asks their mother, “Is she ready?” She responds, “Soon,” just before Angel envisions and feels psychotic adult-Michael grab her from behind. To emphasize, again, that Michael once was an innocent child, a victim of abuse, the scene flashes quickly back and forth between the images of child-Michael’s face and adult-Michael holding Angel around her waist from behind. Angel screams and thrashes around in the arms of a life-size Werewolf replica, imagining it as adult-Michael. This vision is much more advanced and intense than the one she encounters that morning in the bathroom because in this one she sees child-Michael, shares dialogue with her mother, and she sees and feels adult-Michael. This increase in intensity and clarity is because of Michael’s close proximity to Angel; she is now sharing aspects of his visions and knows his intention to take her home.
Michael’s love for his baby sister is evident in scene twenty-seven when she is running from him, after the death of her best friend Annie, and a passing motorist picks her up to take her to a hospital. Though Michael flips the car over into the ditch, once the car catches fire and he realizes Angel is still in there, he rescues her by pulling her out, and then he proceeds to carry her, like a child, to the shack, to safety and hiding. The image that follows shows the family back together again—adult-Michael, child-Michael, Angel and Mom—leaving behind them, in the background, the car in flames, exploding. This image signifies all the pain and the suffering the Myers family goes through, as well as all the pain and suffering Michael causes in order to bring his family back together. It also signifies, as the lyrics of the final song of the soundtrack say, “Love is like a flame, burns you when it’s hot—love burns.”
Once Angel wakes in the shack, she sees all the same visions as Michael—their mother in a white gown, her eyes lined in thick black makeup, and child-Michael holding Angel down. At this point, Michael and Angel have almost become one mind, a shared madness. But Angel is still unclear who the woman in white is, until Angel asks, and her mother responds, “You know who I am, Angel. Now repeat after me—I love you, Mommy.” She repeats the last line three times, with the final repeat as a whisper, and Angel obeys, multiple times repeating the line, until she is screaming and trying to break free from child-Michael’s grasp on her. Angel is now aware the woman in white from the visions is their mother. Though Michael stands holding a knife in his hands, he has not attempted to kill Angel; he is hesitant, uncertain what to do, waiting for instruction from the image of their mother. In every killing up to this point, this is the only person he hesitates with, and it is because of his love for his baby sister, Angel.
In scene twenty-eight, when Dr. Loomis barges into the shack in an attempt to take Angel to safety, he finds her thrashing on the floor saying she cannot go with him because “he” is holding her down. By this point, Angel’s mind is consumed by madness, like Michael’s. Loomis looks confused and tells her, “There’s no one holding you down. . . . It is all in your mind.” Just after this statement, the image of their mother looks to Michael and whispers, “We are ready. It is time, Michael. Take us home.” What she means is it is time to end all the pain and suffering, but not by killing Angel—by killing Loomis, the psychiatrist who could not help Michael cope with his mental illness, the same man who earned fame and wealth by writing and promoting his book about Michael and the Myers family, their history of pain—The Devil Walks Among Us: He was Born to Kill. Michael’s assault on Loomis is very personal; it is not only the one time in which Michael speaks to the victim—“Die,”—but it is the first time Michael speaks in over fifteen years. This is also the only attack where Michael first removes his mask. Removing his mask allows Loomis to see Michael—the person, Michael—the patient Loomis once counseled and failed to save—not Michael the masked murderer. Angel shares Michael’s deep seated personal hatred for and desire to kill Loomis, which is shown toward the end of this scene.
After the police gun Michael down, riddling him with bloody bullet holes, Angel walks calmly out of the shack. And when she sees her brother lying there, bloody, dead, she not only sees adult-Michael, she also sees, lying beside him in the same position and condition, child-Michael. This evokes her love for her family and intensifies her hatred and resentment towards Loomis, which is why she takes the knife from her brother’s lifeless hand, goes over to Loomis and stands over him in an attempt to inflict the final stab to make sure he is dead. The image is also meant to evoke sympathy and understanding for both Michael and Angel, for their hardships, their situation, their family tragedy which neither is able to overcome. This intensifies when Angel is shot down by the police, falls at the feet of her big brother, hands up in a surrender position, and the musical introduction of the song “Love Hurts” begins to play. The camera angle switches to an aerial shot of the two fallen siblings, and it slowly moves in closer as the song lyrics begin—“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds / And mars, any heart / Not tough, not strong enough.” As the camera moves in closer to Michael and Angel, the spotlight from the helicopter is shining down on them, moving from person to person, and throbbing, pulsing—like a heart beating. This technique is an obvious emphasis on love, love of family, and, as the subtitle of the movie says—Family is Forever. Love of family never dies, no matter what happens, no matter how much pain is involved.
The camera then moves in closer to Angel—a fallen Angel—as the song lyrics continue with, “To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain / Love is like a cloud / Holds a lot of rain / Love hurts.” With that last line of the lyrics, the camera is solely focused on Angel, lying bloody, and the helicopter light is no longer on her, leaving her in the dark—the dark of her pain, madness and isolation. This is shown when the camera dissolves out of that image and into the image of the long white hallway leading to Angel, alone, in a sanitarium. Angel has taken her brother’s place. The lyrics of the song speak to the meaning Zombie aims for, and, as the camera moves in closer to Angel sitting on the edge of a bed in the psychiatric facility, the song lyrics continue:
I’m young, I know, but even so
I know a thing or two
And I learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
Love is like a flame
It burns you when it’s hot.
Love burns, ooh, ooh, love burns.
With this last line, the camera shows a close up of Angel, who starts with her head hung low, but she slowly lifts her head up slightly, just enough to raise her dark-circle-eyes to look into the camera. The camera then shows what Angel is really looking at—the long white, empty hallway. This symbolizes her isolation and distance from the world, from her family, from her friends, from reality, just as the next image she sees does.
The vision Angel sees emerges—her mother in a white dress walking with a big white horse—along with a slight smile on Angel’s face as the next verse of the song sings, “Some folks think of happiness / Blissfulness, togetherness / Some fools fool themselves I guess / They’re not foolin’ me.” Angel’s smile starts to emerge with the word “happiness” in the song, and her smile slowly becomes more prominent with the approach of the image she is seeing of her mother with the white horse. The camera holds a close up of Angel’s partially smiling face as the final verse of the song plays, “I know it isn’t true, I know it isn’t true / Love is just a lie / Made to make you blue / Love hurts . . . ooh, ooh love hurts / Ooh, ooh love hurts.” The only love Michael knows hurts him and causes his mental and emotional suffering. With Angel, her brother’s love for her takes away all the people she grows to love and care for, in turn the love she knows also creates mental and emotional suffering, leaving her in isolation like her brother. Angel’s vision of her mother in the white dress walking with a big white horse is the same vision child-Michael tells their mother about seeing in his dream while he is locked away in the sanitarium, isolated, out of touch with his family, with reality and the world, just as Angel ends up.
The technique of ending at the beginning implies repetition. With this movie it speaks of the cycle of abuse, as well as the cycle of mental illness, which is often an outcome of abuse. Michael, after suffering from abuse as a child, becomes a psychotic killer, and in his delusional attempts to reunite his family he inadvertently abuses and torments the one family member of his still alive, the family member he loves and longs to be with, killing everyone she loves and grows close to, in turn driving her to the same madness he suffers with, leaving her alone with no family and no one to love.
Rob Zombie’s version of Halloween II warrants sympathy for the innocent boy who turns into a psychotic killer, as well as for the sister he impels to madness. Michael’s killing spree is driven by an intense love for his baby sister Angel and a delusional attempt to bring her back home to him and his visions of their mother. The abuse of his childhood turns him into a psychotic killer because he does not have the strength or the resources to endure and overcome the repetitive cruelty inflicted on him. On his journey to reconnect with Angel, he kills anyone close to her and anyone who attempts to obstruct his mission. Many of the murders he commits are symbolic of his resentment of the lifestyle and characters he grew up with. All this brutality he inflicts along the way, his incessant need to go after his sister, and their shared psychic connection causes Angel to experience a similar downward spiral into mental illness, murderous intentions, and isolation—like her brother. In the end, Michael is unable to hold onto his baby sister Angel, unable to bring his family back together in death, but what he does accomplish—bringing his family saga full circle, perpetuating the family cycle of mental illness. In a sense, he does succeed in bringing his family back together—in a shared madness.
Halloween. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler
Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, William Forsythe. DVD.
Genius Products, LLC, 2007.
Halloween II: Family Is Forever. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri
Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and Scout Taylor-Compton. DVD. Sony