Also not for the faint of heart
Note: This review is of the Director's Cut of the film.
Halloween II digs deeper into the Myers family dysfunction as Michael seeks--through death--to reunite himself & Laurie with their mother. He believes that violence leads to reunification & that death is a respite from this wicked world of bullies & sexual objectification, an example set by his mother in suicide. This confusion between love & hate, the righteous & the profane, sits squarely in the tradition of a film like Carrie (1976), but Zombie goes a step further by examining the trauma of Laurie (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) & Annie Bracket (played by Danielle Harris, returning from Halloween 4 & 5) in excruciating detail.
Rob Zombie goes to almost Frankenstenian lengths to empathize with Michael in these films. Michael's first kill in Halloween (2007) was the school bully who made fun of his mom for being a stripper. "Hey, tough guy... you think she'd suck my dick for a quarter?" And in Halloween II, he visits the same strip club to take revenge against the place that he believes drove his mother to her death, not realizing his own role in her suicide. Michael's worldview, shaped early on, is that his mother & baby sister need protecting & that everyone else is a threat. And so his rage & deep fascination with brutality are not directed blindly. He's being driven by visions of his mother to accomplish something he believes to be righteous.
A very likable character emerges in Sheriff Bracket, played by Brad Dourif (the longtime voice of Chucky), who is now Laurie's foster father playing the caretaker role that Loomis played in the original films. His sense of obligation stems from his involvement in placing Laurie into foster care after Deborah's suicide. And while it would be great to see much more of Annie & the sheriff in the movie, Laurie's insistence on keeping them at arm's length--a function of trauma & guilt--re-enforce the film's attitudes of brokenness, despair, & paranoia. They exist less to offer the audience sympathetic characters than to illustrate what Laurie has lost, despite their clear desire to connect with her.
Laurie, by this point, has transformed from a cheerful bookworm to an outward victim of trauma. She dreams of Michael by night & medicates herself by day with pills & booze. And she spends time with a new group of more reckless friends to avoid the physical scars on Annie's face that resurface her guilt & lead her to lash out in resentment. It's been two years since Michael's attack & she continues to spiral deeper & deeper into despair.
The film takes pleasure in pain & loss & violence, & the lush cinematography seems to treat tribulation as its muse. And that's precisely what makes the film so engaging, despite it's weight & nihilistic attitudes. Bones protrude, brains spill, & characters collapse & ugly cry, but always in rich & saturated handheld framing that recalls some of the greatest works of the '70s. Some of the Kubrick-esque shots that characterize Zombie's later films like Lords of Salem first appear here. And Zombie's signature formula of chaotic quick-cut action sequences followed by painfully slow stills of human wreckage communicate the experience of violence with as much urgency & intimacy as any director. Everyone in this film is in a dark place, & he never shies away from putting the viewer right there among them.
Midway through the film, Laurie finds out that she's related to Michael. She breaks down, realizing that the massacre wasn't random & that it's not over. "I'm not me, do you understand what the fuck I'm saying? I'm Angel Myers. Michael Myers' sister." And this is the heart of the film. It's about identity & it's about fate. And it's about being born into life with connections you can't escape, no matter how deeply you self-medicate or how far you run. Family trauma is trauma you can't leave behind. As the cover art suggests, family is forever.
By the end of the film, Laurie shares Michael's rage. Michael believes that she's come to the same realization as their mother, that she's primed for escape from this brutal world. But again he doesn't realize that it's his killing of Annie that has pushed her over a cliff of despair. He has broken her in the same way that he seems to have been born broken. And in this way, for mere moments, they finally connect. And she shares his visions & his mission. It's an homage to the psychic connection between Jamie & Michael in Halloween 5 (ultimately the best plot point of the Thorn Trilogy), but fully consummated in her death at the hands of the Haddonfield police.
In the final scene, Laurie's last dying vision, she is reunited with her mother. And we're left to wonder if that means Michael was successful in his quest. To what degree is the afterlife simply what we make it to be? And if Michael was sincere in the religiosity of his mission, is it--at least in some myopic sense--justified to any degree? After all, if you believe my fate is to burn in hell for eternity, are you a better person if you simply let me burn or if you do everything in your power to save my soul? It's a matter of perspective. (Again, see Carrie.)
The Zombie films realize something that many of the previous films didn't, which is that you can't tell the original story twice so you might as well tell a different one. But instead of introducing new themes, Zombie mines Halloween 1, 2, & 5 & simply digs deeper into the pain & the suffering that murder brings. And the result is something entirely new. I get that nihilism isn't for everyone, but the care with which this film was crafted should be evident to any viewer. And for my money, Halloween II is one of the very best of the franchise.