Running Through Your Hollow Bones: Legacies of Pain in Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ and ‘Halloween II’

Halloween II (2009). Dimension Pictures.

Note: this article contains themes of trauma including brief references to sexual violence.

“I can’t wait till you realise the family you were born into / I can’t wait to watch you turn from good to bad / […]  I can’t wait till you realise mommy’s heart is broken / I can’t wait to watch you grow up around the people who broke it”

Xiu Xiu

One of the most daring decisions in Hollywood history was the decision, amidst a very particular mid-00s glut of horror remakes, to hand over the keys to a reimagining of the Halloween franchise to Rob Zombie, who applied aspects of the original text over his two films as little but a firm basis for an uncompromising (and largely uncompromised) vision. Why these two films continue to endure is because their “reimagining” is so drastically new in context of the franchise, whereas a film that aims solely to exist as a simulacrum of its precursor will not linger in the public consciousness unless it possesses a certain formal extremism in its desire to replicate (for example, Van Sant’s Psycho).

The nature of “reimagining”, when applied to Zombie’s Halloween films, takes on a different meaning: the reimagining of trauma, stemming from its repetition and recursion in the minds and surroundings of those who bear it. His entries are a fogged recollection of the first two films; a panicked, intrusive memory. They transport the traumas of their predecessors, whose events took place in the seventies and eighties, to the 21st century, displaying an America which has violence deeply etched into its very history and refuses to atone for it, along with individual suffering which is bestrewn across generations. If the original Halloween’s characters lived within a system which allowed them a framework to escape and heal, they would not be here again. But amidst structures which demand that survivors of any act of violence reimagine and relive their trauma constantly in order to be believed, Zombie’s films present themselves as time-weathered; a hushed recount of something that, while it happened thirty years ago, now feels so tangibly told, so plausibly acrid, that it is right there again.

Daeg Faerch in Halloween (2007)
Halloween (2007). MGM.

Two protagonists orbit the events of Zombie’s Halloween films: Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. While their dynamic in terms of narrative in Carpenter’s original was clearcut villain/Final Girl, Zombie’s films portray this as true in a sense, but also complicate it by categorising both as survivors of different (Myers’ as the accumulation of events over a long period, Strode’s as one catastrophic night) but no less devastating trauma. Both are beholden to scenarios in which they could be considered the Final Girl: the arbiter and carrier of this incalculable weight, the only one left with words that could tell a story. Michael Myers, upon their killing of abusive family members as a child in the first Halloween film, fits the Final “Girl” archetype for this section in just as literal a sense as Laurie Strode by their overt coding as transfeminine. Myers’ hair is long (perhaps an inverse version of the biblical Samson in that tenderness and vulnerability in a world devoid of it is derived from this long hair, in contrast to the immense physical strength of Samson), the abuse they suffer from their family and bullies is overtly homophobic in nature, they have an attachment to female members of their family, and the propensity to “mask” the self while closeted is displayed in a very literal fashion by the gradual accumulation of masks that Myers creates and wears.

These masks are a deflection, a preservation of identity; a way for Michael to morph into a different form in order to survive abusive surroundings. Dr. Loomis, in observation of Michael Myers upon their institutionalisation, states “Michael has begun to obsess over the construction of these primitive masks… [they] have begun to create a mental sanctuary in which Michael can hide within himself and from himself”. The world has failed Michael, a victim of sustained abuse, now institutionalised for reacting to the source of this abuse with the violence that was the only thing their environment ever taught them was a preservative measure. When all other freedoms are depleted, they find solace in the malleability of the self; the way in which identity can morph and shift according to various modes of presentation; the way in which there are ways to create control variables in the damnable constancy of being seen. Zombie displays through the callous treatment of Myers by psychiatrists that in a capitalist America, institutionalisation of criminals, the traumatised and the mentally ill never has the end-goal of recovery, but instead the end-goal of allowing these people to be forgotten and abandoned, to lose their personhood in an iteration of supposed “care” that is carceral in nature. 

Halloween (2007). MGM.

The trans kid who deserved so much more fades into the ether, and what is left behind now is somebody who has decided that the only way to save their soul from what this world holds is to utterly detach in mind and spirit from it, let it go on auto-pilot with the selected setting of letting out what was put into them. This is the shift from Michael Myers the person to Michael Myers the mythology, and it occurs during an act of dehumanising violence, in which the authority at the psychiatric hospital sexually assault a fellow patient in front of Myers and homophobically insult them for not partaking in this abuse too. The specific intersection of denying Myers of masculinity by insulting them for their refusal to partake in the ritualised abuses at the heart of its hegemonic form, and denying them of femininity by the message and coded threat that this is what these men think women are only good for, that this could be Myers one day if they choose to transition, is a calculated move to destroy any sense of interiority or identity still left.

Where Myers now resides after this assumed destruction of identity that leaves only a body is revealed in Halloween II, where they occupy a dream-state, a fugue, surrounded by spectres of their mother, a white horse (linked in the opening text from The Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams to “instinct, purity, and the drive… to release powerful and emotional forces”), and far-off planes where uncanny community is found. Laurie Strode, another member of the Myers family despite her initial lack of cognisance of this, in a place where she is meant to be away from the intergenerational trauma derived from her history, is nonetheless brought back here. She occupies a role in this chronology that perhaps could be summed up best as “Michael Myers if allowed to have any kind of future, if allowed to transition”. She stares her history, what she has been born of, dead in the face in the first film and then shoots through it as a desperate scramble to move past it. Her final scream feels eternal, immutable, like it persists long after the film has finished, like it echoes in the air forevermore – our only way to truly understand what she is feeling. 

Scout Taylor-Compton in Halloween II (2009)
Halloween II (2009). Dimension Pictures.

And in Halloween II, we realise that this is correct, not just a feeling – that this scream is still echoing in the air, muffling every word she needs people to hear, because all they see is Michael Myers’ sister, born into something beyond her understanding and chased down by legacies of pain. She occupies the space that Laura Palmer does in Twin Peaks; while she may not close the loop of trauma by the same means as Laura, her life is a perpetual state of fighting and grappling for her right to self-definition, to just be a teenager and not an object to be pitied and hollowly martyred by a public that have been perversely fascinated by her experiences since Dr. Loomis made a second career out of writing memoirs in dried blood instead of ink. It is essential that Strode does not make contact with Myers in the second film until its climax, and that the audience is treated instead to some of the most vicious sequences of brutality ever condemned to film, that decline to involve anybody she knows, just the near-faceless; in her nightmares and in the distance. It could be argued that very few of the killings in Halloween II actually occur considering the overt separation in place they have from Laurie’s central struggles, and that they are simply an outward representation of what sufferers of trauma go through in relation to the causal person or people; intrusive imaginings. These scenes illuminate the feeling of how despite the fact that the sufferer of trauma has “moved on” spatially from the person who traumatised them, they think to themselves that this person could be similarly unspooling others’ lives and comforts even now, and worry that they did not do enough to prevent this from happening. 

Ultimately, in the ending of Halloween II, a much fretted-upon reunion occurs: Strode and Myers, two inheritors of intergenerational trauma, one whose trauma comes from the presence of the other. But now they realise that while the past is a wound, it is one that would be able to seal itself up if it wasn’t made septic by the conditions around it. Face-to-face, they realise that they must unite against the person who would benefit most from this wound staying open – Dr. Loomis the profiteer of misery, whose every lecture, every book tour spits in the faces of the victims of those who had to actually suffer what he has repackaged as true-crime entertainment. The consumers of Loomis’ content relating to the Myers family are a general audience who feign empathy towards those suffering but also fetishise it, live vicariously through it. Loomis is the one who has gained the most from this sanded-off narrative construction, and has saturated the media landscape with so many images of their specific traumas, that as long as he lives, as long as his content is consumed, neither Strode or Myers will ever live with these parts of their life as past. To kill him is to kill the last thing keeping this specific cycle alive, to mention nothing of the many other Michael Myers and Laurie Strodes of the world who have more still to persist through, and the symbiotic, extra-sensory relationship the two have found themselves to have comes to fruition as they finally take out their boundless and justified rage on a man who represents the system that has stifled their capability for healing. This is the only healing that could do all of this justice anymore.

Tyler Mane and Sheri Moon Zombie in Halloween II (2009)
Halloween II (2009). Dimension Pictures.

In a naturally American sense, the response to this healing is state violence – both Myers and Strode are shot by police. The scene shifts to Strode now institutionalised, looking a dead-ringer for her counterpart, witnessing the same white horse, the same maternal comfort. Zombie’s juxtaposition of police violence with the cheerless sterility of psychiatric institutions leaves his series on a note that despairs at the way institutions find many ways of painting people like his two protagonists as unsaveable and undesirable, and portrays that whether Laurie was killed or permanently institutionalised, both outcomes are simply two ways that the state can enact the same decisive measure. 

Laurie Strode, wherever she is now, feels a certain shift in things, one that is ineffable but potent nonetheless – she sees two sparks go out, but to her amazement there are so many sparks that aren’t those two; so many persevering against this darkness; so many glimmering in the crevices of the most unexpected places. It looks like the most beautiful sky she could ever see. 

An understanding is reached.

“‘Cause things are gonna change so fast / all the white horses have gone ahead”

Tori Amos

by Christie Evelyn

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