In the documentary, 30 Days of Hell, which chronicled the making of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Rob states right before shooting the motel sequence that the real horror is in making audiences feel for victims and by extension they’d experience vulnerability themselves. He wants audiences to feel awful; to feel scared. I’ve always liked this thesis on horror, and as I’ve grown older myself and began to truly understand my own fragility and vulnerability that comes with having a body like mine I’ve gravitated towards horror films that truly reckon with that central idea. The fallout of horror, or horror in post, is more interesting to me than “of the moment” scares. It is in the aftermath of violence where you can truly analyze horror and its place in a real world as it pertains to bodies, power dynamics and the thin line between life and death. Films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Something Wild (1961) and Halloween 2 (2009) investigate how someone copes with horror, both in real time, and in day to day life. A true misconception that horror movies repeat over and over again is the notion that everything can be okay after you’ve experienced a horrific event. If you’ve killed or escaped the monster in question you’ll be fine, but this is a lie. There is always scar tissue. If your body is damaged you will carry that injury forever. In Halloween 2 this extends far beyond Laurie Strode (Scout-Taylor Compton) and reaches outward, touching an entire community and everyone who came into contact with Michael Myers. It’s one of the smartest films ever made about trauma and the aftermath of violence, because Rob Zombie understands it is never a singular event. It’s a domino effect, and for Haddonfield, damn near everything has been touched by the terror of Michael Myers.
The upheaval of Haddonfield from your everyday American small town into a wheezing husk, still in recovery from violence, is almost a mirror image to what happens over the years in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I’ve compared the work of Rob Zombie to that of David Lynch before, in the similarities in shot selection at the end of his remake of Halloween (2007) to that of Laura Palmer screaming bloody fucking murder in season three of Twin Peaks (2018), but I think this comparison extends beyond just that one specific scene and what it conveys. If you look at the world of Twin Peaks in the early 1990s, shortly after Laura Palmer has been killed, it is one of bright oranges and browns, with beautiful wooded paneling inside every house, and sunshine. The Haddonfield of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake is similarly lit brightly, with the amber warmth of everything people love about fall, but if you look at his Halloween II fall has turned to grey. The sun never shines on Haddonfield after Myers returns to that quiet town. Halloween festivities aren’t fun when you can see on the outskirts, advertisements for books and landmarks celebrating and monetizing the terror wrought by Michael Myers. It’s a sidelining of the actual victims. The loss of a soul. Likewise if you look at the newest season of Twin Peaks there is a similar sense of loss. A crime that shook the rafters and changed the town forever is now commonplace. Violence just is, and in terms of form, the movement of Lynch from film to digital robs Twin Peaks of its beauty. A shadow has fallen on this town, maybe forever. The choice to move from the 35mm of Halloween (2007) to super grainy 16mm in Halloween 2 gives the film a rough texture it wouldn’t otherwise have. It mirrors what’s happened. How can there be beauty in a place where all elegance has died? It is difficult to move forward when you can still see the scars of the past.
In a previous essay I compared Laurie Strode to an exposed nerve, and this is never more true than in her relationship with fellow survivor, and best friend, Annie (Danielle Harris). Annie is a “constant reminder” for Laurie of the horrific event involving Myers that happened two years ago, because she has visible scarring on her face. They love each other, like sisters even, but trauma and horror has created a chasm between the two of them that’s willing to fracture their relationship entirely. Laurie and Annie find themselves in screaming matches with one another on a frequent basis, because neither can reconcile the previous event and move forward. It’d be downright impossible to ask them to do so. Annie’s father, Sheriff Bracket (Brad Dourif), tries to comfort both, but fails to do that for any consistent amount of time. He’s taken in Laurie and he treats her like his own daughter, but he cannot broach the topic of trauma that divides them. He doesn’t understand it. He will soon.
They feel like a family, but there’s this chilly coolness in every room in that house willing to shift and warp the scene under its grip, and the same could be said for Haddonfield. Parents brandish guns in attempts to murder Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), who they blame for creating Michael Myers and then profiting off of the death of their offspring with his true crime book. Even Loomis has slipped off the deep end, unwilling to confront his own guilt and the horror he experienced, instead trying to gain some level of agency over the events by shaking them off in a foolish attempt to distance himself from the blood. Sheriff Bracket would threaten to kill Loomis, after finding the bloody corpse of Annie later, in what is one of the most empathetic, graceful and downright upsetting moments in the history of horror movies.
In the films of Rob Zombie death matters. He wants you to understand the motivations behind victim and murderer alike, and that equality between the two makes his work downright strange in the context of the genre. Wes Craven attempts this in his earlier films like The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), but neither reach the formal highs that Zombie accomplishes when he shows us how Annie dies, and why it’s awful. When Myers confronts Annie he appears like a monolith before her, she doesn’t see him. She barely comes up to his chest, her body swallowed up in the void-like appearance of Myers’s dark clothing and frame. When she discovers Myers she retreats, and Zombie uses slow-motion to let the moment hang on for longer than comfort would allow. Annie knows she’s about to die. The sound falls out entirely except a thrumming hum of static. She runs, but then the screen goes to black and still images of her retreat are edited in along with soundclips of her terror. We can only hear her scream. It’s up to us to determine how she died. When Laurie finds her much later Annie’s covered in blood, approaching death, and Laurie is despondent. She knows exactly what has happened, but she doesn’t run away. She doesn’t care if Myers is still in the house. She stays with her friend and sobs, begging her to stay with her. Scout-Taylor Compton’s harrowing pleas of “Annie don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. I can’t live without you” sever the heart. This scene of Laurie sobbing over her dead friend lasts minutes. We have to sit there and feel what she feels. All of the guilt, shame, grief and love she had for her best friend spilling out of her in wailing sobs. Scout Taylor-Compton goes as deep as an actor can go, and it’s so easy to feel everything she’s conveying as an audience member. Because Zombie holds the camera for an extremely long time on this scene it’s impossible to shrug this off as a death that doesn’t matter. This isn’t a kill count movie. Everything matters. She only abandons Annie when Michael knocks down a door with a wooden axe.
This is a slasher film that aches. There is no enjoyment in the bloodshed here. Only sorrow, and that’s compounded later when Annie’s father answers the 9-1-1 call that came from inside the house and upon arriving discovers his daughter’s body. He’s warned by other police officers not to go in there, but he pushes them off and screams “Where is she?!”. Dourif is rigid here, barely keeping it together, a volcano of all encompassing grief about to erupt out from underneath him, but he has to see her. He has to look at his own baby girl to know that she’s gone and when he does he falls. A wail escapes his lips and he slams his arms down, rejecting what his eyes obviously see. He grunts “NO” before finally giving himself away to what he’s feeling and he sobs for what he’s lost and how he’s failed her. That would be enough to set the scene apart in the lexicon of Slasher movies, but something special happens: familiar music starts to swell in. It’s music that was used in Halloween (2007) before Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) killed herself watching Super 8 movies of young Michael after she realizes she’s lost her family. It’s a sense memory for viewers that recalls the familial tragedy of the first film, but then an image of Annie, no more than seven years old, holding a loving dog in her arms, with an innocent smile across her face appears on screen. We cut back to Sheriff Bracket laying on the floor crying, and then there’s Annie again, as a child, with an entire life to live. Maybe it would be a good one. Maybe it was before violence. We have to ask ourselves these questions. We have to consider her. Bracket is helped out of the room, but he’s mentally gone. He holds himself together with a memory of her, his love for her, and what made her a real person. The girl who just got a puppy. All he’ll ever have from this point forward is a memory. This is the true nature of the death of a character, but the tragedy is in losing someone who very obviously lived a life. We grieve for Annie in that moment, because her father does, because Rob Zombie’s form mirrors Sheriff Bracket’s sorrow.
At this point, it’s very unimportant if Michael Myers lives or dies. He’s already taken everything from this town and its people.
If there is a message to take from Rob Zombie’s Halloween films it is that violence is not singular, but wholly ruinous in the lens of someone. When we look at the news each day and see that another violent murder has happened, or another school shooting has claimed another life we tend to internalize this as something that couldn’t possibly happen to us, but violence does happen. It’s often random or ambivalent, but it’s there in the outskirts of our lives and it stains. Someone lost somebody and a life matters to someone. It reaches out, makes the world strange, and modifies the way you live your life if you were lucky enough to survive, but there’s no moving past it without it affecting you. It’s a scar. You don’t have to dwell on it, but you know it’s there.