Halloween II, 1981

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I reviewed John Carpenter’s Halloween.  With last night actually being Halloween night, I thought it was time I finally take a look at its sequel.  I was prepared to take a step back and apply some of what I learned about the first film, but I truly expected more of the same.

I couldn’t have been more wrong in that assumption.  In all these years, why didn’t somebody just come forward and tell me that Halloween II was better than the original?  Or is that not the general attitude toward this film?  Apparently it’s believed that where the original was a labor of love, the sequel is a haphazard money grab.  Well, whether it is better or not, that’s my stand.  Maybe that assessment will change over time in subsequent viewings.  I don’t know.  But for this first time,  I enjoyed this one more, not only for what it added to the overall story, but for increasing my appreciation for the shape of evil that is Michael Myers.

loomis-and-myers

Directed by Rick Rosenthal, and written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Halloween II picks up right where the first film leaves off.  It’s just as the poster says, “More of the night he came home.”  Even better, it could build on everything the original put into place, so hits the ground running.

halloween-ii-loomis

Originally, Carpenter conceived of Halloween as an anthology story, with the tale of Michael Myers being only one of many possible “shapes of evil” in the series.  Halloween II was designed to bring an end to Myers, opening the way for new stories, but the less than stellar reaction to the third installment of the series paved the way for studio execs to lean on Myers as the central figure of the franchise.  Sometimes I wish I could watch movies in a vacuum without knowing these things, because this really would have been a great ending for the character arcs in place.  But there are advantages to understanding the conception and evolution of a series as well.

meyers

As stated, the film picks up with the cliffhanger ending of the original.  Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) has Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) pinned down in her house and in arm’s reach when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) bursts in and unloads his revolver into the killer.  Myers is forced backwards, off the balcony, landing on his back in the yard below.  But when Loomis tries to catch up to him, Myers is nowhere to be found.  Laurie is taken to Haddonfield Hospital to get her wounds treated while Loomis and the local constabulary put out their drag nets in an effort to find Myers.  It’s assumed he’s finally dead when a young man wearing a similar mask is hit by a car and burned to death, but the murder of the sheriff’s daughter changes that presumption.  From there, the story follows Myers’ killing spree as he tracks Laurie to the hospital and systematically murders staff until he finds her.

laurie-strode

Stylistically, this one is close to the original in terms of how the film is shot.  I had the sense in the first one, which is repeated here, that the POV camera showing us things through Myers’ eyes is kind of a precursor to the first person shooter video games.  The noticeable differences are that there’s more nudity and gore, and because there’s less need to put storytelling elements in place, there’s a larger body count.  My understanding is there is some dispute as to whether it was Rosenthal or Carpenter that upped the ante on that front.  All I know is that it was just splatter.  The killings were creative and cringe-worthy, such as the needle in the eyeball or the face-melting in the hot tub, which raises the stakes in the slasher genre at this time from merely bloody deaths to spectacle.  I also found that this time around I have more of an attachment to Laurie and Dr. Loomis, which makes the threat of Myers seem that much more important.  If there’s ever a key element in a horror movie that’s often missing, it’s that one.  Without the ability to care for the characters, there’s no fear or suspense surrounding the killer, so this is something I truly appreciated here.  Suspense makes any horror film, and especially slasher films, work.

halloween-ii-hot-tub

In terms of evolution, Michael Myers is being given a level of supernatural gravitas.  Despite the sheer number of bullets he takes from Loomis, not once but twice, combined with a shot to each eye from Laurie (nice shooting!), it requires the indiscriminate destroyer that is fire to put an “end” to Myers’ threat… at least for now.  I think it’s safe to say that even without knowing there were more sequels, after all that back there, a little torching just isn’t going to keep guy down.  We’d need to see the body burned to ash, and those ashes scattered to the four winds or perhaps even launched into the sun.  Even then, there’d be a way to bring back Myers, or some other “shape of evil.”

halloween-2-myers-burning

That’s the sort of thing the best monster legends are built upon.  How do you stop something that just can’t be stopped?  In those terms, Halloween II really amped up Myers’ game for me cementing his place as an icon of the genre for more reasons than simply getting there earlier than most.  It bridged the gap between being the everyday kind of evil that the first film offered and becoming the paranormal legend that pop culture knows Myers to be.  It also makes me aware of just how much behind the scenes cult lore I need to catch up on in regard to this series.

4 stars

halloween-ii-poster

4 thoughts on “Halloween II, 1981

  1. I don’t know that I necessarily say that this one is better than the original, but what I will say is that I’m glad it went the way it did. Most people wanted to see this movie done, but none more so that Moustapha Akkad, the man who would resurrect Michael Myers as many times as it would stuff cash in his wallet.78

    Why I like the original better than this one is because I love the establishment of the characters. I actually just rather consider it the first 1/3 of the whole story, concluding with Halloween: H20. Getting back to my love of the original, not only does it give me a reason to care for Laurie and root for Dr. Loomis to save her, but it established Michael in that urban myth fashion. Haddonfield is small town America, the same kind of places you and I have lived. There were always those town stories about the one house where all sorts of bad things happened. That kid that seemed to be okay, but if you stood there to think about it always seemed slightly off. This is who Michael Myers is. He’s that guy that we always sighed a bit of relief because he wasn’t coming back. Then when he did, it only added to the town lore. It’s the sort of the thing that the town will only come to be known for, because what other historical fact could keep up with it? Especially for those within living memory of it? The other part I liked about it, was that it never insisted on giving Michael what looked to be the typical family problems that plague the news today. We don’t get any of that. The parents seem completely normal as we stand there on the street corner. He’s a mystery, but Loomis knows what we as the audience needs to, and he’s enough of a mouthpiece to allow us to know he needs to be ended when his actions didn’t speak for him.

    This movie still has a great amount going for it. They actually brought back both Sheriff Brackett and his daughter Annie for bit parts. We get to see just how difficult it was for him to lose his daughter. The reason I’m impressed by Annie coming back, is because she came back to play the corpse. They could have lifted up the sheet and had Brackett react to that, but no. That tidbit made a little difference.

    I also have to laugh about one more tidbit on this. When the Deputy and Loomis are out searching for Myers, and they think they spotted him (which I really was trying ot figure out why the anonymous faced guy in mechanics jump suit was so popular that year), we see him hit by a car in a spectacular explosion. Not only did they kill the Myers clone, but it actually turns out to be Ben Tramer, He was the boy that Laurie had a crush on in the original film. It’s not supposed to be a funny death, but I laughed anyway. Because that was something that seemed so out of place.

    I honestly think that if this had ended the Michael Myers story, I would have been just as happy. This had that nice wrapping on the gift box. I agreed with Carpenter that if they wanted to continue with Halloween, an anthology series was the best way to go. That’s about the nicest thing I’ll say about the next film, and I’ll leave it from there. With Halloween II, I saw them really take their monster and their Van Helsing to their limits. For a sequel, I really couldn’t have asked for more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Insightful as always, my friend. But given your uber-fan status for this film, I’d expect nothing less. I don’t know that I agree with the full level of it simply because I’m not nearly as invested in the mythos of Michael Myers, but I love the idea of that mythos. Something about the first movie didn’t work for me as well as it should have, but I can see what they were going for. Myers came across as a creepy guy in a mask rather than legitimately scary to me. This time around, he’s like a T-800, 3 years before anyone knew what a T-800 was. Maybe it’s borderline silly, and maybe it turned the character into a bit of a cash cow for Akkad, but it got things moving. The first movie left me with far too much time to think and not enough to think about. While I appreciate a slow burner, it plodded for most of it. Pacing just isn’t the strong suit there. This one gave you just enough breathing room between kills to telegraph the next one so suspense could build. The first was certainly more artistic in its approach, but this one was just more fun for me because it made Myers a tangible threat and made him live up to this mythos they were spinning. I love the idea of seeing these two films as one longer story. I’ll look forward to seeing how they tie it up with H20. But there’s a lot of Halloween footage between here and there, so this is going to get interesting to see what they came up with.

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  2. I always appreciate the vote of confidence. Believe me, I didn’t think all these years later I’d be a slasher historian of any sort, but I’ve slowly built myself into that house. lol

    As to the pacing, I will say that I agree that Halloween II moves. It’s a slasher paced movie now. Michael is established, and after taking six bullets (in the original film, seven if you count in the second one) that he’s just a brute force that will not stop until someone does something drastic. This is going to be something that many other horror series will follow in times to come. Carpenter’s influence is all over the place, but Rosenthal brings this things into the 80’s slasher that you want to go back to. What I loved about the original is that the influence was Hitchcock. We are establishing that we want to see Laurie survive, we see Loomis as a protector force who wants to keep the evil contained. In Halloween II, we may be given more of Loomis than we had before, but Laurie isn’t much in this one. She’s there, but mostly doped up and getting bits and pieces of information when she’s conscious enough to receive it, or maybe when she’s having drugged up flashback dreams.

    One other thing that I want to point out is I liked Annie. At least, I wasn’t rooting for her to be on the kill list. She obviously was going to die, but that’s because I knew going in from a slasher aesthetic that she had to, but I’ve had friends like her. She can be annoying, she can stick her nose into things that I wish she’d leave alone, and she was sarcastic as all hell, but overall she’s not that bad a person. Lynda was another matter. She was far annoying, and she had sex in a strangers house, while her friend was nowhere to be found. Can you imagine the conversation that would have caused if the parents came home early?

    In any case, I’m not knocking you for it. I think I just wanted to explain my position a little better. Getting back to Halloween II proper, the one thing I can say is that they really did make Haddonfield seem a lot more like small town America. You got that point anyway, because 15 years later, people still know who Michael is. He’s part of their history, and not much else has happened to displace that. Not that a brutal murder would be, but you’d think something might have hazed the memory. Ah, but then this is small town America, right? We don’t forget those things, and no one in town is likely to let us forget it. To add to that feeling, Laurie is being rolled into the hospital and nurses are calling out who she is, Jimmy the EMT knows her, the doctor was at the party where every other adult figure that wasn’t working was at. I mean there is something to be said here. I know people knock this film, I don’t. Carpenter and Hill’s writing still stood prevalent while the modern slasher tropes were starting to come into fashion with this. It was a movie that knew what made the original successful. That’s not something you get with many sequels. Even Freddy Krueger didn’t get that sort of thing until Nightmare 3, and then it was Craven’s influence with a lot of help that got that down to a fine art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I definitely see the connective tissue. A lot of what this movie did is exactly what Wes Craven put into the first Nightmare… small town, legendary killer from a bygone age, the young lady to root for who turns out to be tougher than we might have originally given her credit… And like you say, Nightmare 3 built on that rather well, but they dropped the ball something fierce on most of the others, focusing on Freddy rather than the town itself. This is what impresses me about Halloween so far. While I appreciate the pacing of II better, the first one is the foundation that made it work, and II continued on the world building to give the town the verisimilitude it needed. The more real the town, the more real the threat of Michael Myers. I honestly think these movies work better together than as separate units for just that reason.

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