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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.