Synopsis: Picking up precisely where its predecessor left off, Halloween II follows the same ill-fated characters as they encounter the knife-wielding maniac they left for dead in the first Halloween. It seems the inhuman Michael Myers is still very much alive and out for more revenge as he stalks the deserted halls of the hospital where his sister lays waiting. As he gets closer and closer to his terrified target, Dr. Loomis discovers the chilling mystery behind the crazed psychopath’s savage actions. Written by horror masters John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Halloween II is a spine-tingling dark ride into the scariest night of the year.
In an age where every successful horror film becomes an interminable franchise, it would seem unimaginable that there was once a time when this didn’t happen – at least not until ‘Jaws’ and ‘Halloween’ tore into filmgoers in the 1970s and proved that there was a substantial market for it. Granted, there had been franchises going as far back as the Bela Lugosi ‘Dracula’ films, but it took many decades before its commercial power really cemented and it became second nature.
Then came ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and nothing was ever the same again, for good or bad.
Following the enormous success of ‘Halloween’, producers decided that a sequel was of the order. John Carpenter was completely disinterested in doing a sequel to his film, but agreed to write the script with partner Debra Hill and composed the score with Alan Howarth. The film was released on October 30, 1981 to great box office returns.
I’ve long been a fan of the first sequel. Some people will flame me for this, but there was a time, long ago, when I didn’t even realize that Carpenter hadn’t helmed it. Even now, wiser in my aging years, I find it hard to distinguish between John Carpenter and Rick Rosenthal’s styles. Blasphemy, I know, but in my defense, the sequel was meant to recreate the feel of the original – especially since its story is meant to follow-up seamlessly.
I actually find that this film holds up very well next to the original. Both are flawed gems (say what you will, but the original has its shares of gaps in logic and stylistic but unrealistic moments). Oh sure, this one falls more into the mould of traditional ’80s horror cinema, but these films were greatly influenced by the original in the first place – and it’s one of the better ones, if not the best, of the bunch.
Right from the start, though, we know ‘Halloween II’ is likely to be more stylish than credible. In the re-visitation of the final moments of ‘Halloween’, a few details are changed for effect: the way Michael falls off the rooftop terrace and the impact of his fall are dramatized to a cartoonish level here. Why they even recreated the sequence is beyond me, but there you have it, in all its hokeyness.
Mercifully, the key cast returned for the sequel; it would have been hard to make the transition, otherwise, especially during a double bill. There weren’t many of them leftover, but the ones whose characters survived were back. Some were quickly despatched, but the more significant ones, such as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) remained for another 90 mins of bloody terror.
Jamie Lee Curtis had, by then, made quite a name for herself in the horror genre and was all “growned up”; she had dolled up a bit by then and cut her hair. Amusingly, she clearly wears make-up here even though she’d just been through the horrors of a Michael Myers slaughterfest. And she wears a wig. A bad one: it doesn’t even look like her hair did in the first part. Oh well, at least she played the part right.
Donald Pleasance, however, is another matter. His Dr. Loomis was hardly a master of subtlety in ‘Halloween’, but he did have moments that were a little bit more nuanced. In this one, however, Pleasance yells all of his lines. It’s slightly annoying in the first place, but it’s inexcusable coming from a veteran actor. The only explanations that I can come up with is that he must have been drunk. I have no idea if he bent the elbow, but it’s the only reason I can think of for this performance.
They did make ingenious use of Dr. Loomis, however. Since it would be hard to justify watching him wander about town trying to find Michael, they found novel, but credible, ways of slowing him down, of diverting him. It all worked smoothly, and by having him running around, it opened up a film that would otherwise have been mostly taking place in one isolated location.
Speaking of which, it’s rather surprising how much mileage they got out of a limited set like a hospital. It’s not a very exciting location for a serial killer movie, but the filmmakers found ways to stretch our interest (the use of Dr. Loomis, as mentioned, certainly helped). As well, their way of systematically isolating the hospital staff was pretty well thought out, even if it was a simple thing to do when you think about it.
The body count in a sequel is usually twice as high, of course (producers, being the one track-minded people they usually are, tend to think more violence/gore means scarier, means bigger bucks), and ‘Halloween II’ continues that tradition. The deaths can be slightly over the top, and at times kind of corny (and laborious for a killing machine like Michael), but at least they’re memorable.
Still, some deaths were completely unnecessary. Michael’s first kill, for instance, was far too random for the character. He is after Laurie Strode (and, consequently, her entourage) – killing some completely unrelated babysitter was out of character and useless. There’s also a scene where a kid is mistaken for Michael and the police chase after him. It serves to distract the law and Dr. Loomis, but… let’s be real, here: no one else would be disguised like Michael Myers on Michael’s first night on the prowl. That is super dumb.
And I didn’t like the ending. It seemed a bit ridiculous the way they tricked Michael and managed to stop him (for now… ). But I did like the part when he is shot and blood trickles down both of his mask’s eye sockets, looking like tears. That was a nice visual touch. Even if it then led to this slipshod end sequence, at least it is memorable and… kind of cool.
On a technical level, the print they used for the blu-ray got soft at times. There’s this one scene featuring the character of Jimmy, which made me think that I was watching an old film at the drive-in. That sequence was weird to see, because it was inconsistent with the rest of the film (as imperfect as it could be). Could they have used different prints…?
The audio was decent for its vintage, but was also somewhat underwhelming. The surround activity, for instance, was mostly focused on the music, the rest of soundtrack being somewhat front-heavy. The score for ‘Halloween II’ was less repetitive than in the original, and is quite good, but the tone is different, not as pleasant, seeing as they used keyboards instead of a piano.
And it should be noted, for those who care, that the blu-ray does NOT feature a lossless track. I’m not sure that it would have made a difference, in light of the original material, but it’s something to consider if this matters to you. Still, I think that the remixing, even if front-heavy, sounded more realistic than parts of ‘Halloween’s remix, which sounds a bit artificial at times.
While ‘Halloween II’ is hardly cinema of the higher order, it is a relatively good suspense piece. It has its flaws and it has been bested by many other films (not just as a sequel, but as a film), but it’s a splendid second act and it’s worth a try if you haven’t seen it.
However, if you do, try at least to double bill it with the original – or, worst case scenario, watch ‘Halloween’ not long beforehand. The flow of the piece pretty much demands it.