Halloween II (1981)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Jeffrey Kramer, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Dick Warlock, Nancy Stephens
(out of 4)
It was only a matter of time before the sequel to John Carpenter’s extremely influential Halloween would be made, given that by 1981, films like Prom Night, When a Stranger Calls, Don’t Go in the House, Driller Killer, and Friday the 13th had made their appearance. Turning down an offer to direct, Carpenter picks relatively unknown Rick Rosenthal to take his place, and while Rosenthal makes earnest attempts to duplicate the look and feel of Halloween, he isn’t quite up to the task (the movie seems to move like molasses compared to the original). I don’t really blame Rosenthal, however – it’s Carpenter who ultimately disappoints. Getting credit for writing duties and music composition, he has written a story that is slow moving and implausible, while the famous Halloween theme has been mutated into an electronic-sounding creation probably more suited to a cheesy Italian flick. And while cinematographer Dean Cundey is back with his skillful use of tableaux and tracking shots (good move), it’s obvious that Carpenter’s heart wasn’t in this one – Halloween II is a cash-grab all the way.
The movie picks up right where Halloween left off, as killer Michael Myers has survived multiple gun shots and escaped into the night, an injured Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to the hospital, and an increasingly unhinged Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) continues the manhunt while occasionally spouting off dialogue about “Evil” and sometimes Druid rituals. It should be noted that when the movie makes references to Samhain and the Druids, it’s an offhand remark by Loomis regarding the unconscious mind, but the sequels would later take this concept and run it into the ground (the Thorn curse, for example). Man, even Halloween III used it.
The first half hour of Halloween II is actually pretty good. Everyone in Haddenfield is absorbing the news of the murders of the previous movie, and Rosenthal is good at presenting the general chaos of the moment. People are gradually told what’s going on through news, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations – collectively, they take on the aesthetic of a ghost story. Loomis tells a neighbor “You don’t know what death is!” and then later almost shoots some poor dope dressed like Michael. In a nice bit of irony, the kid, eventually burned up in a car accident, turns out to be Ben Tramer, Laurie’s unseen crush from the last movie. Then Michael Myers hears from a radio that Laurie is at the local hospital and decides to pay her a visit. That’s when the movie goes downhill and never recovers.
The Haddenfield hospital is a real piece of work. It is so dimly lit, you would think the place didn’t pay their electric bill. It’s so understaffed, I counted something like 7 or 8 doctors, orderlies, and nurses, and one security guard. They are all just about the dumbest people I have seen in a horror film – they don’t know how to work radios, they leave their posts to do hanky-panky in the hospital hot tub, and they’re too lazy to walk down hallways. One nurse goes outside and notices that every car in the parking lot has slashed tires. Instead of running to the police station, she goes back inside the hospital. Naturally, they will all become cattle in Michael Myers’ new hospital-slaughterhouse. As for the patients – well it seems like poor Laurie Strode is the only one, except for a brief moment when a stressed out mom brings her kid in to get a razor blade removed from his mouth (that little Halloween joke got a chuckle from me for even daring to go there). It seems like a waste to build such a big hospital if it’s hardly going to be used, you know what I mean?
The worst bit in Halloween II is the twist involving Laurie and Michael’s family tree. I know that The Empire Strikes Back was a major hit but ripping off that movie’s surprising revelation does nothing but inspire guffaws here. Worse, it negates the message of the first movie – that Michael Myers is walking chaos. Laurie Strode and her friends were targets in the same manner that you might be a target of a meteor falling on your house. There is no reason behind Myers’ choice of victims – they were just in his way. It’s the randomness of it all that helps to make the first Halloween scary; here, that randomness is jettisoned in favor of a soap opera plot. But this odd plot point brings up new inconsistencies. If Michael Myers’ only objective is to kill his siblings, why didn’t he just do it to begin with? Why kill all these other people? And what is the reasoning for killing his sister? Halloween II makes no attempt to answer these questions; it just wants to pretend that it’s giving a reason for bringing Curtis back other than the fact that Curtis can make a little extra cash. The only ends that are tied together in any way are, strangely enough, the Druid ritual angle, with the Evil literally burned away in the climax. With a relief, I accepted the denouement – Myers is vanquished as Mr. Sandman plays on the soundtrack assuring us that the “nightmare” is over. But as the ungodly number of slasher sequels prove, never underestimate the power of money, something that Halloween 4 would be happy to explain to you.
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