HALLOWEEN II (1981)
(Directed by Rick Rosenthal)
(Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill)
(Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lance Guest)
Plot: Directly after the events of the previous film, the unstoppable masked murderer Michael Myers continues to hunt Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is recovering in a hospital. His nemesis Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) tries to stop him.
I’ve always had a…complex and unstable relationship with (the original) “Halloween 2“. Depending on my mood, I will view the movie as a solid slasher and a worthy followup to “Halloween“- a classic within the genre. But the cynic in me will also notice that “Halloween 2” foreshadows a problem that would ultimately ruin the franchise (for me). “Halloween” helped build the bandwagon that would become known as the slasher genre, but instead of continuing to innovate, the first sequel chose to ride the coattails of “Friday the 13th“. This is especially ironic because “Friday the 13th” practically did the same thing to “Halloween“. I’m not saying that any of these movies necessarily ripped each-other off, but you can tell from interviews and the formulas that they certainly were trying to cash-in on each-others successes. It’s not as noticeable as the exploits of some of the latter sequels and to its credit, the franchise attempted to create a brand new bandwagon with “Halloween III“. Unfortunately, no one rode that one and it fell apart before it even hit the trail. In order to play it safe in the future, the franchise would end up ‘borrowing’ a lot from whatever was trendy at the time- “The Terminator“, “Scream“, “The Blair Witch Project“, etc. It’s fascinating seeing a franchise start off so strong, only to trip over its own feet every time a step was taken because it was wearing another franchise’s shoes. But I digress, the subject of today is “Halloween 2” and it’s OK.
History lesson: “Halloween” influenced the slasher genre, but it was more of a suspense driven thriller as there wasn’t a significant amount of gore. “Friday the 13th” was created in response and would perfect the formula that would become known as the slasher. “Friday the 13th” didn’t make as much money as “Halloween” and was reviled by critics, but it was still a smash hit with audiences and its emphasis on gore and sex caught the eye of the industry. After all, it’s significantly easier to titillate an audience and deliver cheap thrills than it is to build carefully crafted suspense and atmosphere. Hence- why “Friday the 13th” is directly responsible for the slasher boom of the 1980’s and “Halloween” is not. “Halloween 2” went into production not only to profit from this trend, but to beat its rivals at their own game. Yet strangely, director Rick Rosenthal wanted to recreate the atmosphere and style of “Halloween“, without relying too much on blood and guts. This lead to a conflict behind-the-scenes, as John Carpenter felt that Rosenthal’s final cut was too tame. He ended up re-shooting the majority of the death scenes, making them significantly bloodier in the process. On the plus side, some of these kills are really cool and memorable. The ‘syringe needle’ attack is probably the most cringe inducing effect within the entire franchise. I also love how a character dies from slipping on a puddle of blood, which I find to be clever and strangely unique. On the other hand, the flow of the death scenes tends to be very choppy, as it looks like the actual kills were inserted in post production. A victim will struggle, there will be a cut in the footage and suddenly they are standing very still while Michael slits their throat (these are the most cooperative victims ever!). The visual continuity is all over the place, so I find the deaths to be rather silly looking.
The script is pretty weak in a standard slasher kind of way. Too much of the first half focuses on Michael wandering the streets and killing various people he comes across. While there is a little bit of tension here and there, it’s impossible to make any real connection with characters whom are introduced only so that they can die in the same scene. Even though Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) are technically the protagonists, they’re often absent and Laurie in particular does very little until the finale. Most of the screen-time seems dedicated to…well, Michael- a character whom we’re not supposed to identity with. He kills a lot of annoying slasher fodder, each victim having a single trait that functions as their entire personality. At least the acting is solid though, even if Jamie Lee Curtis is wasted (all she does is look scared) and Donald Pleasence’s descent into madness is a bit too hammy (he’d perfect it by “Halloween 4“). I never liked the big revelation that Laurie and Michael are siblings, as I thought he was scarier when his motives were ambiguous. Amusingly, I say that while agreeing with the claim that this is the scariest version of Michael Myers in terms of his presentation. The mask, body language and slow walk are surprisingly creepy and this physical incarnation of the character is my favorite amongst the sequels. There will be plenty of dumb slasher movie moments (let’s have sex when we’re supposed to be working so we can give the audience some fanservice and die without issue!!), but this genre mostly relies on lazy and contrived writing. I’m not letting the script off easy as much as I’m emphasizing that this is nothing new for slasher fans like myself. Many have complained that for such a huge hospital, there doesn’t appear to be any patients and the staff seems minimal. This is a good point, but I have to admit that the absence of people contributes a lot to the atmosphere. I like the feeling of isolation and dread that accompanies this apparent flaw.
But for the many flaws which keep “Halloween 2” from achieving greatness, I adore the pristine look of this film. One advantage “Halloween 2” has over its rivals and predecessor is its bigger budget and the filmmakers put the production values to good use. Rosenthal does successfully recreate the atmosphere of the first film, albeit adding a much bleaker spin to the visual style. The cinematography is often breathtaking, with every scene being lit…perfectly. Much like “Halloween“, Michael is often just a shape in the background or will suddenly emerge from the shadows, but the DOP doesn’t use grainy looking footage to obscure our vision. There are some very suspenseful and even downright scary moments, so I do believe that Rosenthal did a good job here. The ending in particular is exciting and intense! There is also some eye popping, surrealistic imagery that helps give the film its own identity too. To get to these high points, one has to waddle through filler, uneven pacing, bland (or annoying) characters and an overly complex-but-somewhat dumb story. “Halloween 2” is incredibly uneven and enjoying it comes down to which side catches your attention more. I personally consider “Halloween 4” to be the best sequel, but “Halloween 2” definitely contains some of the best moments within the franchise. I do think it’s an alright slasher, even if it was made for the wrong reasons- a business model that would ultimately bring the “Halloween” franchise to ruin.
Violence: Rated R- pretty vicious.
Nudity: One chick gets naked. Boobies!
Overall: If you liked the first one, “Halloween 2” is still worth watching. Just be smart and lower your expectations.
DISCARDED MATERIAL (original review)
-Note from Author: I actually did not intend to re-write this review, as I thought this would hold up well. Unfortunately, I felt I was too caustic and disagreed with some minor points. Read only for it’s historical value, as this was my review before freewebs screwed me over.
“Halloween 2” represents my frustration and devotion to this franchise- which I’ve always felt kind of sucked. The entries were mostly subpar and even worse, they’re sequels to “Halloween“, which has earned respect even outside of the horror genre. But what began as an innovator quickly became content with jumping on other films bandwagons as the sequels borrowed significantly from whatever was trendy at the time. These movies would rip off “The Terminator” , “Scream“, “The Blair Witch Project” and especially “Friday the 13th“. It s quite ironic, really, that “Friday the 13th” was a blatant rip-off of “Halloween“. But then as time went on, the franchise ended up borrowing from the exploits of Jason. I find that hilarious. Yet despite usually sucking, I would return for each sequel, and would even anticipate them. I’m just weird that way.
“Halloween 2” is one of these sequels, although it’s not the biggest of the rip-offs. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a rip-off. Most likely, the producers just saw how well the Jason films were doing and felt they could top that. They didn’t and the movie under-performed, barely grossing more than “Friday the 13th Part 2“, which was to be surpassed financially by its next two sequels. From here, the Halloween franchise would only go down, presumably because they kept trying to be other movies, and usually sucking at them. Apparently the original version would’ve distanced itself from the slasher genre, but Carpenter really wanted to beat “Friday the 13th” at its own game so forced in more violence during post production. Unfortunately, the kills don’t look very fluid as a character will be struggling one moment, but will stand completely still when they’re actually being murdered. I laughed every time someone died. The gore isn’t even that messy to begin with, so I have to wonder if it was worth it. Sure, I would’ve kept in the money shots, but to make every death bloodier unintentionally made every death sillier. Hell, even the eyeball death isn’t that impressive if you’ve seen Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie“, which is twice as gruesome and twice as effective. Note from Author: Ugh, way too caustic…
But I can forgive those blights to a point, as I doubt the average viewer will notice (or care). Yet I can t really forgive the films weak script. A good chunk of the first half feels very much like filler. Sure, one scene where Michael harasses an older couple was pretty creepy, but they follow that with a typical stock victim death that had only decent buildup and a crappy pay-off. Watching Michael walk around isn’t scary, especially as we know he won t kill anyone in the middle of the road. The film tries to explain his motives (there are hints to what “Halloween 6” would exploit; this foreshadows another pet peeve I have with the franchise), but making Laurie turn out to be his sister was a huge mistake. What made the first film so effective was how random he was. He kills girls because they remind him of his sister, and his shrine at the end was a perfect representation of his insanity. Giving him too much of a motive here just takes away the mystery, and when they reveal it, the scene is just meh . I take that back, the scene pisses me off. I love how Marion (Nancy Stephens) takes her sweat time in revealing this twist, even lighting up a cigarette before hand. Did she not think to tell the cops, WHO WERE RIGHT THERE?!
Sure, the first film didn’t have a lot of great characters or great actors (Note: Ugh…), but the characters were interesting enough so that I kind of felt bad when they hit the bucket. Here, they’re just annoying archetypes AT BEST. It s sad when the most interesting character is the horny douche bag, because he at least sorta has a personality. No one else does. The characters are just stock victims, so personalities aren’t needed. The acting is ..passable, for the most part. Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie) is MIA for most of the movie, but she s supposed to be the main character. She does fine, but all she has to do is look scared. Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis) is usually great, but I found his descent into insanity to be a bit over-the-top and hammy. He gets it right though when we see him two movies later. Everyone else is just okay. None stick out as good or bad, even the usually awful Lance Guest (Jimmy). But let s face it, the characters are mostly here to do stupid things to keep the plot going. Hey, you can t have a male or female walking around, keeping an eye on things! Have them go have sex in a therapy room so they can be distracted while Michael picks them off. Honestly, was John Carpenter and Deborah Hill reading the big book of cliches while writing this?
Yet my complains stop there. Why do people adore this movie more than me if the movie has all of these flaws? The truth is, the suspense connects with them. Suspense can either make your movie edgy or boring. The much lauded Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” has a popular suspense scene with a crop-duster, but I found It boring. Yet somehow I found Uwe Boll’s “Seed” to be fairly suspenseful. How the hell does that happen?! (Note from Author: Ugh, there goes my credibility. Can I delete that part?) Whereas the majority of the viewers felt the suspense, I didn’t. At least not usually. The movie has its moments of suspense, and the finale is pretty hardcore (although why Myers kept following the sounds of the gas and not Laurie’s whimpers confounds me). In general, I will say that Michael himself looks and acts notably creepy. He might even be the scariest incarnation of the monster yet. Him appearing out of nowhere, lit my candlelight is an image that will haunt my dreams.
While we’re on the films positive aspects, the film is beautifully shot. Rosenthal almost perfectly recaptures Carpenters tone and style, with all the usual tricks. On the downside, being too much like the original can backfire when your sequel is that much weaker. But I also liked the films more unusual ideas. My favorite scene in the whole movie is when someone is killed (depending on which version you watch) by SLIPPING IN A PUDDLE OF BLOOD. Now that’s arguably one of the most clever and obvious ways of killing someone in any slasher film. At times, Rosenthal even casts a shade of surrealism, with some scenes feeling very dreamlike. (Note from Author: That’s redundant, being kind of redundant). The aforementioned slipping in blood sequence looked stunning due to the fake blood. The blood looks very fake, mind you, but it’s the kind of fake that’s aesthetically pleasant. From this movie alone, one would think that Rosenthal could’ve been a major name in horror. For the most part, his career failed to take off and he just worked on TV projects. But despite helping Michael Myers become a franchise and a horror icon, he ironically also helped destroy it. He returned for “Halloween: Resurrection“, the final film in this continuity. It’s not an awful film (at least compared to some of the previous entries; Note from Author: WRONG! IT DOES SUCK! I HADN’T SEEN IT IN YEARS WHEN I WROTE THE ORIGINAL REVIEW! WTF WAS I THINKING?!), but it showed that the franchise had nowhere else to go and a remake became inevitable. Sadly, Rosenthal isn’t to blame for this movies weaknesses nor that movies weaknesses. He does a good job on both, but was working with pretty awful scripts. It’s strange that Carpenter, one of the finest horror directors of the time (“The Thing” is my favorite horror film), crippled this movie with his half-assed script and poorly rendered insertions
But keep in mind that all my criticisms of the film can easily be overlooked. If you find the film edgy, scary, suspenseful or at least entertaining, you will like it. If that fails on you, however, you will find it idiotic, contrived, redundant, annoying and dull. (Note from Author: Duh?) To a point, both sides work on me, so I’m neutral. If I had seen this in 1981, I may have been more harsh. Yet the sequels would become so bad that in comparison “Halloween 2” looks good- maybe even great. For me, the films good stuff defeated the films bad stuff, but only barely. I find the movie to be a moderate success. (Note from Author: This old review sucks, why are you reading this!?).
Overall: Watch “Halloween 2” if you liked the first film. Even though I don’t consider it to be the best sequel, I do think that it s the only sequel non-slasher fans might enjoy.