I shot him six times! I shot him in the heart, but… he’s not human!
So here we are again. The first day of October, the first of thirty one days of horror movies for my watching and reviewing pleasure. Last year, I struggled through and came out a far more satisfied, and considerably more single, person. This year I mean to dive right in again and see if I can learn anything from a fresh catalogue of spooky tales from past and present. The difference? Where I reviewed a film that kicked off a series last year, I want to continue on with the sequels. It might make life more predictable, but sod it, it’s as good a plan as any.
Just as I kicked things off last year with Halloween (1978), I’ve gone ahead and started as I mean to go on with Halloween II (1981) – and boy was it a pleasure hearing those synth beats again.
Duh duh duh duh duhduh duh duh duh – duuuuuuuh duuuuuuuuuuh duuuuuuuh.
Written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the second in the Michael Myer series was the directorial debut of Rick Rosenthal. The story goes that while Carpenter and Hill felt the story was done, the financial success of Halloween had the studio scratching at their door for a sequel. Having not made much money himself from the first film, Carpenter agreed to return as a way of earning the money he felt was owed. However, he refused to direct, instead he and Hill worked on the screenplay and passed it over to another director.
It was not an easy script to write, and remains a script that neither Carpenter or Hill are happy with. In fact, Carpenter was recorded saying, “I will say that what got me through writing that script was… Budweiser. Six pack of beer a night, sitting in front of the typewriter saying, ‘What in the hell can I put down?’ I had no idea. We’re remaking the same film, only not as good.”
So with that sales pitch fresh in your mind, let’s take a look at the story.
Opening during the final moments of Halloween, the story begins with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) sending the children she is babysitting out to find help, but she is herself attacked by Michael Myers. Noticing the children screaming and running out of the house, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is able to get to Laurie in time to save her life, unloading his pistol into Myers, who is blasted out of the window, over a balcony and onto the lawn in front of the house.
Rushing to the window, Loomis is shocked to see Myers’ body is already missing. Panicked, he abandons Laurie and runs into the street, shouting bloody murder before running to find Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) to find Myers before he kills again.
Myers (now played by Dick Warlock), as it happens, has staggered into the night. Lost and seemingly dazed, we watch through his eyes as he moves deeper into the neighbourhood and away from the shouty bald British man waving a gun around. You can’t really blame him, too much. The scenes that follow are some of the creepier scenes of the movie. Unseen, Myers is able to creep in and out of people’s houses, arming himself and continuing his hobby from the shadows. At this point I should say that the camera work here is really smooth. We flow smoothly from Myer’s point of view, to reverse shots showing Myers’ genuinely creepy manner of walking into a room, totally unseen by the innocent bystanders and potential victims – with only the blood dripping from his body as a clue that he was there at all.
Things develop slowly from here. Dr Loomis and the Sheriff continue their search through the streets of Haddonfield as the press begin to swarm on the houses from the first film, watching as Laurie is taken by paramedics Jimmy (Lance Guest) and Budd (Leo Rossi) to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for the injuries she sustained in the previous film. As the news of the killings get out, panic begins to sweep the neighbourhood and furious mobs begin to gather outside the Myers House.
At one point, Dr Loomis chases an innocent teenager dressed suspiciously like Myers into the path of a police car and, holy hell, it goes badly.
An incredible stunt, however, that takes the Sheriff and Dr Loomis off the scent long enough for Myers to find his way to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to finish what he started.
What follows becomes a deadly game of hide-and-seek, as Myers systematically takes out the nurses and staff of the hospital before finding his way to an extremely medicated and nervous Laurie.
This is where things unfortunately fall down for me. Virtually all of the deaths occur off-screen, their bodies left for the surviving protagonists to discover in a line of consistently poorly timed jump scares. Apparently this was a conscious decision of the part of director Rosenthal, who wanted to emulate the original’s mostly gore-less scenes, as opposed to the blood and guts approach of Halloween’s imitators. The unfortunate thing is the audience does actually want to see things happen.
Realising this, Carpenter himself went back and directed a number of far more gory scenes – including an exceptional sequence where Budd and Nurse Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) are caught in the throes of passion by a devious and surprisingly sadistic Myers, who ends up scorching Karen to death in a giant kidney dish full of boiling water (apparently some sort of water therapy pod).
What’s more, by setting the majority of the film in a sterile – and surprisingly empty – hospital, you lose much of the valuable atmosphere and iconography that made Halloween a success. Were it not for the odd reminder that this is somehow happening on the same night as the previous film – and the odd background decoration – this story could be taking place at any time of the year and that doesn’t feel right to me. While it is creepy to see Myers wander the corridors, holding a dripping knife, there lacks a drive to a conclusion – beyond that of Laurie’s escape and attempts to flee.
In short, it works as a continuation of the first film, but as a standalone sequel there isn’t a huge amount to gain from Halloween II. Although one particular scene did make me laugh out loud – and for far longer than I should have – but man, that Lance Guest sure knows how to pratfall, huh?
That said, I do love the use of music in this film. While Halloween was quite tiring in its overuse of the iconic theme music by Carpenter himself, Halloween II pulls back on the reigns and lets you watch in silence for a while before something happens. The music itself is used sparingly, but enough to make certain points of the film stand out.
While we’re on the subject, the new version of the theme is incredible. It’s mostly the same as the original, but there’s a few extra layers in there that really work. I’ve been listening to it nearly on repeat since I started writing this review, so it must have something going for it.
Or there’s something really wrong with me. Hm. See what you think:
See you next time!
Yours, A P Tyler