'80s films, '80s slasher films, 31 Days of Halloween, Charles Cyphers, cinema, Cliff Emmich, co-writers, Dean Cundey, Debra Hill, Dick Warlock, Donald Pleasence, electronic score, film reviews, films, Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween II, horror, horror franchises, horror movies, hospitals, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jeffrey Kramer, John Carpenter, Lance Guest, Laurie Strode, Leo Rossi, Michael Myers, Movies, Nancy Stephens, Pamela Susan Shoop, Rick Rosenthal, Sam Loomis, sequels, slasher films
Memory’s kind of a funny thing. I remember really disliking Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween 2 (1981) when I first saw it, probably because I felt cheated that John Carpenter didn’t direct it. I was a huge fan of the original Halloween (1978) and I’m pretty sure that the thought of a Carpenter-less continuation of the story really ticked me off. Several years ago, I decided to watch the entire Halloween franchise in one fell swoop and I, likewise, remember being disappointed by the second entry, albeit not as disappointed as I was by the Busta entry.
This, of course, brings us to the present day where I decided to screen Halloween 2 back-to-back with the Carpenter classic. I assumed that my findings would be pretty much the same as they were in the past: this was going to be a lame cash-grab. At this point, I figured I could finally give up on the film and relegate it to the special hell reserved for sequels like Wishmaster 4 (2002) or Psycho 3 (1986). And then something kind of funny happened. Perhaps it was the warm glow from seeing the always-dependable original film…perhaps it was my complete focus on the picture at hand…regardless of the reason, I ended up…well, kinda liking the flick. It’s no patch on the original, mind you, and only barely in the same universe, quality-wise, but it actually makes perfect sense as a direct sequel (to a point) and would have brought the series to a pretty decent conclusion if the producers would have opted to end it here.
If younger me would have paid closer attention back in the day, I probably would have realized that Halloween 2 didn’t have as tenuous a relationship to Carpenter’s film as I thought it did. Not only did Carpenter and partner Debra Hill co-produce the film but they also co-wrote it and Carpenter once again provided the musical score. Dean Cundey, the masterful cinematographer from the first film, returned to shoot this, as well, insuring that the overall look would, at the very least, be pretty similar. Many of the original cast members, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence and Charles Cyphers, reprised their roles from the first film and the movie actually takes place immediately after the events of the original movie: not as in “One week later…” but as in “5 minutes later…” In fact, beyond the fact that Carpenter handed the directorial duties over to Rosenthal, both Halloween and its sequel look pretty damn similar.
All of this being said, Halloween 2 is most definitely not in the same league as Carpenter’s film. For one thing, the film falls victim to the biggest sin of sequels: more is not necessarily better. If there was one building blowing up in the first movie, level a city block in the second. Did Rambo kill ten guys in the second movie? Better give him forty for the third. The idea of escalation doesn’t technically help the quality of the film so much as keep setting a higher and higher bar for future sequel makers to leap over. In the case of Halloween, we go from a small handful of deaths in the first film (including at least a couple off-screen ones) to a small battalion in the second. It’s a curious move for the series, since the original film was all about mood and suspense with very little actual gore. Halloween 2, on the other hand, is much freer with the red stuff, including a thoroughly ridiculous scene where a victim’s blood is completely drained out onto the floor, creating something akin to a lake. There’s also a scalding, an eyeball puncture, throat slashings and the like, although nothing ever seems too gratuitous or mean-spirited (even the pool of blood pays off with one of the best ever slasher film deaths…let just say, people should always watch their step…).
The film’s other big issue is the introduction of several extraneous plot elements that seem destined to add depth to the mythos but instead just end up unnecessarily cluttering the narrative. We get druid lore, a surprise lineage revelation, a power struggle at the asylum and an angry mob throwing rocks at the old Meyers place, none of which actually pay off in any meaningful way. Part of the problem with all these plot threads is that it seems to completely push poor Jamie Lee Curtis off the screen: while Laurie was the hero of the first film, she gets so little screen-time here as to be more of a supporting player, while Loomis ends up picking up the hero reins and running roughshod. It’s also a bit disconcerting to see the strong, resolute Laurie of the first film reduced to the weak, bed-ridden Laurie of the sequel: Curtis doesn’t even sound the same in this, seeming to dial the passion down a full notch or two.
Despite all of this, however, Halloween 2 is actually a pretty decent film. It’s much more of a generic slasher than the first, especially since it trades the rich autumnal warmth of Carpenter’s film for the clinical frigidity of the hospital, but it’s briskly paced and no one element really wears out its welcome. The connection to the first film is so seamless as to be almost dizzying, which is a nice trick: while the film begins with “rerun” footage from the first, there’s a point where it seamlessly morphs into the “new” footage and I really couldn’t tell. I know where the original film ends, of course, so seeing the film “continue” past that point was disorienting but also kinda cool. It’s also nice to have another Carpenter soundtrack (I absolutely love his film scores), even if the score for Halloween 2 isn’t as evocative as the original: it’s a bit more strident but all of the familiar beats are there.
There are also plenty of nicely staged setpieces and some really nice shots, although none of this has the creeping claustrophobia of the first film. The aforementioned blood scene has a great payoff, as does the scene where someone passes out on a steering wheel, alerting Michael to Laurie’s presence. There’s also a really nicely staged shot where Michael strangles someone in the background while someone dithers around in the foreground, unaware. And I must certainly admit extreme fondness for the scene where a curious Michael peeks in through an old couple’s window and sees them watching Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968): I’m positive that’s Carpenter referencing his NOTLD nod from the first film (watch the scene where Loomis and the nurse drive up to the asylum in the rain and tell me the white-clothed patients don’t look like Romero’s similarly garbed undead), although I’ll freely admit that it might also just be happy coincidence.
Although I firmly believe that the original Halloween never needed a sequel (for me, Michael’s body disappearing and Laurie bursting into tears finish that story more definitively than “The End” ever could), I’ll also admit that Halloween 2 isn’t a terrible sequel. At the very least, it’s the last time that the series ever really bothered with any true connection to the first film, beyond the Michael Meyers connection, of course. Taken on its own, it’s a pretty decent little slasher with several great scenes but nothing spectacular. Combined with the first film, however, it actually ends up offering a bit more closure. The additional plot details may be largely unnecessary but they do make sense, in context, and the two films become a sort of duology. Halloween 2 may not be a necessary film and it certainly won’t make anyone forget the original but it ends up being a pretty good supplement to Carpenter’s film. If you’ve always given the film the cold shoulder, go ahead and give it a try: you might not be blown away but I’m willing to wager that you’ll enjoy yourself. Younger me was wrong: Halloween 2 definitely doesn’t suck. It’s pretty okay…and there’s nothing wrong with that.