Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Halloween II

1981
Dir. Rick Rosenthal

Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital after barely surviving her bloody ordeal at the hands of demented killer Michael Myers. Meanwhile, Dr Loomis discovers that Myers isn’t really dead and sets out to track him down with Sheriff Brackett. Discovering Laurie’s whereabouts at the hospital, Myers makes his less than suspenseful way there leaving a bloody trail of bodies in his wake…

After the runaway success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, and the slew of stalk and slash films it inspired, it came as a surprise to few that a sequel charting the increasingly gory antics of Michael Myers would be released. Halloween producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad approached John Carpenter and Debra Hill to pen the script for Halloween II and they initially planned to set the sequel a few years after the events depicted in the first film, with Myers tracking Laurie to her new life and home in a high-rise apartment building. The decision was then made to set the film on the same night as the first and just pick up exactly where things left off. With a much larger budget than its predecessor, Halloween II cost $2.5million and was once again filmed in and around California with most of the cast from the original - including Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence - reprising their roles.



Obviously Halloween was going to be a tough act to follow. John Carpenter’s assured direction built suspense right from the opening scene. He made inspired use of widescreen and by only showing us brief glimpses of Michael Myers – usually standing on the periphery of the screen – created palpable tension and a real sense of menace. Halloween II is essentially a repeat of the original film's structure, with Myers gradually picking off the cast as he makes his way towards his prize victim, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). However it lacks the original’s subtlety and artistry. In Halloween at least there was anticipation, careful build up and suspense. Halloween II departs drastically with its incorporation of more graphic violence and overt gore and none of the tension to back it up. It emerges on a similar par to the myriad slasher films of its time. Despite obviously trying to outdo them in terms of creepy set pieces and bloody violence, it is no better or no worse than the likes of Hell Night, Terror Train or Friday the 13th. Not a bad thing if you like slasher movies, but following on from a classic like Halloween, the film is quite disappointing. The only advantage (or arguable disadvantage) it had over other slashers of the time, was the reputation of Carpenter’s original.

Setting the film on the same night as events from the first one lends it continuity and urgency. Relieved that Laurie survived her initial ordeal, we now root for her to make it through this one, as she’s even more vulnerable than before; tired, drugged and trying desperately to remain vigilant. The hospital setting is an inspired choice but the fact that Laurie is badly injured, sedated and therefore more vulnerable, is never exploited as much as it could have been. Other horror titles such as Cold Prey II, Visiting Hours and Phobia utilised similar settings to much more sinister effect. Some moody shots of empty hospital corridors create an uneasy atmosphere, but this is gradually wasted through the repetitive nature of the script and the eventually mundane violence with no tension leading up to it. The characters are introduced only to be killed off and none are developed beyond sex scenes or inane dialogue.



Rosenthal’s direction remains completely uninspired and he fails to generate any tension or menace. Even Dean Cundey’s return as director of photography doesn’t really elevate proceedings without Carpenter’s masterful hand to guide him. Only a couple of scenes really stand out. The first comes early on; after Myers’ vanishes from where Loomis shot him, we follow him, via creepy point of view shots, as he skulks around the neighbourhood eluding police and killing at random. To begin with these scenes exhibit the same haunting atmosphere as some of those in the original film – a quiet suburban space invaded by an unspeakably evil presence. Peering in through windows, we can see people watching TV (including an older couple watching Romero's Night of the Living Dead), making dinner, chatting on the phone, completely oblivious to the danger they are in. This atmosphere is shattered after the first murder though. Another highlight comes much later when Laurie is eventually tracked down and pursued by Myers through the hospital in an extended chase scene. As in the original, tension is created by contrasting Laurie’s increasingly panic-stricken attempts to evade her stalker, and Myers’ silent and stealthy approach. Lurid Italian horror-inspired lighting lends these scenes a nightmarish quality and the film includes a couple of nods to the likes of Argento - not least when one character is killed by having a hypodermic needle thrust into her eye.

The most interesting aspects of the script explore Laurie’s past and hint at a connection between her and Myers. The truth is revealed with the return of nurse Marion Chambers Whittington (Nancy Stephens); sent to order Dr Loomis back to Smith’s Grove, Marion confesses to Loomis that she’s seen a secret file on Laurie Strode and it reveals that Michael Myers is in fact her brother. After Myers was incarcerated for killing his sister Judith back in the Sixties, young Laurie was adopted by the Strode family, who swore to protect her from ever finding out about her dark past. Much of the original was so chilling however, because Myers seemed to be operating with no motive other than the young girls he was stalking and killing reminding him of his sister Judith.



Like many of the Halloween sequels this one also attempts to incorporate some Halloween lore into proceedings with the discovery of the word ‘Samhain’ scrawled in blood on the wall of a school. Loomis interprets this to mean ‘lord of the dead’, but unlike the allusions to Myers being the bogeyman in the original, nothing is really done with this information. A little more Halloween lore and contemporary society’s anxiety surrounding the holiday’s mysterious origins is hinted at in a brief scene involving a young boy who has been cut by a razorblade bobbing for apples.

While Halloween II is an above average slasher film, it is a pale imitation of its predecessor rather than a continuation of that film’s genuinely creepy story. Like so many slasher sequels and imitations, Halloween II fails to be effective because of its aim, to quote John McCarty (author of 'Splatter Movies'), not to scare, but to “mortify (audiences) with scenes of explicit gore.”

15 comments:

Wes M said...

Good stuff James and a perfectly judged review. If Carpenter's film was a juicy steak, the sequel is more like a cheeseburger - nice but not quite as satisfying. I do like the idea of the film picking up right after the original film ends, and it's surprising more sequels don't do it. The first reel is definitely the best stuff in the film but style wise, it feels a world apart from the original. I do like the revamped theme music though...

Blake said...

Hey, just found this site while looking for images from The Bat (1959). I am doing 30 days of horror with brief reviews and The Bat was the film I watched last night. Anyways, have enjoyed what I have seen of this blog so far and plan to keep following it! Thanks.

Cody said...

Great review. I had no idea that they ever considered setting the sequel any time other than the same night. Very interesting. And I love the new look of the site!

Caffeinated Joe said...

Great review! I wonder what film we would have had if they had gone with the "Few years later, set in a high rise" approach. We would have at least not had to deal with the horrible wig Curtis has to wear!

Eric said...

Perfect review. It's like a drunken version of Halloween. Not without entertainment, but for sure lacking the suspense and buildups of the original. Carpenter's score definitely helps it along.

James Gracey said...

@Wes - The last horror sequel I watched that picked up straight after the events of the original was Cold Prey II. I watched them back to back. It’s a great slasher film - also set in a hospital- and way better than Halloween II. Maybe even better than its own predecessor, Cold Prey.

@Blake – Thanks! Glad you happened upon the blog – and that you were looking for images from The Bat is even better. I love that film. The usual banner image is a promo still of Mr Price from The Bat… Looking forward to checking out your 30 Days of Horror posts.

@Cody – Yeah, I was quite surprised when I read that too. I’m glad they just set it on the same night though – it just makes sense and gives the film some nice continuity.
Glad you like the new look – I heard chintz was in this Halloween. ;)

James Gracey said...

@Eric - spot on! While I quite enjoyed it, the experience was dampened because it just didn't come close to Carpenter's film. Having said that - he and Hill wrote and produced it. It was (allegedly) Carpenter who upped the gore content to compete with all the other slashers of the time. Not sure how it would have turned out with him directing it. Probably a bit better. But only a bit!

@Joe - Hmmm. Wig or high-rise, wig or high-rise? Wigs are cheaper to rent! I suppose the 'high-rise' angle could have been interesting - one of my favourite aspects of the sequel though is the fact that it takes place on the same night. ;)

Aaron said...

Hmmm... I respectfully disagree with some of your thoughts on this film, but I also agree with some points you bring up. It obviously doesn't hold the first movie's jock strap, but it's still a pretty solid slasher. I can watch the first two back to back and never feel like there's a huge drop in quality when I watch the second one. Cundey's cinematography isn't quite as impressive as in the first, but considering the hospital setting, I think they did about as good a job as they could have by eliminating as much lighting as possible to create an effective atmosphere (although the lack of lighting, noise, and other patients in the hospital is a bit odd if you think about it). Also, the scene at the end where Michael is blinded and wildly swinging his knife around (or was it a scalpel... I don't remember) is one of my favorite moments in the entire series, but that's not really saying much. Lots of nostalgic attachment for me with this one too. But I do agree with you about Laurie's vulnerabilities not being exploited as much as they should have. Anyway, keep up the great work, James!

James Gracey said...

How DARE you disagree with me Aaron!! ;)
In all seriousness though, thanks for your comment, and you’re absolutely right. It is not a bad slasher. Had it been a stand-alone film and not a follow up to Halloween, it might even be considered one of the better slashers of that era. It is certainly one of the better Halloween sequels. While it benefits from being watched right after Halloween, it’s also quite detrimental to it, as its flaws and shortcomings are just all the more obvious.
The setting is one of the better aspects of Halloween II, but Rosenthal just doesn’t inject enough tension into proceedings and a lot of it feels flat.
I’m looking forward to watching Halloween III – haven’t seen it for years. I had to order it from Amazon last week so hopefully it’ll be on my doormat when I get home from work today. Something to look forward to! :)

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

The only decent HALLOWEEN film to feature Michael Myers is the first. This is a blandly directed waste of space. The only distinguishing feature of it, is its meanness. One only has to look at the set pieces in this film, to see how the slasher film had 'evolved' since HALLOWEEN.

James Gracey said...

Shaun I'm inclined to agree with you about the only decent Halloween film to feature Michael Myers being the first one - though I'm also a fan of Halloween H20. As a standard slasher flick, I think Halloween II is fairly average - but as a sequel to Carpenter's original, it falls short. I still enjoyed it though - but I recognise it is not a great film.

Aaron said...

You actually ordered it from Amazon? That's dedication!

James Gracey said...

I sure did! And it arrived this morning - so I'll hopefully watch it later and post my very important thoughts on it. Really looking forward to watching it, I haven't seen it in a few years. I also picked up parts 2 and 6 online as I found cheap copies. I now have a complete collection. Huzzah! Aside from Resurrection. Which I ain't buying. I AIN'T! ;)

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I actually think this is the best sequel in the franchise. Maybe it's because it was the second horror film I had ever seen after the first one back in 1985 at the age of 4. My fear for hospitals stems from this movie. Sure, it's not as good as the first one, but I think it's a good continuation of the story. I still feel HALLOWEEN II should have been the last Myers film, but when money talks...

Great review. While I don't totally agree with everything you wrote, you do make some great points and I can definitely see where you're coming from.

James Gracey said...

@Fred[The Wolf] I can see why you have a fear of hospitals from watching this as a kid! Creepy stuff – and the best thing about this film is its location. I just felt they could have done more with it. I think H20 is the best sequel. Central to that is Curtis’s performance and the sense of closure – a real event movie for slasher fans.