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.”