Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal.
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence and Charles Cyphers.
Follows Halloween (1978)
Followed by Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
After the success of John Carpenter’s original independent slasher film Halloween (1978), Rick Rosenthal takes over the reins for the second instalment. Immediately picking up where Halloween’s bone-chilling ending had left off, Halloween II (1981) continues Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) struggle to survive the night, as the seemingly immortal Michael Myers (portrayed in the sequel by Dick Warlock) continues his relentless pursuit. Spoilers are forthcoming… You have been warned.
On Halloween night, October 31st 1978, not far from the fictional Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Michael Myers (portrayed in the original by Nick Castle) escaped from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where he had been incarcerated for the 1963 murder of Judith Myers. At six years old Michael plunged a kitchen knife into his teenage sister. It was not expected that he would ever be released…
Anticipating that Michael Myers will now return to his hometown of Haddonfield, psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is determined to confront his former patient; a man he can only describe as being “pure evil”. Who knows what Michael is capable of, and he has already began to stalk his next victim; high-school student Laurie Strode.
The events of John Carpenter’s Halloween culminate in one of the most effectively frightening endings that has ever been put to celluloid.
“You can’t kill the boogeyman.”
After Laurie’s frighteningly unpleasant experience, she is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to receive treatment for her injuries. Dr. Loomis however, convinced that Michael is still alive and indeed a threat to Haddonfield, resumes his search for the seemingly immortal slasher.
Seeking shelter himself in an effort to recover from his own injuries, Michael breaks into a Haddonfield home, steals a kitchen knife, and plunges it into a teenage witness to his crime. Once again armed with stainless steel, Michael learns that Laurie is being treated at the local hospital; courtesy of a radio broadcast. “The nightmare isn’t over!” Myers will finish what they’ll never forget…
For a sequel to succeed, especially one that follows the most iconic slasher film, it is expected that the film should be smarter and bolder that the one before it. 1978’s Halloween was a tough act to follow and John Carpenter himself was reluctant to return to the director’s chair for a sequel. “I had made that film once and I really didn’t want to do it again.” Instead Carpenter wrote the screenplay along with Debra Hill, creating a sequel that was a direct continuation of the events that preceded it in the original. For new director Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II was his first feature-length film), this meant that the style of Halloween II was already established by the first movie:
“The first movie I ever did was a sequel, but it was supposed to be a direct continuation. It started one minute after the first movie ended. You have to try hard to maintain the style of the first movie. I wanted it to feel like a two-parter. You have the responsibility and the restraints of the style that’s been set. It was the same crew. My philosophy was to do more of a thriller than a slasher movie.”
Rosenthal attempted to pay respect to the original Halloween by stylistically recreating certain elements and themes from the original film, but the slasher genre had moved on; becoming more visceral and violent. Carpenter himself had no control over the direction of the film but believed that the rough cut of Halloween II would not be able to compete with the slashers of the time, such as Prom Night (1980) and Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980). Where Carpenter did have control was in post-production:
“I saw a rough cut of Halloween II, and it wasn’t scary. It was about as scary as Quincy. So we had to do some post-production work to bring it at least up to par with the competition.”
Against his initial stance John Carpenter directed several new death sequences to ensure Halloween II was frequently more bloody than his original movie. Yet upon release Halloween II was still met with a mixed reception from audiences, and most critics were far from impressed. But enough with history… I’ll be damned if Halloween II is not the best sequel in the franchise (with 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch a close second) despite it’s few missteps.
To think that this sequel would follow the success of John Carpenter’s original Halloween is absurd. But in terms of making a film that is not only familiar to it’s predecessor, but different enough to satisfy the slasher subgenre’s loyal but bloodthirsty audience, Halloween II succeeded.
What Rick Rosenthal and John Carpenter have created is a seamless transition from Halloween to Halloween II; the sequel taking place just a few hours after the original. Rosenthal’s attention to recreating the slow pace of the original (broken only for Carpenter’s outbursts of gore) allows for the tension and suspense to continue to build until it’s fiery conclusion. Rosenthal should also be commended for using point-of-view (POV) shots as effectively as John Carpenter did. Watching Halloween I and II back to back is like watching a two part TV mini series. They both form a cleverly constructed cohesive whole.
This seamless transition is also where Halloween II’s issues lie. Laurie Strode is broken; which doesn’t lend itself well to further characterization. Jamie Lee Curtis is still incredible as Laurie, but without any break in tension from part 1 to part 2 we are left without any variation in emotion…just constant dread. Enter Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis. Pleasence portrays Loomis as a man who will not stop until he is certain Michael Myers is dead. Just as Myers searches for Laurie (revealed in this sequel to be his sister), Loomis searches for Myers. The hunter becoming the hunted; each scene punctuated by a fantastic revised score from John Carpenter and Alan Howarth.
Halloween II may lack the genre defining impact of the original, but what subsequent horror film has? What we have here is an entertaining direct sequel with a satisfying conclusion to the Myers/Strode story arc; at least until Laurie’s (and Jamie Lee Curtis’) return in 1998’s Halloween H20. Not only is Halloween II a great sequel (an achievement in itself) but it is also a great slasher film too. Michael Myers would return in the imaginatively titled Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) but the character would never have the same menacing presence as he had in Halloween I and II.