Despite its cliffhanger ending, Halloween doesn’t really suggest an obvious sequel story. Michael Myers is an anonymous menace; Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is apparently his target of violence for thematic and happenstance reasons (she appears near his old house at the wrong time); the police are on his trail, so he can’t stalk the neighborhood the way he did throughout the first film without being detected.
So where do you go with a sequel? For Halloween II, the answer is: Do the same, but more. Myers is more superhuman and violent. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is more obsessed with Myers’ case. More jump scares. More deaths. More blood. More boobies. More more more! And it’s fun, in much the same way Cheez Whiz is a fun topping.
I can’t say I hold any of this against Halloween II. With the rise of the slasher film golden age — as kicked off by Halloween and cashed in by Friday the 13th — audience expectations were for bigger thrills. And even if they weren’t, there’s no way anyone could re-engineer the elegant purity and simplicity of the scares in Halloween. It just wasn’t going to happen. Halloween-flavored junk food would have to suffice.
Despite the film’s trashier tone and a replacement for John Carpenter in the director seat, with Rick Rosenthal tapping in, Halloween II actually feels a lot like Halloween. For one, Carpenter stayed on as co-composer, so the score sounds about the same; perhaps not quite so stirring. But Carpenter’s fingerprints are stronger than that: He’s a producer, and Rosenthal essentially does a Carpenter impersonation as an anonymous substitute director — I wouldn’t be surprised if Carpenter was heavily involved on set. It just looks and feels like one of his movies. And just as crucially, Dean Cundey returns as cinematographer, so it looks like Halloween with its tactility and pools of moody darkness that fill the frame and hide “The Shape.”
The story picks up moments after Halloween ends. Actually, it picks up moments before Halloween ends, as we relive the final scene and cliffhanger. But the movie runs almost full-throttle right away. You could definitely watch the films together as a single epic and barely notice a decline in momentum at this transition.
The first half hour of Halloween II is something I’ve never quite seen before: It shows the aftermath of the events of a slasher film. The cops are getting their stories straight, the family members of the deceased are learning of their loved ones’ horrible fates, the media is reporting in shocked confusion, the masses are inflamed in anger at the slowly leaking news. It makes me want some slasher series to devote an entire second entry to being a kill-free drama about a town bumbling through the day after a murder-spree.
Then a teen gets rammed by an exploding car, and the film remembers why we’re here. It pivots almost immediately to its premise proper — the original film’s scenario recreated in a hospital, and far gnarlier. The hospital is eerily empty and quiet; every creaky shadow could be a nurse coming to take vitals, or could be Myers with a butcher knife. And that brings me to one of my complaints about the film: The use of trick scares. I don’t like it when a film sets me up to be scared, then pulls the rug out: Just someone saying hi, noticeably sans mask and cleaver.
The film’s many kills are freaky and inventive. There is maybe one too many syringe stab, but you can tell the funhouse horror mindset had taken hold. The absolute peak of skin-crawling black comedy is a hot tub-hookup gone afoul, when Myers drowns a busty nurse in scalding water.
There’s a contrived twist in the film’s final fifteen minutes that gives some backstory connection to Jodie and Myers. It didn’t bother me, mostly because I don’t especially care about the characters in the first place. It also seems necessary to link the characters in a meaningful way if you want Curtis to keep starring. If not, why would Myers keep hunting her down?
The ending is an appropriate demonstration of brimstone and hellfire, showing without question that Myers is defeated for good. No more Halloween sequels. Couldn’t be. I can’t wait to see how the series crawls out of this one.
Halloween II won’t ever be the classic that the first film is, but it’s a genuinely enjoyable time and a heightened simulacrum of the original, and that’s all I ask for when it comes to horror sequels.
- Review Project: Halloween Retrospective