Happy Halloween: Halloween II (1981) review
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Stephens, Lance Guest, Hunter Von Leer
Okay, so yes, it’s not as good as the original. In fact, it doesn’t hold a candle to it.
Then again, could you really expect it to? I mean the original Halloween is a milestone in the horror/slasher genre, a slick, suspenseful, and masterfully crafted piece of work by which future genre entries must be judged.
Halloween II, in contrast, is suspenseful and very stylish, but it’s also needlessly bloody.
After the original’s release, Hollywood decided to release a slew of inferior wannabes that range from Friday the 13th to Happy Birthday to Me.
What separated those films from John Carpenter’s gem is the fact that those movies were more concerned with high body counts and inventive kills rather than establishing a mood or developing the characters, and, for some reason, audiences bought into them.
Since the original Friday the 13th was such a financial success, other horror filmmakers decided to follow that movie’s gruesome formula, and soon enough, horror movies became less about scaring people and more about grossing them out with gory murders.
Whereas the original Halloween was able build lots of tension without ever spilling an ounce of blood, Halloween II has a number of very gruesome kill scenes that grow kind of numbing after a while (and from what I understand, it's Carpenter's fault the movie is as bloody as it is).
There is one scene where a young nurse gets an air-filled syringe jammed in her eye (ouch!), and another where a young woman is hooked up to an intravenous tube and bled dry. You get the idea.
However, Halloween II has more going for than just a number of inventive kills. The movie has a number of highly effective scare scenes, and the atmosphere consists a lot with empty spaces and moments of total silence, creating a feeling of dread with the possibility of evil lurking just outside the camera’s view.
It’s a movie that shows that even Mad Slasher movies with buckets of blood can still be made into good movies. Like the original, Halloween II works hard to create a mood of unease and allow the characters to have some distinguishable character traits.
Michael Myers is even still fairly creepy here. In the original, we learned everything there was to know about him: He’s invincible, he’ll kill without hesitation, etc.
However, there are moments in this film where he still surprises you. There is one scene early on where Michael breaks into an elderly couple’s house and steals a butcher knife. They have their backs turned to him when he steals the knife, so you kind of expect him to sneak up on the old couple and kill them off, but no. We get a wide angle shot of Michael behind them, and then…he leaves them alone.
Not something you’d expect from an unstoppable killing machine, is it?
The movie picks up right where the original film left off. Laurie Strode (Curtis) is being hauled off to the local hospital after surviving her ordeal with Michael and Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) is out looking for Michael with the local sheriff. “I shot him six times. I shot him six times. He isn’t human!” he keeps shouting for the first fifteen minutes of the film (funny, I counted seven shots).
Anyway, Michael Myers is still on the loose and quickly tracks Laurie down to the hospital where she’s been taken to. This hospital is a curious place indeed. It seems to be suffering from a severe power shortage because nearly every corner of the hospital is dark and covered in shadows, and there are a number of babies at the maternity ward, despite the fact that Laurie seems to be the only patient in the entire friggin’ hospital (I know all those kids aren’t hers).
This is all fine for the atmosphere, but it robs the movie of the realism Carpenter established so well in the original.
That’s all the plot there really is, and that’s fine. Halloween II is more about atmosphere, suspense, and the horrifying possibility that someone somewhere can be watching you at any time with the intention of doing you harm for no explained reason. Like the original, we’re not sure what’s driving Michael to kill, and that’s what makes him scarier. You can’t reason with someone who wants to kill you if they don’t have a motive.
The acting is just as solid here as it was in the original. Jamie Lee Curtis is a little more panicked here than she was before, but she still maintains her character’s fighting spirit at certain moments (at one point, she shoots Michael in both of his eyes — ha!).
Pleasence is charismatic and consistently engaging as Dr. Sam Loomis, and Lance Guest (from The Last Starfighter) proves to be a likable addition to the cast as a good-natured ambulance driver named Jimmy Lloyd, who seems to have a growing attraction for Laurie.
Is the movie scary? At times it is, which is enough to give the movie a recommendation. There are so many reasons why Halloween II is inferior to the original, yet casting the movie’s shortcomings aside, this is still a good movie and a nice companion piece to Carpenter’s film.
See the movies back to back, and you have a truly compelling, three hour horror epic.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
What did you think of this film? :)
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