–Written by Greg B
The gargantuan box office success of Halloween in 1978 sparked a deluge of imitators in its wake. This is not to say that Halloween was the first flick of its kind, (pre-Halloween titles like Don’t Open the Door, Alice Sweet Alice and of course The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all shared the basic ‘kill characters off one at a time’ slasher machinations) but it was arguably Carpenter’s second feature that popularised many of the slasher tropes that everyone is so used to today, such as the trend of the final girl, the ‘you think he’s dead but not dead finale’ and of the course the open ending that hints toward the possibility of a sequel. Whereas there is an abundance of material written on the ‘little indie film that could’, for the first of our horror marathon here at Movies are Damn Good, I thought I’d set my sights on the legendary movies lesser discussed follow up, Rick Rosenthal’s, 1981 Halloween II.
The films plot picks up pretty much exactly where the original Halloween left off, (hence the lazy, tagline, ‘more of the night he came home’) so stylistically the film sticks to the visual structure layed out in the original, even down to the 2:35:1 aspect ratio.
While nowhere near as taught or tense as the original, either in terms of cinematography or narrative, Halloween II is still an effective little shocker, certainly leagues ahead of the numbingly repetitive, slasher clones that surfaced in the wake of Carpenter’s original indie triumph. While Pleasance’s world weary, manic phsychiatrist Dr. Loomis continues his interminable hunt for Michael Myers, the sequel sees him becoming slightly more unhinged. Under Rosenthal’s direction he comes across almost surly, slurring lines and starting dialogue with a murmer before raising his voice to the level of a scream, all while gazing offscreen like a sonambulistic. Also returning is the ‘scream queen’ herself Jamie Lee Curtis. Unfortunetly, she is quite wasted in this flick, both literally and figuratively. Rather than the bright and resourcefull Laurie Strode we remember from the original, this time around she’s doped up real good and traumatised in a manner sort of akin to Barbara in the original Night of the Living Dead. (Ironically enough, at several points throughout the film, we see various characters tuned into a halloween screening of Romero’s iconic zombie movie, presumably before all of Haddonfields townsfolk tune into the news reports from the scenes of Michael Myers ‘real life’ spook show).
Upon its release Roger Ebert criticized the film for its reliance on the idiot plot. Seemingly, Haddonfield is a relatively small, sleepy suburb, where everyone knows everyone else. So why is it that a freakin platoon of cops can’t organize themselves enough to scour the shit out of the city, looking for Mr. Myers? Instead of this happening and the film simply ending, oh we’ll say after the five minute mark, we get more of Dr. Loomis hastily trying to explain how Myers is pure evil, has evil eyes, the blackest eyes yadda, yadda, yadda. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why after seeing a rough cut of the film in post he intoned that the movie ‘was about as scary as an episode of Quincy’.
With all this being said, the sequel to ‘the night he came home’ isn’t a total flub. Dean Cundy returns as DP and his creeping panaglide and subjective p.o.v’s still prove to be eerily effective in creating a sense of unseen menace, even if it was simply recycling the same tactic from the first film (which is in itself was a rehash of the scene in Bob Clark’s fledgling slasher Black Christmas, in which the psycho Bobby sleuths his way into a sorority house that contains Margot Kidder). In the first Halloween, Carpenter had a miniscule budget and so utilised the 2:85:1 aspect ratio to its fullest dread filled horror potential, where every street corner and open door is kept in sharp focus as the characters banter away at the side of the frame. Its some sort of primal fear that keeps you on the egde of your seat for the bulk of the movie. And yet, Rosenthals blocking is noticably weaker in this movie. Myers has a lot more screen time and he just kind os shuffles about, like a lost dude wandering home upon missing the last bus after a sturdy night on the Quaaludes. In fact we see so much of Myers in this movie, that when he finally does jump out from the shadows to kill a nurse or rotund security guard, its just not that creepy.
All in all, Halloween II is definetly worth a view. In a way its almost a shame this movie had to be a sequel to one of the greatest horror movies of all time, if their were different characters and a different ghoul at the centre of all the slicing and dicing, this movie may have been even more of a carbon copy slasher, but at least it would have been judged on its own terms. I think this is a textbook Fincher-Alien3 case of expectations for a movie being waaay too high, and too much pressure piled atop a relatively inexperienced director to live up to the beloved original. Heck, its better then Rob Zombie’s horrendous remake and its sequel put together. If anything Halloween II, like last years prequel to The Thing will make you want to revisit the original (i.e. Carpenter’s version of the thing) film.
Oh, and over the course of the plot, thanks to some transplanted footage from the aborted TV version of Halloween, we figure out that Michael is Laurie’s brother and that means he just simply has to kill her….. its cause he’s pure evil and junk