Halloween II (1981)

Excuse me...can I borrow a cup of blood?
"Um...line...? HA! Had you going, didn't I?"

And here we have a film never should’ve seen the light but, like that three-car pile-up on your way to work, resolutely sits right in the middle of the road refusing to be ignored. The same way most critics ignore John Carpenter’s made-for-TV movies.

Awkward segues aside, there’s two very good reasons to focus on the man’s studio pieces. For (1) they’re better, and for (2) they’re easier to find. Yet in their blindness, critics miss essential facets of Carpenter’s story, which is in many ways the story of genre cinema in the 1980s. That’s sad because it’s a great story in itself…often much more interesting than the films it created. A story littered with greed, betrayal, and compromised aesthetic principals that will probably go on to make a great bio-pic once everyone forgets who Orson Welles was…or, if they remember him at all, remember him only as “the voice of Unicron.”

The same year Carpenter made Halloween, he also directed an NBC movie-of-the-week called High Rise, starring (among others) the Original Rizzo, Carpenter’s future wife, and the First Lady of 80s sci-fi/action/horror, Adrienne Barbeau. High Rise (a.k.a. Someone’s Watching Me!) focused on the adventures of a recent migrant to LA (Lauren Hutton) who discovers she’s being stalked by a menacing stranger. Parallels to Halloween are obvious: a protagonist isolated by social circumstance within the heart of modern, metropolitan society…an invisible antagonist who drives the protagonist to madness through the steady invocation of creeping dread….a Final Confrontation shot through with Campbellian parallels…

"But...how's Ben Traimer supposed to send me pictures of his junk?"
"But...how's Ben Traimer supposed to send me pictures of his junk?"

Sometime later, between The Fog and Escape From New York, producer Mustapha Akkad came knocking with a chance to do Halloween II. I can see why Carpenter’s first thought would be, “Alright, fine…let’s reshoot High Rise with Laurie Strode in Lauren Hutton’s role. It’s years after the original babysitter murders and Laurie’s moved to L.A….only to discover Michael Myers is already there, waiting for her…dun-dun-DUN!

Someone nixed that idea. I doubt we’ll ever really know who. Halloween II‘s production history is fraught with charge and counter-charge, a black miasma of  business dealings that have as much in common with sausage making as the American legislative process. The less you know, the better. Look too closely into the workings and you’ll never eat a sausage, respect a law, or try to make a film ever again.

Since I lack the budget and time to do any actual research, I thought I’d just make something up: a rough approximation of the dialogue that led to Halloween II‘s current incarnation. It’s a work of complete fiction. Celebrity voices are impersonated. No celebrities were harmed in the making of this review.

“Fine,” (the entirely fictional) Mustapha Akkad said to Carpenter’s pitch. “I love it…but we can’t use it. NBC would sue us out the other side of the Earth…and besides, you ended the first film on a totally-unfair cliffhanger. We’ve got to go from there or the audience will be pissed.”

Artist's conception of John Carpenter's reaction to the very idea of this film.
Artist's conception of John Carpenter's reaction to the very idea of this film.

Carpenter’s face fell, his mustache drooping like a hothouse flower. “Look…I meant for that ‘unfair’ cliffhanger to invoke a sense that the Evil which Michael Myers represents is still out there, waiting everywhere and nowhere all at once. Inexorable, unstoppable. Inhuman. If we just pick up from that there’s fuck-all we can really do…other than turn Michael into just another empty-headed spree-killer, like those assholes did when they made Friday the 13th…oh, holy hell no!

Carpenter’s eyes glazed over as the full horror of what this production meeting really meant, both for him and for the film that’d arguably jump-started his professional career, sank in. “Holy shit…that’s what you’re trying to do, isn’t it? Build a fucking franchise on a mound of ‘teenage’ corpses. You looked at all the money Paramount made ripping us off last year and convinced Universal you could call down the same lightning. With my film as your rod.”

Mustapha Akkad spread his hands and smiled a thin, tight grin, saying There you go without a word.

"Boo!"
"Boo!"

“Well, fuck that,” Carpenter said. “I’ve got Kurt Russell in my Rolodex and Adrienne Barbeau in my bed. I don’t need to waste time making clockwork, take-off-your-clothes-and-die bullshit. I’ll write it…but find your own director. I’ve got better…things…to do.”

But you can’t keep a jilted artist away from his beloved babies…even after they’ve grown up into jaw-grinding coke fiends…shameless, mass-market whores made to cash-in on the first Great Wave of Slasher films released in Friday the 13th‘s wake.

Which brings us, after a long, strange trip, back to Halloween II. In a de regure move for Slashers of this vintage, we begin with a recap of the last film’s end. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) once again saves Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) from The Shape’s not-so-tender attentions, putting seven (count ’em) shots into Michael Myers (now played by the beautifully-named Dick Warlock)…out of a six-shot revolver, no less. Fuck continuity, right? Continuity’s for pussies.

Um...something about flaming?
Um...something about flaming?

Example: in the original film, Loomis ended things up on the balcony, beaming a horrified look down on the empty bit of lawn where his perforated ex-patient should have been. Here, Loomis runs out of the house, finds some blood, and tells a curious neighbor to call Five-oh. “I’ve been trick-or-treated to death,” Oblivious Neighbor Man says. (Where the hell was he during Laurie’s frantic run across the road? Or was he the asshole who turned his porch lights off as she frantically pounded on his door?) “You don’t know what death is,” Dr. Loomis retorts – a perfectly Loomis-ian line if ever I heard one, and the last genuinely good line in this film.

The opening credits, backed as they are by an inferior, synthesized-to-all-hell version of Carpenter’s Halloween theme, let us know we’re in for an inferior experience. At least Henri Manfredini would hearken back to the grand old days when, a year later, he thermined and discoed-up his theme for Friday the 13th Part 3.

In a bid to re-create the tension that kept its prequel afloat through interminable scenes of Laurie and her now-dead friends, we spend the next few post-credit minutes inside Michael’s eyes as The Shape scoots through back yards and alleyways. He steals a knife from an old couple and, for no particular reason, proceeds next door to kill their much-younger (and much more photogenic) neighbor, Alice (Anne Bruner). (Veiled reference to Friday the 13th‘s Alice and her muddy, stormy rabbit hole? You be the judge.)

"Man...he's just going on and on without a dick or fart joke. What the fuck?"
"Man...he's just going on and on about the movie without a dick or fart joke to be had. What the fuck?"

Alice’s death is a microcosm for everything wrong with Halloween II. She steps outside to investigate the scream her neighbor sent up in response to that missing knife (and the blood Michael left in its place). Getting no response, Alice heads back inside and resumes her pre-scream phone conversation, assuming her next-door neighbor finally got tired of his wife’s nagging and started (!) beating her. Obviously no cause for concern.

As her friend yaks about some triple-murder some escaped loony committed just down the street, Alice hears a noise, notices her suddenly-open front door, and sets the phone down to investigate. She asks the obligatory “Who is it?”…the Slasher movie equivalent of smoking a pound of marijuana while having premarital sex in a graveyard outside the Crystal Lake Woods. Getting no response, Alice walks into the foyer, looks left, looks right. Nobody there. She takes three steps toward shutting the door and – BAM!- up jumps a psycho. Exit Alice, stage knife-in-the-throat.

So…just where the fuck was Michael hiding? In the floorboards? Behind a couch the director refused to establish out of some misguided sense of principal? Did Dr. Ray Palmer moonlight at Smith’s Grove at some point during Michael’s fifteen-year stint? Did Mikey abscond with some white dwarf star matter right out from underneath the Mighty Mite’s nose? It’s the best explanation I can come up with…apart from an image in my head of our credited director, Rick Rosenthal, saying, “Fuck it. Let’s just hope no one notices.”

Back at the Wallace house, Laurie’s loaded into an ambulance. Her two EMTs, Budd (Leo Rossi) and Jimmy (Lance Guest), form the core of this movie’s New Meat. We meet the rest as Laurie does, at Haddonfield’s inordinately large Hospital (played by L.A.’s now-demolished Morningside). There’s Dr. Mixter (Ford Rainey) and Dr. Mixter’s hangover (portraying itself). There’s Janet (Ana Alicia), our Designated Nice Girl, who also happens to be a nurse. There’s Mr. Garrett (Cliff Emmich), our Token Doomed Security Guard. And our Designated Bitch, Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford). And Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop), another Girl Spice…who also also happens to be a Nurse.

Oh, joy. Now we get to watch people watching a movie. How original.
Oh, joy. A movie about people watching a movie. How original.

For what it’s worth, the film’s got more pep than Friday the 13th Part 2 and more forward momentum than Jame Lee Curtis’ previous Slasher vehicles, Prom Night, Terror Train or Road Games. Odd that Curtis spends most of the film either under sedation or so zonked out she hardly has a chance to act at all, much less act well. I can only surmise that her 1981 schedule was so packed she just couldn’t find the time to have a bigger role in this pic…or didn’t want one.

Donald Pleasence suffers from a similar lack of screen time and his scenes are necessarily broken up by the flick’s ultimately-pointless efforts to characterize the New Meat. Here we see a Dr. Loomis verging on exhaustion, stretched to the brink of his own sanity by a seemingly-endless night spent so far out on the edge he might as well be Wile E. Coyote…perfect opportunity for an actor with Pleasence-level chops to showcase professionalism. Pleasence is the one bright spot in film’s otherwise drab middle, even if his Dramatic Speeches are little more than uncreative rehashes of shit he said throughout Halloween I.

In the end, Dr. Loomis does take a Coyote-ian plunge of sorts. Would that this series had followed his noble example and honored his noble sacrifice. Fuck all knows Mustapha Akkad wasn’t about to do that when there was money to be made from this series.

The other actors do what they can to characterize walking targets. For what its worth (about half a G on my scale) they do a better job than their contemporary competitors. And nothing much else.

And they don't even pronounce it correctly...
And they don't even pronounce it correctly, damnit.

Halloween II has many, many, many problems, a lot of which spring from the Carpenter’s monumentally bad decision to involve himself in the first place. I can just see the man, hot off Escape from New York‘s premiere, sitting down to take a look at this…the shocked expression on his face befitting a Lovecraftian protagonist who’s just witnessed the Elder Gods in all their glorious horror. “I had no influence over the direction of the film,” Carpenter told Twilight Zone Magazine. Odd thing for a man who co-wrote the script to say…but whatever. “I had an influence in the 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.” Meaning all the money shots (including Alice’s death) might very well be Carpenter’s.

If so, it’s as if Carpenter traded places with his counterpart from some “evil” parallel dimension. Suspense? Out. Fake blood? In. Coherent plotting? Out. Body count? Grossly inflated by unsympathetic, one-note characters that ass about doing stupid, stupid things…making their gruesome on-screen deaths cathartic experiences rather than horrific ones…undermining the whole premise of a “horror” movie. And this from the man who wrote and directed The Fog? And Assault on Precinct 13? Did some kind of mass hysteria break out in 1981? The full “dogs and cats living together” number? Or was Carpenter lying?

Rosenthal says so. He maintains Carpenter f-ed up his big-budget debut, filling it with needless gore, rendering it incoherent. We know there’s some truth to that since the script is already incoherent, stretching and pulling at the original film’s plot in order to squeeze in enough ret-cons to support a second story. That this story takes place in the most deserted hospital in the universe is a testament both to the film’s low production value and it’s contempt for the audience’s IQ. (I swear, there are, like, seven people on duty here. On Halloween night. In a town that not only boasts its own Homegrown Homicidal Maniac, but where kids actually find razor blades in their apples…an urban legend from our modern age appearing in a film that’s little more than an urban legend from a prior age…whoa…we’re getting meta here. Time to pull it back a notch.)

Hammer time!
It's...Hammer time!

For another thing, Rosenthal learned all the wrong lessons from Sean Cunningham and Steve Miner. Gone is the lurking, methodical Shape of 1978. Instead we have Michael Myers as a sort of proto-Terminator. Nothing wrong with Dick Warlock’s turn under the mask. It’s his suddenly-varied choice of weaponry and tactics that I question.

Example: if Mike’s so hot on Laurie, why not trudge straight to her room instead of farting around with all these other dipshits? When did they yell 70s-era PSA slogans at you, Mike? You’re only padding out the running time, drawing attention to yourself, and ripping off your “competitors” (specifically, Friday the 13th Part 2 which also featured the murder of an idiotic authority figure with a claw hammer to the head, among other things). And then there’s the whole “Samhain” angle…which, in case you didn’t know, is Hollywood-Celtic for “bullshit.”

Where Rosenthal’s bits of film drag, Carpenter lingers on gore effects past the point of all reason. Long enough for someone like me to go, “Hey…there’s probably a guy sitting right out of frame pumping that puss out from underneath that needle.” Or, “Damn, I bet that was a six hour make-up job. Scalded flesh takes a hell of a long time to get right.” Long enough for anyone who doesn’t give a shit about special effects to use their instinctive “Eww, gross,” as a excuse to make for the exists.

"Hell-lo-oh, Nurse!"
"Hell-lo-oh, Nurse!"

Thankfully, Carpenter and Hill didn’t bother to study Victor Miller. They’re better writers by far, their dialogue richer in subliminal characterization. There’s a big hole in my head where the middle third of Friday the 13th Part 2 should be thanks to its utter ineptitude at defining any of its walking-dead characters. Here, I know Bud’s an asshole right off. I know Mrs. Alves, the Head Nurse, is a different kind of asshole, deploying her powers of assholery only in the service of her job. I know Jamie’s the Nice Guy, for all the good it does him. (None.) I don’t give a crap about any of them, or their fates, but I’ll remember the joy I took in their gruesome deaths for at least another day or so.

After that, Halloween 2 will slip back into my memory, safe for the next occasion I have to argue that the Slasher movie exhausted itself in its first year of existence. After 1980, the Great Wave rolled back and never achieved the aesthetic heights Carpenter managed to surmount with a nothing budget, a pile of fake fall leaves, and a spray-painted Shatner mask.

Jilted fans of the series probably expect me to talk about The Twist…that eleventh-hour revelation that does nothing at all to help the rest of the film (or its prequel) make any kind of dramatic sense whatsoever. That begs all sorts of inordinately-stupid questions the film’s not at all prepared to answer. Why do you think it waits until the eleventh hour, when the Final Girl confrontation is already well under way, before it drops this steaming pile of retroactive continuity into our laps? It’s the kind of twist Rod Serling would’ve looked at askance before derisively blowing cigarette smoke into its deformed, thalidomide face.

"Jimmie...I am your father...Jimmie? Jimmie?!"
"Jimmie...I am your father...Jimmie? Jimmie?!"

The Empire Strikes Back was a great movie. I’m glad John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and I agree on that point. It was also a good sequel, using its prequel as the backdrop to tell a new story, adding shading and depth to the universe in which both films took place. Halloween II adds nothing that makes the least bit of sense, populates its universe with unprofessional assholes, and tells a story that could’ve reasonably taken place in at least five other stamped-from-the-same-mold Slasher films…all starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

Imagine if some manner of Crisis on Infinite Earths force all of the Final Girls Jamie’s played over the years to unite in some Ultimate Final Girl Super Strike Force. That’d sure make Michael Myers poop his stolen tow-truck driver’s pants and I’d pay good money to see it. It’d certainly be a better movie than this.

GG

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13 thoughts on “Halloween II (1981)”

  1. As someone who loves Halloween, I quite loathe Halloween II. Despite the involvement of John Carpenter & Debra Hill, Halloween II is nothing like its predecessor. It feels more like an imitation – an ignorant one – than a sequel to the original film. The pacing is all different, the emphasis is on physical danger as opposed to fear. The focus is now on Michael Myers instead of Laurie Strode. There are a number of point-of-view shots to depict Michael’s perspective as he stalks his victims. We see where he is and where he is going. This is highly unnecessary and just wrong. Carpenter did it first in the original, but this is also another favorite Argento trick, usually used to disguise the identity of the killer. The only difference is that here, we already know who’s doing it. It is also stylistically inconsistent with our understanding of the Shape. Ever since Michael Myers’ first kill as a child, he became inhuman, a shape rather than a person. That is why we never went back into his perspective in Halloween – we had absolutely no way of relating to the character. In the context of what the character has become, it is unfitting for the camera to give us these first-person perspectives. We see too much of Michael Myers in the film.

    At some point Nurse Alves attempts to call Laurie’s parents but the phone is out of function. The editors have then inserted a two seconds shot of Michael Myers walking through the hospital. This shot is there to state the obvious – Michael Myers is there. But it’s just unnecessary. We don’t need to see Michael Myers to know that he’s there. We should never really see where he is. It’s frightening when we don’t see him and just know that he’s around… somewhere. In the first film we saw glimpes of Michael hiding in the shadows. In the sequel he’s in the spotlight. Halloween II has none of the subtlety of the original. It’s a run-of-the-mill slasher, although a good looking one. Dean Cundey’s cinematography is the best thing about the film.

    Halloween II sounds thrilling when you describe the plot to someone who haven’t seen it, but the actual movie is ponderous and inept. Carpenter’s original idea to remake Someone’s Watching Me! would have made for a more competent sequel, and maybe Carpenter would have put his heart into it.

  2. Although I love Halloween II, I thought you reasoned your points for disliking it really well. I do agree it’s inferior to Part 1, but then most films are anyway. I choose to overlook the film’s flaws and concentrate on the creepy hospital atmosphere.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Ray. I do, in fact, agree there’s plenty of creepy atmosphere to go around in Halloween II. Hospital settings lend themselves to horror by their very nature. (One of the few things the remake remembered, now that I think back.)

      1. You know, I often feel that Halloween 2 is very unfairly judged. No, it isn’t as good as the first film, as anyone will tell you. But if you compare it to almost any other slasher, it really comes out ahead. It’s better than all of the Ft13 films and their myriad offspring. The only slasher that I can think of off the top of my head that is better than Halloween 2 (not counting the original) is Black Christmas. And some folks would argue that Black Christmas isn’t even a slasher film.

        1. Black Christmas is one of those that’s one the borderline. Proto-slashers, I call them, to save myself the mental space. It’s like asking “Is They Call Me MISTER Tibbs a Blaxsploitation film?” It’s a sequel to In The Heat of the Night, but its got that style people would go onto permanently associate with the sub-genre, ya dig? Shaft wouldn’t really codify that style until a year later, but it’s there if you know how to look for. So, yes, Black Christmas is so a Slasher.

          As for H2…well, you can see I put it below both Jason Lives and The New Blood. To say nothing of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, where the original, Dream Warriors and New Nightmare all easily trounce H2…though I full admit (as with everything else on this site) that’s my personal bias speaking. I prefer those slashers that elaborated upon their formula or complicated by borrowing formula elements from other sub-genres. And while Halloween 2 does just that (“Samhain!”) it does it poorly, with an over-reliance on retcon-driven plot twists and mystical bullshit. That five-second shot of the empty space on Doyle’s lawn was much creepier.

          1. Alright, I’ll give you Elm Street 1 and 3. They were both very good. I have friends who go into tizzies over New Nightmare though honestly, I never could really warm up to it. I just thought it was boring. I don’t have much use for the Friday films after part 5 (yeah, I’m one of the three people who actually like New Beginning) though 6 really isn’t that bad. It’s more the change of style that I don’t like. The shot of the doyle’s lawn is indeed disturbing. It’s like the shape’s very touch can kill grass.

  3. i love Halloween II and i know everything about series and have every movie including special not in stores dic but one i really hate is halloween 2 ultimate cut youll understand why i hate it if you watch it. i also hate rob zombies halloween 2 but his first remake was ok but my fav halloween of all time is Halloween II 1981 Television Cut which i own just reprinted by shout factory and i got itb at target in nj for 16 bucks and they have it at movie stop in nj for 20 its called Halloween II Collector’s Edition i got it on 9 -18 -12 i was so excited

  4. I love Halloween II.. It has Dean Cundey Carpenter and. Deborah Hill on board, great use of Mr Sandman and is just about as good as any direct sequel was ever going to be. I take issue with idea that it simply ups the brutality and replaces the suspense of the original. Sure it’s bloodier, but actually it’s much less sexualised and has an odd quiet creepiness. There is virtually no screaming or reliance on volume driven jump scares. And it was brave enough to kill off Myer’s and Loomis. thus making all the other sequels illegitimate..
    .

    1. Fair points, all. And it’s quite nice to think about all the other Halloween sequels delegitimized in a fiery conflagration. I only take issue with the idea that this is “as good as any direct sequel was ever going to be.” It doesn’t just up the brutality, it also ups the count of expendable, annoying characters, which gets me more than anything, and not just in the case of Halloween‘s series.

  5. A good and informative review. When I originally saw Halloween I & II, it was as a double feature on FOX when I was a kid and I loved it. I was still in the semi-early stages of my horror genre discovery and I immediately got the hype while still seeing it as a time-capsule at odds with my 90s conditioning. I tried watching them back to back this Halloween season and was terribly disappointed with the experience and especially with Halloween II. It wasn’t at all liked I remembered, except the beautiful cinematography. Turns out I had originally watched a substantially different (and arguably more interesting) Television Edit. This made sense because I remembered that broadcast’s story being more cohesive and moving briskly, like a highlights reel, with an effect that was totally enthralling. But as its own entity, Halloween II is a mixed, lethargic, beautifully shot, missed opportunity of a sequel.

    1. Thanks, man. I haven’t watched the TV edit for a long time – probably since the early 2000s – and my memory of it’s been long since over-written thanks to the number of times I’ve watched the whole film. But I can totally see how a network censor might accidentally improve the flick by the simple act of speeding shit up.

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