Halloween is a pitch perfect film across the board and it delivered a brilliant ending. Michael Myers after having been shot six times by Dr. Loomis lays dead on the lawn outside the Strode house. Loomis looks away from the corpse for a second, but it was a second too long. Michael has survived, and Haddonfield’s Halloween night is about to get a hell of a lot worse.
Spoilers for Halloween II Follow
Sadly, as it frequently is in Hollywood, the setup for the sequel is better in concept than it is in execution. Halloween II is unable to reach the heights of its predecessor. In a perfect world, Michael’s silent disappearance in the first film would be the end of it, but I can’t deny the appeal of seeing what happened next. Unfortunately, that particular story is messy, confusing, and at times legitimately boring. And that is saying something, because of all the highs and lows of the films that came after, I never once found myself as bored as I was with this one.
Halloween II was released in 1981, three years after the original. John Carpenter had no desire to direct the sequel as he felt it was something he’d already done. Despite not deciding to return to direct, Carpenter and Halloween producer Debra Hill returned to produce the film and got Rick Rosenthal to take over as director. Most of the surviving cast returned with the exception of Michael Myers played by Nick Castle in the first film. Dick Warlock earned the role by wearing the mask and standing in Rosenthal’s office silently while being asked who he was and why he was there.
The movie picks up immediately where the first ended. Michael is now loose in Haddonfield, and the town is freaking out. For a while, the movie does a good job of depicting the sensation that people are all being collectively caught up in this escalating madness and fear. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett are still trying to hunt him down, and Brackett blames Loomis for his daughter’s death at the hands of Michael in the first film. Meanwhile, Laurie is taken to a hospital. While on the way over she starts having hallucinogenic flashbacks to her youth-specifically of visiting a young boy in a mental institution. These flashbacks are integral to the great twist Halloween II provides to the series’ canon. We later learn Michael Myers is Laurie Strode’s brother. (What a twist!) Now we realize the reason he’s been stalking Laurie all along is because he must finish what he started. Or because plot. Depends on how good you think the logic is.
We spend most of Halloween II between the reactions in Haddonfield and with Laurie in the hospital. The terror in the hospital isn’t as interesting, though. Laurie spends most of the film confined to a hospital bed while a developing a friendship with an overeager paramedic who has a crush on her. Meanwhile Loomis, played by the great Donald Pleasance being as great as ever, is on the hunt for Micheal, doing his best to prevent further bloodshed in Haddonfield and maybe find something to explain his behavior. Unfortunately, he’s earned the ire of the local police and the Governor has recalled Loomis to leave Haddonfield due to increasingly public and chaotic nature of what’s happening. Loomis finds a connection between Michael and the occult, as well as eventually learning that Laurie and Michael are siblings. This revelation sends him to the hospital where Michael is picking off the staff one by one in an effort to get to Laurie. The movie ends on a high, albeit prolonged note with a fiery final confrontation between the three protagonists. Michael is ultimately defeated and for the purposes of his first outing Halloween III: Season of the Witch would be the one film in the series to not deal with him, so there was a time when Myers was truly written out of the picture.
What sounds like a story that brings everything together and wraps up the events of the first film with a nice bow just isn’t as gracefully handled as all that. It wants to be a gorier slasher film, a tense scare piece akin to the first film, or an investigation thriller, and it never does a decent job of balancing any of these. The deaths aren’t particularly memorable outside their gore. The suspenseful buildup is compromised by the heightened gore, and the investigation thriller is shoehorned in around a cliche slasher film.
The lack of balance comes from the many moments that feel out of place. For starters, there is significant attention paid to a child who visits the hospital bleeding from the mouth, an obvious reference to the urban myth of razor blades in Halloween candy. For some reason, there is a doctor on staff at the hospital who is both drunk and dismissive. And then there is the paramedic duo, one of whom is blatantly a jerk while the other develops a crush on Laurie. Now that I mention it, the entire hospital staff are completely underdeveloped as characters. It’s also off-putting to see the awkward treatment Loomis receives as he is blamed for Sheriff Brackett’s daughter’s murder. Loomis is the one person who is doing everything he can to stop the bloodshed and he’s being treated like the ultimate enabler. Though I understand these types of movies feature sane men being written off by their peers, so perhaps I just am made at the characters and not the movie.
Now, there may be an answer for why the film feels so lopsided. As we pointed out before, Carpenter didn’t direct the film. Rick Rosenthal did, and he very much was hoping to recreate the style of the original film, that is to say he wanted more tension and less gore-something Halloween did perfectly. However, John Carpenter was concerned that the film wouldn’t be effective if it was like the original. Already, films like Friday the 13th and other imitators had come out, and in these the promise of sex and blood drove the fans to the theater. Carpenter personally helped reshoot some of Michael’s kills to make them edgier which is pretty strange move for the guy who used to believe in the power of subtlety to now go blatantly in the opposite direction. But Rosenthal and the writing team aren’t blame free. There are so many other scenes which are just slow. Not tense-slow. And what should be the ultimate fun in the movie-Michael picking off the entire hospital staff-doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. For starters, it takes too long. And it’s hard to suspend disbelief and imagine a hospital this big and simultaneously that vacant. Halloween II also doesn’t have the grace to know when to use the jump scare, much less overuse it. That being said, in 1981 it wasn’t as overdone as it is now, so you can see why the temptation for fake outs existed.
The film isn’t a complete disaster, but it definitely doesn’t work for me the way it does for others. Popular consensus is that Halloween II is the best in the series after the original. There is something to be said for it genuinely progressing the story forward while still finding a way to incorporate a whole slew of victims for Michael. But the victims are just as much a victim of their own poor decisions as they are of Michael. “Sure, there is a crazed psychopath loose and his latest victim is in the hospital you work at. Sounds like a great time for some naked hot tubbing!” I understand there was nudity in the original film, but there it felt a bit more organic to the plot as opposed to this one which felt obligatory. And let’s not even talk about the various characters who split up. Or giving a someone a walkie-talkie who doesn’t know how to use it, says she doesn’t know how to use it, and then getting frustrated at her for not using it? “Mr. Garrett, how do you work this thing?” Classic.
Halloween II was not the critical darling the original was, but as I said before it is a fan favorite. I can only surmise it’s so beloved because what story is built upon is intriguing. Or that it was stylistically the closest to the original. Personally, there are later entries I enjoy more. Halloween is so perfect, that I enjoy the more contrived excuses for Michael’s return than shoehorning in the sequel. It’s not a terrible film, but it definitely could have used a bit more of a competent hand in the editing room. Halloween II does deserve credit for expanding the mythology, but it just isn’t as effective and the characters aren’t as much fun to be around. The retconning of the series’ mythology is necessary but isn’t well handled. But the fans love it, however, but this one didn’t do it for me.