Movie Review – Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II (1981)
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Little did John Carpenter and Debra Hill know that their low-budget indie slasher flick would spawn so many sequels and reboots, creating a veritable multiverse of Michael Meyers. Timelines branch hither and thither so that the casual viewer will immediately be confused by which reality the story takes place in. Is this the Thorns Trilogy, or is it the Rob Zombie reboot, or is it the one where they bring back Jamie Lee Curtis or the other one where they bring back Jamie Lee Curtis? This October, we will be watching every single Halloween movie post the original 1978 feature. Will we be making sense of it? Hell no. But it should be an interesting journey through one of the most confounding horror franchises of our time.

Halloween II is the most easily digestible of the sequels. It is a direct continuation of the first film starting seconds after that movie ended. Michael Meyers has been shot and presumably killed by his psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), only for his body to be missing moments later. Laurie Strode (the aforementioned JLC), the babysitter who was his intended final victim of the night, is transported to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to be treated for her physical wounds and shock. In a mad dash to stop Michael, Loomis accidentally murders a young man wearing a similar costume which draws the ire of the local law. Laurie begins having strange dreams about visiting someone in a sanitarium, and Loomis starts to realize she was never a random victim at all.

Originally, Carpenter & Hill had thought about setting the movie years later. They would have Laurie living in a high-rise apartment where Michael was stalking floor by floor to get to her. The creative forces onboard weren’t too keen to make a sequel, but the producers saw dollar signs and wanted the story to continue. In script meetings, it was decided to just set the film right after the first one and move most of the action to the local hospital, borrowing some of those high-rise apartment elements. Carpenter has said in interviews he didn’t feel there was anything left to say about these characters and this story and struggled to hash out a final draft. He added the soap-operatic twist with a sense of sarcasm that Laurie was Michael’s estranged youngest sister no one knew about. 

Around this time in the United States, the Satanic Panic was going full bore, which led to all sorts of hysteria surrounding anything remotely spooky or scary. One of the typical urban legends of the day was that people were slipping razor blades into candy, a tale which Carpenter & Hill reference by having a boy show up to the ER with just such an injury the night of the story. I certainly think Halloween held more of a sense of horror in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, there was such an overload of cheap horror often centered around the holiday that it pulled the teeth of the day. Now Halloween is a relatively sanitized holiday, with many parents opting to do trunk or treats at a church or community rather than prowl the neighborhood. But in 1981, there was still this sense of danger.

Nothing that happens in Halloween II is particularly shocking or noteworthy. It is a very by the numbers slasher movie, with stupid people getting picked off in a gory manner by Michael. This time around, Michael is played by Dick Warlock, a different actor, and it shows on screen. He’s smaller in stature than Nick Castle, who played the original Michael. I felt like that smaller size made him feel less intimidating. In my opinion, Michael is best when he’s tall but not overly muscular like Jason Voorhies is often portrayed. That height adds to his intimidation factor, making a big difference in the tone of the movie.

Stylistically this movie ends up being the sequel that adheres closest to Carpenter’s original. There’s the same cinematography and framing of characters. The first-person view would become a trademark of the series, and it’s still here. I was most impressed with Donald Pleasance in this picture. Loomis really goes over the deep end throughout this story, starting with the killing of poor Ben Kramer. He’s a lunatic, out of control, just as much as his former patient. I think that’s when Loomis works best, not when he’s the Van Helsing of the story, but when he’s a madman, obsessed with killing this force of nature, he feels responsible for. For the subsequent few sequels, Loomis became the center of the story, but they wouldn’t start for another seven years. Instead, the producers would attempt to turn Halloween into an anthology film series with the third installment. 

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