HALLOWEEN II is… not HALLOWEEN. But I guess that’s why they added the “II” on it. I should’ve caught that.
Continuing immediately from the end of John Carpenter’s genre-defining much-imitated timeless unkillable masterpiece classic, and using most of the same crew (including cinematographer Dean Cundey), it’s able to imitate the style enough to recapture the feel sometimes. Other times it just emphasizes how outstanding and impossible to duplicate Carpenter’s touch was.
To be fair, this was written and produced by Carpenter and Debra Hill, scored by Carpenter, who also chose the director, Rick Rosenthal (who later ended the series in disgrace with HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION) on the basis of a short he directed. Then, when it was filmed and Carpenter didn’t think it was scary enough he went and shot gorier death scenes. So he has a hand in it, for good or bad.
This is one of the rare sequels that just continues exactly from the ending of the last one. So it starts by replaying the ending of the original, where Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shows up to rescue Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) by shooting Michael “The Shape” Myers (in the new footage played by stunt coordinator Dick Warlock, the only major cast change), who then disappears. I always wonder if the end of HALLOWEEN, a series of shots of empty locations, was meant to imply that Michael could be anywhere, or that he IS everywhere. But part II goes with the first choice. He snuck off.
The sequel proper begins with an excellent steadicam P.O.V. sequence. Carpenter has his scene from the point-of-view of young clown-costumed Michael spying on and then murdering his sister on Halloween night. Rosenthal has adult Michael walking around dark Haddonfield unseen by unsuspecting suburbanites. We hear his breath, the dogs barking and nearby cars driving by as he walks through an alley and looks into people’s homes. Some of the innocents he comes across are doomed, most will not know how close they came, or that they walked right past him without noticing his presence.
He also watches from a distance as Loomis meets up with Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) again and tells him that he shot Michael six times in the heart but didn’t kill him. We know it’s true, but he really sounds like a nut.
As Loomis keeps searching, Laurie is taken in an ambulance to Haddonfield Memorial. There she’s looked after by sympathetic young paramedic Jimmy (Lance Guest, THE LAST STARFIGHTER, JAWS: THE REVENGE, MACH 2) and a less attentive night staff of nurses.
This is the movie’s big slip-up. Since it takes place in something close to real time, Laurie spends most of the movie groggy and recuperating in a hospital bed. Michael’s deadly encounters with incidental characters are fine, but the time spent on the hospital staff just to treat them as generic victims who could’ve been in a lesser slasher movie set at a summer camp or fraternity party makes for a slog of a middle section. Would it be so bad to have them doing their job, or something more unusual than trying to get laid?
At least we can get a laugh I guess from the ridiculous scene where two of them sneak into a sauna and Michael turns it up so high it boils them to death. Safety tip for hospital sauna installation: just get one that doesn’t heat up high enough to kill people. Putting up a sign and marking part of the dial “scalding” doesn’t seem to do the trick. It’s like having a button that says “do not push.” Of course some motherfucker is gonna push it. So don’t make the button.
II is notable for being more graphically violent than the original. Some might assume this is the work of cynical newcomers second0-guessing Carpenter’s approach, but in fact Rosenthal did not want it to be this gorey. It was Carpenter who felt the death scenes had to be amplified, so we end up with a memorably horrible scene where Michael stabs a hypodermic needle into somebody’s eye. Carpenter apparently felt he had to keep up with the competition, meaning the copycats that came in the next few years after his original. I think he made the right decision, though. This more gruesome approach distances the sequel a little bit from the original and without it would be an even paler comparison.
There’s also one really good horror moment where Jimmy finds a nurse dead in a dimly lit room, then realizes that the whole floor is covered in her blood, tries to walk out, slips backward on the blood and bangs his head. Creepy.
Loomis, meanwhile, starts to slip into self-parody as he continues to make poetic statements of doom while circling around town repeatedly not finding Michael. At one point an old man who is not aware of the killings says he’s been “trick or treated to death” and Loomis yells “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT DEATH IS!” Come on Doc, be nice. I bet that old guy got a laugh out of that for years, though. It probly became an in-joke with him and his friends. “Remember when that weirdo yelled at you on Halloween? What did he say? ‘You don’t know what death IS!’ Ha ha ha!”
Loomis does have one great moment when poor Sheriff Brackett learns that his daughter Annie (Nancy Loomis, returning for a dead body cameo!) was killed by Michael (in part 1). Before going home to tell his wife, the Sheriff curses out Loomis because “You let him out!” Loomis tries to say it wasn’t his fault, that he did what he could, but he says it in a defeated sort of way. Either he knows it’s falling on deaf/grieving ears, or that he should just let it go, or he’s not even convinced himself. It’s almost worth Pleasance doing the role just for this one bit of great acting.
There’s also a part I always got a kick out of where Loomis spots who he thinks might be Michael, but turns out to be a drunk kid in a similar mask. They don’t even get to the point of shooting the wrong guy, though – he gets accidentally run over by a cop car that rams him into another car and catches him on fire. I always thought it was a funny mask, but now that I see it more clearly on blu-ray I realize it’s a better likeness of the original Michael Myers mask than they made for most of the sequels.
I was wondering if anybody ever dressed up as this character for Halloween, and “Caruso Stalker” on Twitter tipped me off that an official Ben Tramer mask will be available soon. Also, I never picked up on this before, but a guy named C. Funderburg informed me that Ben Tramer is the guy Laurie said she had a crush on in HALLOWEEN. Poor drunk bastard. But I don’t think Laurie would have a good time being around a guy like that anyway.
Does the mask the real Michael is wearing look a little different too? Maybe it’s my imagination. But I think Warlock does his own interpretation, he doesn’t move exactly the same as Nick Castle did. They never quite got that same character again. (On the extras Warlock says that Debra Hill said the same thing in an interview, and it bummed him out because she was on set the whole time and never said anything.)
[UPDATE: According to an extra on HALLLOWEEN H20, part II did use the same mask as part 1, but because Warlock’s face is rounder it looks different on him.]
Eventually the doctor’s old colleague Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) finds him and tells him that the governor (!) has ordered him to return to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. I don’t really get it. Now Laurie and Loomis are both being sidelined. I guess Michael is actually the main character.
By now I’m sure you know the big twist: Chambers shows Loomis papers that prove that Laurie is actually Michael’s sister, deliberately hidden from him like a Skywalker baby. This is a little sketchy since it’s obviously not what Carpenter intended when he made HALLOWEEN, but it’s become so canonized that Rob Zombie used it as a non-twist in part 1 of his remake series.
Anyway, regardless of whether or not you need to consider this new information when watching HALLOWEEN, it makes for a good climax in II. Now Loomis realizes that Laurie is Michael’s true target and he (unprofessionally, in my opinion) holds a gun to the head of the officer who’s driving him, forcing him to drive to the hospital.
If we could just cut out most of the middle of the movie this would actually be a great sequel, because it gets good again once Laurie stumbles out of bed and has to make a run for it. Her reunion with brother Michael is an image more surreal than anything in Carpenter’s film: she sees him down the hallway stabbing a nurse in the back and lifting her all the way off the ground, just holding her by the knife. She hangs there, and her heavy white nurse shoes fall off. It’s like something out of a nightmare.
Then Rosenthal sort of re-creates the feeling of the chase through the house in HALLOWEEN, but moved to the setting of an empty hospital and parking lot, and with the extra obstacle of Laurie being injured, tired and medicated. There’s a scary part where she hides in a car, which turns out to be Jimmy’s, and he gets in and tries to drive away but he’s so fucked up from banging his head that he passes out face first on the car horn. Of all the luck!
Then there’s a controversial moment where she’s crawling on the cement and sees Loomis, Chambers and the officer arriving from across the lot, but when she tries to scream she can barely make a sound. Some people, including Curtis, think it’s far-fetched and wimpy. I kinda like it because I lose my voice in dreams all the time. It might not be real but it’s a real human fear.
Loomis’s final showdown with Michael (until part 4) is great. When blood drips out of the eyeholes on Michael’s mask, like red tears, it’s beautifully iconic, and makes for a more even fight with old Loomis since he can’t see very well and has to stumble around blindly not knowing what the hell is going on. (I wish the whooshing sound every time he swings his knife was not so ridiculously exaggerated, but I can live with it. I am a forgiving man.)
Since we’ve lived for many years in a world where both Michael and Loomis survived in subsequent sequels the ending feels a little inconclusive. It’s not though. They got blown the fuck up. Loomis did what he had to do to erase his mistake. Good for him. Top of the world, ma. I like that Laurie seems genuinely pretty out of it as she’s wheeled to the ambulance, and still scared enough that she wants to sit in the front with the driver. I like that the sky is turning light and it’s foggy. They really got the feel of early morning down so that we would feel like yes, after two movies of Halloween night we have finally achieved the safety of breakfast time, November 1st.
There’s an alternate ending on the blu-ray where she’s frightened by movement under a sheet and it turns out to be Jimmy, his head all bandaged up. He seems really out of it like you don’t know if he’s all there or what. I can take or leave him in the ending – maybe he wasn’t enough of a character to earn ending it with her – but I like that in that version Laurie keeps saying “We made it! We made it!” It’s nice to see her celebrate the achievement of survival.
HALLOWEEN II is part of a really good movie and part of a pretty bad one. I consider myself a fan, but it’s kind of sad to consider that it’s easily one of the best or the best HALLOWEEN sequel they made. I’ll go ahead and make a controversial statement: I like Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II better than this. I mean it’s got that problem of the traumatized Laurie being too hateful and obnoxious (moreso in the director’s cut, one reason I prefer the theatrical), but at least she’s the main character, she’s not sleeping in a hospital bed for most of the movie. It’s a more consistently involving story and definitely takes bigger risks, creating dreamy imagery and doing things with the character and mythology not done in any of the many previous HALLOWEEN followups.
But you know what, the opening and closing of this are great, and I’m sure I’ll continue to think that every several years when I’ve watched the first one too much and feel the need to haul this one out as a substitute. In those cases it will have to do.
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: This officially marks the end of my part 2 marathon (for now) and the beginning of VERN’S HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE REVIEW QUESTIVAL 2015 (working title).
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.