Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Producer: Debra Hill, John Carpenter
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Nancy Stephens, Gloria Gifford, Leo Rossi, Ford Rainey
Michael Myers continues stalking Laurie Strode after she is taken to the hospital following his Halloween night homecoming.
Less well known in the behind-the-scenes lore of “Halloween II” is that executive producer Irwin Yablans’ initial idea involved Laurie, Loomis, and “a high-security luxury highrise apartment complex” (“Fangoria” #7, August 1980, page 61). More well known is John Carpenter’s oft-recalled memory that a six-pack of beer was necessary nightly to slog through the process of drafting a screenplay reluctant to come together easily.
It’s a recipe for muddled mind writing that certainly shows in the drunken disinterest of the final product. “Halloween II” is a bad script. John Carpenter will tell you so himself. Examined critically, there is no honest way to justify the story and its structure as anything other than a creative nadir in the horror master’s deservedly praised oeuvre.
Yet through the lens of nostalgia, “Halloween II” as a movie surprisingly does not stand out as a bad entry in the series, especially when viewing the entire “Halloween” canon as a whole. Though an argument might then be made that the franchise’s decline can be blamed on subsequent screenwriters struggling to make sense of the throwaway mythology dumped out by Carpenter in collaboration with Debra Hill and Budweiser.
Picking up at the immediate moment where its predecessor left off is the smartest part of the movie’s premise. You can count on one hand the number of sequels that open as direct continuations and it is this element that most makes “Halloween II” go down smoother than it has any real right to. The original “Halloween” (review here) is so good that “Halloween II” holds up to repeated viewings in spite of its shortfalls by simple virtue of being “more of the night he came home.” As its own movie, “Halloween II” is not so good. As a fan service follow-up, the film has a few things in its favor.
Shared world continuity is important to genre fans reared on comic books, serialized stories, and franchise entertainment. More than just bringing back the main players, “Halloween II” nods at forgotten mentions and disposable characters from “Halloween” in the form of cameo appearances that only matter to diehards. Nancy Loomis doesn’t really need to show up as Annie Brackett’s dead body being wheeled out of the Wallace residence, but the quick callback ties the two films together in a way that helps melt the three-year gap in production.
It’s absurd that Dr. Loomis would have no knowledge of the secret file disclosing Michael Myers’ relationship with Laurie Strode (that’s another editorial entirely), much less that the nurse who drove him to the sanitarium in the rain would find out about it before him. Marion Chambers was just a device in “Halloween” to facilitate Loomis’ movement from one point to the next. “Halloween II” turns her into more of a genuine character with a semi-important role in the storyline. Again, that connection more closely aligns the two movies.
And I’ve always appreciated that Ben Tramer is the poor soul who blows up in the gonzo car crash that Loomis crazily chases him into. Every time I watch the first movie, I mentally flash forward to Ben’s fiery death when Laurie fantasizes out loud to Annie about going to the dance with him.
*Fun fact #1: The intersection where Ben Tramer is killed is the same street corner where Laurie and Tommy Doyle meet up while walking to school in the original “Halloween.”
The first clue that “Halloween II” rides on two wheels as it rounds corners comes from counting the minutes devoted to third stringers and undeveloped subplots. The ambling aimlessness begins straight away while watching Mrs. Elrod fix a sandwich and Mr. Elrod enjoying “Night of the Living Dead” on the tube. It’s a long way to go for Michael Myers to steal a kitchen knife and slash the throat of the Elrods’ next-door neighbor, easily the most unnecessary murder of Myers’ October 31st killing spree.
There is also pirate-costumed Gary, brought to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital by his mom following a horrible trick-or-treating incident. Gary and his mom feature in at least three camera setups, which is a lot of real estate taken up just to deliver a gag about razor blades in Halloween candy.
Well-endowed nurse Karen has an extended argument with her friend Darcy about having to give the girl a lift, only for Darcy to never be seen again. Ditto the newscaster introduced as an eager beaver issuing rule-breaking instructions to an assistant before pulling a Houdini of her own.
*Fun Fact #2: The trucker cap-wearing assistant, seen only in profile, is future “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Dana Carvey.
Featured characters, by comparison, can barely be considered “featured” at all. There is almost no characterization to any of the main players at all. The Shape truly is just a shape. Laurie spends the majority of the movie resting in a hospital bed. When she finally does get moving, Laurie is groggy from sedatives and doesn’t say or do much aside from stumbling through hospital hallways during the climax.
Pay close attention to the content of Loomis’ dialogue. He actually has nothing of substance to say, nor do any of his lines advance the story. In fact, he is merely a hanger-on until he pulls his gun on the marshal and hijacks a lift back to the hospital. Until that point, Loomis is only along for the ride as the police ping pong from the Wallace house, the coroner’s office, the Myers house, the elementary school, etc. When he does speak, Loomis sounds like a loon waxing poetic about the nature of Myers’ evil, spouting vague nonsense concerning druidic rituals, and offering laughable lines about shooting Michael six times and questioning the Doyles’ neighbor with, “you don’t know what death is.” What does that even mean?
*Fun fact #3: Count the gunshots in the opening scene redux of Loomis shooting Michael Myers. He actually fires seven times.
*Fun fact #4: It’s technically b.s. that the original theatrical poster touts the sequel as “All New” when it actually reuses footage from the first film.
Look at how “Halloween II” spends its time instead. A full five minutes elapses from the time security guard Mr. Garrett begins investigating a severed phone line to the time Michael Myers puts a hammer in his head. Concurrent timelines are managed oddly, too. When Nurse Chambers moves outside after informing Loomis about the marshal’s escort, the film cuts away. Seven minutes later, the movie comes back as Loomis and Nurse Chambers step into the awaiting vehicle. Did it really take them seven minutes to exit the school?
What story does exist is as haphazardly stitched together as one might expect from a script requiring a stew of hops and barley to muster up a conclusion. Michael Myers locates Laurie Strode by bumping into a kid with a boombox. Instead of music, this kid, who should realistically be home in bed or begging for candy, roams the streets blasting a newscast disclosing Laurie’s whereabouts. Just a few feet away is a conspicuously placed sign conveniently pointing in the direction of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, thus sending Michael on his merry way.
Haddonfield Memorial is one of the most ineptly run clinics in all of moviedom. For a hospital staff consisting of only eight people, everyone has an incredibly difficult time locating one another in a building apparently large enough to disappear for extended periods without anyone noticing. Are Laurie and the newborn babies the only admitted patients? No one ever comes out of a room to say, “hey, where is everybody?”
How can I award three stars to a horror movie whose best scares involve a clichéd cat jumping from the darkness and a come-from-behind hand on the shoulder? If I were reviewing this movie in 1981, there is no doubt that my opinion would be far less favorable. Strip it of the “Halloween” connection and make “Halloween II” as a standalone slasher movie with the same script, cast, and crew, and it would be completely forgotten by now if not for the typically terrific Dean Cundey lighting.
Except it is not a standalone movie and it is not 1981. As weirdly conceived and as bizarrely executed as it is, Rick Rosenthal’s movie somehow satisfies as a “Halloween” film, even if that notion is due to its direct affiliation with a true genre masterpiece than to individual merits. Part of that perspective comes from the hindsight of knowing what worse “Halloween” sequels really look like, as well as realizing in retrospect that “Halloween II” mysteriously makes sense as the second chapter in the saga. The age of 30+ years bestows a charm it would not otherwise have. Looking at it that way, it kind of makes you wonder if “Texas Chainsaw 3D” (review here) could end up being considered a contemporary classic someday.
Review Score: 75