Halloween II turns 30 this year and was recently given the Blu-ray treatment. Team Video discussed this film briefly in our horror sequels podcast, but in honor of Halloween, I thought I would tip my hat (mask?) to this unusually strong horror follow-up (*spoiler alert herein for certain key plot points*).
It picks up precisely where the John Carpenter-directed part one left off, giving us another 90 minutes of Michael Myers’s killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois. In this sense, the film is a classic “more of the same” sequel – it doesn’t attempt to veer off in a different direction, but instead offers what amounts to a “second helping” of the first. To that end, Halloween II, directed by Rick Rosenthal, has the same pared-down, evocative simplicity of the original.
The film plays in the same visual key as its predecessor, thanks in part to Dean Cundey’s atmospheric cinematography, and is filled with plenty of pleasing rhymes to the 1978 Carpenter installment. Night Of The Living Dead makes a cameo appearance, just as The Thing From Another World occasionally popped up on the TV set in Halloween. Alan Howarth effectively tweaks Carpenter’s original musical themes with synth textures, retaining the same urgency of the iconic piano material while infusing it with a fresh feel. Nick Castle does not return to play Michael Myers, but stuntman Dick Warlock nicely recaptures Myers’s bizarre manner of moving – catlike at times, stilted at others. There is something of the uncanny valley here . . . his motion is recognizably human, but with certain ineffable qualities that aren’t quite right. Particularly unsettling is Myers’s final assault on the hospital entrance – Myers simply walks straight through the door, breaking glass and metal but slowing down only slightly.
One of the most striking sequences is the final pursuit through the hospital, as Myers chases last-woman-standing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) into an elevator. We can all recall moments when we impatiently fidgeted with elevator buttons, waiting for the doors to finally close. We can only squirm with a perverse delight to imagine a scenario where our very life depends on the speed of those doors closing! The editing and music here is perfectly calibrated to keep the tension on a slow agonizing rise.
Not everyone is as lucky as Laurie. Halloween II features some of the most grimly disturbing slayings in the entire series. Sure, there are spectacular send-offs, such as the grisly boiling of Nurse Karen during an ill-timed hot tub tryst. But it’s the less over-the-top sequences that linger in the memory: ambulance driver Jimmy’s slow death by apparent brain injury, or Mrs. Alves’ Dr. Phibes-esque drip, drip, drip blood-draining demise. Both conceptually and in their execution, these deaths are disorienting, unpleasant and surprisingly subtle.
The film is not without its problems. Having hero Laurie immobilized and stuck in a hospital makes the beginning of the movie somewhat slack. (This is a puzzling decision. Although Laurie was stabbed at the end of Halloween, stalker-film heroes have soldiered on through far worse wounds than this. Perhaps this was merely screenwriter Carpenter’s way of getting the story into the hospital, an admittedly strong environment for horror goings-on.) Plus, the twist of making Laurie the long-lost sister of Michael Myers seems like a dim appropriation of the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.
Nevertheless, Halloween II is a worthy successor to the original Halloween, rich in atmosphere and matching the first film’s beautiful evocation of the Halloween season. Plus, The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” will never seem quite the same ever again . . .