31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #1: Halloween II (1981)

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Movie Review
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Halloween 2 (1981)

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop

When preparing for my 2nd annual October horror marathon, it made too much sense not to pick things up right where I left off in 2014. Conveniently, the first movie on my list does exactly that, both in the sense that it is the first sequel to John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and that it begins immediately where its predecessor ended. Although the two are written by the same people (Carpenter and Debra Hill) and feature Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence as its stars, “Halloween” and “Halloween II” are different animals. “Halloween” was a labor of love, a suspenseful stroke of genius, and stands as an all-around horror classic whose influence can still be felt today. “Halloween II,” meanwhile, is an enjoyable thrill ride that is influenced by the very slasher films which the original “Halloween” made possible.

Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) gives chase to Michael Myers, who has fled the scene after Loomis foiled his attempt to murder Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Somehow, Myers was able to get up and walk away after taking six slugs in the chest from Loomis’s revolver and falling from a second story balcony. To Loomis, this seems to confirm what he’s been saying for the last fifteen years: Michael Myers is inhuman. The town of Haddonfield, Illinois has already had a rough Halloween night, with three teenagers killed. But Michael is far from finished. After murdering an unsuspecting elderly couple and the curious teenage girl in the house nextdoor, he sets his sights on Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, where Laurie Strode has been taken to recover from her injuries.

This hospital, I should point out, is the last one you’d ever want to go to for medical attention. Forget the fact that a soulless monster is descending upon it. The place is horribly understaffed; the few who are there either show up late for work or fraternize with one another when they should be working. This is especially troublesome when you consider that the place comes equipped with a nursery… which we only see once and afterwards are supposed to forget even exists. I can play along with that. But if the size and dedication of the staff leaves something to be desired, the security in this dump is inexcusably bad. There seems to be only one security guard on call, and he’s watching “Night of the Living Dead” on TV when he should be paying more attention to the surveillance cameras. You know, just in case an escaped mental patient with a butcher knife decides to waltz in the back door. Speaking of which, where’s the police detail that should be guarding Laurie’s hospital room at all times?

Dr. Loomis, who also should have thought to check the hospital first, spots someone wearing a familiar-looking mask walking down the street. Loomis almost shoots him, but the person steps out in front of an oncoming police vehicle, is pinned against another car and burned beyond recognition by the resulting gas explosion. There is no quick way to identify the body until later when inquisitive teens start asking around regarding the whereabouts of their drunken friend, Ben Tramer (the boy whom Laurie confessed to having a crush on in the previous film). While Michael is busy picking off the hospital staff one by one, Loomis is out discovering things about him which, while revelatory to the good doctor, are ultimately detrimental to Michael Myers’ position as a force of nature and personification of Evil. At the elementary school, Michael has scribbled the word “Samhain” in blood on a blackboard, which is meant to provide an explanation for why Michael is so damned unstoppable. Next, Loomis is told of the blood ties that link Michael to Laurie Strode. Not that we needed a reason for why Michael’s been stalking her for the past twenty-four hours. John Carpenter is said to have written this part of the script during a late night drinking session. Whether that’s just a joke or not, I don’t know. Honestly, I think the real reason this was done was because of the popular twist ending to “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Learning of the brother/sister relationship between Michael and Laurie causes Loomis to forcefully insist on the car being turned around, in the direction of the hospital. It is there that this series’ Van Helsing and Dracula have their final confrontation. What’s that you say? There are five other sequels (not counting the unrelated “Halloween III”)?! Well, yes, that’s true, but the continuity of those sequels is all screwed up, and it’s further complicated by the fact… not a theory, but a fact… that both Loomis and Michael die in a gas explosion at the hospital. No matter what “Halloween 4” does to retcon this event, there’s no plausible way around it. The only survivors of this mess are Laurie and a paramedic named Jimmy (Lance Guest), although the latter suffers a rather nasty concussion.

There was never any way that “Halloween II” could have hoped to be better than the original. Not when you sap all the mystery out of the Bogeyman and make it possible for him to die. Not when the majority of the cast is more memorable for how they die than for who they are. In the strictest sense, “Halloween II” really is just another slasher film. However, it is an early 80’s slasher film and, although there were excruciatingly terrible entries even during that period when the genre was in its prime, “Halloween II” is among the better ones. Donald Pleasence is terrific. The murder sequences, not as iconic as the ones from “Halloween,” are still highly imaginative. My favorite is the double murder of Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) and Budd in the hydrotherapy room. While Budd is dispatched quickly, quietly and behind a closed door, Karen’s death by scalding hot water is prolonged, brutal, and hard to watch… just as it should be. If you’ve seen “Halloween” but have somehow managed to skip this one, just remember not to set your expectations too high and you should be fine. If you’re one of the few left who has never seen “Halloween,” watching “Halloween II” first is still an option because you’re never made to feel as though you’ve missed out on important details. Either way, only diehard fans of the series need continue on from here.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Another very well written and informative review. Donald Pleasance always adds a lot to any movie he appears in, really. He is just the right balance of smart and a little creepy. Thanks, Mr. Williams.

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