Halloween II (1981)

4 out of 5

Directed by: Rick Rosenthal

You right: there would be no Halloween II without Halloween.  Not just because it’s a direct sequel, but also because within the three years between it and its predecessor, a whole slew of slasher tropes have been established due to that predecessor, and Halloween II has ’em.  But also stylistically: director Rick Rosenthal absolutely makes the movie his own, but its template of dual framing killer Michael Myers and a stalked subject and slow pans are from Halloween-helmer John Carpenter, who’s back to score (and co-write and co-produce…), giving the flick another clear tonal hook to what came before it.

And let me preface my following statement with the understanding that, had I seen the original Halloween at time of release, or early on in my horror education, I’m sure it would’ve knocked my socks off, but as neither of those scenarios were the reality, I have to view it more from an appreciative standpoint, and then say that I think Halloween II might be the technically superior film…?

I don’t actually have to put a question mark after that.

Halloween II picks up right after the first: Michael’s been shot but is nowhere to be found; Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is on her way to a hospital to have her wounds tended; Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is still spouting shit about needing to track down the embodiment of Ultimate Evil and waving his gun around and not getting arrested after pretty much making a kid he’s chasing get run over by a car.  It’s still Halloween night, and later, at the hospital to which Laurie’s been taken, Mike picks back up his hunt of sexually-active youths and folks who happen to get in his way, this time a bit more inventively and viciously.

…Between the now of H2 (1981) and the then of H1 (1978), slasher movies galore had come and gone, and there’s a bit more budget and a producer-wanted-us-to-make-this-movie mentality fueling things, so, yeah, Michael Myers does some silly, over-the-top things like draining a nurse of blood and jabbing people in their eyeballs with needles.  But Rosenthal morphs Carpenter’s widescreen m.o. into a slow and creeping, tight-corridored perspective, using jump scares effectively to set up Myers’ apperances, and making lots of fun use of security cameras in the hospital showing different angles.  I again acknowledge that we couldn’t / wouldn’t accept this seemingly unstoppable force (he survives getting shot in the face; he lifts people up with one hand on the end of a scalpel) without his established, eh, momentum from the prior flick, but that’s fine: Rosenthal doesn’t copy, he doubles down, and I’d even say that Dick Warlock’s Myers is more imposing here, copping Nick Castle’s head-cocking move but otherwise giving the character a similar wordless menace that, say, Gunnar Hansen brought to Leatherface.

And the dialogue and characters, while still goofy and small-town silly, are more consistent and logical within the film’s context: Loomis spouts all types of nonsense but he’s not really pairing it with any attempts at doctoring; Curtis, though drugged up and / or in bed for most of the flick, doesn’t just turn away with relief when Mikey falls down and goes boom; the cops are in all sorts of disarray, but it actually seems like they’re trying to do something here.  As to the the questionable twist regarding Laurie and Mike, I’d agree that it’s rather unnecessary on the whole, but I sort of like the way that it’s handled: it’s not delivered in a way that it makes the movie revolve around it, which adds to the creepy factor.  That is, Rosenthal / Carpenter don’t present us with things that make zero sense without that explanation, they just give it some context – Mike Myers is still a senseless killer, and the fact that there’s now this tenuous thread linking him to Laurie makes his pathology even weirder.

Carpenter’s music also gets, like, another layer of synths here, which makes his noteworthy theme and plodding style capable of ratcheting up chillingly during the more intense sequences.  Lastly: a character dies slipping in a puddle of blood.  Points solely for that.