Thursday, October 27, 2011

REVIEW: Halloween 2

Halloween 2
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Year 1981

Halloween 2 is an exceptionally faithful sequel to the John Carpenter directed classic, starting off mere seconds after the events of the first film. As Laurie Strode is taken to the hospital to be treated for the traumas she endured in the first movie, Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett search the neighborhood for the death defying Michael Myers. After being shot SIX TIMES, miraculously Myers escapes the crime scene, aiming to finish the job and track down Laurie by any means necessary.

The film starts out in such an amazing and almost calming way, with long and extended takes of Myers passing through the neighborhood as police sirens wail and cop cars begin searching up and down every nook and cranny of the quiet little town of Haddonfield. It's a perfect reflection of the slow pacing of the first film, mimicking the patient build up that got the classic set in motion, but then violently everything comes to an abrupt moment of sheer chaos when Loomis thinks he spots the famed killer and begins to chase the fiend across an already chaotic scene of scared suburbanites. What follows is one of the most masterfully accomplished surprises in sequel history, making me feel quite sad for the poor kid who decided to wear a jump suit and faded William Shatner mask for his Halloween costume. Damn that is one hell of a way to go!

....And after a thorough examination.....

Yep.... Yep..... This fucker's dead!

Damn! This startling scene sets in motion the tone of this sequel, while basically summarizing the entire notion of the first film, and that is that no one is safe on Halloween when Michael Myers is set loose upon the world, specifically Haddonfield. With all the pandemonium from the first film spilling over into the second, we get one of the first kills being that of an innocent trick-r-treater. The crazy thing is that it's not by the hands of Michael Myers, but from the paranoid actions of Dr. Loomis. What a hell of a set up.

After that explosive scene, we are then shown where the remainder of the film will be located and that is at the local hospital where Laurie Strode has been taken. Much like the residential streets of the first film, The hospital hallways serve as a hunting ground for Michael Myers. Each room of the hospital almost represents the houses that lined the streets in the first movie, inhabited by a whole new group of young and unexpecting victims. Strangely enough, the atmosphere of the hospital mirrors the empty streets of the first Halloween perfectly, giving off that unsettling feeling of solitude. The decision to correlate the two individual locales was just plain brilliant, keeping the simple aesthetics of the first film intact while giving the audience a familiar setup, but with a totally different location for the mayhem to take place in.

You need a snuggle buddy?

Michael you little pervert.

Another great decision on the filmmakers parts, was keeping the intensity of Donald Pleasence's character, Dr. Loomis, intact. By instilling an almost rabid sense of urgency within his character's mind set, he basically aids the hysteria of the moment, causing more of a problem for the already overworked and stressed Sheriff Brackett. In the first film, Loomis spent a great deal of effort in trying to convince the Sheriff that his quiet little town was in serious danger. After experiencing the horrible events first hand, we would naturally expect Sheriff Brackett to now listen to whatever Dr. Loomis says and follow him without question, but because of Loomis' wreck-less abandon in pursuing his white whale, Michael Myers, he's become an almost equal threat to the town's safety.

All of this is made all the clearer after his accidental accusation of the Michael Myers dressed trick-r-treater that led to that innocent kid's explosive death. This in effect allowed the same head butting that occurred between the two saviors of the town in the first film to continue into the sequel. If it wasn't for that pinnacle event, there would most likely be a more peaceful existence between the two as they hunted for their same goal, the capturing of Michael Myers. Instead, that event skewed the characters into two opposing factions. One that wanted to capture Myers, but within reason and without endangering the lives of any more people, against the other faction who wanted nothing more in the world to end Michael Myers even if a few lives were snuffed out in the mix of things.

The duality of the situation and the dichotomy of their group of avengers was brilliantly accomplished with that specific chain of events and made for a better story in my opinion. When I saw the film for the first time, I came away from that scene thinking that it was brutal as all hell, but in retrospect I now can see the ripple effect that changed the rest of the film into something much more substantial. Great stuff.

Did I remember to turn the stove off? I turned it off SIX TIMES!

Jimmy, what a numbskull.

It also seems like the violence and graphic nature of the film was also cranked up a bit compared to its predecessor. Usually that's the case when a film as classic as Halloween is assigned a sequel. In general, the director and producers feel the need to out-due the previous iteration, but luckily the bar was only raised slightly as not to eclipse itself too far from the world that John Carpenter had created in the first film. We get a subtle addition of bloody kills and nudity, but nothing so shocking to make us think that we've stumbled into a gore encrusted Friday the 13th entry.

The decision to step up the violence a bit more, but keep it at a moderate level, was a rational adjustment. We often forget, after viewing so many slashers that have come into existence since the first entry in the Halloween series, that the actual first film wasn't very bloody at all. That concept I mentioned earlier about upping the ante, was some of the main thinking forces behind Halloween's competitors. By slasher standards, Halloween has always been a series that lent its success more to the atmosphere that it created rather then the amount of blood splashed across the screen. Halloween 2, catering to this tradition, keeps the bloodletting to a moderate amount while flirting with that concept of the more gore, the merrier.

Good job nurse. Time to give you a raise.

Jamie Lee Curtis snuck into the Suspiria set. You little sneak.

As mentioned previously, the main core of the cast reprise their roles with Donald Pleasence playing Dr. Loomis, Charles Cyphers playing Sheriff Brackett, and of course Jamie Lee Curtis playing Laurie Strode. In the sense of Curtis' screen time, she doesn't really factor into the equation until the later half of the film, but when she does it's a tension filled game of cat and mouse played within the confines of a maze like series of hospital hallways and endless corridors. Her timid portrayal in the first film is nothing compared to her traumatized depiction of the now battered and beaten Laurie Strode. Weary from a night full of surviving the constant attacks from her estranged brother, the Laurie in this film is that of a drugged lunatic, fighting on instinct. The weight of the night's battle is quite evident and Curtis does a tremendous job in making the viewer feel her pain.

On the other side of the coin, both Pleasence and Cyphers do a great job in continuing their already established character's motives, with Cyphers bowing out earlier then Pleasence, but not without leaving a few lasting impressions. Pleasence's Dr. Loomis has a great deal more to do in this film, yet his actions mirror his movements from the first film by having him follow in the footsteps of the famed killer. The detective work that leads him to the hospital and the obstacles that he must overcome in order to make it there in time to save Laurie, is entertaining to see play out. Dr. Loomis the law breaker, who would have thought. All in all, the cast is stupendous, including the fresh meat that Michael Myers gets to slice into and choke the life out of. The film is just a perfect continuation of an already perfect horror film.

How do you like your Michael Myers? Medium or well done?

So long Jamie Lee Curtis. See you in twenty years.

Halloween 2 is a sequel that matches the intense atmosphere of the original, while upping the ante in a number of areas. The kills are a little bit bloodier and the nudity is a little bit... nudier, but the director and crew never forget that blood, gore, and nudity, were never an emphasized thing in the first Halloween. It was the atmosphere of the holiday of Halloween and the silent moments of Michael Myers stalking his prey that really made an impression on the audience, myself included.

In this entry, they've kept the things that work and made a comprehensive continuation of the first film that seamlessly begins where the first film leaves off. If you loved the original Halloween, then it's highly likely that you'll dig the second one. Hey, it's four more days until Halloween so get to watching!

5 out of 5 stars        One Hell of a Sequel to a Classic Slasher Film.


  1. The fun in film criticism is in that opinions often times differ. Allow me to respectfully disagree with you and point out why I think H2 is a MAJOR disappointment.

    I am old enough that I saw the original "Halloween" and "H2" in their original releases. In fact my friend and I saw "H2" on opening day, first showing. The opening scene, the re-enactment of the ending of the first film, and the scene when Loomis confronts the nosy neighbor (Donald Pleasance delivers the single best line of the film, "You don't know what death is") is terrific. It primes you for another terrific horror film. Unfortunately that great anticipation dissipates almost immediately. After sneaking into the Elrod's and stealing a knife (another strong scene), Michael sneaks into another house and kills an innocent girl. My heart sank.

    In the original film Michael killed with purpose. He stalked the three girls unrelentlessly and John Carpenter mounted dread upon dread. Here director Rick Rosenthal fell into the trap that, in 1981, was an almost weekly occurence. He made a film with a killer who killed anyone he could with no reason or logic. Kill just to kill. Maybe it's more effective now but in 1981 it was an oft repeated cliche and, frankly, I thought this film would rise above it.

    I agree with you that the location change was smart and effective but Rosenthal misses one opportunity after the next. He's too busy boring us with one dimensional characters that he introduces only for the service of killing them off. Why not have Michael sinisterly stalking Laurie while taunting the hospital staff? That could have made for an intense and worthy follow up to its predecessor.

    On the plus side I did like the chase through the hospital between Michael and Laurie. It was tense and well directed and I bought it despite Laurie getting around awfully well on a broken ankle. But if a movie (or even individual scenes sometimes) works you can forgive little things like that.

    You mention that the violence level is upped just a bit to a moderate level. Seriously? THe original film had no blood save for a little on the body of Judith. This film has throat slashings, a hammer to a forehead, a nice close up of a hypedermic needle in an eyeball and scalding. The violence level was much more than at a moderate level. Because of that it took much of the suspense out of the film for me.

    A few other problems I had that I am sure you heard before. The whole 'sister' explanation is weak and cliched. Who wants explanations in a movie like this? We want scares. The bodies of the three are found at the start, news crews are all over the place, the radio is reporting the stories and yet Sheriff Brackett is the last to know about it? The hospital is virtually empty. There seem to be no patients yet there is a full staff of nurses. We see babies but not a single mother. The e/r is empty on Halloween night? One doctor is on duty and they set it up almost as if he is called in for an emergency only, thus explaining his drinking earlier in the evening. Laurie sure is a crack shot isn't she?

    I could go on and on. I wanted to love this movie as much as you do now but I put the blame on both the screenplay and Rosenthal's direction. Anyone can jump because a cat jumps out of nowhere. It takes real skill to truly scare someone and John Carpenter was able to accomplish that in the original film. Here Rosenthal is given the opportunity of a lifetime and I think he blew it.

  2. I see exactly where you're coming from and I think that I was lucky, in a sense, to have viewed it long after it had been first shown in the cinema.

    By the time I was introduced to the Halloween series and was able to fully appreciate the series for what it was, they were basically up to part six, Curse of Michael Myers. By that time, a slasher film had been reduced to killers just killing to kill, including Michael Myers, so when I saw Halloween 2 for the first time, it just seemed natural to me and not disappointing because I'd already been desensitized by all of the slashers that had come out since the first Halloween's introduction to the world.

    I'm willing to bet that I'd be just as harsh on Halloween 2 as you are if I had seen it at the theaters when it first came out, only to see Michael Myers transform into a run of the mill killer like everyone one else at that time.

    Same goes for the violence. After watching so many slasher films of the era, I guess I've just become desensitized to the blood and guts of the genre and didn't view it as a fault of the film, but a representation on where the genre was going at the time.

    It is a bit disappointing that the Halloween series couldn't embark on its own path and rely on the outstanding atmosphere created in Carpenter's original masterpiece to bring the dread home to the viewer.

    Even with that misguided misstep in Halloween's history, I still love the film for what it is. Could it have been better? Hell yeah! But it's still an entertaining slasher film.

    It's crazy how people can view the same film, but with the gap of time, come away with two totally different opinions. It kind of reminds about the current status of remakes in the horror genre and how the newcomers to horror films are viewing these lackluster entries. In ten years time are the remakes going to be heralded as excellent films and accepted as a satisfactory evolution for the genre? Damn.... now I'm depressing myself. Hahaha.

    Thanks for voicing your opinion on the subject and I definitely see where you're coming from. Happy horror watching!