Reviewed by James A. Janisse
The original Halloween, released in 1978, changed the face of the horror genre. Although there had been earlier “slasher” films (notably, Black Christmas in 1973), this low-budget independent film was the first to make it big and really bring the subgenre to the mainstream. It was soon followed by Friday the 13th and other films that amped up the gore and number of teen victims. Thus, when it came time to bring Michael Myers back to the big screen, the filmmakers behind Halloween II followed suit and tried to combine the original’s suspense with the new demand for more graphic and bloody sequences.
This combination mostly fails. While it moves at a quicker pace than the original, it’s still plodding, and unlike the ’78 film – which followed a small group of girlfriends, letting us get to know them all – Halloween II inflates its cast of characters to provide a bigger body count for Mr. Myers. None of these new faces are developed in the slightest, and by time they get killed, you’ll only know one or two of their names. Taking a cue from its gorier contemporaries, the kills are more novel and inventive, the classic butcher knife traded in for syringes and, in the most memorable sequence, a boiling hot tub. Michael still does plenty of basic stranglings, but it’s good to see him vary his repertoire and keep things fresh.
The shallow victims might not have been a problem if the stars from the first film were given anything to do. Instead, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is confined to a hospital bed for the majority of the film, murmuring incoherently throughout the first half until she finally awakes. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) continues his frantic search for The Shape, repeatedly shouting to anyone who will listen about how he shot Michael Myers six times. Some bit players, like Sheriff Brackett and Nurse Chambers, are brought back for some short scenes, but the majority of the screentime is used on essentially nameless characters getting killed.
Michael himself has improved significantly. Throughout the first film, his character was inconsistent. It’s hard to reconcile the Michael Myers who hops over Nurse Chambers’ car and drives away with it with the one who pins Bob to the wall and cocks his head inquisitively, and his apparent immortality wasn’t fully established until the final few scenes of the film. In the sequel, stunt actor Dick Warlock brings a much more stable possession to the faceless killer, and his Rasputin-like invulnerability is more justified because of it. This Michael Myers walks through glass doors and takes another whole clip of bullets before finally succumbing to a commendable explosion that was supposed to bring his character (and Loomis’) to an end.
Of course, this series conclusion didn’t hold up, and seven years later Michael returned in the fourth Halloween film, appropriately titled The Return of Michael Myers. This and further installments would continue to degrade the classic standing of the original, but it was Halloween II that started the series down that slippery slope. This film isn’t as bad as those that would come later, but it fails to find the appropriate balance of suspense and shock, and ends up being a chore to watch because of it.
Video: The transfer from film to high definition video was done well and results in a clear picture despite the movie’s age. It looks good with light and in the dark, which is useful, since the hospital inexplicably loses power sometime after Michael arrives to kill the staff.
Sound: The surround sound mixing could use some adjustments. Dialogue is often quiet, and while buzzers and other abrasive sounds are put to good use punctuating jump scares, the relentless and synthed-up version of Carpenter’s Halloween theme gets more than a little grating after a while.
Extras / Special Features
The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making of Halloween II (45 minutes): This 2012 behind-the-scenes featurette reveals the production process that gave us this subpar sequel. Executive producer Irwin Yablan and director Rick Rosenthal get the most screentime, and John Carpenter doesn’t show up in person at all. Yablan reveals how he pressured Carpenter and Debra Hill into making a sequel when they didn’t want to, and plenty of other crew members admit that there wasn’t much excitement about making another Halloween.
On the bright side, a lot of the cast is present to talk about their experience, and they all seem to cherish the film for themselves. We get an amusing anecdote from actor Leo Rossi about what the ice cold hot tub water did to him while filming that scene, and we get to marvel at the apparent agelessness of actress Ana Alicia. All of the cast members rave about stunt coordinator and the man behind the mask, Dick Warlock, who gets the third most facetime after Yablan and Rosenthal. He seems like a really good guy and the reason for the film’s high points (besides Donald Pleasance, of course). Still, it’s Yablan’s sentiments that sum up the film itself when he laments about trying to recapture the originality of Halloween and ultimately being disappointed in the results.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (13 minutes): A fun little feature in which Sean Clark tours the modern-day sites where Halloween II was filmed. Some playful editing lends a few jokes, while cross cutting between the film and footage shot in the present reveals just how little most of these locations have changed. Clark, for his part, is clearly a passionate horror fan, knowing every bit of dialogue and action, and his energy is infectious throughout the short piece, even as it gets into details as meticulous as which doors were removed for shooting.
Stills Gallery: A bunch of black and white and color photos from the set of the film, along with the movie’s poster and variations of the poster. See how Halloween II was advertised in other countries!
TV spots (2 minutes): A couple of retro ads, complete with low-def footage and a deep-voiced announcer speaking directly to the audience, are fun to check out.
Radio spots (3 minutes): Apparently they used to advertise for movies on something called the radio. Lots of loud screams and stock sound effects.
Alternate Ending – with or without commentary by director Rick Rosenthal (2 minutes): A lame alternate ending that gives one last fake scare and overemphasizes the relationship between Laurie and Jimmy. Director Rosenthal compares the scene to the final moment in Carrie and still laments its absence, but seems to have come to terms with its removal (which was done behind his back).
Deleted scenes – with or without commentary by director Rick Rosenthal (8 minutes): A number of deleted scenes, all of them taking place in the hospital and exploring the secondary characters more. These scenes, which were restored to the TV version of the film (which is included on the Blu-ray’s second disc), would have slowed the film down but also would have fleshed out its characters a lot more. I feel for Rosenthal, who wanted these scenes but had them taken away because of “too many cooks in the kitchen” (mostly John Carpenter looking to up the excitement of the sequel). One of the deleted scenes explains the lights going out, too, for those of you who were being kept awake at night by that goof.
Final Rating: 2/5