Halloween II (1981)

The nightmare – and my marathon – continues.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Director:  Rick Rosenthal, John Carpenter
Studio:  Dino De Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures
Starring:  Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence
Tagline:  Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Trick or Treating; The Boogieman is Back
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  Picking up precisely from where the first film left off, it is still Halloween night 1978, and Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) is still on the loose.  Laurie Strode (Curtis) is moved to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for the injuries she has suffered while Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) and the police search the town for the killer.  As more clues are revealed as to why Michael has returned, Loomis realizes the killer is headed to the hospital to finish what he started.  Laurie, unaware of Michael’s objective, must once again fight for her life.

Ah, a very ’80s sequel to a wonderful first film.  While this movie doesn’t stand up to the first, it’s still a good watch and an important puzzle piece as we learn more about Michael Myers’ psychosis.

What did I tell you in my last entry about Donald Pleasence?  Already in the first few minutes of this movie, Loomis is paranoid and annoying, and it seems more like he is yelling at people instead of helping them find and stop Michael.  Our Doctor even begins to lose it a bit, as he becomes more gun happy and reckless.  This character development will be important for him in later movies, as the foil between himself and Michael develops further.

Miss Curtis does a pretty good job in this film, once again playing the final girl, although this time she is given less to work with.  I’m still a fan of Laurie this time around, and without children to worry about protecting we see the young girl go into survival mode as she tries hiding in and escaping from the hospital.  Towards the end of the movie, in fact, Laurie must fire a gun to defend herself from Michael.  His resulting injuries cause him to bleed from the eyes of the mask, which clearly is symbolic of tears as the complicated relationship between Michael and Laurie (and later Jamie) is explored.  But just when we wanted to know more about Laurie and why Michael wants her as a victim, however, it’s goodbye from the franchise for now, see you in 20 years.

I like Michael less in this film.  First off, the mask is already worse (understandably having undergone damage in the first movie).  It’s dirtier, rougher, and doesn’t have the same effect of giving Michael his pale, expressionless appearance.  It’s also a bit wider throughout the movie, making our killer look almost comically pudgy in some scenes.  Secondly, actor Dick Warlock plays ‘the Shape’ with much firmer and more restricted body language, not that Michael should be dancing around, but in this movie he doesn’t even use half his joints like a normal person.  In my opinion this makes him too stiff, more like Frankenstein’s monster instead of something truly terrifying.  Furthermore, was it me or did it seem like in this movie Michael’s footsteps match up with the beat of the music?  I really hate that because while I think his long stride is one of the scariest things about him, making his signature slow (but covering a lot of distance) steps almost a choreography to the music is cheesy.  Lastly, we already see the killer getting more creative with the deaths.  Surely this was done to satisfy the audience, and I mean I’m all for that (to an extent) because simple stabbings would get boring after a while.  Well this isn’t Michael’s first time at the rodeo, and he’s graduated from a chef’s knife to hammers, scalpels, syringes and other hospital supplies, and even tubs of boiling water.  Though I must say, the scene where the nurse is water-boarded in the scalding-hot pool just landed itself high on my list of best all time murders.

While we do get to see some of Haddonfield’s public reacting outside the Myers’ house in this movie, the majority of the film’s action takes place inside of the dark rooms and long, twisting corridors of the hospital.  I like this change already from the dark, suburban houses and streets.  We as viewers feel more restricted, having already been made uneasy by the graphic (but everyday) use of syringes and needles early on in the film.  Ultimately we can’t help but experience Laurie’s plight, feeling as though we, too, are trapped in the hospital while a masked killer is in close pursuit.  But no worries if hospitals give you the creeps, it’ll be back to the classic Midwest outdoors in later films.

The theme music in this installment was a little bit jazzed up and I didn’t love it.  There was something strikingly ’80s added this time around that perverted the simple terror of the main melody.  Still, as this franchise seems to do so well (so far), music and sound are placed very well throughout the film to build up a lot of suspense (there was much more in this film than in the previous one) and ultimately to scare us.  One of the scariest details in this movie might have been that darn orange buzzer/ light that was used to page the nurses in the hospital.  Like tell me you didn’t jump both times that went off.

More on the soundtrack: as I mentioned in my review of the 2007 remake of the original Halloween, this is the movie that has the charming song “Mr. Sandman” play a couple times.  I love this song, and while its placement seems odd at first, if you listen to the lyrics in the context of the film they take on a much darker meaning in which we can picture Mr. Sandman as being a boogeyman character like Michael instead of some nightly wish-granter.  And if I might beat the dead horse, they further ask for a man with “a lonely heart,” wavy hair, and a specifically designed pair of eyes – Michael’s most distinguishable features are the empty, black eyes and the mask’s unkempt, brown hair; of course it is up to us to assume that the killer has a lonely heart if he has a heart at all – which I think he does as certain scenes between him and Laurie (later Jamie) invoke pity.

As is natural in a sequel, Halloween II allows us to explore the characters with greater depth.  Laurie is exhausted, injured, and scared, and she finally asks the prize question “Why me?  I mean, why me?” which I thought she delivered very well.  In a dream she finds herself reflecting on her childhood and imagines seeing the young Michael locked up in the institution we saw him in during the first film.  As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Loomis is also becoming more exhausted and reckless, ultimately leading him to seemingly sacrifice himself in order to destroy Michael.  And, of course, we are given some plot behind Michael’s madness in one simple Celtic word: Samhain [Sowin].  As Loomis explains, this is an ancient Celtic tradition taking place around October 31st marking the beginning of the dark part of the year, invoking themes of the dead, death in general, and evil.  Furthermore, and here’s the real kicker, a classified file on Myers is opened by the governor revealing that Laurie Strode is adopted, and that in reality she is Michael Myers’ younger sister.  Plot!  Don’t things make perfect sense now?  And one other thing, you know what I can help but wonder:  what would happen if Laurie just gave up and Michael killed her?  Would he stop?  Would he drift back into a catatonic state?  Just a sad, dark thought as to what your responsibility is if you were to ever realize a killer is after you.

A small detail I loved in this movie involves the body that looks suspiciously like Michael Myers that gets killed after the car crash/ explosion.  Any good horror fan should realize that the real killer wouldn’t die that easily (or anticlimactically).  Furthermore, any good Halloween fan should pick up on the name drop later by two teenagers who are worried about their missing friend: Ben Tramer, who was ‘very drunk and wearing that stupid mask.’  Loomis’ stomach drops as he realizes an innocent teenager has been killed, but Horror Buff’s face lights up.  Remember Ben Tramer?  While he wasn’t actually in the first movie, his name pops up several times because he is the boy Laurie has a crush on and with whom she ultimately has potential plans to go to the school dance.  Like what bad luck.  You’re just some innocent kid who Laurie Strode happens to like, but then her *unknown* brother comes back and starts killing everyone, and then you get pinned in between two exploding cars.  It doesn’t get much worse than that, especially when you’re a character whose face the audience never even sees.  And that, horror fans, is what happens when you drink underage.

Final critique:  This isn’t the best movie in the Halloween franchise, and I think it’s safe to say people are aware of that.  Still, that doesn’t make it a bad movie, and I’d recommend it as practically a classic for this time of year.  The most important purpose this movie serves is to fill us in on why Michael Myers is set on killing Laurie Strode and also what might have driven 6 year old Michael to insanity 15 years ago.  More so than the first film, Halloween II feels like your typical ’80s horror/ slasher with the quick shots of nudity and wide array of murders with whatever tools are on hand.  Compared to modern horror films, this movie isn’t too ‘scary,’ but it certainly has it’s jumpy moments and gruesome deaths.

Stay tuned as the Halloween marathon continues.

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