The Test of Time: Halloween II (1981)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Rick Rosenthal 

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence

The first two Halloween films (the originals, of course…don’t bring up that Zombie stuff) have a special place in my horror heart. They were my first true entries into not only the slasher genre, but also into the great world John Carpenter. Yes, Halloween II might not be technically a Carpenter flick, but his dark touch remains all over the thing from the music, to the story, to even directing a few sequences. While 78’s Halloween undoubtedly remains classic horror, I think the first sequel deserves an examination to see whether it holds up over 30 years later under the Test of Time.

Under the examination: Halloween II.

Now that's a bad day at work.

THE STORY: In what was promoted as one of the few true sequels not seen since Bride of Frankenstein, Halloween II (the first of many, many sequels to Carpenter’s classic) keeps the story going without a gap. Not even like a minute. We start just as Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) shoots Michael Myers straight out a window, and all is ok with the world. As poor old Laurie Strode (Curtis) gets carted off to the hospital, things no longer are ok when Loomis notices that Myers has somehow vanished. So the search begins to locate the masked man before he can kill again. The action then primary shifts to Laurie’s hospital, where…you guessed it, Myers has shown up to start November off in the worst kinda way. From here people get dead by a wonderful variety of methods and mayhem. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: What makes Halloween II work better than any of the other sequels comes from the decision to eliminate any time lapses from one story to another. Even when other sequels attempt to connect films together (like Texas Chainsaw 3D's attempt by starting right at the end of the original, but it failed when it jumped 30 years), they rarely just keep the story rolling without pause. This allows us to see the immediate effect that a mass murderer has on a town and its main victim. Laurie is a freaking mess in this movie, no longer the fun loving dork she was just mere hours ago. And that it makes sense, even if it hurts the character (more on that later) because she can’t be anything BUT completely and totally traumatized. Who the hell wouldn’t be? Having the action keep rolling gives the film a sense of exhaustion that can't be duplicated. Think about it. If this was a standalone, both the audience and the characters aren't tired until the end. Here, these poor folks are already pushed the end in frame one. And that makes things...interesting.

Well, she looks like a joy to hang around with.

While we don’t have Carpenter behind the director’s seat (or on the director’s seat? I guess it doesn’t make sense to be behind a seat), replacement Rick Rosenthal does his best to not alter the tone. Scenes remain slow and plodding, never in a hurry to get anywhere but allowing the suspense and tension to build. If no one knew about the switch, I suspect few could notice the difference of styles. Actually, legend (or fact) has it that Carpenter went back and shot some scares and gore, which I think was probably a good thing. If you’ve caught this movie on TV, often it’s the original director’s cut, which attempts to add more character development but have less blood. Being a slasher movie, Carpenter’s touch for the dark stuff was freakin' needed. What the hell is a Halloween flick without the carnage?

Speaking of which, this movie has some great sequences and kills. Myers uses quite a variety of kill tactics, ranging from stabbings, to slashings, to syringe kills, to strangulations, to death by really, really hot hot tub. Actually, one of my favorite moments isn’t even a kill scene, but just a dumb accident. When Laurie’s friend Jimmy (Lance Guest) finds a nurse who has been bled out like a corpse, he slips on the pool of blood and knocks himself out in a sickly splash. It’s a pure macabre scene.

WHAT BLOWS NOW:  A way to distinguish this one from the original is to consider Carpenter's movie "the hunt," where its all about Myers' trek to find and kill his sister. The followup isn't a hunt any more because we all know the players and where they are so it becomes "the search." Loomis searches for Myers while Myers searches for Laurie. And this is the first major problem. There's no highs or lows here. It's just constant dread, which sounds great in theory, but hell, man, we need that variation of emotion to keep things interesting. While I praised the film for continuing on without missing a second above, someone should have realized and found a way to take a break of the tension...just enough to scare the shit out of us again.

Another problem is that our main protagonist isn’t much fun. Curtis is stuck in that hospital bed far too long, all dazed and drugged. When she finally gets on the move, all she does is hobble along with muted whimpers. She ends up with probably less dialogue than Schwarzenegger did in The Terminator, which doesn’t build much characterization. Sure, we can view Halloween II as a direct continuation or a two-parter, but even still we gotta have someone to root for. She ended up just being obnoxious and tiresome this time around. Talk about damaged goods.

Loomis should never, ever be allowed to carry a gun.

Even Loomis isn’t much fun this time. He mostly rattles off history lessons about cults and Samhain and other dark shit…like our unconscious mind. Worst still is his handling of a gun. You’d think after all the movies he had been in someone would have shown him how to handle a gun. Seriously, it's really pathetic. Dude was a Bond villain. Oh, and while Loomis made some sense in the original, here he’s a babbling nut, which gets a little old considering he’s the only person talking throughout the film. Sure, he went through some serious shit over the last 24 hours, but give some balance.

Lastly, Myers aka The Shape isn’t portrayed by Nick Castle, but by Dick Warlock who does a nice job here, but his portrayal is just different enough to notice. He’s shorter, the mask no longer seems to fit, and he doesn’t seem as imposing. Obviously, this is first of many actors playing The Shape, but for a direct continuation…its noticeable.

THE VERDICT: If Halloween II wasn’t a direct sequel, I don’t think it’d ever be discussed as a true classic. Even with the continuation, Part II lacks the impact of the original. Given the Taylor Swift-thin storyline and character development, I don’t think Halloween II can fall under the label of classic. Gory fun? Yes. The second best Michael Myers film? Of course! Great slasher movie? Duh. Absolute classic…no.




The tears of Shatner...



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