In 2011, I watched the original Halloween for the first time, and it was one of the highlights of the season. This year, feeling that it wouldn’t be right to let October go by without at least one entry in the series, I decided to watch the immediate follow-up, Halloween II, from 1981. (This was a rare case of me renting a film, as nobody had the good grace to air the film this month.) Halloween II is a direct continuation of the first film, with the same actors reprising their roles as the night of Michael Myers’ return continues. Interestingly, John Carpenter moves to a producer role for this film, with Rick Rosenthal taking over as director, in what would be his feature film directorial debut.
Halloween II has a lot of the same strengths as the original film, but unfortunately it also has some weaknesses not present in the original. Further, since it’s very literally a case of “more of the same”, it winds up feeling rather superfluous — the main thing it adds to the story is the reason why Michael Myers is so fixated on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to begin with.
She took the last Butterfinger after he’d already called dibs.
As Laurie is rushed to the hospital following the night’s attack, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) continues his role as the world’s most bad-ass psychiatrist in trying to hunt down Michael Myers. Though he’s already shot him six times, Loomis is far from convinced that this is over — and of course, he’s right. Myers continues to slash through various disposable teenagers and people who get in his way, and pursues Laurie to the hospital. The virtues of the first film are still holding strong here. Curtis and Pleasance give great performances once again, and Tony Moran remains intimidating as Myers. Much of the film retains that sense of near-normalcy that made the first film so effective, though this is hampered a bit by the latter part of the film being centered in the hospital (lots of people live in suburbia, but few people spend enough time in the hospital for it to feel familiar, let alone safe.)
There are, however, some changes in this film that don’t serve it as well as the elements of the first film did. Myers mostly sticks to his simple quick attacks, but there are occasions when he gets more creative, and while this works for a standard slasher movie, it doesn’t quite feel like the same relentless emotionless killer from the first film. What’s more, the most intimidating thing about the character in the first film was simply how implacable he was, the sense that he would just keep going. That’s still present, and indeed is ratcheted up even higher to great effect, but there are also scenes that suggest Myers is operating on a plan. He prepares by taking items from different locations with him, lures his victims away from safe locations through sabotaging telephone wires or hot tub controls, disables vehicles, and even leaves a taunt to his pursuers in the form of the word “Samhain” on a school chalkboard, referencing the ancient pagan traditions of sacrifice. He feels a little less like an unstoppable force of nature, and just a little bit more like a schemer, and a schemer isn’t what fits with the portrayal in the original movie.
It’s an astounding amount of knowledge for a man whose formal education didn’t go past kindergarten.
There are also occasional bad decisions by some of the characters that hampers the intelligent feel from the first film, and the teenaged victims this time around feel considerably more disposable and less like characters than before.
All those complaints aside, though, Halloween II still succeeds in its main goal, which is portraying Michael Myers as a relentless monster and showcasing Laurie’s fear as she continues to find herself his intended prey. Her fright and bewilderment in full display, and are completely believable in context thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis’s acting. Donald Pleasance is still great as Dr. Loomis, the psychiatrist who has turned into a hunter of the man he was originally supposed to try and cure. Even though he’s not pursued himself, his own fear is still palpable, as is his sense of duty and necessity. The plot of Halloween II may not be as strong as the first film, but on an emotional level, it’s still a definite success.