Monday, October 7, 2013

Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Leo Rossi

He was my patient for fifteen years. He became an obsession with me until I realized there neither reason nor conscious or anything about him that was... even remotely human. An hour ago I stood up and fired six shots into him and he just got up and walked away. I am talking about the real possibility that he is STILL OUT THERE! 
                ~Dr. Loomis

Three years later, Michael Myers returned in the original unplanned sequel.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill never wanted this to happen.  Friday the 13th had been a rousing success, and slasher films were becoming all the rage.  But, a 2 picture deal and the option to take Halloween where he wanted to take it for sequels the following year were enough to turn his opinion.  Carpenter would sit this one as director this time.  He and Debra Hill would writer and produce this entry.  Their involvement was enough to bring back many of the major players in front of and behind the camera for story #2.  The first option for director was that of Tommy Lee Wallace, the set designer and mask creator of the first film.  Wallace expressed no desire to direct what Carpenter had already directed, so he bailed. 
In came young director Rick Rosenthal to direct his first feature film.  Rosenthal had the utmost respect for the first film and Carpenter's work.  Watching the film, you can tell he took a lot of care in trying to stay in the vein of the original.  In strange twist of things, it was Rosenthal who wanted this entry to stay true to the original with its lack of bloodshed and not Carpenter.  Carpenter and Hill were both trying to go for what audiences had been conditioned to and urged Rosenthal to make the film much bloodier and gorier than what they were getting in dailies.  In what Rosenthal calls "too many cooks in the kitchen", things were constantly bopping between him and his producers.  After the film finished it initial photography, John Carpenter went out and shot additional scenes and additional gore shots to add to the film.  

The film gets loads of credit for picking up right where the original left off.  Its a novel idea, to add to the night of terror.  Thanks to Dean Cundey returning to shoot the film, unless you watch the first and second film back-to-back, its very hard to tell there was a 3 year gap.  The aesthetic is near similar.  Yes, Loomis now has a popped collar on his trenchcoat and yes Jamie Lee Curtis is wearing an awful wig.  Aside from that, it feels as if its the same Haddonfield Michael pranced around in back in the fall of 1978.
Laurie Strode may be the heroin of the film, but she's given nothing to do but lie in a hospital bed until the final act of the film.  This movie gives more to Dr. Loomis to carry the search and the movie while young hospital employees are being murdered.  Loomis takes more charge in this film and becomes that of the campy cult legend he's become with his one liners and monologues about the evil of Michael Myers.  

The cast this time is the hospital employees.  There's more of them and they get far more creative and gruesome deaths this time around.  Surprisingly these aren't just slasher fodder, they actually are some pretty likeable and relate-able characters.  From the wise-cracking Bud to the stingy Nurse Alves, you're likely to remember all of them.  The characters, they aren't the issue.  When you're watching Halloween II the first time you may not think about this, but once you step back - this is a hospital...where are the patients?   No, we don't need to meet and greet them, but this hospital is dead and low lit for a horror movie (i'll give it a pass, as the lighting in this film is creeptastic).  From what we see in the movie, the only patients are Laurie Strode and a room full of newborn babies.  Those babies have to have a mother in a room nearby don't they?  Its a bit crazy and a big scratch about the film.  But here's the thing.  Its not important and who fucking cares?
Halloween II, tries and comes very close at times to almost equaling the first film.  It pits Michael and victims in a trapped enclosed space for 90 minutes of terror.  It feels like its right at home with part 1, but just a hair off.  And that easily could be the 3 years removed or the fact that its a different director trying to emulate Carpenter.  Rosenthal manages to create some very creepy shots that probably made Carpenter ecstatic.  Michael wandering the halls of the hospital, the blood tears, its got plenty.  There's incredibly suspenseful moments with people who aren't Jamie Lee Curtis as well.  The whirlpool scene is an all time classic in slasher history.  Not only are you tensed up, but the kill is still effectively disgusting to this day.  
Let me not forget how terrific the final chase scene of this movie is.  Laurie and Michael meet for round two and its every bit as intense as the first time.  When I was little my heart was racing during this.  I didn't expect the sequel to get me going quite to this level.  The lighting, the empty halls, Laurie being handicapped and Michael just slowly coming at her.  The elevator part was terrific (kids, elevators didn't automatically open back up back in the day when it felt pressure, so no its not a plot convenience).  Dick Warlock is the shape this time around and he's pretty solid.  He's a little too robotic at times, but the guy gets it.  He's very still very sly approach gives Halloween II's Michael his own flavor.

Halloween II also revamps the score into some John Carpenter signature synth.  There have been a lot of haters out there, but I kinda love it.  Its grasps at a real dark gothic tone in many avenues and I think creates some of the films' creepiest vibes.  The only thing it does wrong to me, is that it severely dates the film a bit.  To me, I'm always going to remember it fine and fondly, but a youngster picking it up with fresh eyes may find it a bit goofy and have a hard time settling in with it.  This film may also be responsible for starting having the ironic old tune incorporated for the film.  The movie is bookended by the old classic "Mr. Sandman".  The inclusion of the song is a strong one as it immediately classes up and elevates the film to a bigger level than most all other slashers at the time.   And strangely, the movies themes can fit the songs.  Its quite an achievement we've seen borrowed and done over and over again (ie Reservoir Dogs' "Stuck In The Middle With You).  Halloween II is the first time I can think of this occurring, if there's another please correct me.
The films major plot twist would change and kind of handicap the franchise forever.  While, I don't think Halloween II is to blame for it, its just a piece of this film.  It would be Halloween 4's effort to continue it that would lock it down and make sure it was one of the series tropes that must be followed.  Laurie being Michael's sister doesn't bother me at all.  I think it works and its a pretty cool surprise if you don't know.  There's weird hints of it, including a dreamy flashback, but its so skillfully done and not telegraphed you really don't know what you're seeing.  John and Debra were smart by including this.  If Michael was to come after Laurie again, let alone the same night, he needed motivation.  They had to sacrifice and strip him of his ambiguity for the sake of entertainment and furthering the story.  Something like this had to happen, because in the writing stage, you have to somehow bring some sense to it.  You can easily get away with that premise the first time.  You can do it again if you're inviting a whole new cast and not bringing anybody back.  But if they were going to continue on with a Laurie Strode story, something like this had to come to fruition.  I'll stand by it.
The final showdown is some classic old school cinema.  And I love it.  In a room with a bunch of gas tanks, Laurie and Loomis are holed up by Michael.  Loomis is stabbed and then Laurie shoots Michael right in the eyes.  Yes, its probably her first time shooting a gun.  Yes, she's got unbelievable aim.  Yes, get over yourself, cuz its cool as fuck when Michael removes his hand and his mask looks like its crying tears.  Then Loomis releases the gas, tells Laurie to go, looks to Michael and says "It is time, Michael" flicks his lighter and BOOOOOOM! He blows he and Michael up!  It is awesome.  Michael emerges from the fire for one last scare, then falls flat dead.  Yes, there's conveniences and the like, but this is all just so cinematic and badass I can't knock it.  Many don't remember at times, that movies are a place to escape and see things that are fantastical and don't happen in real life.  To "ooh" and to "ah".  

Its clear John Carpenter wanted Michael done with at the end of the movie.  They put it in a real situation that would take a lot to get out of.  While Halloween II is not as good as Halloween, one must remember...pretty much every slasher film is not as good as Halloween.  The second venture is highly entertaining and will bring back the feelings watching the first film without ever having to completely copy it.  Its one of the greatest horror sequels of all time.  There are some things slightly off, but its no bother as this is an entertaining jaunt through a scary looking hospital.  This was one of those times where its ballsy to do a sequel, makes an audience and fanboys eager to go in fists clenched, but then coming out relieved that it was actually pretty good. 
If the first Halloween films weren't at a video store near me, the second wasn't anywhere.  So I had to go and special order it from Suncoast.  Back in the day, this is where a kid like me living in Indiana had to go to get the cooler niche movies.  Oh and they overcharged like no other.  But seriously, if the film wasn't released within the last couple years, good luck finding it elsewhere.  So, Halloween II was the first one in the series I owned.  It was a blind buy and a damn fine one at that.  I had to wait a massive 2 weeks for this puppy to come in.  But luckily it came in perfect time as it arrived on a Friday. 

NEXT TIME: Tommy Lee Wallace tells kids stay tuned for the big giveaway at 9!

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