Review: Halloween II (1981)

As promised, I have returned with the next movie in the Halloween series! This one simply called Halloween II.

It came as something of a surprise that Halloween did as well as it managed. On the $300,000 budget, it more than made back its cost. Moustapha Akkad (the producer throughout most of the franchise) saw profitablity and asked John Carpenter to write another script for this. Carpenter wanted to do a very different movie, but he wrote with the help of Debra Hill (she helped him write the original as well). This is where the series picks up its steam for what the series would become. It starts, in their returning roles, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. Though Carpenter wrote the script, it was Rick Rosenthal who directed the sequel. It hit theaters in 1981.

The Plot: Taking place the same night as the first movie, Michael has just suffered six gun shots to the chest (seven in this movie, count ’em), and is now stalking the city. He busts into a house and grabs yet another large kitchen knife, and right away starts in on his killing spree.

Dr. Loomis begins his frantic search for Myers, leading the town Sheriff to discover his daughter was a victim of the brutal killer. Loomis persuades a deputy that he needs help to track down Michael before more innocents end up dead. This leads to a boy dressed up in a mask and jump suit similar to Michael’s to killed in a fiery wreck while trying to cross the street to get away from the Deputy and Loomis.   Loomis isn’t so certain that they got him, and it leads them to continue the hunt.

Meanwhile, Laurie Stored has been taken to the hospital for her injuries. Shaken beyond all her wits, she is sedated and stitched up. The hospital staff put her in a room, and we get to see the nightlife of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.

Michael makes his way into downtown and overhears a radio broadcast saying that Laurie has been taken to the hospital. He sticks around downtown long enough to sneak into the backseat of a nurse’s car who is about to go to work. Michael’s arrival isn’t completely unnoticed, but doesn’t truly go opposed either. The only security guard on campus gets killed with the sharp end of a claw hammer and Michael gets to work killing the rest of the staff while trying to discover Laurie’s whereabouts.

Laurie remains in a nearly unconscious state for most of this time. She’s having dreams about when she was young, her “mother” saying she’s really not her mother, and about an older boy sitting in a hospital room staring at her coldly. When she wakes up, an EMT by the name of Jimmy is always there. She has gone to school with his brother; Ziggy. He tells her who was chasing her and helps her to try to get through this rough time, though she still doesn’t feel safe being in the hospital

Eventually, Loomis is tracked down by the nurse that drove him to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium the night before . She tells him that he’s been ordered by Dr. Rogers to leave Haddonfield, by way of US Marshall escort. He does so, and learns on the car ride from Nurse Marion that the governor ordered a sealed file opened for the first time in years. It tells of the Myers family history and that Michael has one surviving sister. That sister happened to be Laurie Strode! She had been adopted by the Strodes and her records sealed, by the request of the adopted family, so that no one could find out where Michael’s last sister went. Loomis then takes out his revolver and demands that he be taken to the hospital, because he now realizes that Michael won’t stop until Laurie is dead.

Back at the hospital, Laurie has gone on the run. She’s nearly out of her head, because of the meds she’s got in her system, but she’s too uncomfortable to be a sitting duck in her bed. Most of the hospital staff are dead by this point, except for Jimmy. He slipped on the blood of one victim and fell, bashing his head on the floor. He eventually wakes up with a bad concussion and finds Laurie in his car. He tries to get his act together long enough to drive away and escape the massacre that just occured, but he again falls unconscious onto the steering wheel. The horn blares across the campus, alerting Michael to the parking lot where Laurie is again forced into running for her life.

In the climax of the film, Loomis gets to the hospital and wedges himself into the confrontation between the two siblings. Loomis gets injured (only temporarily), dropping his gun on the floor. Laurie grabs it and runs off into an operating theater.

She calls out, and Michael stops only for a second before trying his best to kill her with a scalpel. She shoots him twice in the eyes, which seem only to make him cry tears of blood, but he won’t relent. Instead, he swings wildly knowing she has no place else to run. Loomis sneaks in, and leads Michael away by opening all the oxygen and gas canisters  Laurie does a little of the same, but Loomis tells her to get out. As she runs for cover, Loomis uses a cigarette lighter to ignite the escaping fumes and ends it in a blazing inferno. Laurie gets knocked to the floor, but looks back to see if anyone is coming after her. She finds that

Outside, Laurie gets put into an ambulance and is taken away from the scene. In other cuts of the movie, we find that Jimmy is still alive and sharing the ride. So ends the most horrific night of Laurie Strode’s life. Michael is indeed still stalking towards her, but he soon drops to the ground in a ball of flame.The Good: What I liked about this movie is it didn’t do what so many other films of the genre have done, in that they didn’t wait a year and have the killer return to kill the survivor. Normally, this gives the surviving victim time to get a whole new set of friends to slaughter and some time to breathe easy because they knew the situation was “dealt with”. Such isn’t the case here, this picks up exactly where the other movie ended. Laurie is injured and is being taken for treatment, but in such a state is made an easy target. It was great to see Jamie Lee Curtis back in this role. The cast at the hospital feel like a night crew that have worked together for, maybe, a little too long. It at least gives you a few people that you don’t mind follow. There’s one EMT that seems to be rather skeezy, but what works for me on that is I’ve worked with those guys. There are those few that you just don’t care whether they live or die, but you’re not rooting for it either. That’s at least a step up from a lot of other slasher horror films (mostly the more recent ones),
I’m also fond of the fact that this one shows the adults of the town, who were conspicuously absent in the last film. There are crowds gathering outside and people are watching the ambulance drivers wheel out the bodies of the victims. In a dead body cameo, that actually got Nancy Loomis to come back as Annie Brackett. This was merely so the sheriff could see her face for a second. Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett), too has a cameo before passing him off to a deputy. The shock of his dead daughter is too much for him to handle (go figure), so it gave him a reason to leave the film without wondering where he went or why. They didn’t make him a character bent on revenge to kill Michael, but still took his rage out on Loomis for “letting him out.” It was grief stricken, and though acted as if they were in a slasher horror film (again, go figure) it still displayed something worthwhile. It’s a small town, not used to a lot of murders, yet this one former resident has caused them troubles they are ill-equipped to deal with.

The Bad: Let’s start with the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t in this nearly as much as you’d hope she would. For the most part, she’s laying on a gurney or a hospital bed trying to fight for consciousness or talking to Jimmy. Her being in it is a definitely plus, which is why she’s in the good category. It makes sense that she’s hurt and that means she’s not going to be in fit condition to do a lot of running, but she’s the one I’ve got vested interest in. Well above and beyond most any character that is in this.

Loomis is the other character we should be focusing on, but even at that, we should be seeing far better action out of him while trying to find Myers. What we get his more of him screaming about how Michael isn’t human and that he’s an unstoppable evil. The closest we really see to anything exciting, before the end of the movie, is when he spots the kid dressed up in the mask and mechanics cover-alls. This is probably the funniest moment in the movie, and it’s completely unintentional. In the last film, Annie and Laurie are driving to their respective babysitting gigs and Laurie mentions how she likes a guy named Ben Tramer. So throughout the rest of the original Halloween, he’s brought up several more times as Annie is trying to get Laurie a date. Well, lo and behold, this kid in the Michael mask just happens to be Ben Tramer. What prompted him to dress up like this is beyond me. If he’d seen a popular 1978 film, I’d imagine that would be the reason he would dress up like that. However, being in the direct sequel to that film makes that a little harder to swallow. The funniest part is Loomis is looking at him, unsure that this scrawny kid is Michael. Everyone is yelling at him to stop and he’s keeps walking across the street like he’s drunk. He’s not paying attention to anything going on, especially the car that is flying down the road at high speed. The car slams into the kid, then slams into another vehicle causing a huge explosion which sets poor Ben Tramer ablaze. This shouldn’t have been as laughable as it was, but I can’t help losing it every time I see it. When they finally catch onto the fact that this isn’t Michael, and some of Ben’s friends tell them he was wearing some stupid mask and had been drinking, there is a revelation that too is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Loomis has spent 15 years with Michael, he’s obsessed with him, but he can’t tell that this kid isn’t him? Really?

This movie also starts the obligatory “up the body count” trope. Michael is now not just targeting certain people, he’s going out of his way to kill anybody that’s in his way or not. This drives me bananas, especially in the beginning of the film where we see a teen girl talking to her friend on the phone and listening to the news about the bodies found just down the street. Michael’s already busted into a house and grabbed a kitchen knife, so he’s got little reason to go anywhere else here. Instead he goes into this house and kills this girl for talking on the phone? I’m not certain what other reasons there would be. With his sister Judith, we get the point that she was being promiscuous and he felt she deserved to get it. Maybe he got slighted on his Trick-or-Treating experience for this and he went after her. I don’t know for certain, but the idea is that Michael felt she needed to die. With Laurie and friends, they too got directly in his path on more than one occasion and went out of their way on one to say something snarky when he drove by. Whether you knew Laurie’s story or not, this just garnered the unwanted attention of a knife-wielding maniac.

Another thing that started in this movie was the amount of blood that was shown being spilled. The last movie was relatively bloodless, with the exception of Judith’s death. In this one, they saw blood spraying in few scenes. It isn’t to intolerable levels in this one, with the note of the head nurse’s blood having been drained out through an open IV tube dripping all over the floor. That was more than enough. It’s also starting to crank up on the death factor, meaning that not only are we gonna give you a higher count, but we’re going to put in a couple of really bad deaths too. For instance, the nurse that Michael stows away with and the skeezy EMT driver are in the obligatory sex scene. Yes, you knew it had to be there. They’re in a medical hot tub and getting friends. Michael jacked up the heat in the thing and so the nurse decides that she needs the temp turned down. In the background, she’s toweling off and you see the EMT being strangled to death. When Michael goes to kill her, the tub has reached such a hot temperature that the repeated dunkings over her head have started peeling away layers of skin and causing all manner of blisters. Michael isn’t hurt, but she’s burned beyond recognition.

The references to Samhain were almost laughable and felt thrown in for no reason. Michael, for some unknown reason, breaks into the elementary and leaves the word SAMHAIN written across a blackboard. Loomis goes into his exposition as to how this all ties together, which other than Samhain being a Celtic celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, has no real tie to what’s happening in Haddonfield. It’s obvious they’re going from the angle of a sacrifice and dark tidings, then when Loomis finds out Laurie’s his sister it all chimes the bell in his head. There’s no real reason to have gone there. If they original purpose was Michael being the current shape of evil, which Carpenter had planned for him in the first place, then the discovery of Laurie being Michael’s sister should be enough for Loomis to register that Michael’s on a rampage leading to killing his last living relative.

There is one other thing from the last movie that I didn’t really bring up in either good or bad category, which I should correct here. Honestly, it’s awesome sound should go without having to mention because it’s an iconic song connected to the holiday now. The “Halloween Theme” is a simple little piece, but it’s entrancing. If you liked nothing else about the original film, that was something that I’ve found very few ever complaining about. In this film, they’ve switched it out with an electronic version of the song. It’s not disturbing or as engaging as the original, if anything it annoys me. This is a piece that supposed to tell people where they are. If you watch anything with a John Williams score, you know what I’m talking about. When “the Raiders March” comes on, you know it’s Indiana Jones and it’s gearing you for something awesome. I know this is a slasher film, but I have that one expectation to it.

The last musical cue is an odd one. I don’t know whether or not to put this into good or bad, it’s something that did irrationally creep me out. When the movie opens, they’re going through ending of the previous installment. The song they used to do this is “Mr. Sandman”, which to this day still freaks me. The song is sung by the Chordettes and is very melodic and sweet. But to put the song with a movie slasher, that tends to add something very strange to the lyrics. The only thing I can actually say is I’m glad Michael got this one before Freddy Krueger came along. That would only have made it worse. I love this style of music (actually many styles from various ages), but I cannot listen to this now without wondering if there’s a knife-wielding maniac standing behind me.

The Overall: You would think with all the stuff I had to say negative about this movie that I wouldn’t want to watch it again, but this isn’t the case. I take this as being the step into Halloween where we’ve decided to get rid of a lot of the influences the original had and focus more on what this series is; a slasher series. While there were some scenes that tried to recreate the feel of the first film, they slipped off those rails and went into what we would expect in a Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. To Carpenter’s credit, this movie was supposed to be the official end of Michael Myers. He felt that Michael had burned to his death and that the “Shape of Evil” would take on another form in another story. Much to my regret, I’ll be doing the review of that one next. If you never watched any others of the Halloween series, these are the two I would recommend. I would also say to watch Halloween: H20 and the first 20 minutes of Halloween: Resurrection. I guarantee that the latter will disappoint you, and then you’re in for a worse disappointment afterwards. Still, it wraps certain elements up that you wouldn’t otherwise get in the other sequels.

I give this 3 out of 5. It’s a turn off your brain film, like most slashers are. It gives you more of that same night and makes for a good popcorn watch, but that’s just my (not so very) humble opinion.

I will return with more Halloween reviews for you to watch. If you love the Halloween series, go to the official website of Michael Myers where you can keep up on the latest news and see more about the film series!