Halloween II

The difference between Halloween and Halloween II is the difference between technique and style. Halloween was shot with style – it had a particular point of view and stuck with it throughout the entire film. Halloween II, first feature of its director Rick Rosenthol, employs horror techniques when it needs to get a scare. It’s a worse film, by far, because one is a total vision that becomes an effective shock machine. The other begins with the attempt to shock (or terrorize) and so employs techniques absent of a unique vision. It’s unfortunate to note that many of the lazy shock scenes were directed and inserted by John Carpenter himself, over the film’s actual director’s objections.

The mistakes of the film in terms of narrative and directorial technique are voluminous, so let’s start with what it did right – it opens well. Without attempting to recreate the bravura POV long-shot of the first film, we have a series of actual suspenseful scenes, stuck together by a central, connecting notion: that a mad killer is loose, somewhere in town, and nobody knows where. And, true to the form of the first film, while he’s being chased, we see him seemingly everywhere, just out of sight, moving in the street at just the places where his searchers aren’t. There’s even a long sequence that I was sure was going to end in a murder where Michael Myers goes into a house to get a knife – but even then the director opts for suspense.

Until we get to the first lone teenager we see. Then there’s a pop-scare, a stabbing, a bunch of stupidity. In a thankless reprise of her attacked teenager in the first film, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode spends most of Halloween II in a drugged out stupor (or her character does – I have no idea about Jamie Lee Curtis’s own narcotic habits or lack thereof). She barely has any lines of dialogue, and few memorable scenes.

Most of the film is carried by Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis, who brings an energy and mania to the role that is fun to watch. Unfortunately, he’s also the carrier of the exposition, which adds stupid layers of mythology from which Michael Myers’ character never recovered.

Because it turns out that Michael Myers had a definite motive in attacking Laurie Strode and those around her. She’s his secret sister, one he somehow automagically knew about and has to kill in a re-enactment of his first Halloween. I guess. It adds a touch of psychological reality to a film that can only exist, with any integrity, without psychological reality. Michael Myers is not really a character, and so he does not require character traits. They diminish him by fostering an understanding that is detrimental to his effect.

And so, weirdly, with this explanation of his behavior, his subsequent murders become completely inexplicable. He has absolutely no reason to kill the doctors and nurses and orderlies against whom he rampages through in the hospital, except to up his body count so there would be something to print in Fangoria.

But the primary sin of Halloween II is not any of that. It’s just that it isn’t scary, and it’s not properly atmospheric. So much of Halloween succeeds because it creates a suspenseful atmosphere of constant impending doom. It doesn’t do this through constant murder, but through suspense. We can watch Michael Myers moving through the houses and the town in the first movie. There’s a plausibility to his ubiquity. And we’ve bought into the world. By the time he’d turned the house across the street into a spookhouse filled with bodies that fell out of nowhere and a girl underneath a tombstone, we buy it because we are deep into the suspenseful world. Halloween II never reels us in (after those first, really good 10 minutes) and so when it wants to grabs us, its not close enough to us to grab. It’s full of icky blood, but no sticky direction or craft.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com