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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

Halloween II  (1981)
3 Stars
Directed by Rick Rosenthal.
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lance Guest, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens, Gloria Gifford, Pamela Susan Shoop, Leo Rossi, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Hunter von Leer, Ford Rainey, Jeffrey Kramer, Cliff Emmich, Anne Bruner, Anne-Marie Martin, Lucille Benson, Leigh French, Ty Mitchell, Adam Gunn, Nichole Drucker, Dana Carvey, Dick Warlock.
1981 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence, language, and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 2008.

Doyle Neighbor:
Is this some kind of joke? I've been trick-or-treated to death tonight.

Sam Loomis:
You don't know what death is!

When "Halloween" became the highest-grossing independent film of all time upon its release in 1978, it was a given that a sequel wouldn't be far behind. Still, how could another installment even attempt to match the success of its predecessor, a horror masterpiece that aided mightily in the creation of the slasher genre? In short, it couldn't. "Halloween II" is admirable for many things, the most prevalent being its formidable aesthetics, but it's no "Halloween." Nevertheless, these first two films in the series approximate the same feel, pace, tone, atmosphere, and look, which is all the more useful considering they are set on the very same night. Viewers could edit "Halloween" and "Halloween II" into one three-hour epic, the latter picking up immediately where the former left off, and the transition between pictures would be nearly seamless.

With Michael Myers having disappeared after psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shoots him six times off the Doyles' balcony, Dr. Loomis flees the scene to try and stay on the escaped psychopath's trail. As Michael stealthily makes his way through the neighboring houses, stealing a knife from the elderly, sandwich-making Elrods, and claiming a new victim in the home-alone Alice (Anne Bruner), a wounded and distraught Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is transported by ambulance to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. It isn't long before Myers has reached the medical center himself, determined to find Laurie even as he paints the staff red.

Directing from a screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Rick Rosenthal skillfully has tried to replicate the deliberate yet intoxicating pacing and overall mood of "Halloween." Reportedly, it was Carpenter (not Rosenthal) who helmed post-production reshoots to insert more violence and gore effects into the film. This, of course, is one of the flaws of "Halloween II" that separates it from the original, doing away with restraint and going all out in its depiction of people being scalded alive or getting a syringe full of oxygen injected into their temple. Even as Carpenter misguidedly tried to compete with the most graphic "Friday the 13th"-style movies of the era, he could not destroy the classiness with which Rosenthal mounted the majority of the picture. As for what happened to Rosenthal in the interim is anybody's guess; he returned for 2002's insulting "Halloween: Resurrection," widely considered the worst entry in the series.

In lieu of a madman randomly setting his sights on three teenage girls, "Halloween II" endeavors to give him a specific motive and a more layered back-story. Thus, as Laurie is knocked out with a sedative and restlessly tosses and turns in her hospital bed, she dreams of a childhood that reveals she is Michael's baby sister, adopted by the Strodes' shortly after the murder of Judith Myers and only knowing him through brief visits to the mental hospital as a little girl. This certainly lends weight to the relationship between Michael and Laurie during the taut climax—a scene where Laurie waits for elevator doors to open as Michael approaches steadily from behind her is especially suspenseful—even as this plot hook was solely created for the sequel. Until this last act, Laurie has little to do but lie in a bed and wake up long enough to pass back out again. Jamie Lee Curtis (by 1981 a full-fledged scream queen itching to break out into the mainstream) reprises the role and is superb when her character is conscious. There is also a subtly foreboding story point, several times recalled, where head nurse Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford) attempts to call Laurie's parents to notify them of what has happened. Mrs. Alves never is able to get through to them—this is increasingly suspicious the later into the night it gets—and at no point in this film or any subsequent sequel is it discussed what happened to them. It is just as well; the act of not knowing and imagining the worst is far creepier than the alternatives.

With Laurie sitting a fair amount of the film out and Dr. Sam Loomis, accompanied by nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens), investigating the links he senses between Michael's behavior and the lore of the holiday, the bulk of the picture centers around the hospital milieu of doctors, nurses and candy-stripers working on Halloween. As they trade barbs, bicker, flirt, take care of patients (there are very few seen, save for a little boy who has become a victim of the old razorblades-in-the-apple trick), and sneak off for a little nookie, Michael Myers lurks through the hallways, picking off his latest prey as he moves closer to Laurie. The palpable air of October 31st is all over these almost observational scenes, with jack-o'-lanterns and decorations throughout, a few scenes in town featuring passersby in costumes—one which involves Ben Tramer, Laurie's noted crush from the original, and another that finds nurse Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) late for her shift and having to drop friend Darcy (Anne-Marie Martin) off on her way to work—and a synthesizer-heavy music score by Alan Howarth (based on John Carpenter's themes) that practically exudes horror with an autumnal touch.

"Halloween II" holds some sloppy holes in its script that the first movie did not, such as the way the hospital seemingly becomes deserted the further the film presses on, and the fact that the electricity goes out without much mind paid to it (this played a larger part in the director's cut, which occasionally airs on AMC). If one can overlook these logistical and editorial mishaps, the film is otherwise a well-made thriller, exquisitely photographed by the returning Dean Cundey and mostly respectful to the style of the original. Just because Michael Myers is not in the foreground of a shot does not necessarily mean he isn't there, and director Rick Rosenthal is smart in not spelling out these chilling moments by obvious hat-tipping, but allowing viewers to catch on themselves. The elongated third act, wherein Laurie is chased by the Shape and finds herself weak and helpless in the parking lot of the hospital, trying to get Dr. Loomis' attention but unable to scream when the car he is in arrives at the front door, is sensational in its building of apprehension and imminent danger.

Concluding with a three-person face-off between Michael, Laurie and Loomis (the latter, as always, played with stately determination by Donald Pleasence) that would seem to end the Myers saga were it not for money talking, "Halloween II" is a more than solid if admittedly inferior continuation. Even with its added after-the-fact violence, the film still follows the same basic blueprint, with expertly mounted tension the primary goal above just stringing together a body count. For Laurie Strode, her character arc is completed here (well, until 1998's "Halloween: H20"), encapsulated in the part-quixotic, part-eerie ending credits music cue of The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman." She may have begun Halloween as a meek, mild, somewhat naïve teenage girl, but she welcomes the dawning of a new day as a stronger, but also more weary and broken young woman. In the last shot of "Halloween II," Michael's body and mask aren't the only things engulfed in flames. So is Laurie's innocence.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman