Sequels are usually beaten to a critical pulp, and it's not hard to understand why. They are primarily made because the original made a lot of money, and heaven forbid that the money train stops there. It's not enough to make a killing at the box office (no pun intended here); you have to capitalize on what you made. Heck, in this day and age movie studios are franchise crazy and they are always on the lookout for the next one. However, audiences tend to be a lot more discerning in terms of why sequels are made. They can tell when they are being scammed out of their hard earned money that their parents given them each week or their unemployment insurance which never seems to pay enough. And these same parents keep wondering why their kids still live at home pass the age of 30.
These days, they can be the cream de la crème of the must see events at the movies. It doesn't matter if they suck, people will still see them regardless of crappy reviews. Case in point, "Spiderman 3," which was one of the biggest hits of the summer 2007 movie season as well as one of the summer's biggest disappointments. Then there was this past summer’s “The Hangover Part III” which was an epic fail of a comedy. Still, it’s bound to turn a profit in this country or another.
In a lot of ways, sequels are undone by the high expectations placed on them. There are certain movies that really have no chance of living up to the brilliance of their predecessor, but maybe they can be enjoyable enough when you come into them with reduced expectations. Sometimes that can be enough (for me anyway).
Case in point here is "Halloween II," the sequel to (at the time) the highest grossing independent film ever made. "Halloween" was and still is one of the scariest movies ever made. The ending of the movie had Michael Meyers disappearing from sight, and it was visual proof that evil never dies. "Halloween II," however, takes place at the exact moment the original ended with Michael Meyers still on the loose, and even while he moves a hell of a lot slower, he is still a very deadly threat to everyone around him. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) continues to hunt for the man he tried to keep locked up, and Jaime Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode who is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from the injuries she suffered just a few hours earlier.
"Halloween II" was torn apart by the critics for being nowhere as good as the original, berating it as simply a rehash of what we saw before and for having nothing new to say about Michael Meyers or any of the other characters. Even John Carpenter, who co-wrote the script for this one with the late Debra Hill but did not direct it, has said that he hated it and that the only thing that got him to finish the screenplay was a six-pack of Budweiser beer. Even he realized that he was making the same movie which is probably why he declined to direct it. The only really fresh aspect of this one is that we discover how Laurie Strode and Michael Meyers have a closer bond than they realize, and it comes to explain why he made the long trip back to Haddonfield after waiting for years staring out a window in total silence.
But despite its flaws, I still enjoyed "Halloween II" for what it was. Yes, it is a retread of the original, but what else are you gonna do with Michael Meyers? Do you want him to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Get rehabilitated? Make peace with his sister after killing so many people? Don't you remember? Evil never dies! But in this sequel it is fun to see the characters be ignorant of it or try to stop it.
The one thing to note about “Halloween II” is how much bloodier and gorier it is than its predecessor. When this sequel came out, there had already been so many knock offs of "Halloween" with the psychotic and silent killer wearing a different kind of mask and using a different weapon that suits them best (or maybe it’s the same one). "Friday The 13th" would not have existed without John Carpenter's original masterpiece.
At the very least, “Halloween II” tries to be more creative in the way Michael kills his victims than Jason Voorhees could ever think of. Michael actually proves to be quite inventive with hypodermic needles, scalding hot water, and he even conducts a blood drive that doesn’t require any volunteers. If you run into Michael, then you’re a participant whether you want to be or not.
While “Halloween” only showed us so much of Michael Meyers and kept him hidden in the shadows for the most part, “Halloween II” pretty shows everything. That ends up making this sequel less effective than the original, but regardless of that I still got a kick out of it. Carpenter apparently came in to reshoot a lot of scenes because he felt audiences would be demanding a lot more blood and guts as horror movies has since upped the ante in that area. Whether or not that was the right decision or not may always be up for debate, but fans of Fangoria Magazine will certainly not be complaining. The scene where Michael plunges Pamela Susan Shoop into scalding hot water is shocking and highly unnerving, and seeing a hypodermic needle get inserted into someone’s eye is very unsettling.
One thing that this movie has to its advantage is that is made by the same team which made the original. Director of photography Dean Cundey came back for this one, and he gives the movie a dark and creepy look to where you want to keep an eye on what is hiding in those shadows across the hall. Michael could be anywhere, waiting for you to come out into the open.
At the very least, Carpenter and the late Debra Hill do a good job of giving us characters that are as down to earth as those in the original. There's a little scene where three of the characters in the hospital are in the lounge, watching TV and talking about what just happened that evening in their previously quiet town of Haddonfield. The young nurse claims that she saw Michael Meyers, and the other guy there is a sexually frustrated prick who is more interested in having sex than in the possibility that he just might get killed.
The characters may come across as clichés after having seen the first one, but to me, they still felt real enough to where I wasn't snickering at their actions. Among them is Jimmy, a paramedic played by Lance Guest, who ends up developing a protective crush on Laurie. After seeing Laurie being all shy in the first film, it was kind of nice to see her kind of get a boyfriend in this one, and seeing him get hurt actually made me feel bad. If this were any other sequel to a slasher flick, I probably would have been cheering on the killer more than the victim.
There's also that cold bitch of a nurse Mrs. Alves played by Gloria Gifford. She plays the boss you probably have been stuck with once or twice in your life, and the one you hope you never have again. Pamela Susan Shoop plays the well-meaning but always tardy Nurse Karen Bailey and she is very good and appealing here, and that’s even though may believe she got cast because of her impressive “assets.” If you have seen the movie, you know what I am talking about when I say “assets.”
If there is a major weakness in this movie, it is the way Laurie Strode is written. She is not the same brave heroine we saw in the first movie. Here, Laurie is drugged out after the doctor works on her injuries, and there is only so much she can do as a result. She is smart enough to run away when she feels Michael closing in, but she becomes utterly helpless instead of being inventive in the ways she protects herself. Regardless of that, I still liked Laurie Strode here, but it would have been better to see her kick more ass like she did the first time around. Perhaps she could have been much more vengeful towards Michael and much more eager to put an end to his rampage.
Donald Pleasance once again gives the demonic and ridiculous of lines he is given a lot of depth that few other actors could have accomplished back in 1981. His little speech on the festival of Sam Hain ("The Lord of the Dead") and how we are all afraid of the darkness inside of ourselves is a great moment. The unconscious mind can be a very frightening place indeed.
I also have to say that when it comes Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis, I have never really seen give a bad performance in any film they have ever been in. Put either of them into the worse movie ever made, and they will still be good.
But my most favorite thing about this "Halloween II” is the gothic score composed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. It’s not any different from the score for the original, but I loved how it was done with synthesizers this time around. It feels all the more atmospherically consuming even after all these years, and I never get sick of listening to it. The piece of music where Michael Meyers finally finds Laurie in the hospital and pursues her remains one of my favorite pieces of music in any movie ever.
Dick Warlock takes on the role of Michael Meyers this time around. I do agree that it would have been great if Nick Castle came back to play Michael again, but I imagine his own directing career must have been heating up at that point. Warlock tries a little too hard to mimic Castle's movements, but it is understandable why he moves so slowly in this one (he was shot six times). All the same, Michael Meyers still came across as a very threatening figure to me. Even if he moved so slowly, I was still terrified of him coming up on unsuspecting villains, and it was excruciating waiting for that elevator door to open.
This sequel made me want to jump ahead and immediately rent "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers” for no other reason then to figure out how Dr. Loomis survived to make it to part 4. At the end of “Halloween II,” Dr. Loomis and Michael Meyers burned to death, and yet they were somehow resurrected for future sequels. It took the need for continued profits to keep these two characters alive, and it would have been a little difficult to make anymore “Halloween” movies without them.
"Halloween II" might not be a great movie, but I still enjoyed it. This sequel in many ways marked the last time where these characters seemed down to earth as just about all the others in this franchise featured ridiculous characters played by mediocre actors. Perhaps time has been kinder to this sequel than others as the series soon descended into mediocrity but not as quickly as other slasher franchises.
Will any “Halloween” sequel finally slam the coffin on this seemingly undying character? Well, only the box office will have an answer to that as it’s the reason why Michael Meyers continues to live another day or two.