Three years after director John Carpenter’s low-budget horror film “Halloween” debuted in theaters, taking both Hollywood and audiences by surprise; the masked killer, Michael Myers, was back and ready to take another stab at the one that got away.
“Halloween 2” picks up immediately where the first film ended. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has just lived through one of the most traumatic nights of her life and believes herself to be safe from any further harm. Sometimes though, appearances can be deceiving. For even though Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shot Laurie’s would-be killer Michael Myers numerous times; somehow, the masked lunatic survived and managed to evade capture by the authorities. Now, as Laurie is taken to the local hospital, her seemingly unstoppable predator patiently bides his time, just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. With only Dr. Loomis and a handful of police officers and hospital workers standing between Michael and his quarry, Laurie’s night of terror may have only just begun.
I’ve heard it said many times in regards to the plethora of horror franchises, “This series (insert horror franchise of choice) would have been better off if it would have ended after number one.” Generally speaking this statement is fairly accurate. In fact, we could look at numerous horror franchises, and even some from other genres, to which this would apply. However, I will spare you my picks for that rather lengthy list, in order to discuss whether or not the burgeoning ‘Halloween’ franchise has been doomed to a place therein.
Penned by the returning writing and producing duo of John Carpenter and Debra Hill, the film takes us through the remaining hours of that terrifying night depicted in the original. Carpenter and Hill do their level best to retain that special something that made their first movie’s story work so well. Yet, despite their best efforts the film never really seems to grab hold in the way its predecessor did.
The dialogue was stronger in some places, but still suffered from an over-abundance of clichés (which now seems to be a horror movie tradition) and several moments of blandness. While the dialogue was somewhat improved, the suspenseful nature of the original was almost nowhere to be found, much to the chagrin of many a fan. Lastly, there is the obvious lack of character development that runs more or less across the board. This oversight in the story actually surprised me given that franchise originator John Carpenter co-wrote the script. I expected him of all people to continue trying to expand upon the characters he had created. Oddly enough, one of the characters that received some development (albeit ever so briefly touched upon and clumsily handled) is the killer himself, Michael Myers. Aside from that brief moment for Michael, character development was quite scant, and didn’t really seem to occur at all until the final half-hour or so of the movie.
Perhaps these problems were a result of the fact that John Carpenter has admitted on several occasions that he hadn’t really planned ahead for a second installment, and that he only intended to make just the one film. Although, to be honest his excuse has always seemed a little hard to believe when one considers the wide open ending of “Halloween”. Anyways, maybe there is some truth in his words, because it’s possible that John hadn’t really considered continuing the series beyond the first movie, and that any potential sequels were expected to be handled by someone else in every respect. If you think about it, crafting a story that follows a successful movie cannot be an easy task, no matter how talented the screenwriter may be. To make matters worse, having a screenplay that runs into a severe snag approximately halfway through the film isn’t exactly a confidence booster either.
Case in point, when the writer of a story, or in this case a screenplay, realizes that they do not have an ending for their narrative, this typically means that the movie should be a no-go. Yet, in this rare instance, the lack of resolution presented the screenwriters with a chance to deliver a surprising revelation that would provide the plot with a satisfying conclusion. The revelation, although ostracizing to some fans of the original due to the affect it had on the previous film’s story, resulted in the series having a much more intimate overall storyline than it would have had otherwise.
As for the film’s director, Rick Rosenthal was placed in the unenviable position of helming a follow-up to the very film that by all accounts created the sub-genre the series now exists within. To Rick’s credit he tried to recapture the look and feel of the first film via the use of long tracking shots throughout the various locales in the film, and numerous times placed us once more into the shoes of Michael Myers. For the most part, Rick did an admirable job, and it is during those times, listed a moment ago, that the movie really starts to work. However, even during this movie’s stronger moments there are still two key elements to the first film’s success that were noticeably absent from this one’s visual style.
First, there was the lack of subtlety in the scares and/or death scenes. The first film relied heavily on shadows and implication during these moments. By not showing as much of what was happening within the scene, the audience was then forced to imagine the events based on their sounds and shadows moving; thus, the audience’s own imaginations and fears could take over resulting in potentially bigger scares. As I said, with “Halloween 2” the subtlety is essentially gone; in its place, a higher body count and much more gore. Supposedly, the stylistic exchange of more gore for subtlety was a result of re-shoots courtesy of John Carpenter who reportedly wanted the film to be able to go toe-to-toe with its slasher film competition. Whatever the case may be, I feel the decision was detrimental to the end result. Frankly, I’m surprised that John Carpenter didn’t see that flaw in the decision himself.
The second stylistic element that was lacking, although “changed” is probably a more accurate wording, was having Michael Myers extremely visible throughout the entirety of the film. In the original, we had glimpses of Michael for a majority of the time, and were shown more of him near the end. Despite the fact that we already knowing what he looks like, that didn’t mean he needed to be more out in the open. Much of the fear Michael’s character evoked was a result of him sticking predominantly to the shadows. Once that factor is removed he was no longer as mysterious, or even frightening for that matter; instead, he was just another masked man with a knife trying to kill this one young woman that got away.
Speaking of the one that got away, Jamie Lee Curtis was made into a star with her portrayal of would-be victim Laurie Strode. Her performance in the original film was so much more mature than one would usually expect from a horror film character. Of course, the role made such a strong connection with the audience due to the surprising amount of character development that occurred over the course of the movie, a trait that is generally unheard of in horror. However, in this installment, Jamie’s character is reduced to nothing more than a nearly catatonic zombie; effectively wasting her talents as an actress, while doing virtually nothing to enhance the character of Laurie Strode and her involvement in the series. Honestly, it almost seemed as if Jamie was included in the film in order to ensure some star power to attract audiences and nothing else.
Once again leading the supporting cast members is Donald Pleasence as Michael’s former shrink Dr. Loomis. In the last film, Donald received nearly as much screen time and character development as Jamie Lee; thankfully, that was not the case here (in terms of character development, that is). The character of Dr. Loomis appeared to be stalling in terms of his development early on in the film, and for a moment Donald Pleasence looked as if he too was going to be another wasted talent in this picture. However, unlike with Jamie Lee, Loomis’ role became much more intriguing once the big revelation occurred within the story, and his obsession to stop Michael once and for all really kicked into high gear. Within the movie’s final half-hour Donald really began to sink his teeth into the role of Loomis, and the change in his character’s resolve and demeanor were very well conveyed throughout the closing moments of his performance.
The other supporting characters share many of the same attributes as their predecessors from the original; the only big difference is that this time most of the characters are in their early twenties to thirties rather than teenagers. That being said, their age doesn’t appear to have resulted in maturity for most of them. For instance, Leo Rossi’s (“Relentless”) character only seems to exist in the movie to fulfill the role of the horny teenager, but as an adult. Then, there’s Pamela Shoop who seems to have slightly more going on upstairs than Leo Rossi’s character, but not by much. Her role is to provide the obligatory, and completely gratuitous, nude scene so that young teenage males watching the movie won’t be disappointed. Lastly, there’s Lance Guest (“The Last Starfighter”) who aside from Jamie Lee appears to be the youngest member of the main cast of characters. Lance doesn’t give much of a noteworthy performance, but he is clearly trying to make his character more interesting than just a carbon copy of what’s come before. Overall, the supporting cast, Donald Pleasence excluded, were as pointless in their existence as those of the original and maybe even more so.
It was quite clear from the get-go that this particular follow-up was not going to come anywhere close to matching the quality of “Halloween”. While the movie is plagued by more problems than the first film; there were still moments where it did shine (mostly when it was emulating the stronger elements of its predecessor). In the end, “Halloween 2” is a slightly below average sequel that doesn’t doom the series, but any more problems and it would have been a different story.
“Halloween 2” is rated R for violence, language, and nudity/sexuality.