This episode of The Test of Time was Written by Andrew Hatfield, Narrated by Niki Minter, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
When you are talking about the big slasher franchises of all time, the original 4, the Mount Rush-Gore if you will, it’s a losing argument to try and say any of the first films don’t hold up. Of course, I’m talking about Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What you CAN do is look at their many, MANY, sequels and see what sticks and what doesn’t. Or you know, in our case, what stands the test of time and what doesn’t. Some of these are just schlocky fun and don’t need a critical reappraisal but a couple of them that have higher reputations that may or may not still need to be on a pedestal. Today its time for Halloween II. No, not the Halloween movie from 2018. No, not Rob Zombie’s Halloween II either. We are looking at the OG, Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 Halloween II (watch it HERE).
Halloween II is the first of many sequels to one of the progenitors of the slasher franchise. Or at least as we know it. There were a few things before, most notably Black Christmas, but Halloween is what many of the copycats tried to style themselves after and the film itself has a total of 13 movies in its series. With Halloween being such a mega success, it is one of the most successful independent films of all time, a sequel was in high demand. John Carpenter had no interest in directing the movie, but he and partner Debra Hill wrote the screenplay. Debra Hill was also asked to direct but didn’t want to be seen as just “a Carpenter protégé” particularly doing another Halloween movie so they went to eventual Halloween III and It miniseries director Tommy Lee Wallace… who also declined.
In stepped Rick Rosenthal who had only done a few TV episodes and a short film called The Toyer. Rosenthal would go on to direct movie like Bad Boys (the Sean Penn one) and American Dreamer as well as a ton of TV series like Smallville and Veronica Mars. He even directed the TV movie Birds II even though that would eventually be credited to the now defunct Alan Smithee. In a full circle moment, he would be chosen to direct Halloween Resurrection, which is not good. Wasn’t good then and isnt good now. It would be co-produced by Irwin Yablans, Mustapha Akkad, and Dino De Laurentis. Alan Howarth would do the music with Carpenter and Dean Cundey would do the cinematography. A full Carpenter production. In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, Charles Cyphers would come back, and the cast would be rounded out by Lance Guest, Jeffery Kramer, and Gloria Gifford. There’s even a blink and you’ll miss it appearance from Dana Carvey.
The movie was another smash hit. While not on the same level as the first movie, it still pulled in 25 million on its 2.5 million budget. Critically, it was a polar opposite of its forbearer. It has a very rotten 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and critics of the time were not kind. Ebert, who liked Halloween in a rare positive horror review, blasted this one as a cheap cash-in that doesn’t come close to the original’s value.
The movie follows immediately after the events of the first movie. In fact, it uses footage from the first film before switching over to some new scenes before taking over completely as it’s own thing. Loomis goes downstairs to see Michael’s corpse but realizes he is gone. Laurie is taken to the hospital and the police start figuring out what happened. We get a cool throwback to the opening of the first movie where young Michael stalks and kills his sister though here it is an injured one killing his way to the hospital. He makes it to where she is and methodically kills off everyone around him before confronting Laurie. Loomis sees who he thinks is Michael, Ben Tramer wearing the same things, and the boy is killed. He later finds out that Laurie and Michael are related and heads to the hospital because he realizes Michael is back to kill off the other sister he had. Laurie escapes while Loomis and Myers blow up together. Series over, right?
Sign of the Times
Watching this movie, it doesn’t have a ton of things that are super dated or make you think, “well, we couldn’t do that anymore.” But there are a couple. One of them happens in almost a throwaway moment where the mom is taking her pirate dressed son into the hospital who bit into something, presumably an apple, and got a razor blade to the mouth for his troubles. Now, this act in and of itself isn’t a sign of the times. It’s not like that was a regular occurrence that just doesn’t happen anymore, no, its more that that was a rumor back then because of something else. Satanic Panic wasn’t just about the over 12,000 purported cases of multiple kinds of abuse in the name of Satan, it was also about pop culture influences like movies and music setting people down the wrong path. It could also lead to cruel acts like, well, like putting a freaking razor blade in an apple. It is funny that future entries in the franchise would deal directly with witchcraft and cults, but we will get to that later.
The next one is also where the movie falls into the timeline of cinema. This was the 80’s, the early 80’s at that and it was not only sequel time but the beginning of the absolute prime of the slasher film. Other movies were already trying to copy the style of Halloween, but this was a sequel to the actual film. This meant that it had to go past the relatively subdued violence and lower body count of the first one. In Halloween, Michael only uses his knife or strangles his victims. Halloween II though? We have a hammer, a syringe, a scalpel, a knife, boiling water, and just flat out removing all the blood from someone’s body. Sequels, and really just slashers of the time had to up the ante on these things. More blood! More violence! More everything! The original Halloween has a small body count of 5 whereas the sequel has either 12 or 13 depending on if you are watching the TV cut where Jimmy survives. Justice for Jimmy. Finally, there’s just so many jump scares here. Buzzers, Michael walking past people or in the background, freaking Budd, and the ever-popular cat scare. You still get jump scares today but much like the slasher genre, this was its peak.
What still holds up?
I came into this movie with kind of a chip on my shoulder towards it. I’d seen it half a dozen times and it used to be one of my favorites. Hell, I saw this one before its 1978 prequel. The last time I watched it though, it just wasn’t clicking on all cylinders like it used to. Watching it here though kind of brought me back. A lot of this really holds up better than I was expecting. First and foremost is how the movie is shot. You have wonderful callbacks like a POV shot with Michael but instead of a child one stalking his sister, it’s a wounded and desperate one attempting to get to his destination. Another great shot is one in the hospital where we are watching the staff walk around from a strange angle only to realize we are again in a POV shot and seeing things through his eyes. It then flips and Michael is relegated to the background, out of the sight of the characters but enough for us to see him slink past. Really great stuff that they do a couple of times. They even play with the color of certain light sources. Not to the degree of a Giallo but it looks great.
Another standout that I really noticed in this go around was the performances. By and large, they are realistic and relatable. All of the characters are likeable people, well except for Budd with two D’s. The second D stands for EXACTLY what you think it’s for but at least he is a charismatic dick that is fun to watch. All the nurses have charm and warmth, Loomis is a bit unhinged but is on an all-consuming mission to stop Michael, Laurie is doped up for most of the run time but feels, at times, more like a teenage girl in this one, and Jimmy is just a straight up dreamboat. He’s a kind, good looking, responsible guy who takes charge when he needs to, and it really sucks when you think he dies. I always pretended he had just passed out but with the TV ending we have a definitive source to hold on to. Donald Pleasence can chew the scenery with the best of them and while he is good as ever here, Charles Cyphers is the best adult actor here. At some point he is tired of Loomis’s crap and his pain and anger when he finds out about his Annie is heart wrenching.
Then there are just a collection of cool moments that hold up. Weather due to Carpenter and Hill’s writing or Rosenthal’s direction, there are a handful of things that stick with you after. It took me until this watch to realize that the lighter Loomis uses to blow them up is the one given to him by the cop outside the Myers house when they are having a smoke. Another one is the chase through the hospital and parking lot. For my money, Michael has never been more menacing than he is here and almost catches her. The house is a smaller footprint in terms of raw space but with Laurie being drugged and nobody else truly being around, it feels much more claustrophobic and frightening. The last thing is the finality in its ending. Sure, the fire suit that the stunt guy wears when he comes out in flames is a very chunky boy outfit but its terrifying and cool that Michael comes for Laurie until the very end.
What doesn’t hold up?
There are a handful of nitpick things I have with the movie like the kills being mostly bloodless or that Laurie is miraculously able to shoot his eyes out one at a time with exactly one bullet each at the end but those aren’t deal breakers. Even the mask looking kind of dumb and derpy has an explanation as Nick Castle constantly had it wadded up in his back pocket between scenes of the first movie and Debra Hill just left it under a bed to warp and collect dust between the shooting of the two films. The stuff that really lets the movie down were things that made the first one so special. The music here just falls flat, no pun intended. It gets extra tinny at points and fails to illicit the same feelings that the first movies score does. This is perplexing as Carpenter again did the music and even partnered with Alan Howarth who would help him with many scores later on in his career. It finally gets good at the end but that’s not enough to save the first 2/3rds of the film’s music.
While over the top Loomis gets his beginnings here which is a love it or hate it type thing, the really bad parts of Halloween II are when the writing gets a little lazy or adds things with far reaching consequences. The fact that there is a hidden file that somehow Loomis, who had made Michael his life’s obsession, didn’t know about is supremely dumb. Carpenter himself says that it took a lot of late nights and drinking to get the script completed but he also went against his main concept of the first movie. Michael has no rhyme or reason for killing the victims in the first Halloween but here, Laurie is a long-lost sister. This, combined with the supernatural elements of Michael, which would be taken to the furthest extremes in the most recent trilogy, are a very double-edged sword. Yes, we got more Halloween movies but at what cost? Thorn cults, family members, and other convoluted story beats are littered throughout the rest of the series and try their darndest to screw up otherwise fun flicks. If you love it, these aren’t problems but if these things bother you, well, thank Halloween II for the invention.
While there are some problems here, they are hardly unforgivable. Halloween II could have ended a nice little duology with Halloween and then given us an anthology format with the flawed but brilliant Halloween III. Instead, they restarted the series multiple times while always bringing Michael back in all his supernatural glory. Whether or not you are angered or elated with what Halloween II set up for the future, it’s a great slasher sequel that stands toe to toe with most of the other decades slasher fare and more importantly to us, proudly stands the Test of Time.
A couple of the previous episodes of The Test of Time can be seen below. To see more, click over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!