Nine more days till… Halloween II (1981)

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I will say that what got me through writing that script was… Budweiser. Six pack of beer a night, sitting in front of the typewriter saying, “What in the hell can I put down?” I had no idea. We’re remaking the same film, only not as good.

- John Carpenter, on writing the script for Halloween II

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Three years after the original Halloween had become the biggest grossing independent film of all time and inspired dozens of cheap imitations, a follow-up appeared in theaters continuing the struggle of good vs. evil. Although the first film is obviously a complete work of art, the audience and especially the producers who had profited so greatly were clamoring for more.
Picking up just minutes after the end of the first film, Halloween II suffers from the simple fact that sometimes “more” is just too much. After retooling the original for television with new sequences that hint at the connections between The Shape and his “Final Girl”, this sequel introduces the idea that the two are in fact related, and gives the unkillable stalker a vague motive, for the first time letting on that Michael’s ultimate goal (for some still unknown reason) is to kill his whole family.
This new development is the first (of many) wrong steps that filmmakers made in demystifying the character of “The Shape”. Although as time and the subsequent sequels will prove, this film adds that plot point while planting more seeds of mystery to the origin and story of Michael Myers. The script drops hints that will get picked up and retooled later in the series, but here they are more misdirection and an attempt to recapture that unknowable feeling of an unstoppable killing machine at the same time they are humanizing him. It doesn’t really work, nor does it fail as miserably as some of the later entries.

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After her horrifying ordeal, we meet up with Laurie that night at the hospital (three years older and wearing a wig to make her look the teenage part), as she goes in and out of a comatose state. Apparently, Jamie Lee Curtis was not exactly thrilled to reprise the role that had made her into the first of a new generation of “scream queens”, but came back out of loyalty to John Carpenter.
Carpenter, however, seemed to be taking the film less seriously and his interviews looking back on his work for the film are pretty amusing. It is easy to forget that he was not a household horror name at the time, and had many promising projects in the works at the time. For example, in between the time of the first and second Halloween films, Carpenter had directed The Fog and Escape From New York, and he was prepping to shoot what many consider his greatest achievement, The Thing. So it is hard to blame him for passing on the director job for the highly anticipated sequel, and pretty funny to think of him drinking beer and trying to come up with someone for Michael Myers to murder. As he puts it in an interview, “Hey I’m a capitalist. If they want to pay me, I will do the work.”

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Another familiar face back to rant for his paycheck, Donald Pleasance returns to the role of Dr. Loomis once again, and attempts to track his charge and scare the shit out of everyone with his cryptic ramblings. A freak accident (that no one seems too concerned about) concerning a speeding police car slamming into an innocent trick or treater, leads Loomis and the police to believe Michael is dead. But the determined Loomis knows better, and follows the trail, finding clues that vaguely connect his charge to occult business.

While Laurie whines and flirts with the orderly in the hospital, the real Michael is coming at her with the same conviction as ever. Although this time around, The Shape is played by stunt coordinator Dick Warlock (best name ever), he is as unstoppable as before, tracking his victim (who Loomis and the audience finally learns is Michael’s sister) all the way to the hospital.

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Although Carpenter turned down the directing job, he hand picked director Rick Rosenthal for the job. Rosenthal treats the material respectfully, and tries his best to mimic Carpenter’s style from the original, but as the writer himself concedes, this is lesser material. Carpenter claims he was pressured to add more gore and grue to the film in post production, saying that the rough cut he saw was “about as scary as Quincy”. Carpenter actually was brought in during post-production and oversaw some new inserts into Rosenthal’s cut, adding a scene where Michael knifes a girl before heading to the hospital, along with some amped-up blood during the kills. Rosenthal, on the other hand, didn’t care for the changes, and contends that the post-shoot meddling “ruined his carefully paced film”.

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Overall, Halloween II is a good continuation of a story that didn’t necessarily need continuing. This is a sequel from a time when sequels were not what we now know them to be, but this one set another precedent that has been aped for years now. If John Carpenter would have had his way, the story of Michael Myers would have ended here, in fire, and we would have had new Halloween-themed original films for the past 35 years or so. The decision to end it once and for all was Carpenter’s, as his script called for Michael’s eyes to get shot out and he is burned to death along with his pursuer in the climactic sequence. In a 1982 interview, Carpenter said matter-of-factly, “The Shape is dead. Pleasence’s character is dead, too, unfortunately.”

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This new Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical version of the film and a television edit for NBC, which removes much of the added gore and cuts in more expository scenes, one which shows The Shape cutting the power to the facility, and also boasts an alternate “happy” ending, if anybody wondered what happened to Jimmy the orderly in the original cut. My only gripe is that there is not an option to watch the added scenes outside of the TV cut, but it is nice to have everything included here. Deleted scenes, new commentaries, a return to the original shooting locations and an extensive making of featurette round out this release.


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