Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halloween II (1981)

Not too long ago, I’d written a little tribute to my favorite movie director, John carpenter, going over my ten favorite films he had helmed over the years.  Although I hadn’t listed Halloween as my number one pick (that went to The Thing), it was up there as number two and is an absolute necessity for me to watch during the month of October.  But one cannot watch the original without going into the sequel,Halloween II, right afterward.

Although I’d written about the 1978 film as a little blurb in that Carpenter retrospect, I’ll choose to skip writing about it here on Cinema Bits because most critics have written it to death.  It’s well established that Halloween is one of the best tension-filled horror movies of all time, so what more can I say about it?  It’s the film that put Carpenter on the movie-making map and made him a household name, so I’ll leave it at that and just go on to the 1981 sequel.

Watching both films, one right after the other, is like watching one long movie.  Since both films take place within the same night, it makes sense to have a little marathon movie viewing.  But there are pros and cons with this line of thinking, being very obvious when you see the flicks back-to-back.  But I’ll get into that later.

Many people complain about Jamie Lee Curtis’s wig in the film or the isolation of the story being in the hospital the majority of the time, but I think the film went in the right direction and the most logical of progression as well.  Maybe having the whole of the plot contained within the hospital should’ve been cut down to only a portion of the movie and then move it away from it later in the story…I don’t know.  I hate to say it, but what Rob Zombie had done in his part two was the right choice—having the hospital device of the story only take up fifteen or twenty minutes at the beginning, then move away.  But it’s neither here nor there because the 1981 film was made, it’s something that can’t be changed, and I love it for what it is.

Not wanting to go back into the director’s chair, but opting to just write the story instead, John Carpenter handed over the reins to Rick Rosenthal.  Though, it’s been said there was a little animosity between the two when Carpenter decided to shoot some extra scenes to add a little more gore and violence to keep up with the current slashers of the early 80s, Rosenthal was able to equal the look and feel of the film’s predecessor. 

The film opens with the last final minutes of part one, showing Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shooting
Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) off the balcony of the house with his subsequent disappearance.  Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital as Michael is still in the neighborhood, obtaining his signature butcher knife and offing a young girl for good measure.  He then makes his way to the hospital to finish what he started.

Yup.  Not much to it except for that short synopsis, explaining that Myers wants to finish his killing spree, making up for missing his chance to kill Laurie Strode.

First off, getting back to the noticeable variances between the original and this one, a couple of things stand out.  One of the most evident of differences is the absence of Carpenter’s involvement in this film.  We all know John Carpenter’s style of direction, knowing how to inject such tension and fear without having to give us gratuitous scenes of violence and gore.  Although his writing is evidence and ties part one and two together nicely, being that he’s not hands-on in the sequel is a small detriment that horror fans will see.  It’s not too bad, as the styles are similar, and Rosenthal’s style is somewhat of an imitation, so the everyday moviegoer probably wouldn’t notice.  One comparison you can make is how, in part one, Michael comes out of the shadows soundlessly to try for Laurie, which makes it frighteningly creepy; in part two, when he decides to get the drop on a girl alone in the house, he literally jumps into frame and stabs her to death.
Another factor that adds to the differences between the original and this sequel is the man playing Michael Myers.  In part one, the person behind the mask was Nick Castle—John Carpenter’s friend and fellow writer/director.  He definitely showed that not anyone can slip on the distorted Shatner mask, grab a butcher knife and simply be the character of Michael Myers.  Castle had a certain gait, a way of turning his head, moving his arms, or just simply standing and staring that gave us moviegoers goose bumps back in 1978.  So with this sequel, the trend started where the filmmakers simply hired a stuntman to throw on the mask to pass off as Carpenter’s boogieman.

Having Jamie Lee Curtis toned down and hardly in the movie is a disservice to Halloween fans as well.  Where she was the star and had a charming character for us to follow throughout the first film, in this one her character is drugged and in a hospital bed for nearly the entire film.  Not only was she a fun actress to see in the first film, her way of standing out was accentuated by her contrast to her character’s friends.  As they’re seen as a couple of bad girls, they establish Curtis’s Laurie Strode the good girl and heroine of the film more easily.  In this film, she’s basically background to the other actors and actresses.

Most of the time, in films, I don’t mind if there’s a senseless reasoning for a killer—or killers—to do their business.  I had accepted that Michael Myers just wanted to go back to Haddonfield after being locked up in an institution for fifteen years and start killing some teenaged girls for no reason.  Usually, I hate when reason is given for certain actions or a motive for a mysterious killer is revealed, but what Carpenter came up with for this sequel was genius.

As always, you can’t have a John Carpenter directed or produced film without having his music featured as the score.  In the original 1978 film, he simply had the repeated piano notes start whenever Michael Myers appeared or attacked.  Then, for slower, more tension-filled scenes, he had the more melancholy notes playing; it all added up for an organically raw feel to the film.  But in Halloween II, the film had fallen victim to the era in which it was filmed and released—the 1980s.  So, Carpenter went with what was so popular in that decade of music and changed up the score with synthesizers.  It isn’t bad, but it’s definitely outmoded.  Whereas the 1978 film still seems timeless, the sequel seems a bit dated because of the electronic sounding music.  It isn’t really disfavoring towards the film, but it’s certainly noticeable.

Anyway, my final “bit” onHalloween II?

A great—yet, isolated—follow-up to the 1978 hit.  It answers some questions and can be seen as a conclusion, especially after you see what happens at the very end of this film.  The film is tension-filled and suspenseful, so set about four hours aside to see the original and its sequel right after one another.  You won’t be disappointed and it definitely gets you in the mood for “All Hallows Eve.”

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween!

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