Friday, 30 May 2014

Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal; Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Lance Guest

Rating: 4/5

Halloween II hits the ground running and throws us back into the action right where the first film left off to deal with the fallout of what’s just happened: masked serial killer Michael Myers is still on the loose and the injured Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to hospital as psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) desperately searches the streets of Haddonfield, Illinois for the murderer.

Creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill returned to write, and the new director, Rick Rosenthal (who would later direct further Halloween sequels) deliberately strove for continuity by emulating much of Carpenter’s style. Carpenter even re-shot some of the movie himself.

Like many sequels, it doesn’t have quite the freshness of the original, and it’s worth remembering that this film came after a few of the spiritual successors of Halloween (1978) had already been released, such as Friday the 13th (1980).

There’s less of the understated menace of the original; where the first film kept to the shadows, the sequel shows more explicit gore and violence. Whether this is simply a reflection of the larger budget facilitating better makeup effects, or a pandering to the new slasher demographic is unclear.

The hospital setting is a fairly common horror movie location, whether a psychiatric hospital, ground zero for a zombie outbreak, or the lair of a mad scientist. It’s even revisited in later Halloween movies. It’s not a bad choice, but it’s unoriginal compared to the previous film’s deconstruction of idyllic suburbia. Hospitals can be creepy with little creative effort, naturally playing on our fears of injury and mortality, and providing Michael with more inventive weapons such as syringes and intravenous drips.

Here, Haddonfield Memorial Hospital is almost deserted, evoking post-apocalyptic abandonment. The stalking of empty corridors also calls to mind admittedly superior horror movies such as The Shining (1980) which was released the previous year.

Aside from Laurie, the only other patient we see is a young trick-or-treater in the Emergency Room. He has a razor blade lodged in his mouth, an early excuse for some wince-inducing gore which reminds us that it’s still Halloween night and plays on the unsettling urban legend of dangerous objects hidden in Halloween confectionary.

The ludicrously small night staff number just one doctor, one security guard, two paramedics, and three nurses. This cast become the new set of victims for Michael. Unlike many slasher films, they are not hedonistic teenagers, and based on their jobs, they should be intelligent and responsible members of the community.

They do demonstrate typical horror movie naivety: the security guard is bumbling, the doctor is a drunk (and his disappearance symbolises the removal of any competent authority from the setting). Some of their behaviour; a nurse and a paramedic slacking off and having sex in a therapeutic hot tub for example, is exactly the kind of reckless teenage abandonment which draws a serial killer in this kind of film. Sure enough, Michael is right around the corner to deliver some post-coital homicide.

Even though Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence are back, their characters don’t have a huge amount to do. This is a shame as their characters and performances are among the best in the series. While all the above has been happening, Laurie’s been lying helplessly under sedation, and Dr. Loomis has been running around town with the sheriff following red herrings.

Pleasence does get to give some passionate speeches on the supernatural origins of Halloween, which are suggested to be the source of Michael’s near-immortality. The other revelation ties this in with Michael’s bloodline; these themes would be explored in later, inferior sequels.

Lack of our heroes is rectified in the final act when Loomis arrives at the hospital. Laurie’s on the run, and everything thing goes down as you might expect, although the final fight has some unexpected elements. Dr. Loomis’s act of self sacrifice seems fairly conclusive, but the eight other films in the franchise suggest otherwise.

Trivia: Dana Carvey appears in this film as an extra. He would later team up with a different Michael Myers in Wayne’s World (1992) playing Garth.

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