An outsider’s take on the ‘Halloween’ saga: ‘Halloween II’ (1981) (Movie review)

Although I’ve seen some of the “Halloween” films, I haven’t seen them recently enough to remember them. So this watch/rewatch of the saga marks my first time thinking about them as a movie reviewer. Armed with categories suggested by “Halloween” superfan Michael (Olinger, not Myers), here’s my review of the second entry, “Halloween II” (1981).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

“Halloween II” starts strong by throwing us directly into the aftermath of Michael’s “Halloween” killings. Actually, it’s not an aftermath – he’s still killing. The fact that the media is now reporting on the killer adds tension. Michael (Dick Warlock) offs poor teenager Alice (Anne Bruner) after she learns about the threat and sees her door is ajar.

The momentum slows as the film goes forward and follows several different characters, but Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) nonetheless feels central to this sequel. The revelation of Michael and Laurie being siblings is strangely incorporated – they both daydream of this knowledge, whereas Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is told about it by a supervisor, who provides no good reason why this information had been kept from him. The relationship revelation undermines the creepiness factor of Michael hunting Laurie because she left a key on the Myers house porch in the first movie.

BEST CHARACTER

It’s still Laurie Strode. Although Curtis has more speechless or screaming scenes than she does normal dialogue scenes, she carves out a sympathetic performance as a young woman who (correctly) believes she’s being targeted by a killer while fighting to come out of anesthesia after surgery.

BEST SCARE

Modern movies overuse jump scares; that’s not the case with “Halloween II.” It only has one, and it’s in an innocuous moment. A kid is walking down the street listening to radio reports of Myers’ killings on a boombox. He blunders into Michael’s solid form, accompanied by a shriek of string instruments.

BEST DEATH

Michael kills nurse Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) by dunking her head into a scalding hot tub several times. It’s not clear if the cause of death is drowning or scalding; he certainly covers his bases.

FUNNIEST MOMENT

I’m a sucker for the cliché of a character thinking the person behind them is someone they know, but it’s actually the villain. Michael strangles Budd (Leo Rossi) in the background, then pulls this classic trick on Karen, who languidly nibbles on his fingers before realizing it’s not her boyfriend standing over her shoulder.

THAT SEEMS FAMILIAR

“Halloween II” takes place immediately in the wake of the first movie. The concept of starting a sequel with scenes from the previous movie was common in the 1970s (see the “Planet of the Apes” films), before the era of home video. And the idea of follow-up films taking place immediately after the previous ones – or at the same time, even – was later embraced by the “Saw” franchise.

The film opens and closes with “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes. This is a light example of putting an innocent song in a horror movie, thus giving it a creepy context. The trick was taken to further extremes with “Wonderful, Wonderful” in the “X-Files” episode “Home” and (the already kinda creepy) “Tiptoe through the Tulips” in “Insidious.”

I wonder if “Jurassic Park” was paying homage to “Halloween II.” There’s a sequence where Laurie limps down the hospital hallway as fast as she can, then enters a boiler room where she backs into a dead security guard hanging on the wall. When Ellie (Laura Dern) limps away from raptors and comes upon Mr. Arnold’s severed hand in the electrical shed, the staging is similar.

When a blinded Michael whips his scalpel through the air in the final showdown with a whiffle-bat sound effect, it reminds me of the sound design in “Scream.”

THAT DOESN’T AGE WELL

Car stunts and practical effects have evolved since 1981. The scene where a cop car plows into a teenage trick-or-treater and pins him to the back of an ambulance – which blows up and burns the kid alive – does not at all jibe with the cop’s claim that the kid “came out of nowhere.” Nor is there any reason for the cop to have been speeding on a neighborhood street.

Similarly, the blood looks fake (it’s too bright of a red, like that from “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”) in the scene where Jimmy (Lance Guest) comes upon a dead nurse who is bleeding out all over the floor.

MOST SURPRISING ELEMENT

If you asked me beforehand to make a prediction about the score, I’d guess “Halloween II” would be packed wall-to-wall with John Carpenter’s iconic theme music. Instead, it’s barely in the film. Director Rick Rosenthal plays several scenes in silence. In retrospect, this is the right choice, as a different aural palette allows the sequel to be considered on its own merits.

HOW OVER-THE-TOP IS DONALD PLEASENCE?

Dr. Loomis – who has somehow put on several pounds since earlier in the night – rants about Michael’s evil and is exasperated by people not taking him seriously enough. Adding insult to injury, police officer Brackett (Charles Cyphers) – whose daughter is among the “Halloween” victims — blames Loomis for letting Michael loose, when of course Loomis had begged for years for the institution to never let him out. So there would be ample reason for Loomis to lose his mind, but as far as I can tell, his behavior and actions are perfectly in line with the reality of Michael’s killing spree, and Pleasence strikes the right notes.

THE MASK

It now has square flaps at the bottom, as if it had come directly off a mold, with the edges not cleaned up.

NEW REVELATIONS ABOUT MICHAEL

He’s the older brother of Laurie, so he’s (perhaps) not merely hunting her because she left a key under the mat at the Myers house. It’s (probably) personal. Here’s how the timeline works: 1, Michael, age 6, kills his older sister in 1963 and is put in a mental institution; 2, The Myerses have another child, Laurie; 3, The Myers folks are killed (we don’t learn how, although it’s kind of creepy that even in throwaway backstory, people are “killed”); 4, Laurie is adopted by the Strodes at age 2.

“Halloween II” suggests Michael and Laurie know of the relationship via a psychic connection between them. This was maybe Michael’s motivation for targeting Laurie all along (but maybe not), but it’s clear that knowledge of the relationship enters Laurie’s mind for the first time here.

A less plausible revelation in “Halloween II” is that Michael worships Samhain, the king of the dead. Loomis realizes this when he sees that Michael has written “Samhain” in blood on a blackboard, in very nice handwriting. So we’re asked to believe that in his 15 years as Michael’s psychiatric doctor, Loomis never looked into what books Michael was checking out from the mental facility’s library.

FORGOTTEN THREADS

It’s not a forgotten thread, precisely, but it’s interesting that Laurie goes through this whole ordeal at the hospital without her parents visiting. It’s an artifact of the pre-cellphone days, when it was harder to track people down. Plus, the movie takes place in mere hours. Actually, I suspect it’s an intentional device of Carpenter’s and Debra Hill’s script to show a teen experiencing this horror on her own.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Since “Halloween II” introduces the siblinghood of Laurie and Michael without digging into it, I guess that will be a major element of the next entry. Loomis, after 15 years as his doctor, has no confidence that Michael can be reasoned with. But perhaps Laurie will have a shot, thanks to her connection.


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