Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween II (1981)

Continuing Project Halloween…

When we left off at the end of the first movie in the series, Halloween had become a surprise hit. Director John Carpenter and Producer Debra Hill were satisfied with their work and saw no reason for a sequel. The story of The Shape ended with the disappearance of his body, and somewhere, he’s still out there. Laurie Strode survived and can try to put her life back together after her ordeal.


When they made the first film, Carpenter and Hill had been focused on just getting it made. The contracts they signed were not very favorable for them, typical for filmmakers without any clout. Halloween had made a fortune for the distributors, but not for the creative people. The only way to see money from it was to be involved in a sequel, so Carpenter and Hill wrote a new script, although Carpenter was not interested in directing the sequel, instead picking newcomer Rick Rosenthal.

The sequel is a little unusual in that it starts immediately after the end of the first movie. In fact, the opening scene is a replay of the end of the first Halloween. We watch as the injured Laurie is taken by paramedics to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, bodies are collected, and Dr. Loomis starts badgering the police to keep looking for Michael Myers, referred to by name in this movie (in the first, he is simply The Shape, and Carpenter intended him to represent faceless evil). We find out that Laurie is actually Michael’s sister, a bit of retconning that was never intended in the original movie, but there had to be some reason for Michael to keep chasing that one particular girl. He follows her to the hospital, and some there are numerous openings among the hospital staff.

The movie was pretty well savaged by critics when it was released, and the general opinion was that it lacked the originality of the first one, and was just a generic slasher film. In retrospect, it deserved better than that. It is just a slasher film where the first was something fairly fresh, but it is a well done slasher film, much better than the pale imitations flooding the theaters of the day. The first one is a superior movie, but the first sequel holds up much better than I remembered. Supposedly, Carpenter was disappointed with Rosenthal's direction and shot a number of the scenes himself, upping the gore factor.

It’s also a little odd. Everyone in authority is laughably, criminally incompetent. The police chief and Dr. Loomis chase an innocent teenager into the street, where he is struck and killed by a police car, and no one seems to care. The ER doctor is drunk, the lead paramedic is smoking pot, and a nurse abandons her station in the nursery to have sex in the therapy room. The hospital security guard is reading a magazine, so he doesn’t see the psycho killer slip into the building. Another paramedic takes a pratfall in a pool of blood, either knocking himself out or killing himself, depending how you want to look at it. It’s a fairly playful movie, considering the subject matter.

There are a few gaffes. Southern California is still standing in for the Midwest in late fall, so the trees and grass are way too green. Dr. Loomis mispronounces “Samhain”, but if he pronounced it correctly, 99% of the moviegoers would have been confused. (It’s pronounced “sow-in” by the way. Those crazy Celts!) Loomis bizarrely fails to recognize his old nurse, although by the movie timeline it has only been a few hours since he last saw her. The hospital, on a night when there have been over a half dozen fatalities and accidents in town, is staffed by just one doctor and four nurses. All in all, though, if you’ve been putting this one off because you are in the “sequels suck!” crowd, you might be surprised at how well done this is.

A personal note. Like the first one, I saw this in the theater. I was dating a very sweet girl who was a nursing student in college. When the movie reached the scene where the neo-natal nurse sneaks off for a tryst and gets boiled in the hot tub, I heard my date muttering under her breath, “Kill her. Kill her. Kill her.” This seemed uncharacteristic, so afterward, I asked her why she was so eager to see the nurse die, and she explained she was outraged that the nurse would leave the children in the middle of her shift, and thought she deserved to die for it. I haven’t seen the young lady in question for many years, but I bet she made a very conscientious nurse herself.

The horror movie playing on a TV in the background of this one is The Night of the Living Dead.

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