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Halloween 2 (1981): Review, part 2

Here is part two of my three-part review of  Halloween II (1981), where I’ll examine what I disliked about the movieIn part one, I looked at what I liked, larger themes, and the music; in part three, I'll close the review by looking at more of the good stuff the movie has to offer.


Everything in Halloween II is crowded. The town is simply too alive and full to generate the quiet, unsettling atmosphere featured in Halloween. Too many names and too many faces dominate the urban carnival of a main street Haddonfield for Michael to stand out. Instead, he’s made to blend in. On one hand, this makes sense, since he’s a man in a costume, and no one knows what he’s wearing. Conversely many scenes show him in full-view. In Halloween, Carpenter generally didn’t shoot Michael from the neck up, in close-up shots. Any full-body shots of him were generally from a distance. That, or his mask, when the face was revealed, was still partially concealed in shadows. In the original, his face seems to rise out of the shadows, while moving forward (i.e., even when he bursts through the closet door, at the end, he smashes the light bulb to conceal himself, once again). 

In Halloween II, the cat was effectively out of the bag, with no effort being made to put it back in. As if to visualize this, director Rick Rosenthal decided to shoot Michael in such a way as to generally have him fully visible nearly all the time. I was actually surprised that they managed this, when many of scenes feature Michael inside dark, poorly-lit rooms. Regardless, he always seemed more visible, somehow. Less hidden. The reason Halloween worked so well was because Michael was hidden; in the second movie, the scenes unfold in a similar manner but Michael isn’t hidden, at all. Worse, the dark spaces where his eyes should be are illuminated so that we can see eyes behind the mask. In the original, this never happened; Michael’s eyes were always “the blackest eyes—the devil’s eyes.” When he grabs Bob, you can barely see him. Maybe a cheek, but most of the face is hidden or off-screen. Most of the kills in Halloween II feature the mask as fully visible (including the hairs on the mask sticking out incongruously like a mad scientist's).



Furthermore, Michael's gait was somehow off, in Halloween II. Nick Castle, if I recall, was not hired to reprise his role, the second time around, and Michael’s signature walk seemed a little too fast and fluid, in Halloween II. I found it somewhat disarming. You’d think him being faster would be scarier, but in reality he wasn’t faster so much as more fluid. He walked like a normal person. 

Another problem is that in Halloween II, Michael not only has less space (and darkness) to work his magic, but also less time. Many of his scenes seemed quicker, less devoted to setting up surprises, or generating suspense and atmosphere. Everything is rushed. In Halloween, following the murderous intro scene, Michael doesn’t kill anyone onscreen for over an hour (there’s the mechanic he kills off-screen, early on, but that’s it). When he stalks Annie, it goes on and on, because he takes his time. The same is not true, in Halloween II. Instead, he pops out like a jack-in-the-box, literally springing onto his victim, barely ten minutes into the movie. Characters are killed as quickly as they are introduced.

In Halloween, the pacing and lighting perfectly complemented Michael’s modus operandi; in Halloween II, there was too much, in general: too many rooms, too much light, and too many characters. The Gothic window dressing felt crowded and rushed, but also cluttered (an effect not helped by the multi-chambered hospital having multiple establishing shots—similar to the ending montage, in Halloween, except they occurred repeatedly throughout the movie). One scene has a security guard bumbling around in the dark. Before doing this, he gives his second walkie-talkie to a nurse, except she doesn’t know how to work it (many of the people in this movie come across as rather dim-witted, even for a horror movie). Then, when he’s looking around for Michael (complete with a “behind door-number-one...” act) the suspense is constantly undercut by cross-cutting between him and the nurse, who, for the life of her, can’t work the walkie-talkie. It happens about probably three times, and by the third, I rolled my eyes, thinking to myself, “I get it. She’s stupid.”

Sure, in the original, Laurie is the smart one, but I could still tell Annie apart from Lynda. In Halloween II, I lost track of all the disposable, brainless nurses. They all seemed to have the same personality (except for the head nurse, who dies off-screen). However, apart from them, there’s dozens of other characters, many of which have only one or two lines of dialogue. Few return for second scenes, regardless if Michael kills them or not. They feel largely stock, as well. Most of the women are soft-spoken and air-headed, with little to do but stand around, take off their clothes, or get killed. The men group together and shake their heads, try to get laid, or get killed. Several die off-screen. In fact, many of the kills in this movie are in the background, or are never shown. Instead, victim-after-victim trips over corpse-after-corpse only to become dead themselves the moment Michael pounces on them. When he does, the camera generally zooms in, hiding much of the carnage. Somehow, the movie not only makes the kills boring but confusing. Imagine the scene in Jurassic Park (1993) where Samuel L. Jackson is revealed to have been killed off-screen by having his arm fall on Laura Stern’s shoulder, and multiply that by about ten, in Halloween II.



Acting-wise, Halloween II is fairly weak, as well. I’ll admit some of the performances in the original felt forced, though mostly P. J. Soles' and Nancy Loomis'. I still liked them as characters, though, if only to watch them get wacked (and in a commentary for Halloween Debra Hill confessed to have written the dialogue for the girls, because that's how girls talk; having grown up in a small town just like Haddonfield, I can attest that she was right: some girls do indeed talk like that). In Halloween II, the only new character I enjoyed was one of the deputies, Gary Hunter (as played by Hunter von Leer). He seemed charismatic, cool. Most didn't. Dr. Loomis, this time around, seemed kind of wacky but I still enjoyed him. Someone’s gotta chew the scenery and no one does it quite like Donald Pleasence (“What is that you boys do? Fire a warning shot?” Love it).

Laurie suffers, too. One, for much of the movie, she has little to do but lie on a cot and moan in pain—that, or murmur sweetly at the cute ambulance driver she’d have been too shy to flirt with, in the original (the dialogue, here, is pretty bad, too: “Sure, I’ll have a Coke!”). Two, her hair suspiciously resembles a wig even if it isn't one and she seems older, much like Marty McFly did, in Back to the Future Part 2 (1989). Three, the script is infuriatingly inconsistent regarding her physical abilities. When she’s chased by Michael, in the basement, she’s meant to be slow because her leg has a hairline fracture. However, when Michael closes in (walking as slow as possible) she suddenly speeds up to avoid capture—only to slow down again the moment she’s in the immediate clear as to let him catch back up (this happens more than once, in the same scene). 



Here, the movie is trying to maintain the Goldilocks distance, as to keep Laurie appearing to be in as much danger as possible. She’s clearly barefoot, too, but nimbly avoids the same broken glass crunching pointedly under Michael’s shoes. All the while, she’s clearly not paying any attention to the glass-strewn floor, stumbling carelessly across it while groping the walls. I got the impression her soles were impenetrable, or that she had someone inherited her brother’s invincible gene. At the end of the scene when she has to crawl through the window, Michael slashes at her, repeatedly, except now he misses, almost as if on purpose. It’s infuriating when scenes like this feel transparent, but in Halloween II, they do. 

Another annoying instance of the script running hot and cold, regarding Laurie, is when Dr. Loomis returns to the hospital. Suddenly Laurie gets weak at the knees, again(!). Not only that, but as she crawls across the ground like a worm, her voice mysteriously shrinks to a whisper, like Rose from Titanic (1997). However, once the doors close, she begins to scream, and loudly. Why didn’t she simply do that to begin with? She’s a scream queen! Following this, Laurie must crawl across the parking lot and bang on the door until she is let in—much like the original, except there’s no tension.

Read part three, here

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