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Halloween 2 (1981): Review, part 1

I’ve decided to sit down and watch all of the Halloween movies, from II (1981) all the way to Resurrection (2002). I could review the original (and probably will at some point, because it’s awesome), but the point of these little reviews is to cover the ones I haven’t seen a million times. In part one, I’ll look mostly at things I liked, larger themes, and the music; in part two, I’ll examine what I disliked; and in part three, I close the review by looking at more of the good stuff the movie has to offer.

I went into Halloween II with an open mind, and frankly more than anything found it to be somewhat disappointing. The biggest issue is that apart from some minor deviations—and an attempt to expand on what Michael’s was, and how he related to Laurie Strode—I felt the movie to be mostly a rote-but-lesser exercise in the same kind of slasher horror the original knocked out of the park. This being said, there were things I enjoyed. More than I would have guessed. For one, I really enjoyed the little nods and details to the first movie, such as Ben Tramer being the guy in the Shatner mask (for some reason with the eyes cut out). In the original, we never learn what Ben looks like, and here, we don’t, either. He’s simply wearing that mask when the cop car smacks into him. The death was totally hilarious but I enjoyed that little unsolved mystery. 

I also enjoyed how Halloween II mentions that Laurie didn’t know who Michael was, in the first movie. This made sense; in Halloween, Laurie sees Michael watching her plenty of times, but only meets him once, and is never told his name. He’s effectively a stranger, and we know as little about him as possible except that he’s “pure evil.” That, and Laurie was never given a chance to ask Michael his name. That’s part of the genius, with Halloween—it never lets her breathe, or study her attacker. However, once she has a chance to rest, in Halloween II, it seems reasonable to allow her to wonder what the hell just happened. This was good.

What wasn’t good is how much Halloween II tips its hand. If memory serves, in Halloween, we’re never told Michael’s exact age, but can piece it together through Dr. Loomis’s stories about him. Likewise, his name is generally said, but often never in full (as if not to summon him). Instead, he’s often called, “the Myers’ boy” or Michael. The good doctor whispers about him, worried he’ll materialize and kill them all. In the second movie, things are generally spelled out. Dr. Loomis shouts Michael’s full age and name at the police. We learn everything there is to know about him, including how many times Loomis has plugged him (“I shot him six times! I shot him six times! I shot him in the heart!”). It’s like having access to his rap sheet, and browsing through his records. We’re told how many people he’s killed, and plenty of other little details that humanize him; thus, the myth vanishes and is replaced with a man. Likewise, learning that Michael is brother to Laurie only makes his motives easier to understand: he’s a pattern killer. 

I did enjoy how Sheriff Brackett from the first movie questions Loomis, in Halloween II, as to having shot Michael six times. “Maybe you missed,” he says, clearly fed up with the man’s wild-eyed ranting. It doesn’t help when Loomis explains, after seeing the word “Samhain” writ in blood on the school blackboard, that Michael is pure evil—the animal sort from the subconscious mind that druids “two thousands years ago” would banish by burning them inside wicker baskets, on Halloween. In other words, he’s become something of a scapegoat, an offering to the gods. This treatment seems to demonize mental illness (and indeed Loomis explains that some of the offerings were the mentally ill. Michael would see to be a worst-case example of that kind of psychosis). What it doesn’t do is explain how Michael continues to live after Loomis shoots him again, or when Laurie does. She even asks, “Why doesn’t he die?” Is he ghost? And if so, what is Laurie, if she’s related to him?

All the same, I appreciated the attempt at world-building in Halloween II. The town felt larger, more connected; the people in it had bonds and felt threatened when theirs were tested by the malignant prodigal son, come home. I liked this commentary on small town life as a kind of superstition (the likes of which Halloween, as a tradition, would have been designed to address, in small, rural communities). To this, we’re treated in Halloween II to a brief exploration of superstition and mythology in a small, farming town—or rather, what was once a farming town, now urbanized. We get to see those superstitions come out, when a scapegoat is needed (“It’s a wake! They’ve lost some of their own!”). When the youngsters are partying in the urban parts of town, the gentler side of the community is visited by an evil force; following this, the superstitions come out, post-Halloween bloodspill. I enjoyed that, too. 

Side-note: The word Haddon, is a variation of “hadden,” an Old English word meaning “hill of heather.” So, the town’s namesake is literally a field of heather, a kind of purple flower that grows on moors, prevalent in Great Britain, where the druids and Samhain, as a pagan ritual, first originated. So, when Loomis, in Halloween II, said not much has changed in two thousand years, I kind of agreed with him.

One major problem with Halloween II is precisely how similar it is to Halloween. It’s hard not to compare them, and many aspects feel like ineffectual carbon-copies. For instance, the movie opens, and is bookended with Pat Ballard’s “Mister Sandman” (1954) as performed by the Chordettes. This was new to the sequel and I enjoyed the coda, partly due to it being an ironic music choice (a common device in horror movies). However, following this lofty musical jaunt, we’re treated to a recap of the first film. Some shots are new but most are lifted straight from the original movie. This would have been fine except the music sounds radically different, and probably was re-recorded to be as consistent with the new stuff Carpenter wrote, as possible (though why he couldn’t have written the new OST to sound like the old stuff, I’m not sure). In any case, the old scenes barely work at all without the original music. The new music makes them seem almost goofy.

About that music: In Halloween, the pounding downbeat thumps like a mechanical heart, offset by a steady chirping that never lets up as the piano melody echoes over an intermittent, moody synthesizer. Carpenter’s Halloween II score imitates the original, but is oddly shrunk and toy-like. The 5/4 thump is reduced, and the piano replaced with a synth and a xylophone(?). It’s louder, sharper and busier, but also makes me smirk, versus having my hairs stand on end. This continues through an intro that is nearly identical to the first movie: same orange font, different pumpkin emerging out of the void. However, I did enjoy the pumpkin splitting in two, revealing a skull underneath—similar to Sadako’s skull at the bottom of the well, in Hideo Nakata’s Ring (1998).

Apart from the music, there’s also the setting. In Halloween, the town felt smaller, and was strangely empty at times. I found myself thinking of other classic movies like It Follows (2015) or Rocky (1976). Both unfolded in populous settings troubled by a curious lack, where people should be but aren’t. It felt unrealistic, but strengthened the focus of the viewer’s attention on the main characters throughout their respective struggles; it heightened the atmosphere. In Halloween II, the exact opposite happened; there were simply too many people, and mostly adults walking down a city-style main street. The makers of the movie could have played Foreigner’s “Night Life” (1981) and it would have summed everything up. 

Read part two, here.


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