Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #60
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 30, 1981
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $25,533,818
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Rick Rosenthal, John Carpenter (additional scenes)
Producers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Special Effects: Lawrence Cavanaugh, Frank Munoz
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Score: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Editing: Mark Goldblatt, Skip Schoolnik
Studio: De Laurentiis, Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Jeffrey Kramer, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Ford Rainey, Cliff Emmich, Nancy Stephens, John Zenda and Dick Warlock as The Shape
Suggested Audio Treat
 Alan Howarth “Halloween II”
 The Chordettes “Mr. Sandman”
Attempting a sequel can be a thankless task. Moreover, when the film in question is looking to further the legacy of a feature as iconic as John Carpenter’s Halloween, you really have your work cut out for you. First-time director Rick Rosenthal deserves great credit for undertaking such a monumental task in 1981, three years after the original terrified audiences worldwide so effortlessly. Ironically, two decades on, he would return to the franchise a second time and, this time, fail rather spectacularly. Halloween Resurrection was a pretty wretched entry and unanimously regarded as the weakest in the entire series. On the direct flip side, his first effort provided The Shape with a vehicle far more worthy of commendation.
While Halloween II only managed a percentage of the original’s bloated box office return, it’s worth noting that it still made its budget back over ten times over. However, the general consensus was still that it fell some way short of its goals. Critics treated it, not with contempt, but with indifference and a number of years passed before Rosenthal’s film began to receive anything like the credit it deserved. Indeed, it wasn’t until several other entries had come and passed, leaving the horse well and truly flogged, that widespread opinion softened. Ironically, many now regard this as one of the most noteworthy horror sequels in existence and I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment. However, it didn’t take three decades for me to work that shit out.
When you consider that neither Carpenter or long time collaborator Debra Hill had the vaguest interest in making a sequel, it is astonishing that it panned out quite as well. Indeed, he only took on screenwriting duties to attempt to claw back some of the return he felt was still owed from his first film and was far than enthusiastic throughout the process. Then, believing Rosenthal’s version lacked bite and against the director’s wishes, he shot additional scenes to put Halloween II more in line with other slashers doing the rounds at the time. While this additional footage undeniably works, he also ordered that certain dialogue scenes be excised as he deemed them to slow things down too much. I curse that particular executive decision.
Halloween II picks up the reins directly at the close of the first film, following Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as her evening continues to go from bad and worse. After her ordeal, there would appear to be only one haven safe enough to offer sanctuary from her assailant. Her restful stay at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital proves anything but tranquil as it isn’t long before her silent pursuer learns of her coordinates and sets off to finish the job. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is continuing to rub local law enforcement the wrong way. With Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) just about at breaking point, he receives an unwanted bulletin of the death of his beloved daughter Annie. With Brackett now out of commission, it is left to the far less crotchety Deputy Hunt (Hunter von Leer) to entertain the doctor’s wild notions. None of this is helping Laurie as Michael has now arrived on the premises and has continued racking up his tally.
It is here that the sequel begins to resemble an altogether different beast as, for all of its influence, Halloween wasn’t actually a slasher movie. It was far more thoughtful and relied on suspense as opposed to bloated body count, whereas here everything is ratcheted up a notch or two and a crowded middle act sees far too many dominoes fall. If I have any complaint about Rosenthal’s stab then it would be its lack of characterization. The hospital staff are certainly affable enough but hardly get a decent line of dialogue between them, leaving us a little undernourished once the numbers become swiftly whittled down.
One sadly underdeveloped character was sweet and petite registered nurse Jill (Tawny Moyer). Hers was the kind of bedside manner I craved right through my childhood and provided one of my more significant adolescent crushes. However, she drifted in-and-out of proceedings in desperate search of dialogue, before losing her clogs in a darkened doorway. Needless to say I mourned her passing and, every time I revisit Halloween II, I pray that her shift pattern has changed.
The most frustrating factor is that a little more quick thinking on Laurie’s part and this tragedy could’ve been avoided. Hapless paramedic Jimmy (Lance Guest) fared little better, slumping onto his car horn and appearing to simply run out of fuel. An alternative ending actually gave this some closure and revealed him to have survived his trauma. Meanwhile, the fates of head nurse Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford) and inebriated Dr. Mixter (Ford Rainey) weren’t even shown. Indeed, I’m fairly assured that Mixter’s solitary line was “Janet, get me some more coffee!”
It may sound like a long list of gripes but I’m only so passionate about these grievances as they prevent Halloween II from standing alongside its forebear proudly. Dean Cundey’s cinematography is excellent once again and, once all unnecessary distractions have been taken out of commission, it manages to pile on an admirable amount of tension. Laurie’s window vault and elevator escape, in particular, is superbly executed and every bit as distressing as the events of three years earlier. Curiously, her screen time is limited to barely half an hour, but she makes absolutely every last second count. Armed only with impaired movement and frittered wits, Curtis ambles from one abandoned corridor to the next, demonstrating the same kind of steely resolve that made her such an icon in the first place when her back is against the wall.
Aside from ruminating on the Celtic festival of Samhain, Loomis spends much of his time smothered by red tape, hamstrung by a police force ill-equipped to deal with his patient’s threat, and under direct orders to return to Smith’s Grove immediately. The ever glorious Pleasence picks up straight where he left off and even gets a line of pure vintage to chew on, delivering “you don’t know what death is!” with the kind of conviction precious few could ever muster. Ultimately we all know precisely where this is headed and the explosive final showdown is breathless and invigorating in equal measures. All that is left is an impromptu rendition of Mr. Sandman by The Chordettes as preferred to Carpenter’s synthesized score that chaperoned us in at the front end and this bizarrely proves quite an inspired and haunting choice.
Once Carpenter has been taken out of the equation, or at the very least, the director’s chair, our expectation is invariably going to need to be lowered somewhat. However, to Rosenthal’s credit, he crafts a rather delightful number that offers enough flashes of brilliance to paper over any cracks. Make no mistake, we are in very much straight slasher territory and he makes no attempt to mask that. But there could never be a time that The Shape slinking in and out of shadows isn’t unsettling and the chosen locale provides plentiful light and shade. Where the original focused not on what the audience could see but what they thought they saw, his follow-up caters more for the droves screaming for bloodshed and accelerated incident. The bottom line is this: how can it ever be considered a failure when it features the collective might of Strode, Loomis and Myers? Another 92 minutes in their company, with an isolated setting, and commendable continuity. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The skeletal staff of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital merrily wander straight into Michael’s vicinity, falling like pins as he begins to strike. Hot tubs get a little too hot for comfort, hypodermic needles are plunged into temples, botched blood transfusions carried out, hammers drop, throats are slit and backs stabbed as Michael effortlessly notches up double figures with the dispatches. being that this is firmly slasher fare, it wouldn’t be right not to throw in a little harmless nudity and Pamela Susan Shoop is only too willing to provide. Having said that, she looks decidedly more alluring before her stint in the Jacuzzi than after.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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