Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloweek: Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II is a movie that's benefited from diminished expectations over the years. When it was released, most critics saw it as a disappointing follow-up to John Carpenter's original, but years of much, much worse sequels have made the second installment look pretty good by comparison. Being aware of the crap that is to come, I suppose I was a little more forgiving of Halloween II than its contemporary critics were, but I still found it largely forgettable.

It helps that John Carpenter and partner Debra Hill are still involved, as both screenwriters and producers. The tone here follows pretty smoothly from the first film, and the plot continues directly on from the original, even recycling the last few minutes of the first movie for its opening, and then taking place over the course of the same night. Michael Myers is still on the loose after being shot six times, and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is still after him, while Michael is still after teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The problems with Halloween II were probably unavoidable: In order to continue the story, it has to build up the Michael Myers mythology (this is where we first learn that Laurie was Michael's sister), and in order to jolt audiences it needs to offer up more victims and more gore than the first movie did.

So Michael kills more than twice as many people this time around, mostly in the severely understaffed hospital where Laurie is taken following her initial ordeal. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis roams around town acting increasingly hysterical about the need to apprehend Michael, and Pleasence tips his performance from creepy to campy. Director Rick Rosenthal apes some of Carpenter's signature moves, including effectively using point-of-view shots to depict Michael's perspective as he stalks his prey. But despite his best efforts, and a decent job of creating the same atmosphere of everyday foreboding, Rosenthal just can't capture what made the original so effective. There's little room for character development, since almost all of the characters are slaughtered shortly after being introduced. Even Laurie spends the first two-thirds of the movie mostly unconscious, and Curtis (wearing an obvious wig to approximate her hairstyle from the first movie) doesn't have nearly as much to do as she did the last time.

Still, there's some creepiness to Michael's relentlessness, and the eerily empty hospital is a good setting. But this feels more like an extended coda to the original story than a movie that stands on its own; I actually prefer Rob Zombie's 2009 version of this movie, which engages more with the idea of what it would really be like to be a slasher-movie "final girl." Here we just get the final moments of the story stretched out to feature length, and the padding really shows.

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