While Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) was viewed as a largely innovative picture at the time of its release, Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981) was released in the wake of the popularization of slasher and splatter films that Carpenter had inadvertently caused. Of course, the most notable imitator at that point was Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980). Despite commencing during the events of the first installment, Halloween II in many ways feels more like a direct response to audience awareness and expectation of this new sub genre than a complete continuation of what came before. While the tense original has relatively little blood, Carpenter and co. up the ante in the sequel with grisly effects and gory deaths, including the insertion of hypodermic needles into the eyes and the giant pools of drained blood.
It would be an easy route to place the causation of these gratuitous effects on the new man at the helm, Rick Rosenthal, but that would actually be a misnomer. In fact, after its release the director was quick to note that his tightly paced piece had been heavily interfered with John Carpenter. While he didn’t take the lead on the sequel, Carpenter both composed and wrote the film, and interjected with multiple re-shoots which added gore in order to keep a mainstream audience newly exposed to the wizardry of Tom Savini properly satisfied. As it seem to happen time and time again, the creators behind the Halloween franchise misread audience expectations and came out with a product that was rather poorly received at the time of its release. I’m not here to argue that Halloween II is actually better than the original, that would be ludicrous, but I do think the Michael Myers’ second rampage is still entertaining, if only disappointing by the groundbreaking standards which it had to follow.
For his part, Rosenthal does his best impression, using flourishes of style that are parallel to the original film. Most notably, manipulation of depth of field is used multiple times, including sequences such as the one where Meyers strangles an EMT behind a glass door while a nurse naively stares forward outside of a tub or the cut in which his shadow is projected onto a curtain as he hears yet another nurse talking with Jimmy. The indoors setting of Haddonfield Hospital, its narrow hallways and its quarantined rooms, however, prove to be limiting, as Myers’ movements during the second and third act are restricted to cramped spaces. One of the most notable offshoots of this is the proliferation of jump scares through the film. In an attempt to increase the affect of these moments, Rosenthal diffuses this approach over a number of misdirections. Some of them are humorous, like the nurse being pulled down by a flirty EMT, while some of them are intended to be tense, such as Mr. Garrett opening unlocked doors in the storage area as the spectator awaits the inevitable.
Carpenter’s point-of-view method also remains, albeit in a bit of a stunted form. As the films’ sympathetic hero once more, the viewer gets plenty of shots aligned with Laurie’s vision, including the dazed sequence during the final stanza of the film when she is attacked. Sadly, Rosenthal only briefly uses POV in conjunction with Michael Myers, and not quite to as complex effect as Carpenter did. One of the first sequences in the film is, again, framed from Myers’ perspective as he sees Loomis and a trooper discuss him before wandering off to steal a kitchen knife out of a random suburban home. It works, again, as a technique of misdirection that fails to satisfy the audiences’ bloodlust, however, these shots become more obsolete as the film progresses. After his initial stalking in the hospital is complete, Rosenthal chooses to frame the lead up and climax to almost every kill sequence in the third person to heighten the reaction to Myers emerging from unexpected locations.
This, however, represents a departure that the thematic content of the film necessitates. From the opening sequence that reveals the masked monster does bleed to numerous twists over the course of the film, Myers no longer represents an inexplicable source of evil that stands in for our worst impulses through the use of the audiences’ gaze. Rather, Halloween II aligns itself with the fate monologue that took place in Laurie’s classroom during the original, revealing that Michael has a definitive reason to terrorize Laurie, and that this meeting was not a chance encounter after her brief trip to the house’s doorstep. Dr. Loomis even brings up that his patient never talked at the institution, but rather seemed to be silently waiting for fifteen years. While this develops the mythology of Michael Myers, it continually humanizes a character that ceases to be a blank slate.
While this material is left behind, Rosenthal does leave plenty of options for discussion. One of the first things I noted after finishing the film was the emphasis he places on eyes during its run; for two films that are so often referred to as an auditory experience, it seems curious that the antagonist’s achilles heel would be Laurie’s gunshots to his eyes (a diegetic move that also allows one of my favorite parts of the film, which is Myers’ white mask with the two streams of blood running down. Of course, another instance would be bothMyers’ off screen penetration of the doctors eye with a needle and his on screen repetition of the act on a nurse. There are too, of course, the point of view sequences in which Laurie’s gaze is hazy and debilitated, and one could argue how key vision is to the scalding-the-nurse sequence. In this event, Myers’ places his hand on her shoulder and she begins to kiss him until the moment when she turns and sees him, only to have her face viciously burned. Despite its obvious importance, I don’t feel like this thread ever reaches total clarity in the text (which is one of its downfalls), but I do think that it is obviously once more connected to the gaze; one wonders in this point why what was a killer gaze in the previous film is now a trait the characters are deadly without? Maybe I haven’t thought this out the full way and it’ll come later or maybe it really isn’t ever reached in the film, but I’m curious as to think what the contrast between the way the two films that act as a single narrative treat the same thing accomplishes. I may come back and revise this later.
Of course, no discussion of Halloween II would be complete without mentioning the use of the song that bookends it: the Chordette’s Mr. Sandman. Rather than begin with children singing to echo the original, Rosenthal ironically uses the song about a group of women asking the sandman to send them their dream man before segueing into Myers’ attack on Laurie. This reoccurs as the narrative draws to a close, as a shot of Myers’ burning face is repeated with the very same song (which continues to play over the credits). This works as the obvious bit of humor-that the dream man that has come is in fact a nightmare, contrary to what the lovely voices beckon for-but I contend that for a set of films that so overtly punish sexuality and focus on the effects of the gaze and blindness, it may double as an ironic warning of a sexual gaze.
At this point I’d like to circle to a point I made earlier: Halloween II is definitely a mixed bag, and its flaws are especially apparent when you watch it right after the first. With that being said, its neither the disaster nor the rotten film that its reputation suggests; it’s an entertaining but slightly muddled film. I’d even suggest its a good film that accomplishes what it sets out to: as a sequel it continues, and finishes, the story from the first effort, reusing some popular stylistic traits while attempting to forge its own unique status through building mythology and expanding on some thematic territory from the first. Is it is groundbreaking as Halloween? No, not at all, but its still enjoyable on its own terms.
Scheduling Note: I’ll be back with a post on Halloween III soon, but the turn around time might not always be as quick as the past two have; between work and applications it’ll probably be more like a couple days or more in between each film, but I plan to have them all finished by October 31st. Furthermore, Every Simpsons Ever is indeed still happening, but juggling all of this and multiple ongoing projects expect a week or so more before I return with my season seven recap.–see you soon!