John Carpenter’s Halloween had been a huge hit at the box office through the word of mouth of people who had seen it and were knocked out by the experience. In fact, the film was so successful that it became the most profitable independent film of all time, a title it held until it was overtaken by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.
Producer Irwin Yablans wanted a sequel even though director John Carpenter didn’t. He instead decided to write and score the project but not direct it. Carpenter was in the midst of developing another project that he would go onto direct, The Fog when he was approached by Yablans. He recommended Rick Rosenthal on the strength of a short film Rosenthal had made called The Toyer. Before Rosenthal, Carpenter had actually asked Tommy Lee Wallace who had been the art director on the original Halloween but he declined. He would go on to direct Halloween 3: Season of the Witch though.
Carpenter and his producer and co-writer Debra Hill had envisaged the idea of a sequel based several years later than the events that take place in the first Halloween movie with Michael tracking Laurie down to a high rise building that she has moved to. When I first read about this I immediately thought of the TV movie Carpenter had made around this time, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau that takes place primarily in a high rise complex. Maybe this would have been too similar and so Carpenter was forced to think of a new concept. He said that this involved drinking beer (for inspiration) whilst sitting at a typewriter and wondering what he was doing there.
I was also surprised to learn that Debra Hill had looked into the possibility of shooting the film in 3D, a gimmick that was about to enjoy a renaissance around this time. Hill gave up on this possibility however as it was very costly. It was also very difficult to accomplish 3D effects in a film that would visually be dependent on darkness and shadows. This seems to make sense in relation to another sequel from another horror franchise. Friday the 13th Part 3 was shot in 3D the following year and altered it’s look from earlier films in the series because of it. The third instalment was brighter and more colourful than it’s preceding two films. Part 3 feels almost like some kind of demented horror comic come to life. This works very well indeed whilst ensuring that the 3D effects could be brilliantly effective and delivered with panache and style.
Whilst Halloween 2 wouldn’t be filmed in 3D, the cinematographer who went a long way to why the original was so memorable and looked so hauntingly beautiful would be returning to shoot the film. Dean Cundey also turned down the opportunity to work on the film Poltergeist to film Halloween 2. I think he made the right decision.
A funny thing happened between the release of the original and Halloween 2 and that is that another film tried to market itself as a sequel to the first film. Snapshot, an Ozploitation film retitled itself The Day After Halloween for it’s American release with posters and press ads utilising the font and style used for the original Halloween promotional material. The makers of H2 ordered the distributors of The Day After Halloween to add a disclaimer to their posters and ads that stated that this was in no way connected to Carpenter’s original film. This was done but when The Day After Halloween was coming to the end of it’s run anyway. When Halloween 2 was officially released the words ‘All New’ were added to it’s posters and ads so that people knew this was the real deal. Snapshot, by the way, is a fantastic oddity of a film that is now widely available and well worth checking out, especially is you’re a fan of Prisoner Cell Block H as there are many cast members used.
So, what is Halloween 2 actually like?
The first thing which is noteworthy of the sequel is that it continues straight after the events of the first movie. In fact, not just that but there is even an overlap with the first film (with Mr Sandman by The Chordettes playing over the soundtrack that bookends the movie as it also plays at the end) as we see the ending before the new narrative begins with Dr Loomis going downstairs to where the shot body of Myers should have been. We also see that Loomis’ dialogue has started to become even more exaggerated than it was in the original. A neighbour comes out and approaches Loomis remarking about the noise and exclaiming ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death tonight’ to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ Yes, this first reply exemplifies a lot of Loomis’ lines in the sequel. Just a little bit more unhinged, fraught and oh so camp.
We then get the title sequence which is similar to that of the original film with the pumpkin but this time the camera glides into it as it opens to reveal a skull at it’s centre. With this sequence as with the recap of the end of the first film and the addendum as to what happens next, we get a sense of how audacious Halloween 2 is. It was made in 1981 a full three years after the original and enough time for the first film to be recognised and reviled as the masterpiece it truly is. For a sequel to pick up just after the original had ended was a massive risk as Carpenter’s original had a look and feel that was very unique to it. The sequel would have to try to replicate this to feel authentic. Halloween 2 almost succeeds. The word ‘almost’ isn’t an insult though. The first film was and is so iconic that ANY attempt to either equal or top it’s brilliance and innovation would be foolhardy at best. That Halloween 2 still comes across as a worthy attempt is the best that could be hoped for. If Halloween is an A+ movie, then Halloween 2 is a B+ film. That’s no mean feat.
Halloween was so iconic that it spawned a whole subgenre of movies within horror, the slasher movie. In the three years since the original, this genre had been given birth to, had enough time to establish it’s conventions and also showed why audiences were flocking to see these movies. Carpenter realised this and so after seeing a rough cut of Rosenthal’s sequel suggested the film be beefed up with more kills, more blood and more edge of the seat suspense sequences that would satisfy the rabid slasher movie aficionados. He also commented that the rough cut he had seen was about as scary as an episode of Quincy! In fact, the sequences that could be seen to be (thankfully) quite restrained in the original, particularly the kills, were turned up to 11 for the sequel. The Fangoria crowd would get a film that looked great, felt eerie as hell (thank God for Cundey), but with kills that were more graphic, more innovative and more shocking than the other entries in the genre. Apparently it was Carpenter who actually directed these sequences. He would do a similar thing on the next movie that he actually directed himself, The Fog as he would direct new kills to insert into the film merely days before the film was due to be released as he realised that it didn’t quite work.
And it wasn’t just the kills that were made more explicit within the film. Halloween 2 also ramps up the sexiness within the movie to keep in line with it’s competition. Hence, we get the nudity during the therapy room sequence and Bud’s rather unique (and cringeworthy) version of Amazing Grace.
Whilst watching the film again recently it seemed as if Myers was gleefully bumping off the only types of people he would have had dealings with during his incarceration- doctors, nurses and cops. Maybe this sequel really was a case of ‘This time it’s personal’ for our leading psychopath.
The fact that there are people who Michael had a perfect opportunity to dispose of but didn’t shows that he isn’t just some killing machine, indiscriminately killing anyone who crosses his path. One example of this is poor old Mrs Elrod who is making a sandwich for her dozing husband (who’s sleeping through the classic Night of the Living Dead. Sacrilege!) when Myers sneaks in and grabs the knife that she was using. Myers knows the groups of people who he wants to butcher which is one of many reasons why Halloween from 2018 and it’s sequel seemed so inauthentic and fake. Of course Michael also bumps off anyone who fits the same criteria as his sister Judith and of Laurie Strode. The next person Myers encounters is Alice, the young woman who is within the same age category, is saying how great it is that she has the house to herself to her friend on the phone (she could invite a male over because of this. Michael doesn’t like potential horny hi-jinx) and so, hence, she meets some of the criteria for someone who would be killed by Michael. And he obliges.
The hospital that Laurie finds herself at and which Michael follows her to is the perfect locale for gruesome but innovative kills involving implements that would ordinarily be used for more altruistic purposes. Hence we find that Michael carries a scalpel rather than his ordinarily preferred butcher knife. We also get hypodermic needles inserted in eyeballs and temples and an overheated therapy pool used to fatally scold a nurse (both of these sequences were cut in different versions).
The hospital also provides a great locale for Michael to make his own private slaughter ground. The shots of him walking (never running) down the dimly lit corridors is very effective indeed (I love the fact that a deleted scene that was shown as part of the TV version of the film shows that the electricity goes out for the building but an emergency generator kicks in that uses only some of the lights. Boom! Instant moody lighting that is perfect for a horror film).
In fact, there were a lot of additional footage that didn’t make it into the film but was then seen in the TV version of the film that excised a lot of the violence but padded out the running time with trimmings that didn’t make it into the final movie.
Another great device that is used within this location is the building’s CCTV. Not only does Myers look very scary when captured on the monitors looking for Laurie, but he even sees where Laurie is through seeing her on the CCTV screens. They help to direct him in the right direction when he’s looking for her. Also, the CCTV monitors act as a third eye for the audience. One scene shows where Myers is headed, but a moment later it shows a nurse heading in the same direction and possibly to her doom. The CCTV has just been utilised as another way of adding suspense and tension to a scene and has just placed the viewer on the edge of his or her seat.
Halloween 2 also has some perceptive things to say about the media and how corrupt and unscrupulous they are. We see a reporter who says to a colleague to get a statement from any witnesses to Myers’ crimes. She adds that if they’re underage they will need the parent’s permission. She also adds that if they can’t get that they should get a statement anyway! As a sidenote, there was apparently a deleted scene in which this reporter was murdered by Myers which was maybe Rosenthal’s two fingers up to what he thought of the media.
The film also brilliantly depicts a horrific incident that has nothing to do with Michael Myers. A mother and her small son rock up to the hospital as he has bitten into either something that he was given whilst trick or treating which contained a razor blade which we see is still lodged in his mouth with blood pouring out of it. The infamous urban myth is made flesh here and also shows that there are enough dangers in the world, with or without Myers.
Another great aspect of the film is the soundtrack that Carpenter and the great Alan Howarth would compose and perform. The score is a major part of why Halloween 2 is wayyy better than it should have been. Whilst the music for the first film was primitive, simplistic and utterly brilliant because of it, the soundtrack for Halloween 2 is the same music but with more synth, more layers and with even more of an urgency to it. In fact, I remember after I saw the film for the first time, in an issue of Empire magazine around that time (89/90), I saw an article on the Top 50 Soundtracks of All Time. They had actually included Halloween 2 and it didn’t surprise me.
Add to this that both Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are as excellent as ever in the film (check out the chase scene when Myers finally catches up with Laurie starting with the nurse being stabbed in the back by Michael. This is an AMAZING sequence. I love the fact that they made Laurie’s POV shots blurred because of the heavy meds she’s been placed on. Also, check out the shots of Myers strolling robotically after Strode and how genuinely unsettling it is, even when he’s tackling the stairs).
Jamie Lee Curtis wears a wig for the movie. This is blatantly obvious (sorry fanboys who thought they were the only ones to have noticed this). In fact, I love the fact that in the tenser scenes the wig seems to take on a life of it’s own and frizzes up. It’s like the wig is acting along with the person who’s wearing it.
We also get a cameo by Nancy Loomis as her own corpse with her Sheriff father (again played by Charles Cyphers) damning the doctor who he sees as letting him out after he has seen his murdered daughter. It’s great that both actors returned to reprise their roles in the sequel instead of different actors stepping in.
Dick Warlock is a good Michael Myers but doesn’t quite nail what came before. But he gets pretty close and his depiction of Myers inhumanly walking around the hospital corridors is very chilling indeed. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job other than Nick Castle.
There’s also a revelation regarding why Michael might be so insistent on coming after Laurie (I’m not going to ruin things here).
All in all, you have a fantastic film. Halloween 2 isn’t as good as the original. But for a film that has the balls not just to be that film’s sequel but also to have the audacity to carry on events straight after the original has ended, it’s a damned good effort.
Whatever it’s shortcomings, Halloween 2 is still head and shoulders above most slasher fare and is a very dignified sequel to a horror masterpiece. In a franchise in which each new entry makes me facepalm even more and is an even bigger embarrassment to the original’s legacy, (yes I’m looking at you Halloween Kills), the entries closest to the source film are the best with only the first three films being of any interest to me or anyone who knows anything about good filmmaking. They have suspense generated brilliantly, atmosphere by the bucketload, cinematography to die for and amazing music scores to boot. Part 4 onwards are just cynically made cash cows to milk revenue from the fanboys. More kills, no suspense, nothing redeeming in any of them.
If only the Laurie and Michael plotline had ended with Halloween 2.
Halloween 2 is available now on Scream Factory. My essay on Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is here.