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It takes a great big set of balls to make a sequel to a film that is recognised as a classic. One such film is Halloween. Is the sequel any good?
Well, yes it is actually. There are many things to love.
One such thing is that the film carries on straight after the events from the first film. Laurie is taken to hospital and Michael Myers follows her. This is audacious in the extreme. It also means that the feel and look of the original need to be similar to the iconic original. And whilst Carpenter isn’t directing this time (he co-wrote the film with partner Debra Hill and co-scored with Alan Howarth), new boy Rick Rosenthal does a pretty good job. It feels for the most part like the first film but that doesn’t mean that its as good. But if Halloween is A+ then Halloween 2 is B+.
The hospital provides the perfect setting for the terror to continue. Yes, there aren’t many people in the building but its a small local hospital. Stop nitpicking, horror geeks. The setting also means that Michael can use medical implements to kill with- ironic when these instruments are intended to save lives rather than shorten them. Hence, Michael’s weapon of choice is a scalpel. In other scenes he also uses syringes (inserted into eyeballs!) and a therapy pool is turned up to boiling and a nurse is dunked underwater until her face receives the face-peel from hell whilst drowning at the same time. This scene was severely cut in the UK video release. In its uncut glory it really is something to behold.
In fact, the murders in this film are a lot nastier and more graphic than in the original. When Halloween 2 was made the slasher genre it inspired was in full swing. This film had something to prove and so the murders are very nasty indeed. Its like the makers of Halloween 2 were trying to show that they were still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. And they succeed whilst doing so with artistic aplomb.
There also seems to be a grittiness and cynicism underlying the film that is both endearing and entertaining to watch. Examples of this jaded mentality are peppered throughout the movie. A child is admitted with a razor blade embedded in his mouth which alludes to the ‘razor blade in the candy’ urban legend. A female reporter tells a colleague when reporting Myers’ bloodbath from the first film ‘You need the parents’ permission to get a statement. If you can’t get it then get a statement anyway!’ The nurse who deals with the child bleeding from his mouth shows no compassion at all and gets the child and his mother to wait whilst the child suffers. The security guard Mr Garrett is seen reading a comic book instead of doing his job properly. Hence he doesn’t see Myers on his CCTV monitors. The doctor who treats Laurie’s injuries from the first film was at the same party as her parents and is actually drunk on the job. These quirks make Halloween 2 much better than its competitors. Whilst this isn’t George A Romero level social commentary this film isn’t as vacuous as many slasher imitators and still has astute observations to make.
But there are a few (but not many) examples of the film pandering or conforming to slasher movie conventions. One such is the scene in which Mr Garrett goes to investigate a break in. There is the cliched cat scare and also a door being opened to have lots of boxes fall onto the rotund night watchman. Whilst this all happens as a build up to Michael finishing off this character these events would never have happened in the original film. In fact, wasn’t there a cat scare in Friday the 13th Part 2? Thats more the kind of thing to find in that franchise than the Halloween films.
Also, the nudity and sexual references are ramped up in this film. Hence there are more titties and the irritating character of Bud singing a really unfunny dirty version of Amazing Grace. I cheered when he was killed by Michael in such a non-descript way. His vile character deserved no more than this.
Within this film is the revelation that Michael is actually Laurie’s brother. Hence why Myers wants to kill her- hes killed one sister, hes come back for the other. This plot detail doesn’t feel forced and gives the film the truly chilling dream sequence that Laurie has- including seeing an evil looking Michael in his asylum.
Theres also appearances of other characters from the first film. Annie appears as a corpse (!) and Laurie’s crush Ben Tramer is killed by when running from a gun wielding Dr Loomis (more of that cynicism). Freud would have a field day with the Myers costume that Tramer is wearing. Was this the film being really clever by suggesting a kind of subconscious incestuous desire between Laurie and Michael or was it just being really stupid by having Ben coincidentally wear the exact same costume as Michael? The examination of the teeth of Ben Tramer’s charred body fully depicts the sequel’s mentality- where the original used the economy and anonymity of shadowplay and genius framing this film presents the horror in full sight with all of the lights on, warts and all. Nothing is hidden, on any level.
On the whole the film feels similar to the original and pulls off, for the most part, the impossible. Jamie Lee Curtis is as kickass as ever as Laurie (check out the big chase scene- its edge of the seat brilliant) and Donald Pleasance is also excellent (even though some of his dialogue lapses into camp. ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death!’ says a neighbour to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ I stifled a laugh).
The score is a progression of the original score. Where the original was piano led with a smuttering of synth, this score is all synth with the original songs elaborated upon by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Its a great soundtrack even though, like the film itself, it isn’t as great as the original. The score for this film was named one of the best soundtracks of all time by Empire Magazine.
This film is great fun. Its as good as a sequel to a masterpiece could be. Which is the highest praise possible. Judging by the other Halloween movies featuring Myers, this could have been a lot worse.
4 out of 5
Zombies, gore and guts. Oh and spaghetti.
Whats noticable about this film is the incest subplot involving the effeminate manchild character called Michael played by Peter Bark. I didn’t know about this when I first watched the film. Its now seered into my mind for better or worse. This film is for titmunchers of all persuasions.
3 out of 5
A mark that you’ve made a great movie is when your film spawns a number of imitators. One such movie is The Exorcist.
Starring esteemed actress Juliet Mills this deals with her posession and pregnancy.
Cue plenty of body horror grossness, surreal scenarios (you haven’t lived until you see her eat a discarded banana skin) and much profanity. Add to the mix a potty mouthed child and you have a great cinematic experience. The film is also beautifully shot and staged. It has a feel all of its own.
Apparently Mills is extremely proud of this movie. And so she should be.
4 out of 5
I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.
Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.
I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.
It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.
Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.
But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.
This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.
At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.
In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.
Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.
On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.
If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.