Full spoilers ahead.
Welcome to part 2 of my full Halloween series retrospective! Continuing from the original film in chronological order, I watched Halloween II – the first one, not the second, or third attempt. Sheesh! Despite Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends being pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’m going to continue rewatching the series. To be honest, I’m not complaining – I’ve been getting through this way slower than I initially expected!
Halloween II picks up right where the first one ends, with Michael Myers pursuing Laurie Strode, played by Jaimi Lee Curtis, to a local hospital. Murder ensues. It was composed and written by John Carpenter, choosing to allow Rick Rosenthal, in his directorial debut, to direct the film. Rosenthal would return for Halloween: Resurrection, the fourth and last film chronologically in the first reboot (confused yet?).
I didn’t particularly like the original Halloween when I watched it for this project. Despite its reputation as a horror classic, it mostly didn’t click for me, although there are a lot of aspects to it I appreciated and enjoyed. That said, I enjoyed Halloween II quite a bit, more so than the first. I can’t say it’s a strictly better movie, but I can definitely personally liked it more – but does it hold up? Let’s find out!
What Holds Up?
Unlike the original Halloween, where all of the scares fell flat and I wasn’t particularly enthused by the plot or characters, I found myself mostly engaged with this one. I think it partially has to do with the fact that there’s no real story to setup – it wastes absolutely zero time with continuing the previous film’s (relatively simple) story. Usually that’s something I would have a problem with, but it works here.
You could criticize the choice to not include any additional plotting (outside of the strange twist where Laurie is Michael’s sister, which has no real effect on the narrative anyway), but it didn’t particularly bother me. The film knows what it is. It almost could have been called, like, “Halloween Part II“, given that it is a direct continuation, even taking place on the same night.
Conventional plotting is replaced by an assortment of new characters for Michael to slay, replete with their own little stories and quirks. Laurie even finds a love interest in Jimmy, adding to the tension in an interesting way. Donald Pleasence returns as Doctor Loomis, Michael’s former psychiatrist, and is just hamming it up here in a wonderful way. It sometimes came across as unintentionally funny, but it added to the movie’s charm.
The best thing that I can say about the film is that I genuinely felt tension. Aside from cultural osmosis, I don’t know that much about the series as a whole, so none of the characters felt safe, Laurie included. Each kill scene was handled pretty well. More or less par for the course for 80s slashers, but there were some neat creative and horrific kills and gags that kept me interested and engaged.
I counted seven jump scares, which annoyed me, but this project is called “Does It Hold Up?“, not “Do I Like It?“. Given that jump scares are popular and common now, a modern viewer might appreciate the occasional (unearned) startle. I don’t feel as though the film needed them, as the film had plenty of tense moments to keep you scared and tense otherwise.
I particularly loved the scene towards the end where Laurie is hiding in Jimmy’s car when Jimmy, previously injured by slipping in blood, gets in and passes out while attempting to start the car. He collapses onto the car’s horn, blasting it into the hospital for Michael to hear. Something about how imposing Michael is and how vulnerable the injured Laurie in her hospital gown was made that scene particularly nerve-wracking. Laurie was always inches from help throughout the film, accentuating the tension.
I also liked the ending where Loomis blows up himself and Michael Myers (using a lighter that was previously set up! Brilliant!). I’m sure neither of them will return in future films.
What Doesn’t Hold Up?
It’s hard for me to find too much negative to say about the movie, actually. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it works very well for what it is. I do have some gripes, though!
For one, I’m not a fan of Carpenter’s scores in general. I can appreciate his musical talents and his desire to score many of his films, but they come across somewhat (and that’s a BIG somewhat) amateurish to me, almost to where I think that the films would be generally improved if they were scored more conventionally. I think a lot of the music in this film will come across as somewhat cheesy to a modern audience and might take them out of the movie. Not horrible by any means, and I’m sure it will work for some people, but I’m talking generally.
The film was shot by Dean Cundey, one of the greats, and it mostly shows. While known for his lighting, there were a few moments where I felt like certain things could be shot or lit better. I’m no expert and I’m sure there were limitations in the technology of the time, but I’m nit-picking at this point. I genuinely liked the movie quite a bit, and there are some great visuals.
The lack of story might annoy a modern film snob or someone who mostly appreciates movies for their narratives, but the art of creating tension and scary set pieces is alive and well in this film. If you want a tight narrative, you ain’t gonna find it here, but not every movie needs to be about its story, per se. Most have them, as does this film to a point, but it’s not the main focus. If that annoys you, raise your hand, but I think most people looking for a solid slasher will get what they paid for.
All-in-all, I found the movie to be a tense, fairly good slasher that tickled me in all of the ways that the previous film didn’t. I think modern audiences experiencing the series for the first time will have a similar experience. I’m not sure if that has to do with the difference in directors, the lack of any sort of story, or perhaps the film just had a better screenplay, but I enjoyed this movie. Not as finely crafted as the original, sure, but the pacing and energy, as well as the upped production scale, worked more for me on this one.
If you’re going to watch these movies, I think that this makes a great double feature with the original, feeling like a single three-hour-long movie that switches in quality at about the halfway point – kinda like Lawrence of Arabia! While I generally don’t think I would recommend the original Halloween to a modern viewer, I think that people today will enjoy its sequel more. Check it out!