Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal)

Look guys, life is sometimes too short to rewatch a movie you’ve seen several times before and think is merely “okay”, especially when you are reviewing 30 other horror film from one particular year, so today’s entry is a bit of a cheat, as I reprint my thoughts on Rick Rosenthal’s sequel, Halloween II from October 30th, 2009. I feel it’s too big of a title to ignore in this celebration of all that was horror cinema in 1981, especially since so many of my reviews reference the influence (and high quality) of Carpenter’s original. I also figured most readers didn’t see this the first time I posted it, and if they did, it’s been two years; why not give it another read?

Two points of interest: 1.) This was conceived as a bulletin point post where I listed the Good, the Bad and the Ugly aspects of the film instead of a cohesive review, that method is restored here. 2.) I make a lot of references to the then newly released Rob Zombie film of the same name, which I had provided a similar breakdown of the day before this piece was originally posted. If you’d like to read that first to get all the references, then click here.

Spoilers, ye be warned

The Good:

-I think what appeals to most viewers, and me too, at least to the extent I had considered this a genuinely "good" film until recently, is that it takes place almost literally the second after the original ended. While the film ultimately doesn't work as a whole, the gimmick of making the first two films take place over the course of the entire day, or at least once Laurie Strode's character is introduced, plays into various what then? questions or theories viewers might have formulated after constant reviewing and analyzing of the first film.

-Most of the characters (and actors) from the first film return, which other than obviously Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis, means that Charles Cyphers is back as Sheriff Brackett as is Nancy Loomis in a cameo as his deceased daughter, Annie. Brackett seeing his murdered daughter provides some weight to the proceedings and a scene we rarely see in slasher movies, the parent coping with the death of their teenage child. We also learn the fate of Laurie's crush Ben Tramer.

-This is the movie where Donald Pleasance lets his ham freak fly, he's great here and increases Loomis' obsessive relationship to his former patient. Plus he gets a wonderful line at the beginning where stewing over losing Myers, an awakened by the racket neighbor tells him to quiet down because "I've been Trick Or Treated to death tonight" to which he impudently replies "You don't know what death is!" Cue the famous Carpenter score and opening credits. This is the best moment of the film.

-While I find Dick Warlock's portrayal of "The Shape" severely lacking, there's a wonderful moment where he finally gets Laurie within his sights and he just walks through a glass door without pause. It's the only time Warlock approaches the conviction of Nick Castle's original performance.

-The final shots of the film: Laurie being taken from one hospital after surviving a night of horrors to god knows where with an expression of complete blankness on her face. She finally has a moment's pause to reflect on what just happened in the last 12 or so hours...CUT TO...Myers on fire, his mask in flames...FADE OUT...end of film. This is more unsettling than anything in either of the "trying too hard to be unsettling" Zombie films.

The Bad:

-While most of the surviving cast returns, what happened to the kids, Lindsay and Tommy? I realize that the actors would have looked the most different of all the cast in the three year gap between films, and thus would not be able to reprise their roles, but recast or at least a mention of them would be appreciated.

-Speaking of missing cast members, don't you think the Strodes would want to visit their daughter in the hospital, even if she is (and we'll get to this in the Ugly section) "adopted".

-The first film features a body count of five, but over the course of Halloween night, only three. The sequel really amps up the number of killings, a pardon the pun, stab at, ironically enough, keeping pace with the Halloween slasher film imitators that popped up with great frequency after the originals success. It seems like Myers goes out of his way to kill people here, with none of the watching or premeditation that the original film established.

-Speaking of killing, and again this was probably a response to the imitators, Myers uses a plethora of weapons in II whereas in the original he uses either a knife (a phallic extension) or his hands. I prefer the more primal Myers over the hot tub dunking one.

-The first Halloween has atmosphere and is scary, Friday the 13ths and other imitators ramped up the gore, Halloween II exists somewhere between, trying to emulate the originals suspense but without the assured pacing of Carpenter's film while trying to up the gore quotient. In that regards it fails to reach the heights of the work of someone like Tom Savini. The result is a film that's neither scary nor gory. According to IMDB, which is not all that reliable (at least two of the trivia bits they state for the film are false), Carpenter added the gore scenes after shooting, which makes sense as they feel like an afterthought.

-Too many fake jump scares, yeah the first film has it's share, but here it's a crutch that is relied on too much. Example: a cat jumps out from a previously closed dumpster, a minute or so after it's already been opened to provide a "shock"

-For the most part they recycle the original theme, which I am fine with, it's the same night, the theme is iconic, why not? But they add little flourishes (not sure if this was Alan Howarth's contribution, he's listed as a second composer in the credits) which are distracting for those like myself who are intimately familiar with the original score.

-Am I missing something, why is everyone constantly blaming Loomis for Myers' escape. Was he responsible for security at the Haddonfield Mental Hospital? Loomis was the only one who was prepared for his return and he did plug a chamber's worth of bullets into him. It's not his fault Myers escaped and is virtually unkillable. Lay off the guy.

The Ugly:

-Like I said before, Nick Castle had a deliberateness and grace in his portrayal of Myers that Dick Warlock just doesn't possess, we don't see the voyeuristic aspects of Myers here, he pops up, jumps from out of nowhere, it is what it ultimately is, a stunt man doing stunts, not an actor giving a performance.

-The direction. What better way to compare a visionary director to an anonymous one than watching Halloween and part II back to back, granted as a producer Carpenter probably oversaw a lot of the production (which would have been right smack between Escape From New York and The Thing), but there's no pacing, the deliberate nature of the first film is completely gone leaving us with a hurry up and get this done with tempo, the shot compositions are lazy (even with cinematographer Dean Cundey returning), the film suffers from bad editing and most of all, it just is not suspenseful. In Rosenthal's defense, the script, by original Halloween scribes Carpenter and Debra Hill is no great shakes.

-The Sister thing. The twist that effectively killed the mystery and much of thematic elements of the first film and gave Myers, who originally embodied unclassifiable evil, a lame and simple purpose. He was no longer "The Shape" or "The Boogeyman" he became "The dude who wants to kill his sisters". John Carpenter himself even dismisses this addition as a gimmick, put in to capitalize on the Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader paternal relationship in Empire Strikes Back. What's worse, is there's no thought put into it, and only 2 scenes that mention the sister-brother link, a fuzzy focus flashback that Laurie has in the midst of her hospital recuperation (because that's when I always randomly recall the one time my mother told me I was adopted and then took me to meet my mute murderous older brother) and when Loomis' doctor pal, Dr. Exposition, er, Marion, informs Loomis of the familial connection. I would appreciate someone doing a fan edit of the film and remove those scenes, even if it wouldn't completely redeem the film. What's most upsetting is that everyone takes Laurie and Michael's relationship to be canonical, Rob Zombie who claimed that he either hated or never saw the sequels made it a major factor of his two films and I even have friends who are convinced the baby sister is seen at some point in the first scenes of the original film. FYI: She's not.

In conclusion, if you must see a movie named Halloween II, definitely make it the 1981 Rick Rosenthal directed film. But your best bet is sticking with Carpenter's original or the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

3 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Great review and you hit all the right highs, and lows.

Imagine if they had never become sister/brother. It would have just been him as "the bogeyman". They wouldn't have had to tie him to Laurie, and then create Jamie to tie him to in the other sequels. And then imagine the difference H20 would have had, had Laurie been going about her life, wary, scarred, but not in fear her BROTHER was coming to get her, if she had truly believed it was a horrible moment of her past. And then "the bogeyman" reappeared. Would have been out of the blue and rocked her "new world" completely!

Mummbles said...

I do like that this movie takes place as if part 1 never stopped, but you are correct this one does not really come close to being a great film in any aspect, in saying this I do own the dvd.

le0pard13 said...

Great look at this one, Colonel. You covered, and better than I ever could, many of the thoughts I had toward this sequel. But, H2's finale and its imagery, along with the Dr. Loomis start of the film you noted, is what keeps me coming back to it (every so often, that is). Plus, this film has a memory associated with it, so I've given you and this post a well deserved shout-out today. This review really took me back, my friend. Thanks for this.

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