Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween II Movie Review

I had very little memory of this first sequel. Some of it looked familiar as I watched it for this series, but mostly I don't think I ever really saw it.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

These days film sequels are almost obligatory when it comes to any big budget action, comedy, or horror film. Studios are always looking to create a franchise cash cow that they can continue milking for minimal investment and effort. But there was a time when sequels were mostly limited to horror films. It was a pretty obvious fit. Films produced in the horror genre were traditionally low budget films written quickly and on the cheap, using casts of mostly unknown actors (though many of these such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Aniston have gone on to become stars), shot and produced in an almost guerilla style in a matter of a few weeks. The popular ones made significant returns on investment, so sequels were usually inevitable. What’s more, they were (and continue to be) almost universally excoriated by critics because they tend to be cheap retreads of what came before. It’s insulting to people like me who spend a great deal of time watching movies.

I bring all this up as a means of introducing Halloween II, which is a very rare example of a horror movie sequel that doesn’t just aim to recapture the formula of its predecessor, but to rework it into a new setting with a genuine attempt to keep it as scary and suspenseful as the first. John Carpenter and Debra Hill returned to write the screenplay, but Carpenter refused to direct it, choosing instead a mostly untested director in Rick Rosenthal. The action is the middle of the night after Michael Myers’ attacks on the teenagers of Haddonfield. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her original “Scream Queen” role) is in the hospital and Michael seeks her there. Various hospital staffers get in his way first, offering up plenty of shocks and carnage before the final showdown.

Because the events of the sequel take place immediately following those of the first film, Rosenthal tries to keep it stylistically very similar. He continues to use a lot of handheld first-person camera point of view shots to represent Michael’s movements and the film reemploys Carpenter’s eerie synthesizer score. The hospital setting itself allows for some distinctly tense and suspenseful setups which manage to hold your attention even while the deaths themselves are more graphic than in the first film with the amount of blood depicted more than doubled.

Donald Pleasance returns as Dr. Loomis, who runs around Haddonfield frantically searching for Michael, loudly insisting that he must be stopped. As a character there’s not much else for Pleasance to do but run around acting like a lunatic more in need of treatment than the man murdering everyone. Then again, none of the characters are here for much other than to be killed off, which is par for the course in a slasher film. Lance Guest plays a young ambulance driver who, in taking a liking to Laurie, displays more in the way of character than most of the rest of the cast combined. Laurie exists solely to be the female in mortal danger, spending most of her time hopped up on hospital-administered narcotics to help her sleep. Still she manages to evade danger.

Of course the sequel can hardly measure up to Halloween given that film’s status as a genuine near masterpiece of the horror genre. It amps up the body count and the budget, resulting in a finale of unnecessarily overblown hyperbole, but as a standalone film it holds up pretty well overall.

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