1978’s Halloween was a ground breaking film, popularizing (though not inventing) the slasher genre that experienced enormous popularity throughout the 80s and into the 90s, as well as introducing the world to its awesome director, John Carpenter (whose portfolio of science fiction, horror, and fantasy films is one of the best and most influential of any auteur). Made for only a few hundred thousands dollars, the film took a minimalist approach: using atmosphere and suspense, rather than over-the-top gore or other gimmicks, to create genuine terror in the masked killer Michael Myers. In retrospect, it’s really quite surprising how restrained it is is compared to other slasher films; and it feels all the more special for it. On top of that, I’ve always been quite partial to the ending of the film: just when we think Michael has been defeated (being shot and falling out a window), his body seemingly vanishes: he’s still out there, ready to strike again.
It’s a great picture, an undeniable classic. And you know what? It should have stopped there. It shouldn’t have gotten a sequel, much less nine of them, (correction: seven sequels and then a remake and then a sequel to the remake). Sorry, I know that it’s way too late in the game to critique the endless sequelification and franchising of horror properties, but come on. The ending of Halloween was artfully ambiguous. It works best if we don’t know what happened to Michael Myers. What matters is the note of dread the film leaves us on, the fear that he’s still lurking in the shadows. Showing any more of him in later movies totally undermines that. We didn’t need more of Michael Myers. And while I’m on it, we certainly didn’t need to see him go from a psychopathic (but ultimately mortal) human being into some kind of all powerful antichrist figure; which was the direction that some brilliant hodgepodge of writers and directors and studio executives took him in. It’s amazing/really annoying how quickly horror franchises go down hill.
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. It clearly shouldn’t have been an on-going franchise, but maybe, at the very least, making a single sequel to Halloween made some sense. That is, if you really wanted to know what happened to Michael Myers after he disappeared; if you really wanted some kind of conclusion to this story. And so maybe 1981’s Halloween II, which does just that, is worthwhile. At least in principal.
Halloween II picks up right where the first film left off: Michael has indeed survived his wounds and his fall and is still roaming around, while Laurie, the girl he was trying to kill, has been taken to a hospital, having been injured in her first confrontation with the masked killer. Undeterred by petty flesh wounds, Michael continues his killing spree, eventually reaching the hospital where Laurie is staying in order to finish her. I should mention that there’s a really weird twist in this movie where we find out Laurie is actual Michael Myers’s sister. It’s an interesting plot point and provides a clearer reason behind Michael’s fixation on her, but overall I’m not really a fan of it: I’m always annoyed when filmmakers contrive new details that reshape our understanding of the narrative of a previous movie that is fine on its own.
Anyways, it’s at the hospital that we really start to see some noticeable stylistic changes from the first Halloween. If the original was minimalist, this one’s much more explicit and in the mold of other slasher films from the time. Or put another way, it’s a lot more graphic and gore-filled. Michael kills more people than in the first film, and in more violent and varied ways (stabbing, drowning, strangling, etc.). He’s not the only one doing the killing either. In one of the most bizarrely handled scenes in film history, we see a Michael Myers look-alike getting “accidentally” plowed by a police car before ramming into another vehicle and exploding. It’s so over the top and cartoonish in execution that it’s actually kind of funny in a way. Or maybe the film just really warped my sense of humor.
This crash-and-burn is something of a predecessor to the film’s fiery climax: Michael Myers is blinded before getting caught in a massive explosion at the hospital (caused when Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis–who is trying to hunt him down– ignites some gas containers); we see Myers, totally engulfed in flames, attempt to walk towards Laurie before collapsing and burning to a crisp.
If you want closure, it can’t be much more definitive than that. Michael Myers is dead. Destroyed. Gone for good. At least he should have been if not for those meddling studio execs. Like I said, I’d rather there hadn’t been any sequels to Halloween, but we certainly shouldn’t have gotten anymore after this one.
It’s actually not a horrible movie by the (comparatively low) standards of slasher films from this era; it’s generally competent, and its over-the-top in a way that’s kind of amusing. Heck, I’d even put it a little above any of the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street films. I think Carpenter’s involvement as a writer and (maybe?) co-director* is what puts this flick a little above its contemporaries. That said, it comes nowhere close to the brilliance of the first film, and the fact that it paved the way for a bunch of other, far-worse, sequels gives it an ultimately bad legacy.
Now you’re probably wondering: why am I writing about this? Why didn’t I just talk about the first Halloween and leave this one (and all of the other sequels) unmentioned? Well, as it turns out, this film actually does have a special importance for me, although not one that comes from cinematic appreciation. As it turns out, Halloween II was the capstone of the best Halloween I ever had as a kid.
Flashback to Halloween when I was 12 years old. That particular year, Halloween took place on a Friday, and I went over to a friend’s house for a Halloween/Trick-Or-Treat/Sleepover combo. Ordinarily when I went Trick-Or-Treating, it would be in my own neighborhood with my older brother, my dad would be in tow as well to make sure we were okay. It was fun times, don’t get me wrong, but by the age of 12 it had gotten kind of standard. But that year it was going to be different: we weren’t going to be supervised by an adult; it would just be us “guys” (three other friends went over to his house as well) going Trick-Or-Treating by ourselves in our “badass” skull masks and fake blood makeup.
Believe it or not, that kind of independence seemed pretty cool at 12 years. And where as my own neighborhood was a basically a generic loop; my friend’s neighborhood had the benefit of being much more intricate and maze like; meaning that Trick-Or-Treating was a real adventure as we wandered around; not quite sure where we were or where we would wind up. That the moon shined brightly overhead only added to the ambience of the evening. We were probably only out for an hour and half to two hours, but in my memory it seems like a lot longer and more epic of a journey.
Upon returning to my friend’s house; I was given a crash course in the art of card playing and got to participate in my first game of poker (gambling for candy, of course). Up until then, I had viewed Poker as a more “adult” game–with seemingly complicated rules that I was always too shy to ask about. But my friends were more than willing to teach me; and while I can’t say I was very successful, I did eventually get the hang of Poker’s rules, and I felt like I had really mastered something complicated, something more adult. It was the second time that night that I felt I was doing something a little older, which felt good at the time.
After a few hours of card games came the culmination of the night: we went down into my friend’s basement to huddle around his TV and watch an old VHS copy of Halloween II. Now, if it wasn’t obvious given my earlier description of the movie as a violent slasher film, Halloween II is an R-rated movie. Maybe it’s different today, with how easy it is to see movies on the Internet, but when I was 12; seeing R-rated movies on video–unedited for television– didn’t happen very often, and it was just about the edgiest thing you could do. ** It earned you instant bragging rights amongst your peers; and it was one of the factors in determining who was “cool” and who wasn’t. And as someone who normally wasn’t with that crowd, it was nice to feel like I was, for a change. We watched Halloween II with a kind of visceral awe that night, taking everything in and being kind of overwhelmed, though never quite terrified. After the film ended we drifted off to sleep with genuine feeling of satisfaction that we had done something “badass” that night.
I’ve had a lot of memorable Halloweens over the years, and for a variety of reasons; but I’d have to say that year was far and away my best. My 12-year-old self really got the most out of the holiday that year, between participating in the traditions and being with friends and having fun and doing things he didn’t normally get to do; and all at an age where I think the holiday means the most; when it still has a special magic to it. And Halloween II, no matter how underwhelming it might actually be as a movie; will– as the final event of a great night– always be special to me; a reminder of the kinds of things that mattered to my 12-year-old self.
*Halloween II was officially directed by Rick Rosenthal, but Carpenter was supposedly an uncredited director. This is according to Wikipedia, so take it for what it is.
**Again, this was early middle school, a couple of years before sex and alcohol and other such things redefined what “edgy” was.