Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Lance Guest, Dick Warlock, Gloria Gifford
Rated R (probably for Strong Violence/Gore, Some Language, Sexuality/Nudity and Brief Drug Use)
The success of "Halloween" took everyone by surprise. Initially written off as a generic horror flick, a short article in "The Village Voice" saved it from a future covered in dust and lint. Soon, critics began to see that there was more to this movie than meets the eye. Audiences did too, and the film ended up becoming the most successful independent film of all time for a long while.
So it was inevitable that a sequel would be made. Directed by Rick Rosenthal, who was hand-picked by John Carpenter himself, "Halloween II" entered into theaters four years after the original. Unfortunately, slasher movies had evolved (or should that be "de-volved"?) into cheap, schlocky gorefests at that time. Rosenthal wanted to keep it bloodless like the original, but Carpenter vetoed the idea, believing that audiences would have found it to be too tame. Carpenter should have listened to Rosenthal, since the carnage is the film's biggest problem.
The film takes place minutes after the first one (actually, it gives a short recap of the final minutes of the 1978 film). Michael Myers (Warlock) is gone, Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) is hunting for him, and Laurie Strode (Curtis) is being taken to the hospital. But as desperately as the good doctor wants to catch his quarry, Michael keeps slipping through his fingers. His target is Laurie, and he has a special reason for doing so...
Let me tell you what I liked about this movie. It has a creepy setting and Rosenthal has a good grasp of atmosphere. Not to the extent of the original, but enough to keep things spooky for the majority of the running time. I also liked how he paid attention to the atmosphere of the town; Haddonfield residents are angry and scared, and Rosenthal shows it. The acting is better too, and Rosenthal keeps Michael as a silent, robotic killer.
However, the pacing isn't as on-target. The shots are too quick and that releases the tension. The longer the camera holds a shot, the more the terror will grow. There are also some fairly obvious editing gaffes, too.
But what really hurts the film is the attempt to update it for the slasher film's new audience. The body count is very high. Not only does each killing interrupt the flow of tension, it forces Rosenthal to try and develop everyone. "Halloween," in fact the best horror movies in general, worked because they had a narrow focus. Whether it be Laurie Strode, a group of women in a cave ("The Descent") or a father coming across a supernatural killer ("Sinister"), a horror film must have a character that we strongly identify with. With such a huge cast, that's impossible.
While the kills are enjoyably clever and grisly (being burned alive in a hot tub, getting an ax to the head, and so on), they give Michael Myers something that he did not have in the first one: a personality. That's not to the film's benefit. He was scary in the original because he was a remorseless killer; emotionless and relentless. We believed he was an insane killer escaped from an asylum. But here, he's just an ordinary slasher, and that robs him of what made him so terrifying.
Still, far be it for me to say it's unwatchable. It's not. There are some definitely spooky moments to be found here. Just don't expect another classic.