Halloween II

[align=center]Finally, a horror sequel that DOESN'T suck![/align]

It' s pretty much an undisputed statement of fact at this point: horror movie sequels almost ALWAYS blow.

The Exorcist 2: The Heretic. Damien: The Omen II. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Part 2. The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows. The list is literally without end, seemingly.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out exactly WHY filmmakers have such a hard time following up on excellent, original horror films. Most of the time, the recipe for success is right there in front of you, but no, these overpaid, overeducated doofus directors and screenwriters decide to take an existing and awesome property and find practically EVERY way to drain said property of the elements that made it great to begin with.

But every now and then, and believe you me, it IS a rare occurrence, we get a horror movie sequel that is ALMOST on par with the film that preceded it. Granted, we may have to wade through 100 Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2s and I Still Know What You Did Last Summers before we get one Evil Dead 2 or Sleepaway Camp 2, but surely, such aberrantly AWESOME horror sequels do indeed exist. In fact, there is one in particular that I would like to talk about today, and for my money, it remains one of the absolute best slasher follow-ups in the long and storied history of degenerate cinema.

But first, a little history. In 1977, John Carpenter began work on a movie called The Babysitter Murders. The movie was greatly inspired by an earlier film called Black Christmas, which itself was inspired by an Italian movie called Bay of Blood. The premise of Carpenter's movie was simple - I mean, insultingly, ridiculously, amazingly simple. Teenage girls do dumb and inappropriate things, and then some dude wearing a William Shatner mask turned inside out chokes them to death and stabs their boyfriends. We have all heard the phrase so simple it s genius a billion times before, but in the case of Carpenter's work, such approbation is indeed warranted.

And so, Carpenter wraps up production on his silly little movie. Seeing as how the film took place around Halloween (despite being filmed in the middle of Spring), Carpenter decided to change the title of his film to more directly reference the holiday. And if you do not know the story from here, you might as well click out of the article and go watch Lady Gaga videos or something.

Halloween went on to become a cultural phenomenon, at one point in time holding the title of most successful independently funded motion picture in history. Carpenter's reluctance to film a direct sequel to the movie eventually led to a tidal wave of imitators, thus kicking off the great slasher movie trend of the late 70s and early 80s. Three years after the first movie came out, Carpenter reluctantly agreed to begin work on a sequel to his groundbreaking original film, and the result remains one of the greatest, atypical successes in the history of the slasher genre.

Although Carpenter did not direct Halloween II, he certainly played a role in shaping how the film turned out. Pretty much the entire cast and crew from the first film returned, and a script (penned by Carpenter and long-time partner Debra Hill) was quickly banged out. In my humble opinion, the movie represents the direct antithesis of the crappy horror sequel, as it seems to avoid pretty much ALL of the pitfalls and creative errors that plague an overwhelming majority of films in the genre. What did Halloween II do differently, and what did it do more effectively, than most films of the type? Well, I am glad you asked, as I've prepared five reason why Halloween II remains one of the absolute best follow-ups in the annals of horror filmdom.


[align=center][i]It takes place IMMEDIATELY after the first movie ends[/align][/i]

The primary mistake most horror sequels make involves the decision to place the film as far removed from the original as they can. For example, a sequel may take place five years (in film time) after the events of the first movie, or the locus of the movie may be on the relative of a character from the first film, so on and so forth. Well, Halloween II shows us all how it is SUPPOSED to be done, as instead of taking place five years after the original, it picks up five seconds after the first Halloween movie ended. Jamie Lee Curtis is bruised and cut up, Donald Pleasance is running around screaming like crazy and a bullet riddled Michael Myers is slowly making his rounds around Haddonfield once more. It's the perfect continuation of the first film, because it's, well, the continuation of the first film.


[align=center][i]It doesn't skimp out on the red stuff[/align][/i]

You can say a lot of things about the original Halloween, but the one thing you really cannot call the film is bloody. In fact, the first movie was essentially devoid of gore, a movie more preoccupied with old school scares than arterial explosions. Perhaps feeling pressure from new wave slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Mother s Day, Carpenter and crew decided to rectify that little issue and as a result, Halloween II splashes around more crimson than the Kool-Aid Man with a perforation in his ass.

There is probably more blood spilt in the first ten minutes of this movie than there is in the entirety of the first movie. In fact, there s so much bloodshed in this movie that I kind of wonder if Carpenter and company were trying to overcompensate for the lack of gore in the original flick. A girl gets her throat slashed, and blood sprays out like a garden sprinkler. A dude literally has every drop of blood sucked out of his body, resulting in a giant pool of plasma in the floor that another character ends up slipping on and killing himself. That is right - there is so much blood in this movie that characters are actually getting killed by the surfeit of artery juice just lying around all over the place.

Heck, there is more non-murder produced blood in this movie than there is in most feature films - there is a scene where a kid walks into a hospital with a bloody mouth (he got hit with a baseball, if you were wondering) and in one of my favorite scenes in the flick, Michael Myers royally freaks out an old couple by stealing one of their butcher knives while they watch a colorized version of Night of the Living Dead and dripping sanguine bodily fluid all over their kitchen counter. All in all, I think this movie was what AC/DC was referencing when they wrote the timeless lyrics "if you want blood...you got it!"


[align=center][i]The kills are freaking FANTASTIC[/align][/i]

Michael Myers (or The Shape, or whatever you want to call him) racked up a pretty decent body count in the first film, but let s face it: he didn't exactly off his victims via the most extravagant of means, either. Sure, the occasional strangulation and impalement is cool and all, but we went FLAIR emanating from our cinematic maniacs handiwork. To say that the producers of the film upped the ante CONSIDERABLY in part 2 is kind of like calling Ghosts N Goblins just a teensy bit frustrating.

In Halloween II Michael Myers doesn't just kill people, he goes well above and beyond the call of duty to super-duper-mega-kill people. We re talking jabbing people in the eyes with hypodermic needles and boiling nurses alive in hot tubs. We re talking cracking security guards skulls open with ball peen hammers. Hell, there s so much death and destruction going on in this movie that Michael Myers isn't even RESPONSIBLE for all of the homicide that goes down in the picture; at one point, we get to watch a teenage kid wearing a Michael Myers costume get barbecued in a head on collision between two cars, not to mention that the film ends with Donald Pleasance blowing up an entire hospital (you have to figure it's a pretty lax P.D. in Haddonfield, Illinois - it's probably the only police department in the nation where you can incinerate a nursery and STILL keep your badge.)


[align=center][i]It's every bit as atmospheric and creepy as the first film[/align][/b][/i]

OK, so Halloween II is obviously more violent and extravagant than the first film, but that alone doesn't make it a worthy follow-up. Despite having a number 2 in the title (not to mention being held to the same standard as one of the greatest horror movies ever made), I think Halloween II does a pretty damn good job of packing the thrills and scares - in fact, all things considered, one could make the argument that this film is actually scarier than the first flick.

It all begins with the opening credits. Like the first movie, we get a zooming shot of a pumpkin while that inimitable score pumps over the text. And as we pan deeper and deeper into the Jack O Lantern, what do we see? Why, the visage of a skull, thus setting a creepy, ambient tone that the rest of the film never departs from.

There are some downright FANTASTIC shots in this movie, and the pacing of the script is positively tremendous. There are a number of scenes where we, the audience, see Michael Myers in plain view, although the characters in the movie have no earthly idea that he s in the same room with them. The producers do a commendable job of mixing this recurring motif up - for example, there s one shot of Michael Myers entering a hospital on a security monitor that, wouldn't you know it? The security guard just so happens to miss. The intensity never really lets up, as Jamie Lee Curtis KNOWS that Myers is continuing to stalk her, and all we can do is wait in great trepidation as Dr. Loomis SLOWLY makes his way back to her side. This is a really well done script, too - several times during the movie, you almost want to jump out of your seat and yell at the screen, telling the characters to avoid going into certain rooms or doing certain acts. It s a slow boil, and it just flat out works as a feature.

Lastly, for those of you that question the suspense quotient of the movie, I direct you to what I consider the film s absolute BEST scene - a scene in which a fleeing Jamie Lee Curtis hides out in a car with an orderly in the hospital parking lot while Michael Myers tries to find out which car she is hiding in. Everything is going all right, and then. . .the orderly passes out, hits his head on the steering wheel, and the the freaking car horn sounds. Myers now knows EXACTLY where she s hiding, and we have to watch a battered, bloodied and beaten Laurie Strode somehow manage to escape from a most dire situation YET again. Hitchcock, it may not be, but if it doesn't make goose pimples pop up on your arm, you re probably lacking a pulse, amigo.


[align=center][i]It builds on the mythos of the first film[/align][/b][/i]

As great as the first Halloween movie was, we have to face the facts: it really was not a movie that gave you a lot of exposition and background on the characters. The movie never really explained to us why Michael Myers chose Laurie Strode to stalk, and the relationship between Dr. Loomis and Myers wasn't really explored in depth, either (Bonus-Fun-Time-Bet-You-Did-Not-Know Note: a lot of the scenes featuring Loomis talking to a young Michael Myers in the original film were actually filmed AFTER the movie was theatrically released. Right before the film made its debut on cable, the USA Network requested that Carpenter add a couple of additional scenes to the movie so it would fill up a two hour time slot.) Heck, the movie did not even feel the need to properly explain how a dude that had been living in an insane asylum for twenty years figured out how to operate a stick-shift, for crying aloud!

Well, Halloween II not only gives us more background than the original movie, it pretty much creates the entire franchise mythos itself. It actually was not until this movie that we found out that Michael Myers and Laurie Strode were related, and it really wasn't until this movie that the Van Helsing / Dracula relationship between Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers was firmly established. We also learn that Myers has SOME kind of occult-ish background, as apparent by the scrawling of SAMHAIN on the school chalkboard in one scene. . .an aspect of his character that was inflated to RIDICULOUS extremes in the subsequent films in the series. By the time the movie ends, you really do not have any unanswered questions left - alike the conclusion to a two-part story, the ending here leaves you satisfied and with a sense of some kind of resolution, which is yet another aspect most horror movie follow ups fail to achieve.

If you ask me, Halloween II is the kind of movie ALL horror sequels should aspire to be. Granted, it may not have the impact of the original, but you know what? That's cool. It builds its own story, establishes its own attitude and atmosphere and ends up serving as a damned fine companion piece to the original. It doesn't stray too far away from what made the first movie great, but it doesn't seem afraid to blaze its own path, either. It may not be the absolute best horror sequel out there, but it at least laid a template for more slasher follow-ups to improve themselves.

Of course, the series quickly broke (I mean ABSOLUTELY SHATTERED) the rule with the very next installment in the series, but that's really a story for another day. . .

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James Swift is a freelance writer and author of two books, How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks.
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