Halloween II (1981)

For Samhain—SAM FUCKING HAIN INDEED!—I decided to voyage into semi-uncharted waters for me. Not just a new-to-me film, but a new(ish)-to-me Big 70s/80s Horror Franchise Sequel. Cos when it comes to said Big 70s/80s Horror Franchises, I haven’t usually gone past the first film in any given series (in some cases, like Child’s Play, I haven’t even watched the first one). Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Scream (which I’ll count for the purposes of this argument), I’ve seen all of those, but none of their follow-ups. I think the Evil Dead films are the only real exception.* (EDIT: I forgot I’d also seen Exorcist II—possibly my brain was trying to protect me for once—but I don’t think of that as a series or franchise in the same way. To be honest, I don’t even know if there’s any hard & fast rules about this sort of thing.)

Youtuber Dan Drambles has been doing a really interesting series for this October looking at said big franchises and their components, and I found his video on this film particularly worthwhile. Ric Meyers is particularly down on the further adventures of Michael Myers in For One Week Only, and is pretty happy to lay the blame squarely at the feet of John Carpenter and Debra Hill, but Dan’s video suggests it’s slightly more complicated than that; only Irwin Yablans (instigator of the original) really wanted to do it, and Carpenter & Hill only went along with it grudgingly cos they knew Yablans would do it anyway without them so they might as well. And, basically not really knowing what else to do, they just went with a straight continuation of the original, right from the point where it ended.

Dan’s video cites Roger Ebert, a fan of the original, as being quite harsh on Halloween II, calling ir a pale imitation of the imitators the original Halloween wound up birthing. Dan finds that a bit much, but I fear I’m more on Roger’s side in this case. Thinking about it, I am now a little surprised that it took until 1981 for the sequel to happen (by which time, of course, a ton of those imitators had already come out). The original was an enormous hit straight away, so I’m surprised Yablans didn’t try and have a follow-up ready for Halloween 1979; Carpenter was busy with The Fog that year, but Halloween II could’ve been out by October 1980. (Not like the extra time benefited it that much.) Whatever. It’s still hard not to see it taking certain cues from Halloween‘s knockoffs, particularly when it comes to the markedly greater violence quotient and body count (which it actually references outright at the conclusion). I was a bit surprised that it’s still not as excessive as I’d thought it might be, but it’s still way more than the original (which, as I said way back when, is surprising in its relative lack of violence).

And it’s definitely hard not to see the lack of enthusiasm and inspiration in the finished result. Dan Drambles is harder on the revelation that Laurie Strode is Michael’s sister than I think Ric Meyers is, and here I agree with Dan: it’s a fucking nonsensical twist thrown in to try and justify Michael’s killing spree where there was no evident motivation in the first film. And Michael’s unkillability feels more preposterous here somehow than it did first time round. On the plus side, the sequel had more money thrown at it and that definitely shows, and yet somehow the film nonetheless feels… cheaper in a way the original didn’t. Carpenter made his limitations work in that; new director Rick Rosenthal didn’t quite do the same here. (Halloween II cost about $2.5m, effectively more than ten times the original, but it’s still not a huge amount even so. And I think George Romero got far more value out of a fraction of that in Dawn of the Dead.) The hospital scenes particularly galled me on that front for some reason; I know hospitals aren’t buzzing hives of activity at night (having been in one overnight multiple times now, you certainly don’t want them to be), especially in small towns, but this one felt weirdly under-populated (not to mention under-staffed). Bigger budget definitely didn’t make that feel more convincing.

I mean, I didn’t expect a masterpiece of the seventh art from Halloween II, and I certainly didn’t get one, but I suppose I got what I kind of did expect from it. It is the sort of film that it is, and no one was really trying to make it any more than that, and no one involved seems to have had much love for it and I don’t either. I don’t think it’s really worth hating either (well… maybe for “Sam Hain”. Bigger budget certainly didn’t extend to a fucking dictionary). If nothing else, I suppose at least it’s another film crossed off the Drive-In Delirium project list (which is about to get complicated now there’s a blu-ray upgrade)…

*I have, of course, seen most of Mr Romero’s “dead” films (Survival of the Dead being the only one I haven’t watched), but I don’t know if they really constitute a franchise in the same way these ones do. They’re not numbered sequels and they don’t have recurring characters (unless you count the dead as some sort of collective entity). Similarly, I’ve obviously seen Inferno by uncle Dario, but I don’t think anyone considers the Three Mothers films a franchise in any way.

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