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Halloween II (1981) – Carpenter meddles countdown #2

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about this one is how long it took to get to the screens, a full three years after the original.

Concept: They're going to make the sequel anyway…

It starts just before the end of the original Halloween. After the TV version of the final confrontation (most of Donald Pleasence shooting The Shape is seen from outside the house), the first non-musical change is that Pleasence comes out of the front door, not the balcony, to see that The Shape has gone. Mistake #1 is that he looks surprised, rather than his 'I knew it' of the original. This is the point at which it should be obvious that it would be a good idea to stop watching now. There's blood on the grass, and he looks around. Now there are neighbours coming out – their failure to help Jamie Lee Curtis (JLC) is one of the great bits of the original. "You don't know what death is" says Pleasence to them before running off and we cut to the titles. There we see Dino de Laurentis is involved (always a danger sign), that Pleasence and JLC get equal billing in the 'he's bottom left, she's top right' way, and the pumpkin opens to show a skull. The main title theme is done very well though.

Then it's straight into Panaglide Shape POV wandering round the back streets (which look like a different area from the street we've just been in). Night of the Living Dead is on the TV when it's interrupted by a (very early – the police have only just arrived there) on the scene TV newsflash, and The Shape uses that to get another knife from someone's kitchen. For no very good reason, he walks into another house with a lone teenage woman and kills her. For the first time, we see blood splatter. JLC is taken to hospital going 'Don't let them put me to sleep!' and we get, for the first time, JLC POV a few times. She is indeed, put to sleep.

Pleasence and Charles Cyphers are driving around arguing when Pleasence spots The Shape. They get out of the car and as The Shape walks away from them across the road, he's hit by another police car (with apparently really bad brakes) and crushed against a van. Which then explodes. Before long, the media are reporting The Shape is Michael Myers and that he's been burnt to death. Of course, he's not dead (it wasn't him for one thing) and he's soon walking around the busy middle of the town to one of the most under-staffed hospitals ever having heard that's where JLC is. Before long, he's disabled the phone system, leaving open padlocks for the single security guard to find, and working his way through the staff.

What’s good: The music.

That some people who'd done Halloween for peanuts got a pay day.

Some of the cinematography (Dean Cundey again) is good.

What’s not so good: The script. There were always going to be problems, but the intelligence has gone. From the big stuff (JLC is The Shape's sister), through the middle (despite knowing there's a killer on the loose, no-one sees anything until its too late) to the little (it's fifteen minutes of running time, more in 'real time', before Pleasence reloads his empty gun (the one that in this version has just shot seven times, despite all his shouts about six!) It is ten minutes between the media reporting the discovery of three bodies from the first film and anyone bothering to tell the Sheriff, even though one is his daughter. Just about the only intelligent bit is JLC's question "Why won't he die?" after the Shape gets shot at close range by Pleasence another five times. Being shot twice – once in each eye! – by her doesn't stop him either. The ending of the final confrontation is telegraphed repeatedly – see how many times Pleasence uses his lighter, despite not smoking.

The characterisation of The Shape. Would the original's Shape be unable to stop a lift door closing? No. This one is. He will kill a random teenager for no reason, then walk through a busy town centre without touching anyone. He's become a 'slasher' film baddie and the kills are clearly 'show kills' (let's hit someone in the head with a hammer / stab two in the eye with needles / hold someone under hot water / etc etc) rather than any attempt at pretending this is 'real'. It doesn't help that it's stuntman Dick Warlock not Nick Castle playing him (you can easily tell from the movements – this is zombie Michael). I'm not sure why it wasn't Castle again – he'd co-written Escape, so he was still talking to Carpenter despite only being paid $25 a day for his work on the original film!

The characterisation of Laurie. She's just a victim here.

The cast is larger (the budget was much bigger) and not all of them are good. Even Pleasence is much better in the original.

Music: Updated from the original, 'in association with' Alan Howarth. The reworking of the main theme is particularly good, but the score is basically a remix.

Miscellany: Although the director is Rick Rostenthal, Carpenter is said to have reshot several scenes himself including adding much of the splatter.

As I've said, there aren't many staff in this hospital, but where are the rest of the patients? There are at least two babies in cots: where are the mothers?

Overall: Unlike the original, this is a 'let's set up a series of unusual kills' run-of-the-mill slasher film. Its basic problem is that it's not a good one. Relying on splatter for its shocks, there's not enough to satisfy that market. It doesn't work as suspense either – we don't care about the victims and the question isn't 'where is The Shape?' or 'what's going to happen next?', it's 'what method is he going to use to kill this one?' Amazingly, nearly all of the subsequent sequels managed to be worse, not least because the continuity of the 'Michael Myers' series really went to pot with the reappearance of Donald Pleasence in the next one.

In one of the documentaries on the Halloween DVDs, Carpenter admits his involvement was just down to the money. After the original was a huge hit, a sequel was going to be done with or without him and Debra Hill, so they sold out. It shows. If we put this in the main countdown, it'd be at #15 1/2 – it's less painful than Escape From LA but nowhere near as interesting as Mouth.

TL;DR A pale imitation. Given how much he had a hand in it, it's probably counts as Carpenter's first bad film.

Film: 1.5/5
DVD: 2/5

You get the film. Pick the right one, and you get it in widescreen.

The widescreen DVD, with commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, neither of whom had anything to do with the film, and the soundtrack CD:

Written by Ian

July 4th, 2011 at 11:21 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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