Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween II (1981)

What does Skelepumpkin have to do with Michael Myers?
The original Halloween is a classic horror film, so it's not surprising that the movie's villain was brought back for another round.  What is surprising is that it took three years for it to happen.  But how to make a sequel that doesn't immediately fall short of the original?  Apparently, the answer is to have the sequel pick up at the instant that the original left off.

Halloween ended with Michael Myers giving the murder of poor Laurie Stroad (Jamie Lee Curtis) the good ol' college try; he never gave up hope, even after a stab wound to the neck, a stab wound in the eye, and a stab wound in the chest.  When Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shows up and unloads six bullets into him, well...that's a persuasive argument to take a break from the Laurie Stroad project.  After being shot, Michael falls out of a second story window and lands on the ground.  However, when Dr. Loomis looks down, Michael has vanished.  He didn't go very far.  About a block away, Michael heals his wounds the best way he knows how: by stabbing some elderly people with a kitchen knife.  And then he goes after their teenage neighbor, for some reason.  Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis and the police scour the town, looking for Michael.  They eventually find someone matching his costume (really?  Who wears a William Shatner mask painted white with coveralls before Michael Myers was famous?), but he runs for some reason, gets hit by a police car and slammed into a van, which explodes, and he silently burns to death.  That is good enough for the police, but Dr. Loomis needs more proof that Michael is dead.  If only he knew where to find Michael!

Meanwhile, Laurie was taken to the hospital to treat her injuries from the first film.  The hospital has about six people working on Halloween night, which sounds a little short-staffed to me, but I'm not in charge of scheduling shifts at fictitious medical centers.  Laurie spends a good deal of the movie drifting into and out of consciousness, flashing back to her childhood, where she learns that she's adopted and she meets a quiet older boy...somewhere.  Michael figures out where Laurie is, so he hoofs it to the hospital and starts killing his way through the staff.  Will Laurie wake up in time to save herself?  Will Dr. Loomis figure out what Michael will do next?  Why does Michael keep picking on Laurie?  The answers to all these questions and more await you in...Halloween II!

First, the bad news.  Halloween II is nowhere near as good as the original.  The main reason for this is the change of directors; John Carpenter did co-write the script with the original film's other writer, Debra Hill, and he did go back and re-shoot some of the kill scenes to amp up the gore.  Having input into the film is not the same as directing it, though, and his absence is felt.  Rick Rosenthal took over the role of director, and he does his best to follow in the footsteps of Halloween.  This is his first time directing, though, and it shows.  The POV shots are not handled as well and the acting is much worse this time around.

Actually, I take that back.  The acting isn't terrible, it just doesn't use the best assets in the film.  Jamie Lee Curtis is sleeping for most of the movie (so she couldn't utilize her famous scream) and Donald Pleasence spends waaaay too much time bossing the police around.  No, the problem is that the characters got infected with a serious case of stupiditis.  Examples?
  • "Damn you for letting him go, doctor!"  Uh, Myers escaped.  And this doctor spent all day trying to convince you that Myers was a danger.
  • A nurse can't work a walkie talkie, even with brief instructions.
  • An EMT can enter a room with blood covering the floor, but the second he realizes that there's blood on the floor, he slips and knocks himself out.  He's not Wile E. Coyote; he's a guy who should probably have shoes designed not to slip.
  • Michael kills a (naked) nurse by scalding her to death.  Kind of lame, but kind of awesome.  But his hand that keeps her face in the water doesn't get scalded.
  •  Why doesn't the Haddonfield police have an officer guarding Laurie?  She is the only surviving victim of a killer that is still at large, you know.
There's more than that, but when every character does something dumb, it gets tiresome to list every example.

The music in this film is very different from the first, as well.  The main themes return, but they have been affected by 80s synthesizers and sound tinnier.  And crappier.  Those themes aren't used much, though.  Instead, some generic horror score is provided and "Mr. Sandman" (Yeeeeeessss?  Bring them a dream) by the Chordettes opens and closes the film.  Um.  Okay.  Weird.  I guess Laurie is asleep for most of the movie, but...huh...that's just a bewildering musical choice.

The movie is not all bad, though.  In an attempt to compete with other slasher movies, there are more kills, more gore and more nudity this time around.  The kills are usually pretty cool.  This is the earliest movie I have seen a hypodermic needle to the eye kill someone.  Michael proves to be creative, too, by draining the blood of one victim, scalding another, and just having fun with the rest.  The body count in the first film was five.  I counted fifteen this time.  As a standard slasher film, this is a respectable movie.

As the sequel to an awesome slasher movie, it falls short.  The changes made from movie to movie make sense, for the most part, but I think this film was dumbed down to compete with lower quality films.  I had several small but serious gripes when watching the movie.  First, Myers' mask has more detail; I thought the pure white of the first film's mask was scarier.  Michael takes a ridiculous amount of damage without dying, even if you don't count the first movie; if you do count the first film, he survived eleven gunshot wounds, a knife wound, a needle to the neck, a wire to the eye, a two story fall and then --- after all that --- he gets shot in each eye and keeps fighting.  Seriously, what the hell.  Perhaps my biggest problem with the movie is that they answer why Michael is chasing Laurie.  One of the most frightening things about the first movie was the randomness of his obsession, but if he has a reason then he has a logic that can be understood, and you don't fear (as much) what you understand.  And, in the first movie, Michael primarily killed those that he knew Laurie cared for.  This time, it seems to be some (but not all) of the people he meets.  I just liked it better when I didn't know why or who he would kill.  Now, I feel reasonably assured that I would survive a trip to Haddonfield, Illinois, and "assured" isn't a feeling I like to have after watching horror flicks.

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