31 Days of Horror: Halloween II
Evolutionary not revolutionary, Halloween II (1981) picks up right where its predecessor left off. A mere three minutes after, in fact. Myers has just been blasted off the house balcony but, knowing him, he somehow finds a way to survive and escapes into the night like a shadow. Meanwhile, his intended victim, Laurie Strode, is left reeling in hospital.
It’s almost as good as the original. Almost. Just like that absolute classic, Halloween II follows the same Laurie Strode who’s forced to evade the same single-minded psychopath sure to haunt little children in their sleep. Or anyone, really. And, also like the original, the local police force is beyond useless at stopping him, so it’s up to Laurie and Loomis (‘mentor’ and former psychiatrist to Myers) to thwart him, or at least slow him down. It’s just as disturbing, just as hair-raisingly terrifying. But in a different way.
Halloween II is more slasher than the atmospheric, psychological thriller that was the original, and was lambasted upon its release for unimaginatively piling up a greater number of corpses. There’s way more bystanders blocking the route to Laurie this time around, most of them serving as food for Myers’ knife. In Halloween, although the audience does glimpse the before and after of his younger self murdering his family, he only strangles one or two people in the main action and there’s next to no blood. Where Halloween is a tense game of hide and seek, Halloween II is more of a straight chase. Myers also gets way more screen time, and why be afraid of something that’s there in plain sight? The first movie was great because nobody knew what kind of threat the killer posed, but here he’s very much a known quantity.
Part of the shift to the more explicit blood and gore can perhaps be explained by the fact that Carpenter initially didn’t want to return to make a sequel. Halloween was originally envisioned as a one-off project, and Carpenter described the writing process for its sequel as consisting of a lot of beer and sitting in front of a typewriter not knowing what he was doing. Indeed, one critic at the time, James Berardinelli, accused Carpenter of not believing fully in the film because he knew it would be a box office success no matter what. In other words, the creative spark that drove Halloween was lost.
Although losing points for originality, Halloween II has just enough to make it a worthwhile successor to Halloween. It could have been a whole lot worse, and contemporary criticism has in recent times given way to a more favourable view, perhaps when measured against the endless sequels and spin-offs that followed. And, for all its gore, it must be remembered that this was the early 80s when slashers were taking over (think Friday the 13th) and part of the appeal with slashers is, of course, the gore. In that sense. Halloween II is simply a product of its time, and whilst it’s nowhere near as innovative as its forerunner in finding ways to scare the audience, it’s bloodcurdlingly effective in the ways that it does. There’s a particularly intense pursuit around a hospital, and it’s no less scary for the fact that Myers can be seen in full sight rather than skulking in the shadows like in Halloween.
The biggest problem with Halloween II might not be the greater emphasis on explicit violence, but rather the revelation that Myers is actually Laurie’s biological brother. It’s a cheesy twist, in a ‘Luke, I am your father’ kind of way, and further blurs the line between his human and supernatural nature. Of course, the fact that he’s her brother doesn’t stop him wanting to put a knife through her belly; in fact, it’s the very reason why. Talk about sibling rivalries, eh? Halloween II also gives viewers some interesting clues linking him with Samhain and the occult, but keeps people guessing by not giving too much away.
What would be far more effective is if Myers still had no solid motive for pursuing Laurie, if it was just out of sheer cold-bloodedness driven by some inner demon – the idea that someone can just walk into your house and kill you because he decided to. This is after all what sometimes happens in the real world, and what’s more terrifying than being stalked by a faceless figure with no clear motive? Unfortunately, sometimes there just is no greater purpose for evil, and that’s what makes the horror genre so endlessly fascinating. Interestingly, Halloween (2018) would perform a U-turn on this particularly bloody sibling relationship, seeing it as the unnecessary baggage that it was.
As for the precise nature of Myers, who is credited as ‘The Shape’ in the original, it’s difficult to say. How do screenwriters keep bringing him back, and how does the series manage to keep progressing? His creators themselves don’t exactly know his true being, but John Carpenter has described the character as “almost a supernatural force – a force of nature” which is “unkillable”. That’s why he appears in a mask, being a personification of a dark, abstract entity. And the sibling relationship raises a difficult question, because if Myers is this indestructible boogeyman figure who is at least partly supernatural, then why is Laurie just a normal girl? Ultimately, there’s only really one true answer as to why he won’t die: because he makes people money.
Whereas Halloween II did not – for the most part – change a winning formula, its sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch did just that, exploring the holiday’s ancient Celtic roots in an entirely different setting with an entirely different set of characters. It’s most definitely a trick rather than a treat, revolving around an insane Irish toymaker (with an English accent) creating mischief from his factory out in California. Confronting him is an everyman sort of protagonist in place of the instantly recognisable Jamie Lee Curtis. Other than the fact that the events take place around Halloween, this third entry has no obvious connection with the previous two and might as well be a standalone film. There are the clues in Halloween II linking Myers with Samhain and Halloween’s ancient, much darker roots, but given that he’s not in this one at all, it’s a flimsy connection to make. Needless to say, Halloween III didn’t go down well at the box office, despite garnering a cult following in later years.
The next director, taking the hint, brought back Myers four years later in the imaginatively titled Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and even up to the present day, he’s still not dead. And so, in some twisted way, The Shape and his blood-soaked story lives on, and Halloween II, being an integral part of that story, does too.