John Carpenter never wanted to make a Halloween sequel. Or at least one featuring Michael Myers – his original intent was to develop the film into an anthology franchise, like The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt, one following many unrelated horror stories revolving around the superstitious October holiday. Of the entire series, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was the only film to break away from the original’s mask-wearing serial killer, but it was so financially and critically unsuccessful upon its release that Universal Pictures refocused all future entries in the franchise back to Michael Myers.
Nevertheless, Carpenter returned with a mixture of hesitation and apathy to this first sequel to his groundbreaking horror masterpiece. While he refused to direct Halloween II, he did co-write the script with Debra Hill (who also co-wrote the original), the process of which he amusingly described as “[dealing] with a lot of beer, sitting in front of a typewriter saying ‘what the f*** am I doing? I don’t know’”. The role of director was passed along to newcomer Rick Rosenthal for what would become his directorial debut. Despite the inexperience of its director and the apparent apathy of its original creator, Halloween II manages to be a great deal of fun, and a rewarding albeit inevitably inferior sequel to the elegant minimalism of its predecessor.
The first thing to understand about Halloween II is that it is less a sequel than an extended epilogue. Picking up immediately where the original left off, the film begins as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is hauled away to the hospital, having survived the vicious attacks of her assailant Michael Myers. Michael has mysteriously disappeared, even after suffering numerous gunshot wounds from his former psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), and in the early moments of the film we get an extended sequence of brilliant first-person POV shots of Michael fleeing the scene of the crime to search for Laurie. This early scene immediately establishes the unique tone of the film as something of an after hours special, one that plays best having just finished the original Halloween.
The film quickly transitions into the hospital Laurie is staying in, with Michael close on her trail to finish the savagery he started. It’s more of a typical slasher than Carpenter’s film, pursuing a more explicit and extravagant approach to its violence as compared to the quiet brutality of the original. The movie undoubtedly loses something by forgoing its predecessor’s restraint in this aspect, but the gratuity and ridiculousness to its kills (Michael murders nurses with everything from needles to hot tubs in this installment) also work to distinguish it as something of a quirky B-sides to its more serious parent film.
This isn’t to say that Halloween II is devoid of the tension and mood that made the original so memorable – on the contrary, the film’s hospital setting is immensely compelling, trading in the dark open streets of Haddonfield for bright sterile hallways and an oppressive atmosphere of quiet doom. Once again, it helps to have experienced the terror of the original movie immediately preceding this one, with the screams still fresh and the wounds still healing. There’s something about a hospital setting that’s just infinitely more frightening to me than the streets of an Illinois suburb. It’s more claustrophobic: there’s less room to run, fewer places to hide. The film achieves a kind of eerie dreaminess in its images of an angel of death unleashed upon a sleepy hospital, in those odd hours of the night when most everyone is sleeping and the world feels most like a dream.
Halloween II ultimately may not ever stack up to the beloved masterpiece status of Carpenter’s definitive slasher, but it will always hold a place in my heart as the relaxed midnight special that best reminds me of the October season. And though it is far from perfect – there are far too many silly exposition dumps, clunky acting, and an exceptionally misguided final act twist – I actually prefer it in many aspects to the original. For any fans of the original Halloween that have somehow skipped this little gem of a sequel, I would heartily recommend giving it a shot this brisk Halloween evening – after a proper rewatch of the first film, of course. You may be pleasantly surprised.