Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II commits the cardinal sin for a suspense film, in that it just attempts to explain too damn much. This mistake is one of the main problems that have plagued so many sequels and remakes throughout screen history. Why is ambiguity such a problem for mainstream American filmgoers? Why do so many feel like unanswered questions are such a bad thing?
Despite it’s many faults and failings, and there are plenty of them, Halloween II has survived and has had an effect. Michael Myers’ role as not only Laurie Strode’s lost brother but also as some sort of ‘lord of the dead’ comes directly from Rosenthal’s frustrating follow up to John Carpenter’s delightfully minimal and mysterious first film. Of course, one can’t blame Rosenthal completely as Halloween II was indeed penned by both Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. One can see the effect of the film in not only its sequels (particularly 4, 5 and 6 that took the ‘Samhain’ idea to finally ridiculous extremes) but also in Rob Zombie’s remake that unfortunately embraced the whole ‘Laurie as a lost sister’ concept.
The many missteps in the film’s script are especially unfortunate when one considers the fact that there are moments in Halloween II that are actually quite effective. Why more horror films haven’t been shot in seemingly abandoned hospitals in the dead of night is a mystery, because Rosenthal uses its empty and long hallways to great effect. At its best, Halloween II manages to build not a small amount of suspense, despite its script that seems to want to spoil all the mysteries the first film had created so terrifyingly.
Rosenthal’s film also benefits greatly from the work of returning cinematographer Dean Cundey, who lights and photographs the film with an eerie clarity. The film is indeed the only one of the sequels that manages to recreate at least partially the look of the stunning original, even though the larger budget actually seems to take away much of the freshness Carpenter and Cundey had come up with originally.
It is, of course, unfair to hold Halloween II up to its legendary predecessor. Perhaps it is more fitting to compare it to the other dozens upon dozens of slasher flicks that were populating American screens in the early eighties. In this respect it carries itself quite well. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance and a couple of other key players back on board, Halloween II is one of the best cast slashers of the period. The new additions redeem themselves quite nicely as well, especially Pamela Susan Shoop and Gloria Gifford. Compared to many of the Slasher films of the period, Halloween II is actually pretty top notch, although finally it cannot be considered among the best.
Personally speaking, I have a lot of memories tied up in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, and despite its problems I find myself watching it each year. I’m especially drawn towards the television version, with the alternate ending, that seemed to play endlessly throughout my teenage years. While it is mostly just nostalgia that keeps pulling me towards it, I have always suspected that somewhere down those stretched and shadowy hospital hallways that a great film could have emerged. When asked my opinion on the film, I typically just reply, “It has its moments” and perhaps that is all that should have been expected from it…but I have the feeling it could have been so much more.