Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Down Those Deserted Hallways Again.

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.


Steve Langton said...

Nice review which has summed it up really well. It's an infuriating film at times, but the most successful moments are done extremely well and do place it above other so-called competitors from that era. I too have fond memories of this film as it was one of the first videos I rented. Maybe that's a reason why I look on it with a less critical eye than I perhaps would otherwise have done. It's showing over here on Friday on TV and as I don't own the DVD, I'll record it, for old times sake. it will certainly be nice to catch it again for the first time in several years.

Aaron W. Graham said...

I just watched this film again recently, comparing the DVD cut with the TV edit that (still) shows up on AMC (though not this year, strangely!)

I understand Carpenter went back himself to film the more bloodier bits of (useless?) carnage, so I was thinking recently -- perhaps he (un)consciously did this just to ensure the classic status of his original?

Or, more likely, he reasoned that if this is what viewers wanted in light of all the far gorier HALLOWEEN retreads of the time, that he'll deliver it himself, all the while experimenting with the gore safely under Rick Rosenthal's credit.

Keith said...

While not as good as the original film, it is still my favorite of the sequels. It does have its share of flaws, but it's much better than the following sequels and the hash of other slasher movies out there. Great write-up on it. The hospital scenes were definitely eerie and creepy. They added the right atmosphere to the film.

Ray Ray said...

I just rewatched this movie tonight. I think it's unfairly maligned and holds up as an effective slasher thriller. It terrified me when I saw it as a teenager in the theater on its first run. It's got a sense of menace that never lets up, and I think the fact that the viewer knows what's going on while the characters (save Laurie) don't makes it that much more tense and harrowing. I like this flick, i'll never understand the bad rap it gets!