Monday, October 18, 2021

Trick or Trailers: Halloween II (1981)

At one time, when a horror movie was successful it didn't automatically mean that a franchise was born. For decades, Norman Bates remained incarcerated. After Leatherface danced by daybreak in the wake of Sally Hardesty's escape, his chainsaw stayed silent for years. 
So even though Michael Myers disappeared from the lawn of the Doyle house after taking six bullets in the chest at the end of Halloween, it didn't necessarily mean that audiences would ever see him again.

Halloween's open ending may look like an obvious, even cynical, sequel set up from today's standpoint but it was simply ambiguous. The only curtain call Michael needed to make was the sound of his breathing playing over the film's final shot of his childhood home.  

That said, in 1981 it was hard not to be excited by the prospect of More of the Night He Came Home. The trailer promised to give us more of Dr. Loomis' dogged pursuit of Michael and more of Laurie Strode in peril. Slasher movies were booming and surely this sequel would show the makers of all the Halloween knock-offs how it's really supposed to be done. As it turned out, though, not so much.

Halloween II began the long tradition - celebrating 40 years now! - of fans finding themselves largely disappointed in Halloween sequels. 

It also began the cherished tradition of fans continuing to hope, against all logic, that the magic of that first film might one day be recaptured. 

The fact that II, even in the hands of Carpenter and Debra Hill, entirely missed the point of Halloween, though, should have been a strong indicator that this ship would never quite be righted. I don't think there's a single franchise that so immediately got off on the wrong foot with its first sequel as Halloween did. All the subsequent mistakes that other Halloween films have made were born from the mistakes of this one. They stumbled on the first try and they've been falling forward ever since. 

Some of the Halloween sequels and reboots have been better than others. Some have been pretty nifty in their own right. But none of them have really, truly made a convincing case that Halloween should have ever gone past the first movie. 

What Halloween II had that none of the other entries would (because of Halloween II!) is the benefit of the doubt. Once II was released, every future Halloween was forced to live in the shadow of that first disappointment. It will forever be the only sequel where the trailer had fans mostly expecting a treat rather than being wary of a trick.   



Caffeinated Joe said...

It also set up the enjoyment of anticipating what was coming next, and looking forward to that new film's release. All of that is part of the enjoyment, for me.

Jeff Allard said...

Halloween II had an advantage that no other Halloween has had when it comes to marketing. The idea to continue right from the ending of the first film was brilliant so you could literally say that this was "More of the Night that He Came Home" and it was an automatic must see. The idea that the sequel wasn't going to pick up days, weeks or years later but was going to bring us back to telling the rest of what happened on that Halloween night was a killer hook. Plus, with no other weak sequels that set us up for disappointment, it was a lot easier to sell people on the idea that this was going to kick ass.

KCPopCultBlarf said...

The thing is that Halloween II likely would have flopped had it not had the gore (and nudity) amped up. Carpenter and Hill knew this. The first Halloween, for all of its sleek efficiency, is a suspense engine. Carpenter isn't a particularly gifted horror director (note how The Thing isn't as good while Rob Bottin's effects are being shown off as when the station crew members are wallowing in paranoia.) But he IS a masterful suspense director. And Halloween is about nerve-wracking, gut-squeezing suspense as the Shape shows up in the corner of that Panavision frame.
But by 1981 the market was awash in blood. And name recognition would only go so far. Carpenter inserted gore and inventive kills in Rosenthal's film for the same reason he added in gory kills in The Fog. He was reading the marketplace. Rosenthal was going for suspense but doing so without Carpenter's knack for it and as a result, his cut of Halloween II was about as scary as an episode of Quincy, Carpenter said. Sooooo he upped the blood.
I think Halloween II has numerous pleasures. If Halloween is a sensational meal in a fine restaurant, Halloween II is a really good bowl of chili with some mighty good corn bread.

I like the ensemble cast, even if most exist to get killed off. Dick Warlock's take on Michael is fine, albeit slower than Nick Castle, who moved at a slightly speedier pace. The kills are fun (Mrs. Alves' death is particularly striking) and except for Michael's weird stab-lift of hapless nurse Jill, there's none of the weird sadistic overindulgence that would characterize the sequels (or David Gordon Green's execrable HALLOWEEN KILLS, a genuinely awful movie.)

No, it's not Halloween. But then again, nothing else is Halloween, either. It's a bit like Airplane II, a movie that would seem perfectly funny if it hadn't been the sequel to one of the funniest movies ever made. Against a giant and ground-breaking progenitor, any sequel is diminished. You can only catch lightning in a bottle once.

Jeff Allard said...

I agree, KC, that the amped up gore and nudity in Halloween II was all about keeping pace with audience's expectations. It was purely a commercial consideration and likely a savvy and correct one. What the horror crowd had come to expect out of an R-rated slasher in 1981 had already changed considerably since Halloween in '78. And as much as II is a lesser work than the original, it has to be said that the explosive climax is one of the greatest bits in any Halloween movie. Michael has met his end in many ways over the course of the series but II's climax will forever remain unbeaten. It's so good they really should have found a way to keep it canon for the new films.