Thursday, October 18, 2007

Michael Myers minus "The Shape"

Halloween II
(Universal Pictures, 1981)
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Producers: Debra Hill, John Carpenter
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill


"The main problem is the film's underlying motivation. Halloween was a labor of love, made by people committed to creating the most suspenseful and compelling motion picture they could. Halloween II was impelled by the desire to make money. It was a postscript - and not a very good one - slapped together because a box office success was guaranteed. Carpenter and Hill didn't believe in this project the way they believed in the original, and it shows in the final product. The creepiness of the first movie has been replaced by a growing sense of repetitive boredom. The Shape, who was an ominous and forbidding force, has been turned into a plodding zombie. The characters have all been lobotomized, and, in keeping with the slasher trend, the gore content is way up. There was virtually no blood in Halloween; Halloween II cheerfully heaps it on. (Rosenthal reportedly wanted to honor the original movie's low-key approach when it came to the murders, but Carpenter, concerned that the picture would be deemed too "tame" by the slasher audience, re-filmed several death scenes with more gore.)"

"Adding a backstory to explain why the Shape is relentless in his pursuit of Laurie is a mistake on Carpenter's part. One of many reasons that Halloween worked is because the Shape represented an implacable, inexplicable, unstoppable force of evil. He existed to stalk and kill; there was no reason for it. Offering an explanation emasculates this image. He's no longer "the Shape," but "Michael Myers." The depiction of evil incarnate has been replaced by a slow-moving guy in a Captain Kirk mask with some serious family issues. And, instead of always hovering around the edge of the frame or just outside of it, he becomes the focus of shot after shot. Gone is the malevolent figure in the shadows; now, he's striding down long hospital corridors under the baleful glare of fluorescent lights. Michael is an icon that should never have been explained or humanized - not even a little bit.

The saving grace of Halloween II is Donald Pleasance. More than any of the other films, this one belongs to Loomis, the gun-toting action figure who arrives in the nick of time and has more good one-liners than everyone else put together. (I won't print any of them here, since they lose their zing when taken out of context.) Pleasance, who accepted Loomis' role in Halloween with reservations, seems to be enjoying himself immensely this time around. The actor would return to reprise this role three more times - in Halloweens four, five, and six. He died shortly after making the penultimate (and worst) Halloween sequel.

There is a way to enjoy this movie, and it has to do with lowering expectations. Halloween was a classic - the kind of film that will cause you to walk a little faster on your way home after a screening, or, if you travel by car, to check the back seat. The sequel doesn't offer the same kind of horror. However, it is a passable piece of camp. There's some genuinely funny material in this movie, although I can't guess how much of it was originally intended to generate mirth. Consider, for example, the scenes near the beginning of the movie where Loomis empties his revolver into the Shape, then runs around screaming, "I shot him six times! I shot him six times! I shot him in the heart! I shot him six times!" That's enough to get a hearty chuckle out of any one, especially when you consider that the good doctor has a problem with basic mathematics. He actually shot him seven times. (Don't believe me? Count for yourself.)

As slasher movies go, Halloween II is far from the bottom of the barrel, but, given its pedigree, one has a right to expect a higher degree of quality that what is delivered. The film offers more laughs than scares, and, if watched in concert with the original, has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the earlier picture. When John Carpenter went to work on Halloween, the project was all about generating tension and toying with the viewer's expectations - lessons learned from Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho. With Halloween II, it was all about graphic, grisly murders and a high body count - lessons learned at the box office. And that disparity, more than anything else, illustrates why Halloween is a classic and its first sequel is a sloppy afterthought." - James Berardinelli, Reelviews (2/4)

Note: Score ratings in bold are Select Reviews, and "( )" the authors cited.