3 out of 5 stars

‘More of The Night He Came Home.’ As taglines go, this is hard to beat for sheer transparency; Halloween II is simply more of what you enjoyed the first time. It’s reminiscent of Jaws 2 (1978), which also had a tagline more memorable than the film, as an early horror-thriller that broke into the world of blockbusters. Nobody expected John Carpenter’s independent slasher made for £325K to run away with $70M. Executive producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad were adamant their shark, Michael Myers, must return. They were a vocal minority behind-the-scenes. Editor and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace commented that “no one was all that excited” about returning.

Were they hesitant of replaying the original’s greatest hits? We start during the first’s finale with Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shooting Michael (Dick Warlock). Cutting Carpenter’s eerie montage of empty houses, here we have Loomis screaming at a neighbour, “you don’t know what death is!” Despite some terrific lines like this, Yablans called the script “pedestrian and predictable”. Unlike Stephen King, Carpenter couldn’t spin gold by writing Halloween II drunk, muttering in front of his typewriter “what the fuck am I doing?” Mentioning Budweiser as his drink of choice, decades later the company would retell this experience in a great, niche advert.

If you’ve seen Halloween (1978), then you already know the plot. Michael kills various people on his meandering way to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who’s now in the sequel’s new setting of a hospital. Carpenter isn’t especially proud of Halloween II, but there are some interesting contributions. His revisit of the original score, with co-composer Alan Howarth, is a far more layered, enhanced composition than the ’78 film, and remixes the same iconic themes he’d improve upon again with Halloween (2018). One insignificant moment for the plot finds a young boy suffering a razor blade in the apple; another bad omen that all things terrible are happening on this holiday. Foreshadowing the full apocalyptic premise of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Loomis even details the history of Samhain, with Michael’s behaviour a despairing return to the ritualistic sacrifices of old.

Carpenter wouldn’t return to direct this sequel, choosing a then inexperienced Rick Rosenthal to replace him; a filmmaker who used this experience to kill the franchise with Halloween: Resurrection (2002) decades later. To use his own words, “it’s a continuation of a John Carpenter film. It’s not at all my film”, and for good and bad that’s certainly apt. Sharing the same creeping dread and autumnal cosiness of the first, with Carpenter’s score, one might assume this was his visual work as well. Stealing an elderly couple’s knife who watch news coverage of earlier carnage, or looming over an infant ward stalking some nurses, Michael standing still is an ominous image that works for any director. Worth noting, the budget was $2.5M, roughly eight times the original… and the two films somehow look pretty much the same. That’s a testament to Carpenter’s skill, but perhaps most of Halloween II’s budget went to luring him, Curtis, and Pleasence back.

I hope Rosenthal got his fair share of the money, despite Halloween II having egregious story issues. Laurie continuing her night of terror was a bold move, but the film squanders this by keeping her bed-ridden and half-lucid right up until the third act. She had some urgency and drive in the first to protect the children she was babysitting, but here she lies emotionless as a boring new cast of characters talk to her. What a mistake that would be to restrict her to a hospital bed for another sequel… hmmm.

Ben Tramer is the most iconic new character in this film, and that’s because he gets destroyed by a cop car! Fans demand justice for Danielle Harris from Halloween’s 4-6 (1988-1995), and Paul Rudd even contemplated reprising his role from Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995). Yet nobody’s asking for closure on Jimmy (Lance Guest), the paramedic who takes a creepy shine to near-comatose Laurie. His disposable colleagues all show more likeable charm, but then he serves almost as a red herring as our new protagonist. Taking up several dialogue scenes, he knocks himself out after slipping on some blood. Like other characters, he never returns and is only shown to survive in the television edit!

Loomis and Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) continue chasing Michael, and even then, Brackett disappears midway after learning his daughter Annie is dead. A story beat expanded upon quite beautifully in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009). Pleasance continues to commit, though the early ‘death’ of Michael mechanically serves as a narrative reset to have the police disbelieve Loomis again. Halloween 2018’s canon ignores Halloween II, yet references to Tramer and civilian rioting in Halloween Kills (2021) still prove how entwined this first sequel is to the original.

Then there’s the elephant-sized connection of I and II. Delivered by a returning Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens), a convenient birth record of Laurie Myers, sister to Michael. Carpenter was desperate for anything to pad out this story and admitted he “didn’t think there was really much of a story left.” When this revelation comes so late in, we’ve already accepted Michael intends to finish his night with Laurie. Nothing more was necessary. Contrast to when Laurie learns her attacker was the town legend, something she didn’t even know in the original. Hearing this after the fact is quite haunting. Their family bond serves no story purpose; Laurie doesn’t use it to her advantage, nor does Michael treat her any different from his other victims. Zombie harnesses this revelation in a satirical stab at true crime exploitation. His egotistical Loomis writes a tell-all book on the Myers’ murders, which devastates a PTSD-suffering Laurie.

All this talk of further sequels, remakes, and reboots, it’s evident that Halloween II must’ve done well enough. It made $25.5M, less than half that of the original, and yet it was still the second-highest-grossing horror of 1981—behind An American Werewolf in London and beating other genre sequels like Friday the 13th Part 2 and Omen III: The Final Conflict. Halloween III meant to spin the franchise into a holiday anthology, with robots, deadly masks, and Stonehenge… an odd, ambitious venture that failed financially and critically, scaring the producers into making Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). This Carpenter quote is especially funny in retrospect, “The Shape is dead. Pleasence’s character is dead, too, unfortunately.” But both came back for several sequels. When he ended the first film with a man surviving six bullets to the chest, he unwittingly created an unstoppable boogeyman. 40 years later we’re still getting even more of ‘The Night He Came Home…’

USA | 1981 | 92 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

frame rated divider retrospective

Cast & Crew

director: Rick Rosenthal.
writers: John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Dick Warlock, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Nancy Stephens & Leo Rossi.