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Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween II is not always a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. It is a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. But it wasn’t always.

Even though it gets off to a rocky start–the recap of the first movie is too abbreviated for unfamiliar viewers and superfluous for familiar ones, not to mention director Rosenthal clearly unable to reign in Donald Pleasence’s enthusiasm for histrionics–the first twenty-five minutes has potential.

There’s a lot to blame Rosenthal for with Halloween II. His inability to direct actors or even to compose shots of actors is a big one. He doesn’t have a sense for it; he additionally wastes Dean Cundey’s cinematography skills for the majority of the film, which is one of the film’s greater sins. But there are a handful of decent moments in Halloween II and even a couple good ones. And lots of bad ones with just too many problematic pieces, but not mishandled entirely.

But Rosenthal’s not entirely responsible. Writers and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill, instead of embracing a bigger budget studio sequel to their indie horror sensation (hyperbolic enough?)–they try to undermine it at every step. That first half hour has potential because you can see Hill and Carpenter thinking about things, thinking about the implications of the first film. In the second two-thirds (at ninety minutes and change, the film almost perfectly splits into three sections), after creating a goofy subplot to give Jamie Lee Curtis something to do besides play unconscious, they stop. They’ve moved into their new story, that crappy one in the closed setting without sympathetic characters. Halloween II is shockingly inept at its characterization.

As such, it’s hard for the supporting cast to give good performances. Gloria Gifford is fantastic. Lance Guest isn’t. Hunter von Leer is simultaneously terrible, miscast and likable. Some of Leo Rossi’s performance is similar. And Pleasence is a complete ham. He’s got maybe one decent moment. Rosenthal just can’t direct him at all.

Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is too loud, too thoughtless. The same can be said for the editing.

It’s a bad film but has enough qualities to prove it shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | HALLOWEEN II AUDIO COMMENTARY.

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Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal), the television version

Halloween II–if it isn’t the worst film John Carpenter ever worked on in some capacity–certainly features Carpenter’s worst script. There isn’t a single well-written conversation in the entire picture–the closest one is a couple young women talking; presumably co-writer Debra Hill wrote that conversation–and then it’s one of the handful of scenes Carpenter himself directed. It’s a fine scene, maybe the single scene in the entire film similar to the excellent character moments in the first one.

But it’s hard to compare Halloween II to its predecessor. While Hill and Carpenter produced this film, like they did the first one, and wrote the screenplay, like they did the first one, it’s a completely different approach. It feels more like an imitation–an ignorant one–than a sequel to the original film. The pacing is all different, the emphasis is on physical danger as opposed to fear. The dialogue’s atrocious–the television version adds more screen time for Jamie Lee Curtis (whose wig looks awful) and it doesn’t help the film any. Curtis is playing a completely different character than the first time around; her character doesn’t have an arc. The film starts and stops with her, but it’s trading on sentiment from the first one. There’s no reason to care if she makes it, not after the film brutally murders a bunch of other characters.

Even with the crappy script, however, there’s no way the film can survive the direction. It’s unclear how much influence Carpenter had over Rosenthal’s choices–Carpenter’s regular cinematographer, Dean Cundey, shows up for this outing and at least makes it look beautiful–but someone’s responsible for the mess. Rosenthal’s always showing Michael Myers–poorly played here by Dick Warlock, but some of the fault lies with Rosenthal’s handling of the character. There’s no uncanny factor anymore, there’s Michael Myers playing a joke on an old lady. Or something along those lines. It’s just goofy.

Besides wearing the wig, Curtis doesn’t have much to do. She needs to scream occasionally, but nothing else. The script saddles Donald Pleasence with some terrible dialogue–so bad even he can’t deliver it. Neither Curtis nor Pleasence have a character anymore. Halloween II is practically real time–it should have been, thinking about it, and set against Night of the Living Dead–which lets Hill and Carpenter get away with a character development-free ninety minutes.

Charles Cyphers is good in a too small role, as is Jeffrey Kramer (in a minute role). Gloria Gifford’s okay as a hospital administrator and Leo Rossi has a couple good deliveries. Lance Guest is lousy–and his character seems kind of stupid for someone Rossi calls “Mr. College.” The rest of the supporting cast stinks… Actually, there aren’t any good performances in the entire film–except Cyphers and Kramer. Hunter von Leer is particularly terrible.

When the movie starts, with the recap of the original’s ending–followed by some terrible dialogue–and then lengthy opening titles… it almost pauses any judgment. Sure, the dialogue’s crappy, but it’s just in the one scene, there’s no way to know it’s the standard for the rest of the film. During the first third, Rosenthal’s direction–mimicking Carpenter’s–isn’t terrible. Maybe it’s Charles Cyphers’s presence–even though the script’s so stupid, so full of holes, it’s hard not to trip–but it doesn’t seem too terrible. Then it gets to the hospital and gets stupider in every way possible. Even some unimaginable ways.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


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