Collins’ Crypt: HALLOWEEN II Is A Perfect Movie For November
Our man Phil Nobile Jr may disagree, but in my house, a sequel should logically pick up from its predecessor unless there's a good goddamn reason not to (and no, "the last one wasn't a good movie" is not one - nine times out of ten, the newer one is worse - i.e. the Manhattan-ignoring Jason Goes to Hell), but few have taken it to the extreme that Halloween II (1981) did*, as it tries to ape the second half of a long movie rather than a traditional sequel. Lots of horror sequels will pick up the threads from the previous film, usually by showing that film's climax for a refresher, but then they skip ahead a few days or years, such as that same year's Friday the 13th Part 2. Indeed, slashers almost HAVE to fast forward a bit, because how else are you going to rack up a body count when the heroine's friends are already dead? You have to introduce a new group somehow, and they can't come out of nowhere, which is why the "insta-sequel" approach almost always involves sending the survivor to the hospital and letting the patients/staff fill in for the group of pals - Cold Prey II did it as well, and there are probably others. But Halloween II, all of which occurs in the immediate hours after the first, didn't even have to explain the killer's resurrection - Myers getting up and walking away was already established in Carpenter's original, so they didn't even have to come up with some silly excuse for The Shape to be alive again, as parts four, five, and eight did.
The real benefit, however, was seeing the aftermath of this kind of thing. There has been no shortage of slasher movies throughout the years, but 90% of them never get a sequel at all and the others tend to skip ahead a year or more. We might get a traumatized survivor (Sidney Prescott), but little sense of how the community at large really handled things. Halloween 6 implemented the idea that the town was getting ready to celebrate the holiday again after it had been banned for a few years, but we never got to see how that worked, so it was just a line of dialogue that carried little weight - I want to see one of those Halloween-free years! So while the slashing stuff in H2 is fine (needle in the temple kill!), it's the town scenes that really give the film its unique identity. The bit where Loomis and Hunt (subbing in for Chief Brackett, who goes home to tell his wife that their daughter has been killed) go to the Myers house is a lot different than his similar trip with Brackett just a few hours earlier - now the townsfolk have taken to throwing rocks at the windows as the police try to keep them from rioting. "It's a TRIBE!", Loomis tells us in one of his now-standard overwrought little speeches, "One of their number was butchered - this is a WAKE!" The series got pretty insular as time went on (everyone is related!), and eventually left Haddonfield entirely, so this is really one of the only times we got a sense of how the average anonymous Haddonfield citizen dealt with their ongoing Michael Myers problem.
In an earlier scene, we also witness Brackett seeing/identifying his daughter's body, another thing slasher films don't often have any means of showing us. The sub-genre is one that's synonymous with "fun", but at the end of the day, there are still lots of parents who will never get to see their child again, which is a bummer if you start thinking about it too much (as a dad now, I move we change the standard age of slasher victims from "teens" to "people in nursing homes"). This isn't a psychological drama, so it's not like we really deal with Brackett's POV on things (indeed, after this moment he walks out of the movie - and series - forever, Charles Cyphers' third billing be damned), but that one little moment can represent the untold hundreds or thousands of slasher movie parents who presumably had similar experiences. We've seen VENGEFUL parents a couple times (Mrs. Loomis in Scream 2, Roy the ambulance driver in F13: A New Beginning), but seeing them in this shattered state is rather uncommon (ironically, the only better example that instantly comes to mind is Brackett again in Rob Zombie's remakes; Brad Dourif howling at finding Annie's body in his 2009 sequel is a tough scene to watch). In other words, we really see the consequences and fallout in the film, giving it a downbeat feeling that the other original series entries never came close to matching.
There's also a cynical streak in the film that I kind of find amusing, but can be read as anti-Halloween propaganda. For no real reason I have ever discerned, we get a few scenes with a little kid who has been injured by a razor-bladed candy (a popular urban legend that never actually happened until the year 2000, nearly two decades after this film was produced), who never interacts with the other characters and leaves the hospital before Myers starts offing everyone there. The only thing I can come up with is Carpenter (who had admitted to writing the movie while drinking a six-pack) wanted to take a shot at some of the lesser qualities of the holiday. We also have poor Ben Tramer getting roasted, which is not only tragic on its own (unlike everyone else, he was killed by a cop driving what appeared to be like 75 mph down a Haddonfield side street), but is just another gut-punch for Laurie Strode, who was supposed to go out with him the next night. There was no reason the victim (briefly mistaken for Myers, a subplot that barely affects anything anyway) had to be an existing character, but by making him one, we just get another little slice of misery for the people in this world.
Long story short, for a slasher movie it's kind of a bummer and low on the usual "fun". Bud and Karen's hot tub rendezvous is about as close as it gets to the usual "not a care in the world" attitude prevalent in most slashers; everyone else is either on high alert or just over it. And after a few viewings, and in turn got older, I picked up on something else that adds a lot to the bleaker feeling you can find in the other sequels - a good chunk of the film ends up taking place after Halloween has technically ended. When Loomis and Deputy Hunt are at the Myers house, we learn it's after 11pm**, and this scene isn't quite halfway through the film's 90+ minute runtime. So unless the rest of it takes place in real time, which is doubtful since Loomis travels around quite a bit after that (not to mention Laurie wakes up from her tranquilizers), Myers was cheating by killing into November 1st. And even if you ignore the clocks (or the dawn's early light when Loomis forces the marshal to turn the car around), the film's closing scene is undeniably "the next morning", something the other sequels never opted to show. Plus, keeping in tune with the film's downbeat attitude, it's a pretty lousy day - foggy and grey, no sunshine peeking through.
More than that, throughout the film there's a sense of the holiday being "over". Karen's party has wrapped up, that aforementioned Trick-r-Treater is definitely done for the night, Mr. Elrod has passed out on the couch... whether they've been affected by the murders or not, folks are pretty much ready for bed and going back to their normal routine in the film. There's some Halloween atmosphere to be found - primarily in the scene where Michael walks down Haddonfield's main street en route to the hospital, but that's pretty much it - no costumes, no major plans, no nothing. It's something that kind of made me sad when I watched the film over the years, in that same way that hearing a Christmas song on December 26th can: all that buildup and anticipation for a magical event, and then it's over in an instant. Because of the film's title it's something of a staple to watch in October, but it goes against the format of every other entry in the series, which is about getting ready for Halloween, and (except for Season of the Witch), focuses on Michael Myers ruining those activities by killing their participants. Here, once he's at the hospital, it might as well be March for all it matters to the plot, as beyond the few cheap decorations we only get reminders of the holiday when they cut to Loomis out in the city.
Weirdly, now that I find myself too busy to really celebrate the season properly (i.e. relaxing with old favorites, like everyone else), I kind of like that about it. It's a way to sort of come down off the high of the season, gradually whittling away at the concept of "Halloween-time" instead of having to quit it cold turkey, letting me soak in the season one last time as it slips away. Indeed, I've been so busy with work and festival stuff that I feel I missed out on many of my favorite traditions anyway, so it's kind of a perfect match for my mood. The pumpkin we bought weeks ago is still uncarved, my Vincent Price boxed set remains on the shelf instead of taken out and utilized (as I've said on Twitter, if you go all season without watching at least one Price film, you're doing it wrong - so I guess I am guilty of it myself), and I only got to one "haunt". I took my kid to a couple of parties and went to the New Beverly all-nighter, but otherwise I can't say I've gotten a full Halloween experience this year - and now it's all over. The stores have crammed what's left of the candy and costumes into one tiny aisle in order to make room for Christmas crap (my Target actually did that a week ago, the bastards), and in a week the decorations will be gone from all but the houses owned by the laziest (or busiest, natch). My wife wanted to watch Trick 'r Treat last night, and it kind of bummed me out - I think it's a movie we should watch at the beginning of the season, with some optimism that we can enjoy all those activities (sans the murder, of course) - not squeeze it in when we're half asleep at the end of the last night it's relevant.
So I think for the foreseeable future, Halloween II is the movie I'll watch at the end of the night on the 31st. It may have "Halloween" in the title, but both technically and creatively it's more like November 1st - everything fun is over, and with a heavy sigh you have to move on back to normalcy. If you're like me and find yourself with minimal time to enjoy your favorite things about the season as you get older, it might make you feel better about it - maybe you never got around to watching The Great Pumpkin, but at least you're not drugged up in a hospital somewhere, unaware your date for the following night was just burnt to a crisp. It may not be my favorite sequel (III and 4 surpass it) and to this day I can't understand why anyone would be excited about seeing Laurie Strode laying in bed for half of her 25 minutes on-screen (she's a little more animated in the TV cut, for what it's worth), but until my kid is old enough to watch this junk with me, it's gonna have that extra bit of appeal for me every October. Halloween II gets that eventually, time itself is just as likely to kill the Halloween mood as Michael Myers.
*Before you throw out your "What about Evil Dead 2?" or whatever examples, make sure you're talking about the same thing as Halloween II - literally the same night, with no significant time passing. Evil Dead 2 picks right up, but then skips most of the daytime hours to get it dark again. This sort of thing is fairly common, going back to Bride of Frankenstein and as recently as Phantasm V (despite 15+ years in between productions) but as far as containing it to an almost real-time continuation, I believe Halloween II is the only one (even Cold Prey II, the closest example that comes to my mind, skipped a few hours since the hospital was pretty far from where the first film's action occurred).
**I think they're already cheating a bit here. In the first film, the girls arrived to babysit at 7pm and they watch two movies before the killing starts - it should have been close to 11 by the time Myers disappeared. However, this is a clear case of me overthinking a movie written out of spite by Carpenter when he was admittedly drunk.
This article is part of B.M.D. Guide To: Halloween