One may think that the original Halloween is the one that started the franchise but after further inspection the truth becomes much clearer. Yes, Halloween (1978) is the original but the potential for a franchise only really became possible after the premiere of its sequel three years later.
“Why?” Is the question that arises and the subsequent answer is quite simple: accessibility. Although the first movie is categorised as a slasher, it actually holds itself back quite a lot compared to other films in the same genre.
It’s weird to think that it’s responsible for the slasher boom of the 80s because, while you can still spot the roots that would later become staples of the genre, they are buried deep below the soil.
That’s when “Excavation Expert” Halloween II comes in. The movie highlights all of the most “explosive” elements of the original- quite literally since this movie begins and ends with an explosion – but only at a writing level. So a contrast between script and direction emerges in a way that doesn’t really work in the film’s favour.
The first thing to notice about the writing in Halloween II is that it’s a lot sloppier, this is due to a lot of things: the fact that John Carpenter didn’t really want to co-write or feel the need for a sequel, as well as pressure from the studio for certain needs to be met.
However, the tell-tale sign that made many exclaim: “Oh, so that’s why!” in realisation, is the fact that John Carpenter has admitted, several times since the movie’s release, to writing a good portion of it while drunk.
I’m sure there are a lot of great things in history that came about because someone was drunk, a quick google search will probably provide you with several lists of surprising ideas, but I’m also sure none of them feature the script to Halloween II.
This film feels like the blueprint for most slashers and not in the best of ways. Most of the characters have a trademark Horror Movie IQ™, the horror is gory but never really scary, information travels in the weirdest way possible to service the plot and most of the best scenes in the film are just copy and pasted from the original.
Speaking of copy and paste, the directing. You can’t really blame Rick Rosenthal for playing it safe since this is his directorial debut, and to make matters worse it’s a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed horror movies of his time.
The framing and pacing of the shots is extremely reminiscent of the original which is something he admits he was going for, but the grounded directing combined with the more over the top script doesn’t really merge into a coherent experience.
Rosenthal tries some new things towards the end of the movie but it’s really too little too late, to make it feel like anything other than an emulation of John Carpenter’s directing.
The one thing that Halloween II has over the original is Donald Pleasence’s performance as Doctor Loomis. Pleasence knows exactly the type of movie that he’s in and he plays his character to enhance it in every way he can. He’s extravagant without ever being overbearing and by the end of this film you’ll be convinced he was actually the one to escape a mental asylum.
The craziness of Doctor Loomis is unfortunately the only real charisma the movie gets, all other performances vary between somewhat good and generic with no real stand outs.
Halloween II is what happens when a studio is more interested in the sequel than the writers, it has some interesting ideas that have a decent execution at best, and the dichotomy between the directing and writing makes it a disjointed experience overall.
It’s all the spectacle of the original with none of the subtlety, like crustless pizza, it may sound like a good idea but it’s actually just really messy and it ruins the whole experience.
By Francisco Santos
Feature image: Universal Studios