In Defense Of: “Halloween II” (1981)

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It’s hard to believe that 40 years have gone by since the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, a seminal work not just in the slasher subgenre but for the horror genre as a whole. After four decades, people still hold the original film in their hearts, and for good reason, as it’s both a master class in streamlined, suspenseful storytelling and a wall-to-wall wealth of iconic material, from Carpenter’s fantastic theme to its unforgettable characters who have long since been etched in the halls of horror greatness, whether it be Donald Pleasence’s determined Dr. Sam Loomis, Jamie Lee Curtis’ endearing Laurie Strode, or, of course, The Shape himself, Michael Myers.

The film went on to spawn a franchise that has seen all sorts of highs and lows through the years across a number of sequels, Rob Zombie’s attempt to reboot the franchise just under a decade ago, and David Gordon Green’s upcoming Halloween arriving next month, which will see everything to date being scrubbed away for the sake of only keeping Carpenter’s original in canon. To say it’s been a wild ride for the franchise would be an understatement, as Hollywood has continually attempted to find ways to keep Michael alive and relevant in our world of ever-changing tastes, something that his contemporaries like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface have also experienced, for better or worse, but his lasting presence is a testament to just how beloved that little horror pic that came out all the way back in 1978 is.

Of the sequels that have defined Michael Myers’ cinematic legacy, few have seemingly been as appreciated by time as the film they owe their existence to, the positive qualities of the best ones often overshadowed by the mere existence of the worst ones, such as 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, a movie so bad that it ended the mainline series outright and opened up the door for Zombie’s reboot seven years later. I would argue, however, that compared to, say, the Texas Chainsaw franchise or the Friday the 13th films, Michael’s had it pretty good over the last four decades, with more good (and great) sequels than outright disasters than his series tends to get credit for, the first of which I’ll stick up for without hesitation being 1981’s Halloween II, which saw Carpenter sidestepping directorial duties and handing the reins to first-time feature director Rick Rosenthal, who, unfortunately, went on to direct Resurrection 20 years later.

Though Halloween is a perfect engine that really needed no follow-up, the sheer popularity of the movie – and Myers – meant that a sequel was inevitable, and thus Carpenter, along with the late Debra Hill, used the opportunity as a way to close up the first film’s cliffhanger and wrap up Michael’s story for good so that the franchise could shift into new territory going forward, the result of which was 1982’s Myers-free Halloween III: Season of the Witch. As such, Halloween II kicks off moments before Halloween ended, letting us relive the events that led up to Dr. Loomis saving Laurie from Michael by unloading his gun into his deranged patient, only for Michael to plummet from the second floor balcony of the Strode house and escape into the night.

With Laurie taken by ambulance to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, Loomis dead set on continuing the hunt for Michael, and the people of Haddonfield reeling from the news about the murders Michael had committed, it’s business as usual for the masked killer, who wastes no time murdering another teenage girl not far from Laurie’s home. Of course, all roads lead to the hospital by film’s end, as Michael makes his way there to finish what he started with Laurie once and for all.

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