With 13 Days of Sequels I’ll be reviewing horror sequels every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
Sequels are historically hard to pull off – especially when it’s that first one out of the gate (meaning Part 2), and especially if the first film was an incredible success. (I clarify this, because at one time films actually had to be successful in order to warrant a sequel.)
Following the original film, that first sequel is under major scrutiny: the pressure to not only replicate the success of the first film but exceed it in every way possible isn’t just expected, it’s really expected. Part 2 has to be bigger, faster, and smarter, upping the ante in every conceivable way.
Now, as the sequels plod on, reaching near (or well into) double-digit territory, those high stakes eventually cease to exist. Look at the Friday the 13th franchise, for example: what started out as a simple yet spooky giallo-like murder mystery where the killer turned out to be (spoiler) the mother of the person we thought was doing the killing, eventually wrapped up its run with having said suspected killer — now half rotting zombie, half cyborg — killing people on a spaceship. I mean, gimme a break. It conjures up imagery of a writers room where people are constantly lunching and tossing wadded up paper into the waste basket, the kind with the little basketball hoop above it. (If you consider Freddy vs. Jason to be the final Friday entry – wherein a resurrected Jason Voorhees battles Freddy Krueger in a dreamland hellscape, well, my point still stands.)
Those later sequels, man, they have it easy. Low prospects, low promise. No, it’s the first sequel out the gate that really has to prove itself.
So imagine the almost insurmountable expectations and pressures laid upon Halloween II, sequel to one of the most successful independent horror movies, ever. (Halloween earned over $47M at the box office in 1978, which at today’s rate would be $172.5M.) Success of the original aside, the odds were still pretty stacked against Halloween II: John Carpenter didn’t want to come back to direct, he only agreed to write it after being offered a handsome sum of money (some of which, he claims, was spent on a nightly pack of Budweiser – just to help him suffer through the process of writing the script); Carpenter approached his old friend and Halloween editor Tommy Lee Wallace to direct, but Wallace balked at the script; and eventually the producers and Carpenter settled on Rick Rosenthal – who had never directed a film before.
It also didn’t help matters that Rosenthal’s final version of the film, in attempts to pay respect to the original Halloween, was subdued, drawn out, and scary on a corporeal level – which was the opposite of what was going on with the slasher trend at the time, which was leaning towards the gory, violent, and visceral. Against his initial stance, Carpenter sat behind the camera once more to shoot some additional blood-soaked footage, just to keep up with the competition. And of course, upon its release, critics were none too impressed.
But despite all the speed bumps and setbacks, I’ll be damned if they didn’t make one hell of a sequel.
It’s a seamless transition, the sequel taking place the same night – hours – after the original. We’re immediately following a wounded Michael Myers through the moonlit alleys of Haddonfield. The point-of-view framing and floating Panaglide tracking his movements – as he pauses, contemplates, and stalks his prey – all still in tact, carried over from the first film. Pay attention, and you’ll notice a few long, uncut takes that feel effortless due to the complex camerawork.
The way the media frenzy occupies the empty space between the killings: the warnings to stay indoors crackling from the radio, the newsman reporting live from the crime scene, and the way the stunned residents of Haddonfield are all glued to their sets, panicked for more information – ratcheting up the realistic, palpable terror. This is a real town with real residents at the mercy of an escaped murderer.
And the single-setting location – an unassuming hospital – which becomes a maze-like trap for Laurie, Dr. Loomis, and Michael Myers’ game of cat and mouse. One of the most effective scenes (one that physically affects me every time I watch it) sees an injured Laurie running from Michael through the labyrinthine hospital basement, only to find herself backed up against an elevator wall with nowhere to go; it recalls the equally-tense scene from Halloween wherein Laurie finds herself trapped in a bedroom closet with Michael closing in. Both scenes are incredibly nerve-racking, and I think some of the most genuinely thrilling horror scenes ever committed to celluloid.
And there’s so much to be rediscovered upon multiple viewings. The way the death of the innocent Ben Tramer foreshadows Michael’s ultimate demise. The inclusion of more Halloween lore. And how Deputy Hunt offers Dr. Loomis a lighter for his cigarette early in the film, a lighter that Loomis ends up keeping – and using to save the day (night?) during the climax. It’s stuff like that that I’m just now picking up on even after my fiftieth time watching it.
It would be impossible to follow the success of the original Halloween. But in terms of making a comparable film – one that is similar, but different – and most importantly, amplified – I think Rosenthal, Carpenter, Hill, and the rest of the crew nailed it.