“You can’t kill the bogeyman!” little Tommy Doyle says to babysitter Laurie Strode at the climax of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). A couple years later—and some $80 million dollars later—the man who started it all, movie mogul and producer Irwin Yablans, agreed and launched Halloween II on Friday, October 30th, 1981. Let’s begin with a simple truth: sequels are to movie fans as drugs are to drug addicts: fans are chasing that first high knowing, over time, that it’s nearly impossible a sequel will ever outdo or even match the first. But we keep trying, don’t we? Now, Halloween II is not as good as its predecessor, but it is a damn fine sequel that finishes telling the story of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers on Halloween night. But let’s not forget Halloween H20 in 1998. Oh, and then there were those Zombie ones. And, of course, the new ones. So, you see, you can’t kill the bogeyman.
Carpenter tried. He never wanted to make a second Halloween film because he thought (via Order in the Universe) “sequels mean the same film. That’s what people want to see. They want to see the same movie again.” But as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against him by Yablans, Carpenter agreed to write and produce a sequel (along with partner Debra Hill). Carpenter wasn’t happy with the script and thought (via Cinema Showcase) the completed film was an “abomination,” but perhaps by accident, he pulled it off—again.
One of the primary reasons Halloween II is such an exceptional sequel is because it begins at the precise moment Halloween ends. As director Rick Rosenthal has explained, if one were to splice together both films, first-time viewers would assume they are watching one longer film rather than two separate movies filmed nearly three years apart. In other words, the sequel doesn’t seem like a sequel, and we viewers are less likely to compare the second film to the first because the sequel is simply the second part of the same film. That is, it’s still the first hit, the first high.
One way this sleight of hand is accomplished is in the given timeframe of Halloween II. If we are to examine the hours of both films, the first one begins Halloween morning and ends Halloween night, perhaps around 10:00 p.m. (Annie is instructed to put little Lindsey to bed by 9:00 p.m.). But when Dr. Loomis looks down from the balcony and realizes Michael Myers has vanished, we know there are many more hours of Halloween night for The Shape to stalk and chop. In fact, Halloween II creates the second half of the circular story: it ends the next morning just as Halloween began in the morning 24 hours before.
Another way to create the illusion that we are not watching a sequel is to recast the same actors, dressed in the same clothes, to play the roles of the same surviving characters from the first film. At the top of the list is Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the Final Girl from the first film. Next is Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis. Throw in Nancy Stephens as the chain-smoking psychiatric nurse Marion Chambers and Charles Cyphers as Sheriff Leigh Brackett, and you’ve built part of the bridge between the two films. (Honorable mention goes to actor Nancy Loomis, now known as Nancy Kyes, who reprises her role as Annie Brackett.)
Next, the sequel must look like the first film, and one way of accomplishing this is returning to the same location where the first film was shot: South Pasadena, California. The reason why we viewers believe we are in the same Midwestern town of Haddonfield as the first film is because we are. The Elrod house in the beginning of Halloween II, where Mrs. Elrod is making a sandwich for her sleepy husband, as well as the alley behind the Elrod house, are in real life one hundred yards from the Myers house, which sits right across the street on Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena (until it was moved down the street a few years later). Half a block up from the Myers house is the intersection of Meridian and Magnolia Street where Ben Tramer is roasted between a van and a police car in Halloween II. That same intersection is where Laurie meets little Tommy just hours before in the first film as she is walking to school Halloween morning.
Another way of recreating the look of the first film is using the same camera shots, the same lighting, and the same color palette, so the producers rehired Dean Cundey, the director of photography from the first movie. After the opening credits of Halloween II, the sequence in the Elrod alley is similar to the sequence after the opening credits of Halloween. Using a POV shot, Myers glides slowly down an alley, and when he spots Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett at the end of the alley, he hides behind a garage, watching them. At the beginning of the first film, a young Myers glides across the street to his house, then slides along the side, hiding outside the window, watching his sister and her boyfriend. In both films, we the audience are looking through the eyes of Michael Myers and walking—and stalking—with him. And in both films, the Steadicam was used to achieve this effect. We’re convinced that the Michael Myers in the first film is the same Michael Myers in the second film.
Cundey also used a lot of eerie blue light in the original Halloween and created pockets of shadows for the actors to move in and out of—and for Michael Myers to hide in. During the climax of the first film, Laurie not only battles the bogeyman in the Doyle house, but also fights the shadows and the dark corners where Myers lurks. In Halloween II, many of its scenes use the same colors and low lighting effects. For example, after Mrs. Elrod screams, teenage Alice runs out of her house and stands in the driveway calling after Mrs. Elrod. The same blue light illuminates the side of her house just as it did the Doyle, Wallace, and Myers homes in the first film. And in the shadows just feet from Alice hides Myers, ready to pounce—just as he hides in the shadows in Halloween before he jumps from the darkness in the Wallace house and stabs Laurie in the shoulder. And the shadows in the empty Haddonfield Hospital where Myers creeps in the corners and corridors are akin to the darkness that smothers the corners and corridors of the Doyle house in the first film. No matter where one is in Haddonfield, they are in the same dark world.
Finally, Halloween II is the perfect sequel because there is absolute resolution. Today’s sequels often end with the door wide open to make yet another sequel, so a sequel by its nature feels like a sequel because it’s just one in a long string of sequels, depending on how well the box office performs. We know at the end of Halloween IV that there will be a Halloween V. We know at the end of Halloween V that there will be a Halloween VI. And ad infinitum. But at the end of Halloween II, we are convinced the story of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers has reached its end because the heroine Laurie survives and the antagonist Myers meets his death in a ball of fire (or so we think). Even the producers thought this would be the only sequel to Halloween. In 1981, sequels were uncommon, and after filming was completed, co-writer and co-producer Hill gave the iconic Michael Myers mask to stuntman Dick Warlock (who played the role of the villain in this film) because she believed this was the end of the Halloween story.
Even though Carpenter and Hill believed they had killed the bogeyman, the box office reminded us that you can’t, and the never-ending sequels began. Those subsequent films were vastly inferior to Halloween II, and each certainly felt like they were just another sequel. Carpenter and Hill may have been displeased with their sequel, but decades of distance have shown us that Halloween II is a much better sequel and simply a much better film than others originally thought. It doesn’t hit the high of the first film, but it hovers pretty damn close.
Visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Class of 1980 retrospectives!