Halloween II (1981) – Rick Rosenthal

Have you ever bought a gallon of ice cream that melts a little in the car on the way home and then you refreeze it but it’s just never the same? That’s what most horror sequels are like. Just with more blood, and fewer chocolate chips. They usually add some plot elements that make it more complicated and less scary. In the sequels, they generally ramp up the murdering and you tend to get a nice big juicy body count. You’ll also probably get to see some new and creative deaths. If you’re lucky, the director, writer, and main cast will remain intact, but don’t hold your breath.

Now, even though Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 Halloween II (John Carpenter co-wrote this one, but he only directed the first one) falls into most of these traps, it still stands up as a solid slasher, and a solid horror movie in general. It’s a little unfair to hold it up against the original, because that is one of the best horror movies ever made. Unfortunately, that’s what I’m going to do for most of this review, so suck it. It’s basically like comparing the store brand “Honey O’s” or whatever to real “Honey Nut Cheerio’s.” Close, but no cigar. Thanks for playing. But all comparison aside, this movie is awesome. It’s bloody, nasty, and suspenseful. Rosenthal holds on to a lot of what we loved about Carpenter’s directing and cinematography. And they’ve added some interesting elements to the story. It’s debatable as to whether these things make the story/better or worse, but they set the stage for the rest of the franchise.

The story picks up right where the first film left off. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being brought to the hospital, and Michael Myers, who was just shot a half dozen times and fell out of an upstairs window, has somehow survived and is on the loose again. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and the cops are searching the town for the killer after the bodies of the kids from the first movie are found all strung up and hidden around the house. Michael overhears a radio broadcast saying that the survivor of the massacre is being brought to the hospital and he heads there to finish the job. On his way he chops up a few more people for no reason. Just to be a dick, I guess.

So Loomis and the cops finally figure out that Michael is hunting Laurie and they head for the hospital to save her. But it’s too late for most of the staff. Michael has sliced, diced, boiled, gutted, and injected a large syringe of air into nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, and security guards. If you thought he head count was too low in the original, don’t worry because it more than doubles in this one. They don’t even have time to show everyone getting killed. Sometimes we just show up and find bodies lying around. Anyway, Loomis and the cops show up and shoot Michael a bunch of times. Thinking he’s dead, the cop stupidly stands over him and Michael pops up and turns the cop into a giant Pez dispenser. There’s a big standoff at the end with Laurie and Loomis and Michael. There’s also a big twist which I’m not going to spoil.

In terms of scares, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark like the original. It’s still got a good creepy atmosphere but something’s missing. Part of what made the first movie so scary was that everything was super dark, shadowy, and hard to see. The times that we did see Michael Myers, he was halfway behind something. There’s something about that being hard to see that made him even creepier. Now, this movie was pretty dark too, but it wasn’t quite the same. I don’t think it packed the same punch visually as the original.

Halloween had a sort of charm to it that this sequel didn’t have. The first had a low budget but they made it work. The whole thing took place in just a couple of scenes. This movie was bigger, flashier, and more expensive. I guess you could say that the first one was untested, unproven and breaking new ground. While the sequel was a little self-aware. You can almost sense that the filmmakers had a certain confidence about things that wasn’t there in the original. This one felt more like a “movie” instead of a “story.” I don’t know if that makes any sense. You can even see (hear) this in the music. The second movie tried to make the music better, more electronic, and fancy, but for that extra level of production, they’ve sacrificed some of the basics.

Listen to the two songs and you’ll see what I mean. I think this sums up the two movies pretty well actually.

The point is that the movie is good, but not as good. The moral of the story is fancier doesn’t always mean better. And I’m pretty sure you can say that if John Carpenter had been behind the camera, this might have been even better.

  1. Is it scary: 6- It’s still pretty dark, scary, and, suspenseful. Though it doesn’t haunt you in the way the first one did.
  2. Originality: 5- It’s still pretty groundbreaking. It’s basically like the Ramones second album. It still did a lot for punk rock, but not as much as the first.
  3. Blood: 6- Probably the only category that will get this one more points than the original. Michael made up for lost time in this one. He racked up a nice little body count here. After the modest showing in the first one, he had his work cut out for him.
  4. Believability: 5–More characters, more plotlines to follow, more scenery to keep up with. This was still decent, but it was more complicated than it needed to be.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6- Rosenthal did a pretty good job here. A dark empty hospital overnight is not a bad setting. He maintained a lot of the cinematography, lighting effects that we loved from the original.

Final Score: 28/50

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Prince of Darkness (1987) – John Carpenter

Buckle up, Bible-Belters. Get ready to be happy they’re teaching evolution in school. John Carpenter’s 1987 Prince of Darkness takes an interesting look at the gap between science and religion and attempts to bridge that gap using theoretical physics and creepy upside down camera shots. John Carpenter is a genius. He obviously put a lot of time and thought into setting this movie up. But I think his vision was too big to be a feature film. I bet his original cut of this movie was 4 hours long. You can just tell that some things weren’t fully developed. Prince of Darkness had a lot of potential, but it came off a little under-cooked because he tried to fit too much into it (just like his 1980 flick, The Fog).

The story is actually really interesting and ambitious. It’s sort of a study on the nature of good and evil. It makes you take a close look at the things you “know” about life and about our existence on this planet. Carpenter suggests that maybe there are things that are simply beyond our grasp in terms of scientific understanding. Most of the main characters are scientists and they encounter things that their education has taught them should be impossible. The problem is that this might be too lofty and philosophical to fit into a 2 hour movie. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is cool, and definitely creepy, but I don’t think it quite lived up to its potential.

The movie opens with the dude who played the grandpa in Three Ninjas (yeah, major throwback…) as a wise and spiritual physics professor giving a speech to his PhD students that basically says “the more you learn about the universe, the more you realize you know nothing.” He also stabs a zombie in the face with a chop stick at one point. He gets a call from Donald Pleasence who plays a wise old priest. The priest shows him an ancient cellar underneath an old church in a generic downtown metropolis (what?). There are some ancient relics and tomes there and a giant tube of green Jell-O that contains the soul of Satan or something. The priest senses that the evil force in the Jell-O is getting stronger so he calls the professor to come down with some students and colleagues to run some tests.

The evil Jell-O starts causing weird things to happen around the church. It drips upwards towards the ceiling and collects there instead of on the floor. Then all the homeless people around the church turn into zombies and barricade the doors so the science club can’t escape. All kinds of ants and roaches and maggots and worms start swarming all over the place. Every so often, the evil Jell-O squirts a frothy green load into somebody’s mouth and that person becomes an evil zombie of Satan. The crew starts dropping off and killing each other and getting up as evil zombies. One dude gets killed and then after yelling a creepy message of doom to the surviving team members, his body collapses into a pile of blood and cockroaches. Pretty gruesome. Also Alice Cooper shows for some reason and stabs a guy with a bicycle (what?). So the zombie horde tries to kill/assimilate everyone so they can bring evil (The Devil) into the world through some kind of liquid mirror.

Like I said, I feel like Carpenter had more in mind that probably got cut to keep the film from running too long. There are some odd character interactions and some pacing issues that I’m sure got introduced in editing. The characters make some odd choices that are a little hard to explain. But I think I can make peace with that stuff. The movie is actually pretty good, despite these structural flaws.

Of course, the movie has all the things we want from a Carpenter movie. He did the score himself and it’s perfect. He uses the latest in 80’s synth technology to really set the tone and give you that creepy feeling. It’s lit and shot perfectly. There are some great creepy shots and some pretty cool special effects. Nothing like The Thing though, but nobody was expecting that.

We so frequently see science and religion being at odds with each other so it was refreshing to see a scenario where they actually rely on each other. The notion that humans will really never fully understand the universe is an interesting one. Carpenter wants to scare you; he wants to disturb you; but he also wants you to think about things in a different way. To be fair though, you just have to take some of the theoretical physics and advanced math jargon with a grain of salt. I am by no means a Stephen Hawking, but I have to quickly mention that the dialog in these scenes needs some work. That’s all. It’s just a minor thought. The movie was still fun and creepy as hell.

  1. Is it scary: 6- A cool idea that makes you think. It’s not just scary because of zombies and demons and maggots, it’s scary because it challenges the way you see things.
  2. Originality: 9- I’ve got to give it to him here. This was a very cool idea. I haven’t ever seen anything quite like it.
  3. Blood: 5- It was fairly bloody. I could have handled more. The gore all came towards the end too. The first half or so is just set up.
  4. Believability: 5. Ehh, I think it could have been more believable if some of the plotlines were allowed to develop further. I kept thinking “wait, why is he doing that” etc.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 8- Classic Carpenter setting and atmosphere. Dark, grim and brooding. (As he frequently does) he makes you feel trapped somewhere with a menacing force that you don’t understand. There are some great camera shots and lighting too that really get the job done.

Final Score: 28/50