Bullets are no match for a kitchen knife enthusiast. Not because they can deflect the bullets with that bit of pointy steel, but because they are simply built different. Or, at least, that is the lecture given by Halloween II. They are unkillable. Halloween II is an odd little feature. Innovator and director of the first Halloween feature, John Carpenter, relegates himself to script supervision alongside Debra Hill, but his influence is still present. How could it not? He still hovers around the series, observing as new talent takes its place in the director’s chair. They are looking to impress the man who headed up a cult masterclass, but how can you improve on the simplicity of the first?
It is the impossibility these directors are faced with as the series trickles on that make Halloween II so fascinating. It is an ambitious project that doesn’t coast off of the classic ramifications, it sets out to try something new. Donald Pleasance feels better utilised here, more because of the power within his dialogue and the backing it receives from the soundtrack. Halloween II is not better, but at least it is a continuation of a simple story. It does not bog viewers down in avenues of unbelievability. Halloween was such a success because the lack of knowledge an audience has about Myers makes him more accessible as a mysterious figure that fear and be funnelled into. Feeding his backstory steals from the delight of projecting an acknowledged, shared fear.
Carpenter adapted Myers to represent those bumps in the night, the unknowable sensation of the dark and whatever lies within. Rick Rosenthal has less success with that. Capable he may be at improvising new strokes of horror; they pale in comparison to the first. Of course they do, to compare the two is simply unfair, despite Halloween II following on from the threadbare simplicity of the first. Adding detail to these moments is a gamble, but Rosenthal is the right man for the job. His risk-taking does not detract from the core, horror-led effort. Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are still fantastic, Myers is still a menacing figure, and it is Halloween II where the appreciation for the simplicity of the design comes into play. He may not be a figure of subtlety anymore, but the trade-off is a bolstered story.
Smart movements of the camera and a sharp understanding of where the story left off, Halloween II gives Myers and company a suitable second outing. A forgettable one, absolutely, but a scary bit of horror that’ll leave fans of the first satisfied. The continuation of the story is a large task to take on, but Hill and Rosenthal rise to the occasion as best a third party can. Carpenter’s lack of status in the film is going to hurt, but his influence is felt elsewhere. He has the soundtrack in his back pocket, a credit on the script, and there is no moving away from the core elements of these influential characters. Rosenthal at least grasps that, understanding that changing these characters would change what the fans love. Halloween II is an awkward middle ground between cautious changes and a break from the first, and it is handled as best as can be expected.