It’s the quintessential slasher sequel. Said to have been ghost-directed by John Carpenter (quite easy to believe after witnessing the horror of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween: Resurrection), the first sequel in the Halloween franchise picks up right where the original left up, plunging us deeper into the world of Haddonfield, All Hallows’ Eve and the mythology of slasher king Michael Myers. Archnemesis Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is at the top of his game and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is the ultimate final girl as the hapless Laurie Strode, struggling to maintain sanity and consciousness as she awaits her fate in the eerily silent, shadowed corridors of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
Meanwhile, out on the streets, the holiday is in full swing, even as chaos descends in the wake of Michael’s first killing spree since escaping from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Loomis and beleaguered sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), who has just lost a daughter, comb the town in search of the masked slayer, the man who took six bullets and vanished into the darkness to continue his night of mayhem. It’s more of the night he came home…and this time it’s gonna be bloodier, scarier and more relentless than ever before.
The sequel continues the original’s excellent job of establishing not only Haddonfield’s residents, but the town itself as a real character with a real history. As the legend of Michael Myers comes to life and people around Haddonfield react, it richens the mythology. In series like Friday the 13th, where the action is confined to an isolated campsite or lake house, we miss out on a lot of this. In A Nightmare on Elm Street we get a taste of Springwood, Ohio, but the town is so withdrawn and withholding, what with the parents trying to bury the secret of Freddy Krueger. Here in Haddonfield everyone knows about the boogeyman.
While Loomis tries in vain to find Michael – with fiery, fatal results – we are introduced to the staff of the hospital where Laurie has been sedated. Lance Guest is the sympathetic orderly Jimmy, and Leo Rossi is his vulgar partner Budd. Pamela Susan Shoop brings the T&A as sexy nurse Karen, and the crew is rounded out by the repressed Janet, kind Jill, stern Mrs. Alves and tipsy Dr. Mixter. The hospital is quiet on Halloween night, its halls dark, most of the rooms apparently empty. These are the perfect stalking grounds for the Shape, who makes quick work of most of the staff.
Meanwhile, Loomis’ efforts are hampered by the governor’s orders for him to return to Smith’s Grove. Only then does he learn of the connection between Michael and his prey. Writer John Carpenter was weary of continuing the Myers saga, preferring to turn the series into a yearly anthology, and came up with the now-well-known bloodline twist after a night of drinking. It’s a twist that has become a contrived crutch in many slasher franchises, but here it made for a fresh, disturbing turn of events, and Loomis’ reaction to the news and his unhinged determination to see Michael in Hell make for a thrilling final act.
This final act is one of the best chase sequences in any slasher. First Laurie is on her own, running through the empty hospital with the Shape right on her tail. Then Loomis shows up and things kick into high gear, culminating in an explosive finale that mirrors Loomis’ ruminations on the Celtic festival of Samhain – a word that Michael cryptically wrote in blood on the wall of an elementary school, a word that would again come into play when Dan Farrands tried to tie up the series’ loose ends in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.
This was the first Halloween film I ever saw, and it scared the shit out of me, at the same time pulling me hook, line and sinker into the genre of the slasher. Here Michael Myers is a dark, brutal, unstoppable force turning Haddonfield and Halloween itself upside down in his quest for blood. Even though a lot of the suspense from the original is sacrificed in favor of violence, I think there’s still a good deal of nail-biting terror as Michael walks unhindered through the halls of the hospital, lurching out of the shadows to claim his next victim.
Although there have been some less-than-perfect follow-ups to this awesome bodycount opus, and although the true Michael Myers has been laid to rest and a new saga begun, we can still appreciate this gem as one of the greats in slasherdom, a near-flawless sequel that set the bar for other franchises as well as inspiring a great deal of them. It’s absolutely Essential for your collection.