Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Halloween II (1981)
by Alec "Progress? We don’t need no stinkin’ progress!" Cizak
How can you tell when Hollywood has taken over a subgenre of films? One word: Explosions. Halloween II’s got two of them. Early in the film, when it’s clear that the whole exercise is nothing more than an unnecessary continuation of the first movie, a kid in a Shatner mask is blown up when a police car shoves him into a van. It’s Hollywood logic—two cars colliding automatically explode. It’s called production value. Need your movie to look bigger than it is? Hire a helicopter and shoot from the clouds. Or rig something to explode. Then, of course, there’s the big boom in the end, when both Mikey Myers and his goofy doctor go to hell together.
Now, the movie poster for Halloween II never promised anything other than ‘More of the Night He Came Home.’ John Carpenter has admitted that, while writing the script with the help of Budweiser, he realized he was crafting the same film as the original Halloween, only, “not as good.” Halloween II kicks off with a retread of the final three or four minutes of the original. The soundtrack is altered and we get a different angle of Mr. Myers dropping from the second floor with six slugs in him (seven, according to Halloween geeks who make me look completely sane). The big problem with Halloween II is that it is, from a narrative point of view, entirely pointless.
Halloween ends with some nice, nasty, Kentucky nihilism, courtesy of Carpenter and his bleak view of, well, everything. Michael Myers is evil. Evil never dies. End of story. Of course, the real reason Halloween II exists is because the first film spawned a gold rush of independent filmmakers splicing together Animal House and Halloween to cash in on Halloween’s success. Beginning with Friday the 13th, however, the element of danger—the stalker—became, momentarily, human. This demanded an explanation for the killer’s destructive hobby. The opening of Halloween, the murder of Judith Myers in 1963, morphed into some kind of ‘wrong’ committed against the eventual killer or someone close to the killer. Hence, Jason drowning and his mother then celebrating the (roughly) twentieth anniversary of that special event by killing some horny camp counselors. Every slasher from the golden age imitated F13’s misinterpretation of Halloween’s prologue.
The F13 template, I’m sure by accident, allowed ‘serious’ critics to view the killer as a symbol of reactionary forces from the past. That the heart of the civil rights movement generally sat between the inciting event and the “return of the repressed” allows an easy comparison to the return of right-wing zeal in the 1980s. Mind you, this was never, ever mentioned in any of the original slashers. It carries weight, however, because, as I have stated in previous reviews, it is appropriate to think of the kids who are stalked and killed as “the Other.” That’s correct, folks. Those smiling, middle class, ivory-faced teenagers (played by twenty and thirty-somethings) took on the burdens of every oppressed group in America and demonstrated their gains with their ‘hedonistic’ dismissal of authority (read as the status quo).
Most of these elements were included in the original Halloween. Carpenter and his buddy Debra Hill were young, most of the people working on the film were young. Judging by They Live, a film Carpenter made ten years later, these kids were not Republicans. It makes sense, thus, that their sympathies rested with the ‘progressive’ side of the neighborhood. But the larger issue of evil represented by a ‘shape’ lurking in darkness, toying with its victims before snuffing them, seemed to be lost on the imitators. Halloween, ultimately, was about death. Early in the film, Jamie Lee Curtis sits in a classroom listening to an instructor lecture about fate. “Fate never changes,” she says. That, I believe, was the only message John Carpenter ever intended his film to have: Try as you might, you cannot escape the grim equalizer.
The original theatrical trailer for Halloween II echoes the poster’s tagline—“More of the Night He Came Home.” The narrator of the trailer, however, goes on to promise “(t)here is no place to hide. He will always find you.” Whether conscious of it or not, Halloween II slammed the door on the golden age of the slasher by reiterating the fact that Michael Myers represented death and nothing—not a resourceful “final girl” or a demented knight in shining trench coat (Donald Pleasance and his useless pistol)—would stop him.
By cashing in on the family ties bombshell that made The Empire Strikes Back (probably) the most effective sequel of all time, Halloween II accidentally predicted the movement of anti-authoritarian sentiment from external symbols (police, politicians, school deans, etc.,) to internal, family symbols. Less than ten years after Animal House, the teenagers in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club would identify their parents as the prime oppressors in their lives (even with the character of the school’s principal serving as a peripheral reminder that oppression is bred by institutionalized authority). This removed the young people/“Other” in the slashers and mainstream subversive comedies such as Caddyshack and Meatballs from the role of “the Other” and placed them in their proper, white, middle-class demographic. By ‘revealing’ that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in a useless wig and hospital gown) and Michael Myers (wielding a tiny, useless medical scalpel) were siblings, Carpenter (and replacement director Rick Rosenthal) demeaned his mystic messenger of death from the status of primordial myth to human, all too human.
The fear of the status quo that fueled the great transgressive comedies and horror films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, was a fear of death converted to a fear of change represented by women and ‘minorities’ demanding equal status in the culture. For whatever reason, bigots all across the land could not cope with the idea of competing for a job with someone whose skin color was not the same as their own. The status quo rested their hopes for a restoration of “order” with Ronald Reagan. The word ‘prosperity’ became code for ‘safety’ and ‘security’ which were, in turn, code for “the good old days.” Revenge movies would thrive under Reagan’s watch. A decade and a half of ‘restoration’ would bring us Forrest Gump, a movie that suggested success in America comes easiest to those who don’t think. Police and hospital dramas would dominate television. And on September 11, 2001, twenty years after Laurie Strode sought ‘security’ in Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, President George Forrest W. Gump Bush would declare America “vulnerable” and call on the people of the United States to prepare for an endless war on an invisible enemy. A little outfit called The Department of Homeland Security would be formed and any hope for civil liberties surviving the reactionary forces of the right vanished.
Halloween II, for all its bigger budget trappings (explosions and the most awesome boobs in any slasher ever, courtesy Pamela Susan Shoop), makes one final stab at the illusion of safety and security. By setting the majority of the film in a hospital, Carpenter makes it clear that there is no such thing as security. Shortly after Laurie Strode is brought to Haddonfield Memorial, she begs the staff not to put her to sleep. The audience might echo that sentiment, partly because a “final girl” in a coma makes for an uninteresting film (which, for the most part, Halloween II is), and partly because that must have been what it felt like when Reagan and his regime took power and turned the clock backwards—those who slept through the 1950s, woke up for the ‘60s and ‘70s, surely must not have wanted to go back to sleep.
As in the first film, the “final girl” does not actually save herself. In a slight improvement, she ‘helps’ Dr. Loomis dispatch Michael Myers. In pure Carpenter cynicism that I believe is lost on most viewers, Laurie is wheeled out into the parking lot of the smoldering hospital and loaded into an ambulance that will take her to another hospital. No grand story arc here. Nothing learned. Nothing gained. Haddonfield Memorial created an illusion of security. Laurie Strode helped destroy it. For what? To be taken to another hospital, another illusion of safety.