Script Doctor: Halloween II (1981)

The Script Doctor is an occasional column where I create script rewrites on classic genre films. I break these pieces into two parts: an analysis in week one and a rewritten treatment in week two. These are done solely as a writing exercise and for my own enjoyment. This week is my analysis of Halloween II. 

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Patient History

Directed, co-written and scored by John Carpenter, the original Halloween was one of the most profitable independent films of all time and inspired a slasher film renaissance. When it came time for the inevitable follow up, Carpenter wasn’t interested. He had moved onto other projects and generally felt he had said all he had to say with the original. But a sequel was going to be made with or without him, so Carpenter returned in a producer role and reluctantly co-wrote the script. 

Carpenter chose newcomer Rick Rosenthal to direct the film and for the most part he does an admirable job of following up the original. In the three short years since the success of the first Halloween, a slew of copy cat films, most notably the Friday the 13TH series, had been released and Carpenter felt pressured to compete with his imitators. The atmospheric dread of the original was largely replaced by gore and inventive kills. By the time a character literally slips in a pool of blood you’ll have forgotten that the original hardly featured a drop of it.

It was with this bloody attitude that the producers rejected Rosenthal’s original cut as not being scary enough. As a producer of the film, Carpenter was obligated to shoot a few days of pick up shots to insert into the film. The added scenes are great and do help the pace of the first act, but they also introduce some critical continuity flaws.

Let’s get this out of the way; there is a lot to love about Halloween II. The opening title sequence is superb. Cinematographer Dean Cundey delivers some of the most iconic horror imagery seen on screen. The sibling reveal, and nods to Samhain, expand the story world and would provide the producers with material to mine for sequels. The hospital is an inspired setting and creates a nice thematic bridge for Laurie in her journey to adulthood. And the climax, trick shots and all, is one of the best you’ll ever see in a horror film.

Most of the key cast members reprise their roles and the new players enrich the proceedings. Dick Warlock’s portrayal of the Shape is a natural evolution of the character originated by Nick Castle. After surviving 6 shots to the chest, Michael has been exposed as inhuman and Warlock’s mechanical portrayal forgoes any semblance of humanity, radiating pure evil. Even the original mask has aged into something more sinister, with slicked back hair, weathered skin tones and visible eyes. And this may be heresy but I prefer the gothic synth score of Halloween II to the original.

For a cash-in sequel to a superior artistic effort, it succeeds more than it should. But with repeated viewings, multiple versions, a novelization and 36 years of hindsight, the script issues for Halloween II become more evident. 

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

The Examination

Immediately, we have characters behaving inconsistently from how they were previously portrayed.

At the conclusion of the first film, Loomis shoots Michael multiple times; he falls over a balcony railing and lands in the yard. Loomis looks over the railing and isn’t the least bit surprised to discover Michael is gone. That was the perfect response for a character that spent the previous 90 minutes telling anybody who would listen that Michael wasn’t a human being. But here, only moments later, Loomis is unhinged and raving “I shot him six times.”

Loomis then immediately ditches Laurie to chase after Michael, and yes, that’s in line with his character. But had Loomis spent 30 seconds with Laurie and exchanged a miniscule amount of small talk, we could have solved a major problem with the first act, specifically: why doesn’t Laurie mention to anybody that a bunch of her friends are dead across the street? At the end of the last film she was shaken and injured, but communicative and alert enough to fight off Michael. Here in the opening she’s practically catatonic.

In the first film, Sheriff Brackett is portrayed as a protective father to his teenage daughter, Annie. Laurie is his daughter’s best friend and he is aware that they are babysitting across the street from each other. Based on their interaction in previous film, you could assume he has known Laurie for years. So when he learns Laurie was attacked by a knife wielding escaped lunatic, not only does he not check in on her, either in his capacity as a lawman or family friend, he doesn’t seem too worried about his own daughter’s proximity to the attack.

Again, these character doesn’t feel consistent to what we’ve seen before. Additional scenes shot and added by Carpenter further undermine them. 

Immediately after the opening credits we’re in one of these Carpenter scenes and it’s a fantastic POV shot from Michael moments after being shot. He slips into the Elrod house to steal a knife as Mr. Elrod’s television program is interrupted by a news report on Michael’s crimes. A reporter, standing in front of the Wallace house, basically recaps the previous film for a pre-VCR audience.

It’s not a bad mechanism to get the audience up to speed but it’s out of continuity. It’s only been moments since Michael was shot and his victims have yet to be discovered. In the next scene Laurie is being wheeled out of the Doyle house and we can see across the street to the Wallace house and there’s no reporter or crowd there.

In another Carpenter addition Michael stops off to kill a random babysitter, who  is also knowledgable about the bodies in the Wallace house. The way these added scenes are inserted make Loomis and Sherriff Brackett seem particularly clueless. If the first act wasn't scary enough, and required additional scenes, that is a problem that originates with the script. Here, Carpenter is adding new scenes to fix problems with his own script and in doing so creating new ones. 

In a playful twist, Ben Tramer, Laurie’s off-screen crush from the first movie, is trick or treating in a mask similar to Michael’s.  Loomis spots him, and because he's now portrayed as a loon, starts waving his gun around.  The teenager rightly flees, and is promptly pummeled by a speeding cop car and pinned to a van filled with, I’m guessing, napalm. Laurie’s unrequited love is burnt to a crisp in an explosive fireball and the authorities spin their wheels, and eat up screen time, debating what the audience already knows: it’s not Michael. If the filmmakers are looking to push Loomis over the edge, this would be the place to do it, but he seems pretty okay with accidently killing a teenager.

The bodies at the Wallace house are finally discovered! Was it little Lindsey Wallace or her parents that came home to find their house crammed to the rafters with dead teenagers? The young actors portraying Lindsey and Tommy would have aged out of their roles by now but the children last seen running into the night are not even mentioned in this film.

We’ve waited three years to find out what Sheriff Brackett would do when he discovered his daughter was one of Michael’s victims. It’s going to be bad ass, right? Nope. Brackett goes off screen to process his grief and is never seen or spoken of again. Actor Charles Cypher has returned to this role to drive around for 20 minutes and look stupid. Is it realistic for a father to mourn the death of his daughter in private? Absolutely. But this isn’t that movie.

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

Let’s get into the big reveal.

Carpenter reportedly hit upon the idea that Michael and Laurie were siblings at 2AM after drinking a six-pack. While I don’t think it’s a necessary twist to keep the two characters in conflict, Carpenter’s instincts are correct. Sequels need to up the stakes and offer something new and the sibling reveal satisfies both. But how it’s executed leaves a lot to be desired.  

Towards the end of Halloween II, Nurse Chambers returns with a state trooper to escort Loomis out of the state (I can’t explain why they are doing this). Chambers, Loomis’s nurse, informs him that there was a secret file that was never shared with him. It was sealed after Michael Myers’ parents died in a car wreck six months after he was institutionalized for killing his older sister Judith Myers. This file reveals that Laurie Strode is actually Michael’s younger sister (and that the Myers’ were terrible at family planning).

But this still leaves a six-month window when Loomis would have had access to this information. If an eight-year-old murders his sister, the fact that he has another living sister would be critical information to a doctor treating him. Adoptions are secret, patient histories are not. 

Why does Laurie’s existence even need to be a secret from Loomis? He could have been aware of her adoption and the last he knew the Strodes had moved out of state.  They are in real estate after all; they may own several properties themselves. It’s not like Loomis even asks Laurie her name during their brief interaction, why would he recognize her fifteen years later?

Under sedation, Laurie conveniently recovers repressed memories of visiting Michael at the sanitarium. Nut houses are not petting zoos where children off the street can go visit maniacs. As Michael’s doctor, Loomis would have to approve, or be notified of, any visits. Also, it is batshit awful parenting from the Strodes to dangle young Laurie in front of Michael. “Hey, we know you like killing sisters…here’s one you missed.”

For the reveal to work, you have to accept a litany of convoluted explanations. But it didn’t have to be this difficult. You know who could have delivered this expository bombshell in one simple scene? Laurie’s adoptive parents; the Strodes.

But they aren’t in this film.

There must be a hell of an adult party going on in Haddonfield that night. The Wallaces, the Doyles and the Strodes are all out living it up in the 70’s way suburban parents do (a super cut of this film and Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm would be delightful). The Strodes can’t be reached by phone, they don’t notice that their mousy, straight-A student daughter never made it home and apparently they haven’t turned on a television or a radio all night, where Laurie’s name is on constant blast. By the end of the film the sun is coming up and the Strodes still aren’t interested where their daughter is.

In teen focused horror films, the adult world and its authority figures have to fail in order for the protagonist to prevail against insurmountable odds; that’s an acceptable part of genre story telling. The problem with Halloween II is that every adult is an idiot. 

The Prognosis.

Jaime Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance and Charles Cypher gamely return to the Halloween mythology only to find their characters diminished and screen time given to lesser actors. Carpenter apparently did not enjoy writing this script and it shows. For all my nitpicks though, I do love Halloween II. I believe there are a ton of fantastic ideas in this script and that final confrontation will send you off on a high note.

Carpenter is a master of suspense and even on his worst day can still write circles around anybody else. That said, I can't deny there is an opportunity to improve this story. In my role as unrequested script doctor, I'm going to place myself in 1980 and collaborate with screenwriters John Carpenter and Deborah Hill to create a revised treatment for Halloween II. 

Tune in next week for my prescription; the Script Doctor is in the house.  

 

Aren’t these set shots from Kim Gottlieb-Walker gorgeous? Pick up her book On The Set With John Carpenter for never before seen pics from Halloween, The Fog, Halloween II, Escape from New York and Christine.