HORRORTHON '10: Halloween 2 (Rick Rosenthal, 1981)

Typically, slashers for me are pure fun. They're classified as "horror", but, at least where I'm concerned, that's just a broad umbrella the nearly fool-proof slasher formula falls under. Let's talk characters. Jason's a badass to be sure, far and away my favorite of his sort, but scary he is not, even prior to his antihero turn. Freddy was silly before he made the much-complained-about jokester transition and his ever-mutating mythos is too confusing to make me cower. Leatherface, Harry Warden... disturbed and brutal, but I ain't quivering. That's where Michael Myers stands apart.

Michael is more "real" than any aforementioned slasher brute. He's practically your next-door neighbor. In spite of having three Michael movies I've yet to see, I can confidently say the character's most defining moment comes in the climax of the 1979 original. His mask is briefly removed and we glimpse not a grizzled, deformed, burned or decaying ghoul, but an average-looking twenty-one-year-old who even seems a bit startled, himself. Through this and his expert lurking, he is the only movie killer of his breed to instill fright in my bones.

Halloween is without question a (perhaps the) quintessential slasher. The only aspect that doesn't gel with me is the motivation. Michael, who at the age of six murdered his sister, escapes a mental facility to massacre babysitters... simply because he's pure evil and that's it. So with prior knowledge that survivor-girl Laurie Strode would be revealed in this second outing as Michael's sister, though aware of originating director John Carpenter's adamant disapproval of the studio-demanded development, I was excited to see the "this time, it's personal" terror lay siege and bring Laurie's quaint world crumbling even further to the ground.

Director Rick Rosenthal (who would later bust a rhyme with 2002's Halloween Resurrection), working from a Carpenter script that picks up immediately where its predecessor left us, smoothly maintains a familiar Halloween mood. The fear is perpetual, the scares organic. Rosenthal's blocking and almost constant camera movement indeed build to jolting release, but the flow is carefully resigned enough to be immersive without tugging up our obstructive horror firewalls. Subjectively, there's all the more reason to be scared this time, as well, because Michael has gone full-on sadistic. At least four victims meet their ends through perversely creative methods that pry our jaws wide open.

The film is not without lowlights, however, and as contrary to Carpenter's negative sentiments regarding familial developments as I thought I'd be, the first major issue comes straight from that Michael/Laurie sibling revelation. I may not have entirely bought Michael as "pure evil and that's it", but considering how the deepening of his overall motivation is handled, I've gotta side with Carpenter - he would have been better off staying simple. Thing is, the twist is an afterthought. It's lobbed in almost as a non-sequitur. Never once does it even impact the events. it's just... kinda there.

And how's this for some blasphemy: I prefer Malcolm McDowell's re-imagining of Dr. Loomis to Donald Pleasence's showing here. Pleasence seems to simply go through the motions. I don't mean McDowell's version of the character had more going on due to Rob Zombie's mostly respectable (and, in the case of that sibling deal, superior) expansions to Haddonfield's horrorverse, which he surely did, just that that more recent performance had more behind each line than Pleasence's had here.

Where I can't call Halloween 2 perfect, I won't hesitate to label it a fantastic example of the American slasher. It may falter with a misfired twist, a lack of enthusiasm from Pleasance and a smattering of sloppily executed plot points, but overall it meets and exceeds every mark that should be expected of it. It's a dream-like, giallo-esque and worthy follow-up to its prior. Perhaps most importantly though, it's scary as hell.