Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Halloween II’ (1981)
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Most folks, myself included, go to certain movies around the holidays. However, my favorite holiday of Halloween did not gain a film that genuinely celebrated it until 1978’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It gave us an icon of modern horror in Michael Myers. More than that though, it created a franchise that spanned 11 movies, 4 continuities, and 40 years With the upcoming 11th entry, Blumhouse’s Halloween, set to be released on October 19th, I’ll take a look back at the Halloween franchise. In doing so, I’ll trace precisely how one of the most convoluted movie franchises in history got to the already divisive entry and why we need it. But before we get there, I’ll look at the movie that turned a single holiday horror into a franchise: Halloween II (1981).
Halloween (1978) was never supposed to have a sequel. Everyone involved in the film, particularly director/co-writer John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill, viewed the picture as a one-off. However, that was before the movie became a hit as well as a Fall perennial. The original film’s critical and financial success built slowly at first and then skyrocketed. Following its limited theatrical release on October 25, 1978, Halloween expanded over the course of 1979. Eventually, the movie made nearly $50 million from its theatrical run which included annual re-releases. Having been produced for a $300,000, not only was Halloween profitable, it was the world’s most successful independent film for years on end.
By 1981, the slasher subgenre was becoming the box-office draw that it would go on to be for the better part of that decade. Such popularity was primarily thanks to the releases of Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981). Two films that were so successful that the producers of Halloween began to wonder, “Why are they making the money we should be making?!” Hence, the birth of Halloween II. Of course, they wanted Carpenter to return to direct. Not surprisingly, Carpenter refused as not only was he busy making The Fog (1980) at the time. Plus, the director had no desire to repeat himself.
However, due to pressure from the producers and the incentive of a hefty payday, both Carpenter and Hill agreed to participate in Halloween II. Thus, Carpenter composed the score for the sequel, as well as serving as a co-producer and the film’s screenwriter. Initially, Halloween’s production designer and editor, Tommy Lee Wallace, who would go on to direct Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), was the first choice to helm Halloween II. Wallace considered it briefly; suggesting a screenplay in which Laurie was in graduate school and living in a high-rise apartment. Wallace’s pitch was rejected in favor of making the sequel a direct follow-up. Finding such an approach to be redundant, Wallace left the project. Another concept that was quickly abandoned was the idea of shooting the 3-D.
It was ultimately decided was to set the sequel on the same Halloween night as its predecessor; picking up exactly where the first film left-off. In getting “More of the night HE came home,” Halloween II finds Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as a patient at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) continues his hunt for Michael Myers (Dick Warlock). Of course, the good doctor is not looking in the right place. Horror has found its way to the hospital, as Michael looks to finish what he started earlier. Now, Laurie and the hospital staff are all prey to The Shape!
Such a storyline is a simplistic, but perfectly logical approach to doing a sequel. Since Halloween II is a direct continuation from the original, the producers wanted to make the movie look and feel like it was directed by Carpenter. Sculptor turned documentarian and short-horror filmmaker; Rick Rosenthal soon got the directing gig on Halloween II. The director was selected because he and Carpenter had the same agent at the time. Considering the nature of this sequel Rosenthal wanted Halloween II to maintain visual and thematic continuities to its predecessor. As such, he got the much of the crew (including cinematographer Dean Cundey) from the first film and the necessary cast-members. In my opinion, this is a large part of what makes this first sequel a success.
Halloween II manages to maintain the same feel and spirit of Samhain which its predecessor possesses. All the while expanding the scope of the story. Not only does the movie change its primary location, but we also get to see much more of Haddonfield and meet new, albeit, expendable characters. Although the film still focuses on Laurie; despite the fact, the protagonist isn’t given nearly as much to do this time around. Even so, Curtis gives her all in reprising her role.
On the other hand, Pleasence is given more to do with his character of Sam Loomis. This time around, the actor plays his role in a slightly more intense fashion. But, I think that’s a nice touch because who wouldn’t be a bit crazed and edgy after this Halloween night?
Another way in which this follow-up begins to develop a franchise is by finding its place in the popular slasher genre. With every slasher flick that came out, more blood was spilled in creative ways. Understanding how this subgenre functions, Carpenter followed suit. Finding Rosenthal’s original cut of the movie too tame; Carpenter did numerous reshoots on Halloween II in which he punched-up the gore. While that isn’t a choice I necessarily agree with, it is a logical one. For by this point in the early 80s, slashers were becoming as popular as comic book movies are today. Part of the draw of slashers, of course, is gore.
In wanting to slash through the subgenre competition, Carpenter also realized that Michael Myers needed a clear motivation to murder. Much like Michael’s imitator and contemporary, Jason Voorhees. Of course, it didn’t help that Carpenter had this revelation in the middle of the night with a terrible case of writer’s block. Thus, over a six-pack of beer Carpenter decided that Michael and Laurie would be siblings, separated by adoption. Hence, Michael’s motivation to kill Laurie (and anyone who gets in his way) just as he had his older sister, Judith years earlier.
Family ties are a perfectly-fitting motivation for Michael. Not to mention, a concept that fuel the majority of the franchise’s future. However, I find this motivation to be contrived. In this reviewer’s opinion, giving Michael a reason takes away from the fear factor a bit. In Halloween, Michael was pure and random evil. For something that occurs without reason is always scarier than an event with it. I’m certainly not the only one who feels that way. Not surprisingly, Carpenter considers the screenplay for Halloween II inferior to the original.
The same goes for the finished film of Halloween II. Although, it’s only slightly inferior to the movie that preceded it. The movie in review can’t help but feel like it’s an imitation of its predecessor. While that’s not a terrible thing, it’s as evident as the shine on a new butcher knife. This sequel also has the small issue of dragging a bit.
Despite its minimal issues, I think Halloween II is the best sequel one could hope for. The fact of the matter is Halloween II provides growth the way a sequel should. Moreover, it wraps up the Laurie Strode/Michael Myers storyline. (Depending on which continuities of the franchise you subscribe to, but I’ll get to those later.) As such, I declare Halloween II (1981) a Franchise Expansion!
Is Halloween III: Season of the Witch a trick or a treat? Find out next time when I review the movie!
Should you be so inclined, you can also read my Franchise Expansion review of Halloween (1978) here.