Halloween II is a 1981 American slasher film directed by Rick Rosenthal in his directorial debut, written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence who reprise their respective roles as Laurie Strode and Dr. Sam Loomis. It is the second installment in the Halloween film series and a direct sequel to Halloween (1978). The plot picks up directly after the first film, with Michael Myers following survivor Laurie Strode to the local hospital, while his psychiatrist Dr. Loomis continues his pursuit of him.
Though Carpenter and Hill co-wrote the screenplay to the sequel, Carpenter was reluctant to extend his involvement and refused to direct, instead appointing the direction to Rosenthal. Stylistically, Halloween II reproduces certain key elements that made the original Halloweena success, such as first-person camera perspectives, and the film picks up right at the end of the cliffhanger ending of the original film and was intended to finish the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. It also introduces the plot twist of Laurie Strode being the sister of Michael Myers, a feature that would inform the narrative arc of the series in subsequent films. Filming took place in the spring of 1981, primarily at Morningside Hospital in Los Angeles, California, on a budget of $2.5 million.
Halloween II was distributed by Universal Pictures, and premiered in the United States on October 30, 1981. The film was a box office success, grossing over $25 million domestically, though it drew significant attention from film critics who criticized its overt violence and gore comparative to the original film.
Originally, Halloween II was intended to be the last chapter of the Halloween series to revolve around Michael Myers and the town of Haddonfield, but after the lackluster reaction to Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Michael Myers was brought back six years later in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988).
On October 31, 1978, Michael Myers is shot and falls off a balcony. Taking shelter to recover from his injuries, Michael steals a kitchen knife from the home of an elderly couple, and kills a teenage girl living next door. Laurie Strode, who narrowly avoided being killed by Michael earlier in the night,
is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, while Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, continues his pursuit of his patient. Accompanied by Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Loomis mistakes teenager Ben Tramer for Michael, when Ben gets hit by a squad car which pins him to another vehicle that bursts into flames, leading to his death. Upon learning his daughter Annie was killed by Michael, Sheriff Brackett goes off duty to inform his wife, leaving Deputy Gary Hunt in charge to help Loomis.
At the hospital, paramedic Jimmy becomes attracted to Laurie. Michael discovers Laurie’s location after overhearing a news broadcast and makes his way to the hospital. Upon arrival, he cuts the phone lines and disables the cars. He wanders the halls in search of Laurie, killing security guards, doctors, and nurses that get in his way. Jimmy and nurse Jill Franco search the hospital for Laurie, who is trying to evade Michael. Jimmy finds the corpse of head nurse Virginia Alves and slips in a pool of blood on the floor, losing consciousness. While Laurie wanders the hospital, she has a few dreams in which she recalls of learning that she was adopted and of her being with a pre-teen Michael.
Meanwhile, Loomis is informed that Michael had broke into the local elementary school. As he investigates, he discovers clues connecting Michael to Samhain and the occult which might explain his seeming indestructibility, but his colleague, Marion Chambers, arrives to escort him back to Smith’s Grove on the governor’s orders under the enforcement of a US Marshal. En route, Marion tells Loomis that Laurie is Michael’s sister; Laurie was put up for adoption after the death of Michael’s parents, with the records sealed to protect the family. With the realization that Michael is after Laurie and being told that she was taken to Haddonfield Memorial, Loomis forces the Marshal to drive back to Haddonfield.
After killing Jill, a scalpel-wielding Michael finds and pursues Laurie through the hospital. She flees to the parking lot, and hides in Jimmy’s car. Regaining consciousness, Jimmy exits the hospital and gets in the car to seek help, but he passes out on the steering wheel horn because of his injuries, alerting Michael to their location. Loomis, Marion, and the Marshal reach the hospital just in time to save Laurie. As Marion attempts to contact the police, Michael kills the Marshal and chases Loomis and Laurie into an operating theater. Michael stabs Loomis in the stomach, wounding him, but Laurie shoots Michael in the eyes, blinding him. Loomis and Laurie fill the room with ether and oxygen gas. Loomis orders Laurie to run and proceeds to cause an explosion, blowing up the operating room with him and Michael inside, immolating them both in the fire. Michael, engulfed in flames, stumbles out of the room before finally falling dead. The next morning, a traumatized Laurie is transferred to another hospital.
Carpenter and Hill, the writers of the first Halloween, had originally considered setting the sequel a few years after the events of Halloween. They planned to have Myers track Laurie Strode to her new home in a high-rise apartment building. However, the setting was later changed to Haddonfield Hospital in script meetings. Tommy Lee Wallace, who served on the crew of the original film, stated that “no one was all that excited” over the prospect of a sequel, but producer Irwin Yablans was eager to make a second film. When Yablans approached him about the project, Carpenter was in the midst of developing The Fog (1980). According to Yablans, he had planned to produce The Fog for Carpenter, but that Robert Rehme intervened and acquired production rights with his company, Embassy Pictures. A lawsuit between Yablans and Rehme ensued, after which it was determined that Embassy would retain rights to The Fog, while Yablans’s Compass International Pictures would be guaranteed production rights for Halloween II.
The sequel was intended to conclude the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. The third film, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, released a year later, contained a plot that deviated wholly from that of the first two films. Wallace, who went on to direct Halloween III, stated, “It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series, sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale, of course.” When asked, in a 1982 interview, what happened to Myers and Loomis, Carpenter flatly answered, “The Shape is dead. Pleasence’s character is dead, too, unfortunately.” This would later be retconned and both Michael and Loomis would return for multiple later installments.
The screenplay of Halloween II was written by Carpenter and Hill. Carpenter described that his writing of the screenplay “mainly dealt with a lot of beer, sitting in front of a typewriter saying ‘What the f*** am I doing? I don’t know.'” In a 1981 interview with Fangoria magazine, Hill mentions the finished film differs somewhat from initial drafts of the screenplay. Upon receiving the script, Yablans was disappointed as he felt it was “pedestrian and predictable.” The plot twist of Laurie being Michael’s sister was initially never planned by Carpenter or Hill, but was conceived, according to Carpenter, “purely as a function of having decided to become involved in the sequel to the movie where I didn’t think there was really much of a story left.” He would later refer to this plotline as “silly” and “foolish,” though it would go on to shape the narrative arc of the series in the subsequent films.
Film critic Roger Ebert, who praised the first film, notes that the plot of the sequel was rather simple: “The plot of Halloween II absolutely depends, of course, on our old friend the Idiot Plot, which requires that everyone in the movie behave at all times like an idiot. That’s necessary because if anyone were to use common sense, the problem would be solved and the movie would be over.” Hill rebuffed such critiques by arguing that “in a thriller film, what a character says is often irrelevant, especially in those sequences where the objective is to build up suspense.”
Historian Nicholas Rogers suggests that a portion of the film seems to have drawn inspiration from the “contemporary controversies surrounding the holiday itself.” He points specifically to the scene in the film when a young boy in a pirate costume arrives at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital with a razor blade lodged in his mouth, a reference to the urban legend of tainted Halloween candy. According to Rogers, “The Halloween films opened in the wake of the billowing stories about Halloween sadism and clearly traded on the uncertainties surrounding trick-or-treating and the general safety of the festival.”
The main cast of Halloween reprised their roles in the sequel with the exception of Nick Castle, who had played the adult Michael Myers in the original. Veteran English actor Donald Pleasence continued the role of Dr. Sam Loomis, who had been Myers’ psychiatrist for the past 15 years while Myers was institutionalized at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Curtis (then 22), again played the teenage babysitter Laurie Strode, revealed in this film as the younger sister of Myers. Curtis required a wig for the role of long-haired Laurie Strode, as she had her own hair cut shorter at the time. Charles Cyphers reprised the role of Sheriff Leigh Brackett, though his character disappears from the film when the corpse of his daughter Annie (Nancy Loomis) is discovered. Nancy Loomis appears as Annie in a cameo role as her father, Sheriff Brackett, closes her eyes as her corpse is being taken out of the house in a stretcher. Actor Hunter von Leer heads the manhunt for Myers in the role of Deputy Gary Hunt. He admitted in an interview that he had never watched Halloween before being cast in the part. He stated, “I did not see the original first but being from a small town, I wanted the Deputy to have compassion.” Nancy Stephens, who played Loomis’s nurse colleague Marion Chambers in the original, also reprised the character and was given a more important role, revealing to Loomis the family connection between Laurie and Michael.
Stunt performer Dick Warlock played Michael Myers (as in Halloween, listed as “The Shape” in the credits), replacing Castle who was beginning a career as a director. Warlock’s previous experience in film was as a stunt double in films, such as The Green Berets (1968) and Jaws (1975), and the 1974 television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In an interview, Warlock explained how he prepared for the role since Myers received far more screen time in the sequel than the original.
[I watched the scenes] where Laurie is huddled in the closet. Michael breaks through. She grabs a hanger and thrusts it up and into his eyes. Michael falls down and Laurie walks to the bedroom doorway and sits down. In the background, we see Michael sit up and turn towards her to the beat of the music. … Anyway, that and the head tilt were the things I carried with me into Halloween II. I didn’t really see that much more to hang my hat on in the first film.
Warlock also claims that the mask he wore was the same one Nick Castle used in the first film. Hill confirmed this in an interview.
The supporting cast consisted of relatively unknown actors and actresses, except for Jeffrey Kramer and Ford Rainey. Most of the cast previously or later appeared in films or television series by Universal Studios (the distributor for this film). Kramer was previously cast in a supporting role as Deputy Jeff Hendricks in Jaws and Jaws 2 (1978). In Halloween II, Kramer played Dr. Graham, a dentist who examines the charred remains of Ben Tramer. Rainey was chosen to play Haddonfield Memorial Hospital’s drunk resident doctor, Frederick Mixter. A host of character actors were cast as the hospital’s staff. Many were acquaintances of director Rosenthal. He told an interviewer, “I’d been studying acting with Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and I brought many people from the Playhouse into Halloween 2.” These included Pamela Susan Shoop, Leo Rossi, Ana Alicia and Gloria Gifford. Rossi played the part of Budd Scarlotti, a hypersexual EMS driver; Rossi as well as several others, such as Stephens, had been members of an acting class with Rosenthal.
Shoop played Nurse Karen Bailey, who is scalded to death by Myers in the hospital therapy tub. Featured in the only nude scene in the film, Shoop discussed filming the scene, and recalled getting an ear infection: “[The water] was cold and dirty. They were playing it off like the water was boiling, but it was absolutely freezing! Leo [Rossi] and I were so cold, our teeth were chattering.!” Gifford and Alicia played minor supporting roles as head nurse Mrs. Virginia Alves and orderly Janet Marshall. Actor Lance Guest played an EMS driver, Jimmy. The Last Starfighter director Nick Castle stated in an interview, “When I was assigned to the film, Lance Guest was the first name I wrote down on my list for Alex after seeing him in Halloween II.” Castle adds, “He possessed all the qualities I wanted the character to express on the screen, a kind of innocence, shyness, yet determination.” Future Saturday Night Live and Wayne’s World star Dana Carvey also appears briefly in a non-speaking role, wearing a blue baseball cap and receiving instructions from the TV reporter.
Halloween executive producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad invested heavily in the sequel, boasting a much larger budget than its predecessor: $2.5 million (compared to only $320,000 for the original). Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis assisted in financing the production. There was discussion of filming Halloween II in 3-D; Hill said, “We investigated a number of 3-D processes … but they were far too expensive for this particular project. Also, most of the projects we do involve a lot of night shooting—evil lurks at night. It’s hard to do that in 3-D.” Dean Cundey, the director of photography on the first film, reprised his role as cinematographer, opting out of shooting Tobe Hooper‘s Poltergeist (1982) as he felt a loyalty to Carpenter and Hill.
Most of the film was shot at Morningside Hospital in Los Angeles, California, and Pasadena Community Hospital in Pasadena. Rosenthal recalled filming at Pasadena Community Hospital as being extraordinarily difficult due to its proximity to an airport, which disrupted shooting frequently due to incoming airplanes.
Reluctant to extend his involvement in the film, Carpenter refused to direct and originally approached Tommy Lee Wallace, the art director from the original Halloween, to take the helm. Carpenter told one interviewer: “I had made that film once and I really didn’t want to do it again.” After Wallace declined, Carpenter chose Rosenthal, a relatively unknown and inexperienced director whose previous credits included episodes of the television series Secrets of Midland Heights (1980–1981). Rosenthal was chosen to direct based on a short film he had made, The Toyer, while a student at the American Film Institute. Debra Hill had also considered directing at one point, but did not want to appear as “just a protégé” of Carpenter.
The opening title of Halloween II, an attempt to connect the film stylistically to Halloween, featuring the lit pumpkin as a back drop to the opening credits.
Stylistically, Rosenthal attempted to recreate the elements and themes of the original film, stating: “conceptually, it’s not at all my film. It’s a continuation of a John Carpenter and Debra Hill … film. But in execution, it’s my vision.“Halloween II opens with a title sequence zooming in on a jack-o’-lantern that splits in half to reveal a human skull, a reference to the original film’s title sequence, which featured a similar zoom into the eye of a jack-o’-lantern. The first scene of the film is presented through a first-person camera format in which a voyeuristic Michael Myers enters an elderly couple’s home and steals a knife from the kitchen. Rosenthal attempts to reproduce the “jump” scenes present in Halloween, but does not film Myers on the periphery, which is where he appeared in many of the scenes of the original. Under Rosenthal’s direction, Myers is the central feature of a majority of the scenes. Rosenthal also stated that he attempted to replicate the visual elements of the previous film “until we [the audience] get to the hospital … Once we’re in there, I got a certain freedom: long corridors, moody dark lighting, all of that.” In an interview with Luke Ford.
Halloween II departs significantly from its predecessor by incorporating more graphic violence and blood, making it far more similar to slasher films of its time. This scene depicts Michael bleeding after being shot in both eyes.
The first movie I ever did [Halloween II] was a sequel, but it was supposed to be a direct continuation. It started one minute after the first movie ended. You have to try hard to maintain the style of the first movie. I wanted it to feel like a two-parter. You have the responsibility and the restraints of the style that’s been set. It was the same crew. My philosophy was to do more of a thriller than a slasher movie.
The decision to include more gore and nudity in the sequel was not made by Rosenthal, who contends that it was Carpenter who chose to make the film much bloodier than the original. Wallace explains: “Since the release of Halloween, horror movies had changed. There was inflation involved in terms of violence and gore and what you saw onscreen, to the point that John [Carpenter] felt like he was in a box—he could not do the same thing that Halloween had been doing.” According to the film’s official website, “Carpenter came in and directed a few sequences to clean up some of Rosenthal’s work.” One reviewer of the film notes that “Carpenter, concerned that the picture would be deemed too ‘tame’ by the slasher audience, re-filmed several death scenes with more gore.” When asked about his role in the directing process.
Carpenter told an interviewer:-
That’s a long, long story. That was a project I got involved in as a result of several different kinds of pressure. I had no influence over the direction of the film. I had an influence in the post-production. I saw a rough cut of Halloween II, and it wasn’t scary. It was about as scary as Quincy. So we had to do some post-production work to bring it at least up to par with the competition.
Rosenthal was not pleased with Carpenter’s changes. He reportedly complained that Carpenter “ruined [my] carefully paced film.” Regardless, many of the graphic scenes contained elements not seen before in film. Roger Ebert claims, “This movie has the first close-up I can remember of a hypodermic needle being inserted into an eyeball.” The film is often categorized as a splatter film rather than a slasher film due to the elevated level of gore.
Carpenter composed and performed the score with Alan Howarth, who had previously been involved in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and worked with Carpenter on several projects including Escape from New York (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Christine (1983), and Prince of Darkness (1987). The film’s score was a variation of Carpenter compositions from Halloween, particularly the main theme’s familiar piano melody played in a compound 5/4 time rhythm. The score was performed on a synthesizer organ rather than a piano. One reviewer for the BBC described the revised score as having “a more gothic feel.” The reviewer asserted that it “doesn’t sound quite as good as the original piece”, but “it still remains a classic piece of music.”
The film featured the song “Mr. Sandman” performed by The Chordettes, which would later be featured in the opening scenes of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Reviewers commented on the decision to include this song in the film, calling the selection “interesting” and “not a song you would associate with a film like this.” The song worked well to “mimic Laurie’s situation (sleeping a lot), [making] the once innocent sounding lyrics seem threatening in a horror film.” Another critic saw the inclusion of the song as “inappropriate” and asked, “What was that about?”
The film was principally edited by Mark Goldblatt. Skip Schoolnik, an editor who had simultaneously been commissioned to edit the television cut for the original Halloween, was invited by Carpenter and Hill to view the cut of Halloween II at the time. Schoolnik and Carpenter spent a weekend editing Goldblatt’s cut of the film, ultimately excising around 14 minutes. During this editing process, Carpenter realized that an unresolved plot hole was present: It was unclear as to how Michael Myers was able to track Laurie to the hospital. To resolve this, Carpenter shot a sequence featuring a young boy walking on the street with a portable radio playing a news broadcast concerning the murders and Laurie’s whereabouts; as the boy walks along, he accidentally bumps into Michael, and resumes walking. According to Warlock, Carpenter also shot the close-up footage of Michaels’ burning body shown at the film’s conclusion, as well as the murder sequence of Anne Bruner, a teenage girl who is killed by Michael early in the film.
To advertise Halloween II, Universal printed a poster that featured a skull superimposed onto a pumpkin. This imagery is described by film historian and sociologist Robert E. Kapsis as “an unmistakable horror motif.” Kapsis points out that by 1981 horror had “become a genre non grata” with critics. The effect of this can be seen in the distributor’s promotion of the film as horror while at the same time stressing that the sequel, like its predecessor, “was more a quality suspense film than a ‘slice and dice’ horror film.” Use of the tagline More Of The Night HE Came Home—a modified version of the original Halloween tagline—hoped to accomplish the same task.
The theatrical distribution rights to Halloween II were sold to Universal Pictures. Universal released the film on October 30, 1981 in the United States. The film grossed $7,446,508 on its opening weekend. While the gross earnings of the sequel paled in comparison to the original’s $47 million, it was a success in its own right, exceeding the earnings of other films of the same genre released in 1981: Friday the 13th Part 2 ($21.7 million), Omen III: The Final Conflict ($20.4 million) and The Howling ($18 million). Halloween II was a box office success, becoming the second-highest grossing horror film of 1981 behind An American Werewolf in London.
Internationally, Halloween II was released throughout Europe, but it was banned in West Germany and Iceland due to the graphic violence and nudity; a later 1986 release on home video was banned in Norway. The film was shown in Canada, Australia, the Philippines and Japan.
Halloween II was first released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1982 by MCA/Universal Home Video and later by Goodtimes Home Video. In 1998, Goodtimes released the film on DVDin a non-anamorphic version. Three years later, on September 18, 2001, Universal Home Video released an anamorphic widescreen DVD.
An incident with minor connections to the film heightened attitudes about the potent effects of media violence on young people. On December 7, 1982, Richard Delmer Boyer of El Monte, California, murdered Francis and Eileen Harbitz, an elderly couple in Fullerton, California, leading to the trial People v. Boyer (1989). The couple were stabbed 43 times by Boyer. According to the trial transcript, Boyer’s defense was that he suffered from hallucinations in the Harbitz residence brought on by “the movie Halloween II, which defendant had seen under the influence of PCP, marijuana, and alcohol.” The film was played for the jury, and a psychopharmacologist “pointed out various similarities between its scenes and the visions defendant described.” Boyer was found guilty and sentenced to death. The incident became known as the “Halloween II Murders” and was featured in a short segment on TNT‘s Monstervision, hosted by film critic Joe Bob Briggs. Following the trial, moral critics came to the defense of horror films and rejected calls to ban them.
It would be silly, after all, to ban horror films just because Boyer claims to have thought that he was reenacting Halloween II, or to ban cars because Texas housewife Clara Harris intentionally ran down and killed her husband. Nor does it make sense to ban otherwise useful items such as drugs or guns just because some individuals misuse them.