It goes without saying that John Carpenter’s Halloween was never envisioned to sustain a sequel, let alone an entire franchise. It probably was a bit surprising when the film became iconic and gave birth to one of the most – if not the most – recognizable villains in history of cinema, Michael Myers. Therefore, the question of following up the unexpected success of what became one of the most profitable independent movies of all time was both inevitable and challenging given the strong possibility that John Carpenter wasn’t that interested in exploring this world any longer.
Or was he? After all, many fans would likely agree that the 1978 original ends on a cliffhanger, which only holds true with the added benefit of hindsight. I don’t honestly believe John Carpenter and Debra Hill planned the ending to accommodate franchise longevity. Instead, it may have been either an inside joke or a by-product of the ingenious way they have been toying with the viewer all throughout the movie, which involved methodically flip-flopping between suggesting Michael Myers was either a superhuman entity or just a deranged psychopath.
Nobody will ever really know what the intentions were exactly, especially because filmmakers tend to explain what could easily be ascribed to happenstance and serendipity as engineered ingenuity. However, it is a matter of public record that John Carpenter didn’t quite know where to take Michael Myers and Laurie Strode in the sequel he was asked to write, because to him the matter was closed. There was no more story left to be told because Michael Myers had no connection to his would-be victim apart from the fact he had imprinted on her when she visited his family home at the beginning of the film. What happened in Halloween was completely random, which bolstered the subliminal horror engendered by the narrative. What is more, Carpenter and Hill were more heavily leaning towards turning Halloween into an anthology series in the event of its success, which is why the world saw Halloween III: Season of the Witch; but that’s a story for a different day.
What ended up making its way into the canon of slasher trivia – the idea of Laurie being related to Michael – came out of necessity to give the characters in the impending sequel some much needed agency. After all, how are we supposed to rationalize the idea of Michael continually going after Laurie instead of focusing on anybody else? Truth be told, there was nothing prohibiting the filmmakers from refocusing their gaze and giving the audience a new set of protagonists to shadow, but this way they’d completely nullify the ‘franchise capital’ accrued thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis whose turn as Laurie Strode was nothing short of iconic. So, in many ways their hands were tied and they simply had to tether the two characters together.
The rest is history. That way, Halloween could substantiate a multitude of sequels so long as nobody decided to kill off Laurie or to nix Michael’s supernatural powers which keep him from dying (or allow him to be resurrected; you pick which one you prefer). Nevertheless, Halloween II did not live up to its enormous expectations, perhaps because Carpenter did not return behind the camera or because a flash in the pan cannot be engineered; it just is what it is – a miracle of happenstance. Even though it was a modest box office success, it simply paled in comparison to how the original was received. And although it has its defenders, it stands as inferior when stood against Carpenter’s original movie. It is mostly remembered (if at all) as the de facto progenitor of the franchise as it was here where the bond between Laurie and Michael was forged in full and allowed the series to survive for as long as it did.
I too happen to like Rick Rosenthal’s film but for a completely different reason. Granted, there’s quite a bit to enjoy about it despite the fact it is clearly lacking the polish and attention that Carpenter brought to the table in a directorial capacity. Nothing positive can be said about performances and the execution of certain key elements and I wouldn’t fault anyone for disliking the movie altogether. However, it still leverages successfully the same basic recipe for generating dread and suspense, which involves keeping Michael out of focus a lot of the time, shooting from his point of view and opting for the occasional jump scare when appropriate, even if their use is most often non-diegetic, i.e. designed to scare the viewer with a sound nobody else hears, as opposed to scaring a character and the viewer by proxy.
However, what I find the most fascinating about Halloween II is that it shares quite an overlap with one of my favourite movies of all time, James Cameron’s The Terminator. Granted, the expert in the room is likely to point out that Cameron’s idea for a cyborg killer from the future was by all accounts inspired by the character of Michael Myers, especially since Carpenter and Cameron did interact. Cameron was a set designer on Escape from New York, which is likely where he bounced his movie idea (allegedly inspired by a dream he had) off of Carpenter, or – if he did not interact with the man physically – this is where he made the connection between his cyborg killer idea and Michael Myers.
This only explains how the 1978 Halloween connects to Cameron’s The Terminator, not Halloween II. Yes, it is easily argued that the titular cyborg sent from the future is basically a play on Michael Myers and that in principle it circles back to the original but let us not forget that Michael Myers in Halloween is still shrouded in ambiguity. We never really know if he’s human or not and this is the film’s entire conceit. However, this is no longer the case in Halloween II. In Rosenthal’s sequel, Michael Myers is 100% superhuman. He’s unstoppable, unkillable, has superhuman strength and behaves in a robotic way… which strangely enough fits the iconic description of the Terminator that Kyle Reese gives Sarah Connor after she bites his hand: ‘Listen and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever… until you are dead!’
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is – yes – inspired by Michael Myers, but the one from the sequel. In Halloween II Michael doesn’t ever remove his mask, doesn’t stumble or make stupid mistakes. He is a killing machine. He power-walks through glass doors, impales nurses on a scalpel (which is frankly ridiculous, if you think about it), lifts them up with ease, and gets up having been shot multiple times at point blank range by Loomis to methodically slit the sheriff’s throat. In all seriousness, he could just as well be a masked cyborg sent from the future to eliminate Laurie Strode, not because she is his estranged sister, but because her son will lead the resistance against the rise of the machines.
Furthermore, Halloween II and The Terminator have a few other things in common. Now, I don’t want to infer that Brad Fiedel was inspired by or asked to draw parallels to the score John Carpenter and Alan Howarth composed for Rick Rosenthal’s movie when he was working on the now iconic music to James Cameron’s breakout hit; however, certain similarities cannot be escaped, especially when you listen to how the big final hospital chase is scored and how eerily similar it is in tone and orchestration to the unforgettable tunnel chase sequence and the final showdown in the factory that culminates with Sarah crushing what’s left of the Terminator in a hydraulic press.
In fact, the entire hospital set piece, which takes up nearly half of Halloween II is itself strangely familiar. Michael’s infiltration of the hospital can be compared to the Terminator’s assault on the police precinct, both in the carnage it involves and in the symmetrical behaviour of the films’ respective heroines. Both Laurie and Sarah cower away from the threat and must be rescued in order to survive. Though, at this point it is also worth noting that the idea of staging a set piece in a hospital and having a terminator infiltrate it in search for the victim he has been programmed to kill was utilized almost to the letter in Terminator 2. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 roams the hospital corridors, often out of focus, confined to the corner of the frame or viewed through CCTV screens, which underscores the fascinating possibility that Cameron was lucidly pulling inspirations from Halloween II and inserting them into his movies.
Finally, there’s the cherry on the cake, which is the actual ending of Laurie’s ordeal that sees Loomis blow himself up together with blinded Michael and follows up with an unforgettable shot of Laurie cowering in the corner in the foreground of the shot while a flaming figure emerges from the inferno left behind by the explosion. He walks a few steps, falls to his knees and then onto his face. The camera then cuts to a close-up image of his iconic mask engulfed in flames; the same image the movie briefly cuts to right before the credits roll. Is it a coincidence that the very same set of visuals is found in The Terminator when after Kyle successfully uses homemade dynamite to blow up the tanker truck driven by The Terminator, we see a similar flaming figure emerge from the truck’s cabin? He similarly stumbles forward, falls to his knees and then onto his face. Again, similarly, we do see a brief close-up of his charred flesh revealing a metallic skeleton underneath.
Of course, this isn’t the end of The Terminator as everyone knows because what follows is probably an even more iconic shot where the Terminator’s naked skeleton emerges from the burning rubble and begins its final pursuit. In context of Halloween II – which may or may not have been a direct source of inspiration for Cameron – it almost serves as an answer to the question left after Rosenthal’s film ends. We can only assume Michael Myers is dead and historical precedent dictates he is likely to come back because he is, after all, supernatural. Well, had he been a cyborg sent from the future to kill Laurie Strode, we would have had another act to watch.
But we do not. This is a scenario unique to The Terminator even though it seems to fit perfectly as an idea borrowed from Halloween II. This, in turn, imbues Rick Rosenthal’s film with a degree of freshness, perceived lack of which critics of the time lamented in their protracted paragraphs filled with nothing but vitriol. It is perhaps a bit unfair that to this day the sequel to Halloween is only seriously treated by fans of the series and nobody else. Maybe it shouldn’t be revered as a timeless masterpiece, especially since it was standing on the shoulders of giants, but I think it can be safely acknowledged that the influence exerted by Halloween II extends well beyond the boundaries of the franchise it has effectively spawned.