How ‘Halloween II’ Became One of the Most Divisive Horror Movies
There's something wild about realizing at 33 minutes into Halloween II that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had no idea for the entire first movie who was chasing her or why.
That's when she's told by Jimmy (Lance Guest), an EMT at the hospital where she was taken to recover, that the sociopath who was chasing her around was Michael Myers (Dick Warlock). It takes an hour and 17 minutes for a supporting character to connect the dots for Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who has been treating Myers for 15 years, that Laurie is Michael's sister.
In short, Halloween II was when the Halloween franchise developed a canon. It's also when Myers became more than a psychopathic killer, serially going after seemingly random targets.
The 1981 sequel, released on Oct. 30, was a direct follow-up to the original, starting on the same night when Myers first attacked Laurie in the fictional town of Haddenfield, Ill. The original Halloween didn't earn good reviews, but it made $47 million at the box office, thanks to re-releases the following year. It established the career of its director, co-writer and (notorious) score composer, John Carpenter. And it helped shape the final girl phenomenon in horror.
It also inspired a slew of slasher movies, including 1980's Friday the 13th, with equally splashy box office receipts. It simply made too much money for there not to be a part two, even though Carpenter and the original film's producer and co-writer, Deborah Hill, intended for it to be a standalone story.
"Halloween was never meant to become a franchise until it became one. Nobody involved knew it would amount to anything worthwhile," Curtis told Vogue during an interview for 2018's Halloween reboot.
The story of how it got made boils down to: there was too much money on the table for it not to be made. Carpenter agreed to write the second film and compose the score but declined to direct. Rick Rosenthal joined as director once the production team settled on the story being a direct sequel. Rosenthal got many of the crew members from the original to return, hoping to maintain the aesthetic. But the bar had been raised on how many people had to be killed in slasher movies and how gruesome and varied the killings had to be. The advent of a genre turned out to be what turned the sequel into one of the most hotly debated films in the Halloween franchise.
Carpenter also revealed one of Halloween II's major twists in an extended TV version of the original, which aired on NBC on Oct. 30, 1981 — the same day the sequel debuted in theaters. Carpenter needed to re-edit and pad the original film with extra scenes so it would fit the NBC time slot. The most notable of these additions was Loomis' revelation that Michael had scrawled "sister" on the door of the cell from which he escaped.
The decision to retcon a sibling relationship between Michael and Laurie was an act of desperation, one which Carpenter seemingly hated from the start. "I didn't have anything to add," he confessed in 2019. "So I came up with this brother thing. It was awful, just awful. But I did it."
Even today, audiences are split between loving Halloween II and hating it. The sibling relationship is the spit upon which critics and fans love to roast it. Adding this backstory was reportedly Carpenter's inspiration, lifted straight from Friday the 13th; he felt Myers required some motivation, found in his history, along the lines of Jason Voorhees. So he became more than just an escaped mental patient, killing in the night for no reason, and turned into a bad seed who killed his sister at 6 years old and was deemed by Loomis to be irredeemable and made of pure evil. It turned out, Laurie was the next sister in his sights.
For many, that caused the franchise to lose some scariness. The sheer randomness of Myers' killing was part of what made Halloween so horrifying. Halloween II became more focused on gruesome killings: a needle to the eye (twice!), a beautiful face scalded off in a hot tub, a victim slowly drained of their blood.
Not happy with the film's first edit, Carpenter took over to recut it and inject more horror, including additional killings. But it never quite measured up to what he hoped to see. In a 1984 interview on Cinema Showcase, Carpenter said, "I think Halloween II is an abomination and a horrible movie. I was really disappointed in it. The director has gone on and done some other films and I think his career is launched now. But I don't think he had a feel for the material. I think that's the problem, he didn't have a feeling for what was going on."
It was seemingly not Curtis's cup of tea either. "When you add layers of mythology like wallpaper, you lose the essence of what makes something like Halloween special," Curtis told Vogue. She famously left the franchise after that, returning 20 years later for Halloween H20. When it was relaunched in 2018, with Curtis aboard, director David Gordon Green threw out all of the lore that came after the original Halloween.