Halloween II (Shout! Factory)
Itís hard to believe now but there was once a time when a sequel, even to a hugely successful film like Halloween, wasnít a sure thing. It wasnít until the durability of the concept was proven through imitators that there was the impetus for a sequel to Halloween and a franchise was truly born. Three years is a long time and the marketplace for horror films had fundamentally changed in the interim; while Carpenterís original film relied on suspense and the power of suggestion, gory successors like Friday the 13th had jaded audiences. John Carpenter could be generously described as lukewarm to the proposition of creating a sequel to Halloween, and understandably so. Not only did Halloween II have to follow up his own classic film, it also had to compete in a crowded marketplace of successively bloodier slasher films. Carpenter wrote the screenplay and acted as producer but handed the directing reigns over to some new blood. Was first time director Rick Rosenthal equal to the challenges faced by Halloween II? The answer to that is not a simple yes or no.
Itís Halloween night, 1978, and while Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her star-making role) is taken to the Haddonfield clinic to have the injuries and trauma she suffered at the hands of escaped killer Michael Myers (played this time by Dick Warlock) treated, the hunt for Myers continues. Injured and sedated for most of the night, Laurie strikes up a tender romantic interest in Jimmy (Lance Guest), one of the ambulance drivers who brought her to the hospital.
Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Sherriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) continue to search the alleyways and street corners for Michael, but their efforts donít yield any fruit; quite the opposite, in fact, when a trick or treater is accidentally burned alive in fiery car crash (poor Ben TramerÖ). When Sherriff Bracket learns that his daughter Annie is among the victims claimed by Myers, he bows out of the police efforts to find him, leaving the rest of the search to be overseen by Deputy Hunt (Hunter von Leer).
While wandering the streets, Michael offhandedly learns of Laurieís whereabouts via an errant radio broadcast, and makes a beeline straight for the clinic, where he slashes his way through the oversexed night staff trying to find Laurie and finish what he started earlier that night.
Meanwhile, Loomis learns a vital piece of information that provides insight into Michaelís motivations and where he can be found. As he rockets towards the clinic where Laurie is he can only hope that get there in time to save her. The film concludes with a fiery finale that leaves Loomis and Michael dead... or so we thought.
Thereís a subtle shift in perspective. While Halloween was largely Laurieís story, sheís sidelined for most of part 2. The cinematography adopts the first person perspective of Michaelís point of view. Problem is, Michael is a cipher, thereís no character there and centring a large portion of the film on him gives it a kind of aimless, meandering feel. Halloween II lacks the strong central characters the original had anchoring its core and it suffers as a result. It`s odd how much goodwill it borrows from the original, yet how much it suffers in direct comparison to it. I can`t think of a horror sequel that suffers so much when contrasted with its predecessor.
What we get instead is a fairly bland group of protagonists in the hospital staff. I`ve seen the film more times than I can count and I still donít know what all the female nurses names are. The stern Mrs. Alves makes an impression but has precious few scenes. Too bad; her commanding presence would have lent the later scenes where Jimmy and Jill are planning on leaving the hospital a sense of urgency. Bud is at least perversely funny; his raunchy singsong in the cafeteria is highlight of the entire movie. In the early 80`s Lance Guest was an immensely appealing and instantly likable young actor and Jimmyís flirtations with Laurie are cute if laid on a bit thick. I could have done with a scene or two fewer of Jimmy sneaking into Laurie`s room. Dude, I know you have a crush on her, but let the poor girl get some sleep!
Donald Pleasance is often credited as an anchor for the series but re-watching all the sequels this year Iím more and more at a loss to understand why. Sure, he was a constant presence and few actors could gravely intone portentous dialogue the way he could. But Loomis, for all his efforts, doesnít ever seem to accomplish anything. Itís only when heís given a piece of exposition (that comes totally out of left field, though having it delivered by Nancy Stephens is a nice touch) does he make a proactive decision. For most of the film heís futilely spinning his wheels trying to pick up Michaelís scent. And while it makes sense that Leigh Brackett wouldnít continue participating in the manhunt, a vengeful motivation would have lent some drama to the second half of the film thatís lacking. Deputy Hunt just seems to be going through the motions.
And yet for all its narrative shortcomings, Halloween II works. Picking up where the original left off and continuing the same night at least gives it a sense of legitimacy and while some of the story decisions miss opportunities for drama the events at least feel plausible. As much as Iíd like Laurie to continue to be front and centre in Halloween II it makes logical sense that sheíd spent the right of the night sedated in a hospital bed. Conversely, it make much less sense that that hospital is so understaffed and bereft of patients (besides a surprisingly robust maternity ward) on what is usually a busy night for emergency rooms, but the deserted and darkly lit corridors add a great deal of atmosphere, so Iím willing to let that slide. What I find a little more jarring is the gore. It`s not that Iím opposed to gore, just that following Halloween it feels out of place. I know it was a commercial decision to make the film more competitive in a 1981 market (though I`m not sure that was necessary). Still, itís not as gory as a lot of its contemporaries and definitely mild compared to the horror movies of today. Only a nod to Halloween urban legends and the scalding in the hot tub remain potent, the latter probably due to its unfortunately misogynist undercurrent (pun intended, for Rhett`s sake).
Halloween II was made during the Carpenter/Hill/Cundey/Howarth golden age so it has the same look and feel of other films made under these collaborators. Itís one of the most pleasing cinematic aesthetics Iíve ever experienced, with Cundeyís high contrast visuals perfectly matched with the minimalist electronic score by Alan Howarth. Halloween II fits perfectly among Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York and The Thing, and thatís high company to keep. Halloween II might be the least among this batch of classics but taken on its own merits itís still a commendable addition to the genre and a more than worthy follow up to a great original. I find it plays best when viewed on its own; double featuring it with the original just blows its flaws far out of proportion.
I got out my Universal 30th Anniversary Blu-ray from last year to do a side by side comparison, but I neednít have bothered; with the exception of the Moustapha Akkad credit at the beginning (replaced in the Universal release, reinstated here) this transfer is exactly the same as the Universal release from last year. It has all the same strengths and flaws: colors are potent, detail is strong and grain is well preserved. Dean Cundey`s high contrast cinematography is represented with inky blacks and beautiful blue and orange lens flares. There`s a bit of chroma noise in the few red drenched scenes (when Laurie is waiting for the basement elevator, for instance) and the occasional source defect here and there but only things I`ve noticed after careful analysis and nothing that should affect your enjoyment of the film, whatsoever.
This Shout! Factory release also utilized both the 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks from the previous Universal release, as well. The 5.1 remix does little beyond spreading the music and the occasional stinger sound effect to the rear channel. I actually think the 2.0 track serves the claustrophobic nature of Halloween II`s cramped interior scenes better, but you can decide for yourself. If you have the Universal release, you`ve probably already made up your mind on this one, anyway.
Something that`s not carried over from the Universal release is the subtitle options; hearing impaired or non-Anglophone Halloween fans are SOL. Itís the only blemish on an otherwise faultless presentation.
Shout! Factory has produced some great special editions in the past, but theyíve really pulled out all the stops with this 2 Disc Collectorís Edition release.
I never usually care about packaging but, in this case, it warrants a mention. Shout! Factory has commission new artwork that graces the both the o-card and the insert on the case. Knowing fans, though, theyíve gone the extra distance of making the case insert reversible and printed the theatrical artwork on the other side. Now, is this a company that understands their customers, or what?
First up on Disc 1, we have an audio commentary with director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi. Itís easy to listen to but there are huge gaps in the track and very little insight into the making of the film. Disappointing, considering this was Rosenthalís chance to set the record straight with regards to the Carpenter reshoots.
The Shape speaks! A second commentary with Michael Myers himself, stunt coordinator Dick Warlock (and moderated by Rob G from Icons of Fright) is the real gem. Warlock is a total character and has a lot to say from tidbits of info about his early career with fellow Carpenter alumni Kurt Russell at Disney, to insight into the making of the film itself. Rob G does a good job of prodding information out of him and keeping him on topic with scene specific questions.
ďThe Nightmare Isnít Over!Ē (44:55) is just about the perfect retrospective documentary. It touches all the bases and provides an in-depth look into the film without stretching needlessly into feature length. Best of all thereís that really satisfying sense of frank discussion you get after enough time has passed and the participants donít feel the pressure to pull their punches. A few participants are conspicuous in their absence. Donald Pleasance and Debra Hill are no longer with us so itís expected that they wouldnít be included but Iím disappointed (if not terribly surprised) that John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis didnít participate. It makes the documentary lack the sense of completeness I wouldíve liked, but itís a credit to Director Michael Flesher that I didnít really notice until after it was over.
Sean Clark takes fans on a tour of the locations from the film in ďHorrorís Hallowed Grounds: The Locations of Halloween IIĒ (13:10). Clark has the infectious, giddy enthusiasm of a fan as he revisits the locations used in the film and even interviews a few of the people lucky enough to own homes that are so iconic to us fans. Despite Clarkís sometimes irreverent attitude, thereís something kind of magical about these clips.
The Deleted Scenes (8:06) and Alternate Ending (1:41) found in the Television Version of Halloween II are included separately on disc 1 with an optional directorís commentary, which actually provides more insight into the creative process than Rosenthalís feature commentary does. Thereís also a brief shot of Jamie Lee in her bra, for those of you keeping score.
The inclusion of the red-band Theatrical Trailer (2:18) weíve all seen a million times at this point is a no-brainer. Far more interesting are the TV and Radio Spots (1:41 and 3:17, respectively) which include a bumper for the network TV premiere of Halloween II and some Spanish language radio spots. As someone who occasionally spends hours watching old network TV promos on YouTube, I loved these materials.
The first disc is rounded out with an animated Still Gallery (5:02) that at least includes some interesting promo and behinds the scenes shots.
The sole supplement on Disc 2 is the rare and long sought Television Version of Halloween II (1:33:16), in standard definition full frame with deleted scenes replacing some of the violence and the nudity and coarse language completely expurgated. This is the jewel in the crown of an already stellar release. Iím sure Iím not alone in having had this version be my introduction to the film. While we got to see the deleted scenes included on Universalís Blu-ray from last fall, itís been a long time since weíve been treated to having them reincorporated into the film proper. Watching the TV cut again after so many years was a real trip down memory lane. It was also eye-opening just how different the TV cut is; not only are violent and sexy scenes replaced with scenes of exposition, the entire structure of the film is rejiggered to the point where the story is practically incomprehensible. As a kid I just took it at face value but now that I`m familiar with the theatrical cut itís jaw-dropping some of the decisions that were made in re-cutting the film. For instance: Mr. Garrett`s death is recut into a suspense scene (stealing footage and music from later in the film) and still frames of Michael are inserted when the new version needs a reaction shot that doesn`t exist. Comparing both versions directly really brings home just why my opinion of part II was so negative for so long.
Shout! Factory has cemented their place as the distributor whose releases I most look forward to. Itís not just the stellar audio and video presentation and the wealth of extras, itís the small touches Ė commissioning all new cover art but including the original theatrical art on a reversible insert Ė that shows they get fans and what they want, and are going to do their damnedest to make them happy. Well, theyíve succeeded. This is a fantastic, feature packed release thatís smartly priced. An absolute essential must-buy for Halloween fans, and even casual viewers would do well to add this to their collection. Iím not just recommending Halloween II; Iím commanding you to buy it.
What release are the DVD pics from? The Goodtimes release, the Universal release, or the Scream release?
The Universal release. Review updated to note that.
Great review. I'm glad that we got such a good release here as this is my favorite Halloween film. There is a slight difference in the two blu-ray transfers though as Scream Factory did a scratch removal pass on their transfer. Watching the documentary I was amazed at how good Ana Alicia looks considering she's in her mid 50's (Tawny Moyer hasn't done so well).
Tits look great in HD.
I purchased this last month, and watched the TV cut. I also recommend this Blu-Ray, and I also own the 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray, so they are both actually worth owning.
nice review, chunkblower.
The transfer is a little cleaner than the Universal one - look for white specks in the first couple of scenes in the Universal BD that are not in the Scream Factory release. The Scream Factory release also has lossless audio where the Universal release did not.
Otherwise good review. It's nice to see a US distributor take a leaf out of Arrow Films' book and do reversible covers.
Oh, and is it just me who finds "Rob G of Icons of Fright" incredibly annoying? It isn't that he's pushing 50 and balding yet still dying his hair and dressing like a So-Cal '90s punk, it's that his sense of humour is AWFUL.
The television cut, by the way, is a half-assed attempt at recreating director Rosenthal's original idea. He originally wanted to emulate the more suspenseful structure of the original - have Michael disappear completely after the opening scenes (taken from Halloween's ending), only to reappear twenty minutes later. This TV version replicates this, awful sound editing and cutting included, but it does clear up why Loomis and Brackett end one conversation (in the theatrical cut) with "I SHOT HIM SIX TIMES! I SHOT HIM SIX TIMES", only to be shown again 20 minutes later, continuing same conversation: "I shot him six times, Sheriff!"
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