Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Distributed by Scream Factory
Halloween II gets a lot of mileage out of picking up right where John Carpenter left off. Hilarious anecdote: I once argued with some idiot in a video store who tried telling me that Halloween and Halloween II were originally filmed as one long movie that Carpenter then decided to serialize. I guess he didn’t notice Jamie Lee’s rather obvious wig in the “second half” of the film. The most frustrating thing? Even when I pointed out that the movies have different directors, he refused to believe me.
But that’s the thing about Halloween II. I’ve noticed a lot of folks think it plays out like one long movie when rolled after the original. And considering it’s essentially an expansion of Carpenter’s story, I can completely understand why it functions that way for a lot of people. The problem I have with this is that, yes, Halloween II is a strong sequel. But it’s one hell of an uneven experience when paired with Halloween.
The problem being Rick Rosenthal is no John Carpenter. Whereas Carpenter effortlessly milked a scene to the nines for suspense, Rosenthal apes that style with less-than-successful results. Here, we watch an inept security guard wander around a desolate hospital while Michael lurks about. We know the final outcome of this scene, but everything about its execution falls flat. It’s hardly a well-crafted set piece, and it feels more like padding than an exercise in tension.
Thankfully, the rest of Halloween II‘s elements are up to par: mainly in a terrific John Carpenter score (superior to the original, for my money), and in brilliant Dean Cundey cinematography. These elements are what really make this feel like a continuation of the original, and it’s why this sequel still remains an atmospheric little slasher gem. The opening sequences of Michael making a stealthy escape from Loomis and the rest of Haddonfield PD are rich, shadowy and beautiful to look at. And it’s why Halloween II emerges as a completely classy affair. It looks and sounds absolutely amazing.
The cast is terrific, too. Sure, Jamie Lee doesn’t have much to do this time around, but even in a near catatonic state, her Laurie is sympathetic and likable. Lance Guest is nothing but a charming delight as the [sometimes] ill-fated EMT Jimmy, while Leo Rossi’s Budd is hilariously smarmy (“Amazing grace, come sit on my face…don’t make me cry, I need your pie.”). Donald Pleasence is probably the best part of this, and it’s great to watch the story expand around the baffled and terrified doctor.
The script by Carpenter and Debra Hill is at once frustrating and interesting. As a means of keeping the story moving, they decided to give a motivation to the Shape. And while I’m a big fan of how later sequels would find ways of keeping the saga stalking onward, I’m not sure it was ever a good idea to make Laurie into Michael’s sister. Halloween works so well because we don’t really know what possesses this psychopath to stalk and murder a trio of babysitters. When Michael first fixates on Laurie after dropping the keys off at the Myers’ house, it’s a chilling moment in its randomness. But Halloween II asks us to believe that Michael is after his sister at all costs (making the murder of a random babysitter at the start completely pointless). It removes the unknown element. The best thing about the original.
None of this is meant to infer any real disdain for Halloween II. Under Rosenthal, it has some clunky moments. It also has some brilliant ones (the needle-in-the eye sequence is incredible). And as far as early 80s slashers go, it’s absolutely fantastic. It is perhaps lessened by a somewhat disappointing story and the occasional lapse in pacing, but it’s completely redeemed by everything else. “More of the Night He Came Home” certainly delivers, it’s just a question of whether or not it delivers more of what you loved about the original.
Halloween II gets its second Blu-ray release within one calendar year, and the question is whether or not Shout Factory has made this a worthwhile upgrade if you already own Universal’s disc. In short? Yes. Shout’s Halloween II actually looks better than last year’s offering (if you can believe it). Colors are superb, skin tones looks natural and grain structure has been perfectly preserved. This sucker does right by Dean Cundey’s camera work, delivering a nearly flawless presentation. Seriously, folks, this is the kind of movie that Blu-ray was made for. You’ll never see a better representation of this on home video … of that I’m positive.
And it sounds amazing, too. The DTS 5.1 track is nothing if not the highest quality. It’s been a long while since I’ve heard ambiance like this: rear-speakers will envelop you in this movie. Background noises are effective without being overbearing as Michael prowls through Haddonfield. Explosions, musical stings and gunshots are loud and textured. Dialogue is perfectly represented with crystal clarity. The musical score! It’s loud, so much so that you actually feel vulnerable to those damn stings! There’s also a lossless 2.0 track as well, and it’s a good technical presentation as well. But Shout did some incredible work on the 5.1 surround here. It’s really quite an amazing experience.
And the supplements. Two audio commentaries: Director Rick Rosenthal is joined by actor Leo Rossi for a wonderful dialogue. These guys are informative and hilarious in one of the best, breeziest commentaries I’ve heard lately. The second commentary is from Michael Myers himself, Dick Warlock. This is moderated by Icons of Fright’s Rob Galluzzo and features a lot of fun anecdotes. Trivia buffs will surely enjoy this listen.
Beyond that there’s a fantastic 45-minute making of Halloween II. This covers all that ground you’d want, and includes a wealth of participants. Best of all, it’s a pretty honest piece that delves into how much of a troubled production this sequel really was. Informative and hilarious (I love you, Leo Rossi) this is everything you could want in a retrospective.
There’s also an SD version of Halloween II‘s TV cut housed on a separate DVD. Now, if you haven’t seen this version please don’t go online and read any spoilers. Watch the theatrical cut and then, a few days later, revisit this for the lolz. That’s all I’m going to say. But believe me, I’m so happy this is being released. I remember describing this version to friends of mine who looked at me with a mixture of pity and disbelief, as if this cut was the product of a fever dream. Also included on this disc is a .pdf of the film’s shooting script. Very cool.
The set is capped by some great little featurettes: A 13-minute look at the filming locations hosted by Horror Hound’s Sean Clark. There’s an alternate ending and deleted scenes (with optional Rosenthal commentary), a large still gallery and a collection of trailers and TV spots.
This is the real deal. Shout really went out of their way to make this Halloween II double dip a special one. And everything, from the PQ/AQ to the supplements, is phenomenal. Halloween II is a strong little offering and this Blu-ray set gives it the release it has long deserved. I’m not sure there’s another genre release coming this year that’s as good/satisfying as this one. Except maybe Shout’s own Halloween III, which I’ll have more to say on very soon.
4 out of 5
5 out of 5