Halloween II (1981) [Collector's Edition]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-08-25 07:12

Halloween II (1981)
Studio: Shout Factory
Release date: September 18th, 2012

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Widely regarded as a definitive slasher sequel, Halloween II needs no real introduction or more praise heaped upon it, but it bears repeating that it’s a fine movie. As it turns out, it’s sort of that way despite itself, as the film had a notoriously choppy production that resulted in a booze-fuelled plot twist and John Carpenter eventually coming in to shoot additional scenes before the film was further hacked up in editing without director Rick Rosenthal’s consent.

No matter, as the film turned out okay; while certainly not on par with the original (which is among the absolute great movies of all-time), the follow-up is a valid one whose bleak atmosphere and penetrating mean streak give the sensation of spiraling further downward into this fateful Halloween night. Whereas the original took us from dawn to dusk, part two takes us into the witch’s hour and beyond during suburban Americana’s dark night of the soul; gone are the innocent monster movie marathons and jack-o-lantern carvings, here replaced with the darker side of the holiday, such as the razor blade hidden in the apple that sends a boy with a bloodied mouth to the hospital. A trick or treater is literally sent up in flames, and the comfort of heartland suburbia is invaded by a madman on the loose.

While the first part of the film suffers from a bit of narrative listlessness that plagues the entire film (Laurie--essentially the film’s protagonist--spends a lot of time sitting in a hospital bed and real developments are few and far between), it’s quite terrifying, and I love the roving quality that slithers through a small town that’s in the process of being haunted. The early sequences that find Michael Myers wandering through town looking to kill out of compulsion are definitive moments and arguably represent the last time we truly saw “The Shape” as an enigma since this film would eventually start peeling the layers back by revealing his true purpose. Perhaps this was preferable to simply having Myers stalk another target and completely re-treading the original’s steps, but it’s intriguing to consider how Halloween II represents a shifting in the dynamic from the original.

The same is true of the film’s gore-soaked approach. While Rosenthal wanted to replicate the atmosphere and suspense from the original without resorting to explicit gore, Carpenter felt compelled to respond to the lesser films that had been ripping off Halloween, so he cooked up some truly vicious moments that speak to the film’s unrelentingly sinister tone. Darkness figuratively and literally compliments the gore, as Rosenthal’s entire film is bathed in shadows and eerie desolation, while the increased gothic and pagan elements (sonically augmented by Alan Howarth’s cranked up, synthed-out riff on the original score) carry the sequel into a primal place that’s far removed from the original’s elegance, save for Donald Pleasence’s stately presence (though even his Dr. Loomis has grown even more maniacal).

This one is famous for picking up a moment after its predecessor, and, while Rosenthal employs many similar stylistic tendencies (namely Dean Cundey’s roaming, smooth camerawork), the film is a remarkably different experience. On the surface, it’s nothing special--Tommy Lee Wallace hated the idea so much that he turned down what would have been his first directing gig--but all the eventual cooks in the kitchen managed to stir up a witch’s brew of a film that worthily compliments the masterpiece that spawned it. Halloween II doesn’t just present more of the night HE came home--it plunges right into the black heart of that night and revels in its darkness. If the original film represents the perversion of American Halloween, then the sequel transforms it into Samhain, a menacing, ancient blood ritual given cinematic form.

The disc:

Shout Factory is kicking off its Scream Factory label with both this and Halloween III, two titles that have been begging for special edition treatments for years. You might recall that Universal released a 30th anniversary Blu-ray last year, but this release is the real deal. Not only does it carry over all of the Halloween II specific special features in the form of deleted scenes and the alternate ending, but it also adds an option commentary from Rick Rosenthal on each. Rosenthal also provides a commentary for the feature film, and stunt-coordinator and Michael Myers actor Dick Warlock also gets a track to himself.

The typical promotional material also shows up, such as the theatrical trailer, TV & radio spots, and a still gallery, and an 8 minute episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” hosted by Sean Clark. Previously glimpsed in the extra features of the Never Sleep Again documentary, this series takes horror fans to the locales of their favorite films. In this case, Clark takes us through the streets of “Haddonfield” (really Pasadena) and even drops by the old Elrod place that’s still standing. Trips to the hospital used on the film are also in order, and even Robert Rustler (of Freddy’s Revenge fame) inexplicably wanders in just like he did during the Never Sleep Again bit, so I’m wondering if he just wanders the streets of L.A. hoping to get caught on camera for horror documentaries or something.

The biggest centerpiece here, however, is “The Nightmare Isn’t Over,” a 45-minute making of documentary that covers the pre-production, shooting, and reception of the movie. Expected faces such as Irwin Yablans, Rosenthal, Cundey, and Warlock appear with fun anecdotes and information about the movie. Yablans especially is quite candid about the pre-production of the film, as he discusses how he wrangled Carpenter into doing it; he also pulls no punches about what he thinks of the final product, either.

Likewise, Rosenthal makes it clear that the film passed through many hands, including the trio of producers (Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, and Dino De Laurentiis) and Carpenter himself. Without coming off as bitter, he insists that his film would have been a bit more like the original had Carpenter not done the gorier inserts, and the deleted scenes (all character moments) are indicative of this.

Warlock emerges as being as being especially cool; the complete antithesis of the character he played, he seems like a warm, kind gentleman who made the harrowing stuntwork easy and comfortable for the actors. Everyone has a kind word for both him and Donald Pleasence, and the cast members all look back fondly on the film. Appearing are Lance Guest (who had a bunch of screen-time cut), Leo Rossi, Nancy Stephens, Jill Franco, and Ana Alicia, all of whom have a funny story or two to tell. Even Alan Howarth and the movie’s costume designer pop up to discuss their contributions to the movie.

While the skeleton of this film’s production is old hat for a lot of Halloween enthusiasts, this look provides some in-depth specifics and stories that were new to me. A fun, informative look at this beloved sequel, it helps to make this the definitive release for Halloween II. The only thing that’s missing from last year’s release is the Terror in the Aisles documentary, but Shout has provided the television cut of Halloween II on home video for the first time. It’s a full-frame master (obviously), but it looks quite good and certainly much better than it’s ever looked on TV. Despite the aspect ratio mangling, this is actually the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Rosenthal’s original version of the film, so it’s an obvious curiosity piece for any fan.

This makes four home video releases for the film dating back to the old Goodtimes release back in 1998 (the first DVD I ever owned), and this is easily the best of the bunch; the presentation seems to be carried over from last year’s Blu-ray, as the transfer is fantastic even when reduced to standard definition (Shout will be providing a Blu-ray configuration as well). The audio is rightfully rendered in glorious stereo, and the “Moustapha Akkad Presents” credit is intact (a snafu with the Universal release resulted in this being accidentally omitted last year).

If all that weren’t enough, Shout commissioned artist Nathan Thomas Milliner to produce a new, gorgeous cover art; however, if it’s not your thing, the reversible cover also features the original poster and VHS design with the skull pumpkin that haunted video store shelves for years. It’s nice to see this indelible image again, and it speaks to the amount of respect Shout Factory has given this film. If the first two releases from their Scream label are any indication, we have a lot to look forward to. Buy it!
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