As far as sequels go, no one seemed to really want a "Halloween II"--maybe Universal Studios and producer Irwin Yablans, but certainly not "Halloween" writer-director John Carpenter; certainly not Carpenter's friend and protege Tommy Lee Wallace who bowed out after reading the script; Jamie Lee Curtis was back, but she was just there as a favor to Carpenter. That leaves director Rick Rosenthal, who's subsequently done a lot of TV as well as the second-worst entry in the series, the Busta Rhymes boxing "Halloween: Resurrection." Listening to the Rosenthal's commentary on Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray for the 1981 film, Rosenthal seems like a perfectly nice guy with a lot of affection for the first film who was brought on board to guide a movie that struggled for a reason to exist (beyond the dollars and cents of having a sequel to wildly profitable movie).
But I'm not here to heap scorn on "Halloween II" (at least, not really) but to celebrate the excellent disc that Shout! Factory put out this week through their Scream Factory label. Packed to the gills with features and including a gorgeous transfer of the film, it's a loving tribute to a movie that might not necessarily deserve it.
After nixing a version of the script that moved the action from the small town of Haddonfield to a multi-story apartment building, Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill brought the action back to the night of the first movie. In and of itself, Rosenthal's idea was actually a pretty good one inasmuch as it made the Shape (aka voiceless killer Michael Meyers) an unstoppable menace that just rose from the ground at the end of the first movie to terrorize the locals in the second. And I'm actually kind of cool with pushing Michael into the realm of supernatural, bulletproof killer, although it's unfortunate that after 10 movies no one ever really bothered to come up with any rules for the killer or how to deal with him.
The other addition to the mythology is that we learn Myers is after Curtis' Laurie Strode for a capital "R" reason: he's her long-lost brother and he wants to finish the job of killing his sibling. And it's at this point that "Halloween II" almost retroactively hurts the first movie: instead of being a relentless force of nature that was simply out to kill on Halloween night, Michael has a rationale (albeit one that's not especially fleshed out in spite of Dr. Loomis's increasingly rambling speeches). So instead of being a more universal menace--everyone's boogeyman--he's really just a problem for Laurie and anyone unfortunate enough to be around her.
And he's also a zombie for some reason.
Rosenthal's more psychological take on the film was at odds with the gore-heavy scenes added by Carpenter late in the production. "Halloween" was subject to numerous imitators both at home and abroad, and so the sequel was forced to play catchup in terms of bodycount, blood, and breasts--all to the detriment of the final product.
Plus the tone is all over the place, the more natural suburban placidity of the first film replaced by a shrieking old woman mugging at the camera near the film's opening and nearly everyone in the cast flipping the flip out for most of the movie's running time. And poor Jamie Lee Curtis was forced to act under a not-great wig and much of that performance involved her being close to catatonic in the new hospital setting. She was supposed to have a pseudo love interest in Lance Guest's EMT Jimmy, but his character's longing glances at her catatonic form seems more creepy than protective.
I'm tearing into "Halloween II" pretty hard, but it's not one of the worst slashers you'll see--just one of the worst in this particular franchise ("4" and "5" will later go full-tilt into creating a mythology around Michael and I think I'm able to enjoy them more for going all-out in that direction). So with my complaints about the movie out of the way, what's the disc like?
Presentation and Special Features
Pristine--the movie looks magnificent on Shout! Factory's two-disc set that also include the TV version (this involved some bloodless edits as well as additional footage shot by Carpenter to explain some of the plot holes in the original release). Since so much of the movie is set at night, it's important that the blacks are just right and the darkness levels are sorted which the team at Shout! has done here. The colors are also strong throughout and you can get a great look at Michael's mask thanks to all of the additional detail.
The TV version has a mono audio track while the theatrical release has a healthy 5.1 upgrade.
The Theatrical disc is where you'll get separate commentary tracks from director Rick Rosenthal accompanied by actor Leo Rossi (Bud) which is a frank discussion of the movie but suffers from a few too many silent patches as the two friends primarily reminisce about their time on-set. Stunt man and the new actor wearing the Michael Meyers mask Dick Warlock is a bit more informative with the veteran performer keeping an ongoing dialog with the moderator about many of the film's gags and production.
The must-watch feature on the disc, though, is the 45-minute "The Nightmare Isn't Over" featuring Rosenthal along with many of the principal performers and creatives behind the movie talking about getting "Halloween II" made. Again, Rosenthal seems like a sweetheart with not a lot bad to say about anyone, but that doesn't stop some like Yablans and Warlock from airing out dirty laundry about the production including the tricky lawsuit over Carpenter's "The Fog" that saw the director back at Universal to push "Halloween II" out.
Also included are a still gallery, two TV spots, and a radio spot along with an alternate ending and deleted scenes with optional commentary from Rosenthal. Finally, the whole thing is rounded out by the 13-minute "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" feature hosted by Sean Clark, looking at some of the locations from the film.
"Halloween II" is available now on DVD and Blu-ray through Shout! Factory's Scream Factory label.