28th Jul2013

‘Halloween II’ Blu-ray Review [Scream Factory]

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest, Jeffrey Kramer, Pamela Susan Shoop, Dick Warlock, Leo Rossi | Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill | Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Halloween-2

I wonder what John Carpenter was initially thinking when he ended his career making an undeniably genre defining film, Halloween. When he was writing his screenplay (a brilliant one, at that) with Debra Hill, did he stop and think that A) He was a huge fan of nihilistic endings and what a terrifying feeling it would be for audiences to go home, no doubt the sprawling suburbs featured in his film, or B) He knew deep down that it was sequel bait and by making the film he would go on to make the single, highest grossing independent film of all time. If I was a betting man, and I’m not, I’d still choose A. It was a stamp, a fingerprint that Carpenter would go on to utilize and define his films from there on out. And with the blaze of glory ending that this film has, it’s safe to say, he wanted to continue his tradition.

Halloween II feels tonally off from the first film in the franchise.  It feels a lot more isolated that the first film which had a sense of foreboding in every tightly shot frame. Halloween II, on the other scalpel wielding hand feels tight and claustrophobic, and you feel a sense of eeriness as the camera prowls the halls of Haddonfield Memorial. It’s a little nightmarish, as the camera tools around the hospital, and out of the corner of your wandering eye, you catch a door closing. It could be a nurse or doctor or it could be Michael Myers, that’s what makes the film creepy. Personally, I love the hell out of the opening of the film. It’s the monster being chased through the city. It’s dangerous and horrifying. I also love the bit where Michael sneaks into the old couple’s house to steal a weapon to continue his slaying spree throughout the quiet little ‘burg. The old couple stares at the television aghast at the horror of the evening and in the background, we catch a sliver of The Shape, as he quickly makes his exit. It’s rather creepy. And yes, the rest of the film follows the standard slasher movie tropes but never wears on you. At least, it was at the beginning and not at the end, and therefore not acknowledged as a knock-off.

The television version which is included on the DVD half of the two-disc set is a strange bird. It’s hacked to bits (yeah, yeah I know) and really hard to follow the story. Characters disappear and odd insert shots of Michael Myers stalking around the hospital. It’s also edited for content which feels very out of place for a home video release. The scenes that were shoehorned in for the purpose of extending the television runtime are available on the Blu-Ray half are there, so it’s your choice on that front. Not only are the scenes edited weirdly, the scenes are out of order from the theatrical version and it still looks as if it was glazed over with vasoline, which reminds me of the old, boxy Universal VHS tapes from the 80’s. It’s also the happy ending version culled from the NBC version. It’s just such a bizarre ending. The Blu-Ray on the other hand looks gorgeous. It looks brand spanking new, it’s in anamorphic 2:35:1  widescreen and has a picture that just glides beautifully. It pops off the screen and it’s like seeing this film for the first time since I saw it nearly fifteen years ago.

The big centerpiece of Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray is a forty-five minute documentary on the film called The Nightmare Isn’t Over! It is, for all intents and purposes, a talking head affair. However, it’s paced and moves along very fast. It’s also candid and refreshingly honest. Most people either say that they were excited by the notion of continuing in the formidable steps of John Carpenter, or they say that Halloween II was a sequel that was doomed to fail, an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle that to the shock of many of those involved, it succeeded. It’s fascinating to see how some people either approached this film as a studio film, or a B-movie junk that should have played on 42nd Street. A lot of Carpenter’s collaborators felt that it was too violent, that it betrayed everything that Halloween so chose to strive against, and yes it technically does. However, they still acknowledge that while Halloween was alone in its conceit, Halloween II had to come after Friday the 13th, Prom Night and so forth so the gore ante had to be upped for the film.  It’s a lot more wine and roses though, as all the cast attests that Dick Warlock is a consummate stuntman and he lets on that he got the job by putting the mask on and standing in director Rick Rosenthal’s office and saying nothing. Casting by intimidation, brilliant! It also discusses the crazy fire stunt that concludes the feature, by echoing the sentiment that it was as dangerous as it looked on film. It also delves into the fact that while the original film was an independent film made by lone wolves, this one was made by committee, practically. Even more so, that Dino De Laurentiis wanted them to cut out the scene with the kid and the razor blade apple, because he didn’t understand it. A lot of the cast also didn’t realize that they cut the original, scripted ending (which was a happier ending) to focus on Laurie Strode’s plight. I appreciate that it was a warts and all documentary with people unafraid to discuss the bad alongside the good.

There’s also a fun feature on the Blu-Ray in which they visit the filming locations from the film. It’s interesting to see that some of the locations look exactly the same. Although, there’s an odd bit where the host runs into Robert (Weird Science) Rusler and the latter chides him about when they’ll do the location bits for A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2. It’s funny, but ultimately pointless in the scope of things. Once we move on, we’re treated to a lot of fun facts, like the fact that when Michael Myers turns a corner to head to Haddonfield Hospital, in reality it’s the church location from John Carpenter’s The Fog. Also, the school location used in a key scene, was in fact the school that young Tommy Doyle went to in the first film. They also visit the school but are unable to get in and take a look which also is the same song and dance for the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, which is a VA hospital. They don’t stick around long, in lieu of getting arrested.

The audio commentary with Rick Rosenthal starts slow, with lots of technical info and silent spots but once the film begins and starts going, so does Rosenthal. As I said, it’s very technical as Rosenthal discusses trying to mime Carpenter’s film style from the first film so as to create a type of continuity from the first film. He lets a lot of tidbits for the film’s fans like the fact that most of the cast was culled from Rosenthal’s acting class. He also lets loose that Lance Guest is currently on Broadway! Also, a surprise commentator joins Rosenthal on the journey through the past but it’s a fun treat so I’ll leave that for you to hear. Now, Dick Warlock’s commentary is very informative, and a trip through the history of Warlock’s past and future as a stuntman. The commentary moves along fast and has very little silent spots versus Rosenthal’s commentary. Warlock is very knowledgable about the first film and admits like Rosenthal to attempting to mimic Nick Castle’s performance as The Shape, to create a sense of continuity. He also admits to having been forty(!) while making the film. He’s very spry for his age. Warlock got the mask from the original film for this one, but it was weathered from misuse by producer Debra Hill, and he got to keep the mask, which is now used in a haunted house.

Finally, rounding out the stunning edition of Halloween II is a still gallery with over sixty stills both in black and white and color as well as several TV spots and radio spots and the theatrical trailer.

With this Blu-ray/DVD, Shout! Factory has heralded themselves with this inaugural entry for their Scream Factory label. All DVD companies need to sit up and take note because this is how you treat films for the fans, not just issuing bare bones editions for outrageous prices, up to and including the bare-bones Blu-Ray of this film released just this year! Although that did have the fantastic documentary “Terror in the Aisles,” I still would not trade that for all these features and there is a metric ton. This edition of one of the best follow-ups to Carpenter’s original is priceless, frankly. My bottom line, if you love Halloween II, you need to buy this film. If you haven’t seen it or are introducing this film to a new generation, BUY IT!

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