After the surprise success of Halloween, John Carpenter and Debra Hill were anxious to move onto their next project, The Fog, but, with a little financial arm-twisting by producers, Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad, the duo were lured back to the world of Michael Myers for an unprecedented sequel. Carpenter refused to direct the film, but did agree to co-write the screenplay with Hill, as well as develop The Fog for Compass. Yablans was already counting the box-office receipts when he was blindsided by news that Carpenter and Hill would, in fact, still be making Halloween II, but not for his Compass films, but, rather, Universal (who would also be serving as home to The Fog). Things got ugly real quick, but, after some quick litigation, Yablans and Akkad managed to secure their interests in the series, hire a director to helm its new installment (Rick Rosenthal), and lure back stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence.
Taking place immediately following the events of Halloween, Sam Loomis (Pleasence) has just shot Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) seven times, only to find that the seemingly unstoppable killing machine has upped and walked away. Michael skulks off into the neighborhood whilst Loomis, Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), and Brackett’s men comb the area. While the wounded Michael is off finding new victims, Brackett’s men are discovering his previous ones, including the Sheriff’s daughter, Annie (Nancy Loomis). Enraged and seeking revenge for their boss, Haddonfield’s finest rush to a reported Myers sighting, where a man dressed in a similar costume is pinned between a patrol car and an ambulance, and then engulfed in flames, buying the real Michael time to track Laurie Strode while his lookalike’s corpse is autopsied.
Laurie (Curtis), meanwhile, is rushed to the local hospital by ambulance drivers Bud (the always entertaining Leo Rossi) and Jimmy (Lance Guest). Upon arrival, Laurie is stripped, sedated, and stuck in a room, where Jimmy soon informs her that Michael Myers is dead. Michael, however, overhears a radio report that reveals Laurie’s whereabouts, and immediately makes his way to the hospital. Loomis, meanwhile, learns the truth about the dead man in the Myers costume (poor Ben Tramer), and then rushes to the elementary school where it appears that Michael has left him a message. It’s here that he’s met by Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), the nurse he was with when Michael initially escaped. She has orders to bring him back to Smith’s Grove, but she also has some very important information about Laurie Strode and Michael Myers; information that suggests that Michael’s work in Haddonfield is not yet finished.
Halloween II is something of a controversial film for those closest to the project. Yablans and Akkad were never fans of the movie, disliking the extra violent content that was added to keep pace with the current crop of slasher films as well as the revelation of Michael and Laurie’s relationship, which Yablans felt sapped the mystery out of the character. Director, Rosenthal, meanwhile, felt his vision for the film was compromised by Carpenter, who, despite not wanting to direct the sequel, ended up filming several sequences post-production, including a few gory sequences that Rosenthal intentionally avoided in order to stay true to the decidedly bloodless original. This disconnect is evident when watching the film, as it’s quite schizophrenic at times, somewhat mean-spirited, and lacks the primal scares of Carpenter’s film.
That being said, I’ve always enjoyed Halloween II, as, despite all its shortcomings, it’s still the closest thing to a true sequel we’ll ever get. However, even as a hardcore fan of the series, I’ve got my issues with it, not the least of which are the massive transformations of the Laurie Strode and Loomis characters. In Halloween, Laurie Strode was a resourceful, brave, and intelligent protagonist who, while obviously terrified, still had the wherewithal to defend herself and her young charges from the Michael. She was the prototypical “final girl” – strong, sexy, and a survivor through and through. In Halloween II, however, Laurie is reduced to a sobbing, shattered shell of her former self. Granted, she’s wounded and drugged, but, even when she’s given moments of lucidity, she is hardly the spirited and determined survivor of the previous film.
Loomis, meanwhile, begins his steady decline into self-parody, here. While his character in Halloween was somewhat of an eccentric who was also saddled with some of the film’s more laughable bits of dialogue, he was still believable as a doctor hellbent on stopping a man he considered “pure evil”. In Halloween II, Pleasence devolves into something of a frazzled, mad prophet, who spends the better part of the film looking wild-eyed and warning anyone within earshot that they’re dealing with…you guessed it…EVIL! It would get worse in later sequels for sure, but the seeds of Loomis’ dementia are definitely sown here.
Once again, however, this really is the closest thing to a true-and-proper sequel we’ll ever get. We get Curtis, Pleasence, and a few cameos from folks from the original (Cyphers, Loomis, Stephens); we get the closest thing to the original film’s score (albeit synthed up slightly by Alan Howarth), and, finally, we get Cundey, whose masterful cinematography, in my opinion, defines the look of the series.
Previously released on Blu-ray by Universal, Halloween II makes a second appearance on the medium courtesy of Shout! Factory horror imprint, Scream Factory, and all I can say is “Wow”!
Scream Factory has taken Universal’s solid-but-noticeably damaged transfer, and cleaned it up dramatically, scrubbing away all manner of flecks and pops, and giving us an image that offers luxurious blacks, vibrant colors, and impressive detail. While there are still occasional artifacts here and there, it’s nowhere near as pervasive an issue as it was in the Universal release.
While Universal slipped their Blu-ray release onto shelves sans lossless audio track, Scream Factory’s release offers both a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track as well as a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track. While the 2.0 track is exceptional, and the purist in me appreciates its inclusion, the 5.1 track is absolutely amazing. Bass is deep and aggressive, while highs are crisp and crystalline. The surrounds teem with activity, ranging from simple atmospheric effects to truly immersive directional cues, and dialogue is mixed up front and center, with an organic quality that astounds.
Bottom line is this is the absolute best Halloween II is apt to look and sound, at least for the foreseeable future.
While Universal’s release did feature the popular horror retrospective Terror in the Aisles as a supplement (making it something of an unofficial double feature), it was otherwise fairly scant in terms of Halloween-related extras. Scream Factory’s release remedies that, and then some!
Halloween II is presented on two discs; a Blu-ray featuring the theatrical cut of the film, as well as the supplemental features, and a DVD featuring a standard definition version of the television cut of the film. All of it is packaged in a gorgeous case featuring brand new artwork made exclusively for this release (which will be a standard feature on all special edition horror releases from Scream Factory).
Extras include a pair of commentary tracks; one featuring Rick Rosenthal and actor, Leo Rossi, and another featuring Dick Warlock and Icons of Fright’s Robert Galluzo. The latter is a fairly conversational piece that is straightforward and enjoyable, but it’s the Rosenthal/Rossi commentary that fans will find themselves drawn back to. The duo is very frank about their experiences on the film, and their banter is, quite frankly, hilarious. It’s an informative and eye-opening commentary, to say the least, and well worth the listen!
Other extras include a great retrospective entitled The Nightmare Isn’t Over – The Making of Halloween II (HD) which features interviews with many of the principals involved, including a very acrimonious Yablans, who makes no secret about his disdain for the film; Halloween III director, Tommy Lee Wallace, who was originally chosen to direct the film, but backed out after reading the script, and assorted cast members, including Rossi, Guest, Stephens, the still-gorgeous Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), and others. It’s a comprehensive and disarmingly honest look at the making of the film.
Also included on the Blu-ray are another excellent edition of Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD), in which the host revisits several locations from the film; a collection of deleted scenes (HD); the alternate “happy” ending (HD); the film’s script; stills gallery (HD); and promotional radio and television spots, including a 1981 red band trailer for the film (HD)!
While Halloween II isn’t in the same league as the original film, it still stands as the best of the sequels thanks mostly to the involvement of so many of the original film’s principal cast and crew. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is, quite simply, one of the most exciting horror releases in recent memory, and, with several other films already announced (and getting the same royal treatment), Shout! Factory’s new baby has quickly jumped to the top of my list of studios to watch. This, my friends, is horror on Blu-ray done right! Highest recommendations!