One of my fondest childhood memories is of me sitting in front of the family television with the first two Halloween
movies and a pad of legal paper, keeping a running tally of how many witless teenagers Michael Myers offed. For the longest time, I
seemed to enjoy Halloween II more than the original, due in large part to the higher body count and the claustrophobic hospital scenes. I didn't really grow to appreciate the original until years later, as blasphemous as I'm sure that sounds. After well over a
decade of watching a severely cropped version taped off of late-night television, I finally experienced Halloween II
uncut and in widescreen for the first time last summer after picking up the DVD release from Universal's Goodtimes label. The
quality of the letterboxed presentation was surprisingly decent for a budget release. In the months that have passed since,
I've upgraded to a television that can perform the much-vaunted anamorphic squeeze, and I leapt at the opportunity to eke out
additional resolution from two of my favorites from the long-running Halloween series. To help psyche me up for Anchor Bay's
16x9-enhanced re-release of Halloween IV (my current favorite, slated on October 9th release), I decided to give Universal's anamorphic presentation of the first Halloween sequel a peek. The disc was originally announced as a loaded special edition, but the
version resting comfortably on my DVD rack isn't nearly as much of an improvement over the Goodtimes release as I was
Halloween II picks up immediately where the original film stopped. Tormented babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee
Curtis, but you knew that) has been taken to a hospital after a savage attack by Michael Myers, who returned to wreak havoc on
the sleepy town of Haddonfield after spending fifteen years silent and immobile in a mental institution. Despite being shot
six times by Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), his former caretaker, Myers disappears into the night, fully prepared to raise a
little more hell. As a hysterical Laurie recovers in a hospital staffed by a skeleton crew, Myers sets out to finish what he
started... Sure, that's not much of a plot summary, but since when has a hack-and-slash film required a complex setup?
And to think there was a time when I was genuinely terrified by Halloween II! Despite the higher body count, not a
single one of the kills matches any of the attacks from the original. The amount of grue is kept to a bare minimum,
and few of Myers' assaults last for more than a few seconds, with several even taking place off-screen. Part of what made Halloween so effective was that the few
kill scenes were protracted, extending at least a good half-minute beyond the quick-cut "stab! You're dead!" attacks here.
There are more employees in the hospital than there are patients, apparently. Aside from Laurie, Mikey, and a ward full of
newborns, the only other people in the hospital are a security guard, two nurses, a doctor, and Laurie's ambulance drivin'
buddy Jimmy (Lance Guest). It's not rocket science to figure out who all meets a gruesome end at the hands of Michael Myers.
Much of what goes on doesn't seem to make much sense at all, and although I didn't mind as a child, the revelation that Laurie
is Mikey's long-lost little sister bugs the heck out of me now. Most of the characters are superfluous, and Pleasence's
constant hamming doesn't add as much to the movie as it did to the other entries in the Halloween series. I used to rank
Halloween II as my second favorite, behind part four, but now...yikes. I think I enjoyed part five more than this.
Halloween II is a nice nostalgic blast, but I can't really envision it spending the countless hours in my player that
Halloween IV has enjoyed. The presentation from Universal, only an incremental improvement over the 1998 bargain bin
mainstay, doesn't make me any more enthusiastic about recommending this disc to all of you fine people out there in
Video: I picked up the non-anamorphic Goodtimes disc last summer and was reasonably pleased with the quality,
especially given that company's far from stellar reputation. This anamorphic Universal release improves upon the previous
disc, but the difference isn't spectacular enough to warrant a purchase for those without 16x9-capable sets. As my VVega does
the anamorphic squeeze trick, the increased resolution of this new version is noticeable and appreciated. Colors seem bolder
than the Goodtimes disc, and black levels and shadow delineation are better defined as well. Very light grain is noticeable
throughout, and certain portions, most notably during some of Jimmy's visits to Laurie's hospital room, are excessively
grainy. The image overall isn't disappointing, but it's not a considerable improvement over the previous disc that costs
seventy percent less. As with the Goodtimes release, Halloween II is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Audio: I didn't do any extensive A/B comparisons between the stereo surround tracks on the Goodtimes and Universal
discs, but I couldn't really notice any appreciable differences between the two from what minor testing I did. I didn't detect any hiss or distortion, and
none of the audio elements have the sort of flat quality so often present in movies of this age and budget. There's a decent
bass kick accompanying portions of the score and some of the boomier effects, and the ambiance from the matrixed surrounds is
sporadic but generally effective.
Supplements: Though numerous features, including a commentary, were slated for a special edition release, the end
result doesn't offer anything more interesting than cast/crew bios, assorted production notes, and a heavily worn full-frame
trailer. Certainly a missed opportunity.
Conclusion: Whether or not Universal's DVD release of Halloween II is worth a purchase is entirely up to you.
It's tough to highly recommend, since the roughly comparable Goodtimes disc runs in the $5-$6 range, and a special edition
seems likely at some point in the not too terribly distant future. Unless you have a 16x9 television, it's tough to justify
the extra expense. Why get this release of Halloween II when you can snag the previous one and Halloween:
H20 at Wally World for the same price? Tepidly recommended.