I'm going to just throw it out there: I actually enjoyed Rob Zombie's Halloween. That's right, I said it. Sure, it can't even come close to being as memorable or original as Carpenter's legendary classic, but that's not what Zombie originally set out to accomplish. The first half of the film shined a refreshing light on Michael's background, and although vital character development suffered in the second half of the film as a result, it's still one of the best Halloween offerings we've seen in a long time. So, naturally, I was stoked when I learned that Zombie was returning to direct a sequel, but it unfortunately not only failed to live up to its predecessor, I actually ended up loathing it. There were plenty of excellent ideas that were brought to the table, but their execution left a lot to be desired. The film's central themes weren't executed well enough, Rob single handedly managed to ruin the Loomis character, and the ending didn't really fit the film in its entirety. Seemingly aware of the issues his follow-up had, Zombie eventually began to inform his fans over the Twitterverse that he was working on a director's cut for the inevitable home video release, and promised the changes were going to make this a very different film. However, I knew this was the same guy that said he would never direct a remake, let alone do a sequel for said remake, so I figured he was merely greasing the wheels of the hype machine once again. That being said, on the surface, Halloween II isn't drastically different from the original cut we saw in theaters, but you know what? Despite the blatant flaws that still keep this from being one of the better additions to the franchise overall, the extended 14 minute runtime, as well as some minor editing tweaks, really do make a world of difference.
It's been two years since Laurie's encounter with Michael Myers (it was only a year in the theatrical cut), but she still finds herself haunted by it on a daily basis. Every night she dreams of being chased by the masked slasher, and when she's awake, it's hard for her to handle the day to day tasks societal guidelines dictate she's supposed to abide by. She's been seeing a psychiatrist to help her break out of this mental block she's been having, but she opposes every coping skill that's laid out on the table with an almost violent backlash. Laurie's friends do what they can to help her through this rough time as well, but all they get for their trouble is a twisted snarl and a, "F*** you. You don't understand." Even Laurie's best friend Annie, also a surviving Myers victim, has especially grown tired of the constant 'woe is me' routine. After all, if there's a single person that can truly empathize with Laurie, it's Annie. It's not that Laurie hates the people that have been so good to her, she just no longer feels as if she's connected to anybody, or anything for that matter. The only real constant left in her life is the fact that she's living in her own little world, quickly spiraling out of control and slowly descending into madness. However, there is a Myers victim that's been able to turn their near death experience with the masked maniac into a positive one - Dr. Loomis. He's written another exploitative book to capitalize on the events that transpired that Halloween, and he's hoping it'll transform him into some sort of celebrity. Hell, he's already barking orders on his book tour like a spoiled diva. In Loomis' mind, he's a superstar already. It isn't long before Loomis is knocked back down to size though, as the media calls him out for crossing the line in his latest book, upset that he's dropped revelatory bombs that could drastically alter the lives of those he's written about. In fact, it seems the only reason he's been given his 15 minutes is so he can answer the question everyone is dying to know the answer to: Is Michael still lurking in the shadows somewhere, waiting for the right time to kill? Loomis of course constantly reminds the press that Myers is dead... but he couldn't be more wrong. Michael is once again making his way home to reunite with Laurie, and he won't stop the senseless killings until he has her.
The most interesting aspect of Halloween II is the idea that both Michael and Laurie have the same demons hiding inside of them. We already know that Mike had a pretty rough childhood - His mother was a stripper, his stepfather was a mean abusive prick, and his older sister tuned everything out by smoking pot and getting laid all the time. Michael didn't feel connected to anyone or anything in particular either, and eventually he snapped. However, Laurie was raised by a loving couple, had lots of nice friends, and was never really given a reason to let her demons take over. But when Michael was successfully able to send Laurie into traumatic shock in the course of a single evening, something within her had unquestionably awoken. Ever since that life-altering Halloween night, Laurie's been slipping into the same behavioral patterns that Michael displayed before murdering most of his family. But unlike Michael, Laurie knows what it's like to have a normal life, so it's much more difficult for her to succumb to the evil that's been locked away within her for so long. The end result is what we see throughout the course of this film - Laurie is pissed off, confused, and most of all angry, and the worst part of it all? The very trigger that originally pushed her into the deep end, Michael Myers, is on his way for round two. I really respect Zombie for taking such a bold approach with this film, because for any director to make a Halloween film whose central focus isn't Michael Myers is gutsy, even if that character happens to be Laurie Strode. I know I know, what really matters is how the idea itself is executed, and I'm not afraid to admit that Zombie did a great job conveying the film's central theme, especially with the new footage that's been spliced into the director's cut.
However, I think Rob's greatest accomplishment with Halloween II, is that it makes Rob's first Halloween entry a better film overall. Say what?! Yep, you heard me. As I said at the beginning of this review, I actually enjoyed Zombie's first Halloween. The only real problem I had with it was that there was no character development with any of the people Michael was killing, so I never cared what was going to happen to Laurie or any of her friends. Now, I know Zombie wasn't planning on doing this sequel in the first place, but Halloween II really feels more like a continuation of the first film, a natural progression if you will. If you were to watch both films back to back (something I've done just so I could see if my feelings about this were accurate), it actually makes a lot more sense when you perceive it to be one continuous story.
I know I've spent a lot of time praising merely one aspect of the entire film, but I'm by no means trying to convey to you that this is a great film... it isn't. There are plenty of other plot points that were executed poorly, to the point where they detract from all the things that Zombie got right. The most obvious example of this is Sam Loomis' story. He was once a respectable, if not beloved character, and Zombie managed to whittle him down to a self-absorbed pinhead that has nothing better to do than worry about his image and bark orders at his assistant. Almost every scene with this character did nothing more than get in the way of the real story that needed to be told regarding Laurie and Michael. Loomis does play an integral part with Laurie's descent into madness, but Malcolm McDowell easily could have provided a simple cameo to get that part of the story out in the open. Another poorly executed idea was finally being able to see what drove Michael to kill his way to Laurie - His mother. Yep, Michael has illusions of his mother dressed in white, and she always appears standing next to a white horse. The white horse is supposed to be symbolic of... well, who really gives a crap. The attempt to link Michael to his mother, and Laurie to them through some symbolic white horse was just ridiculous. It was so poorly executed in fact, that Rob had to put a little note at the beginning of the film explaining what the white horse was supposed to symbolize, because if he didn't, you wouldn't have known its significance. I understand Rob was cramped for time and all, but this particular symbolic undertone wasn't developed enough to warrant being in the film.
Overall, I think the unrated director's cut of Halloween II is actually pretty good, and that's coming from someone who loathed the theatrical cut. At least when taking the Laurie and Michael storyline into consideration, everything makes a lot more sense. The ending of the film in the director's cut is different as well, and it's much more fitting than what was seen during the film's theatrical run. To put it bluntly, the director's cut has continued to resonate with me after having screened it at home. I know not everyone is going to have the same semi-positive experience I had with the director's cut, and that's fine. If you hated the theatrical cut as much as I did, this definitive cut may not make you change your mind. That being said, I do think that if you originally saw some decent qualities buried under the horror of the rushed theatrical cut, you should give this one a go before passing final judgment on Rob Zombie's Halloween II. You never know, you might be surprised with how some minimal changes can actually benefit an entire film.
Presented in 1080p via the AVC codec (1.85:1), Halloween II isn't a pretty looking picture by any means, but then again, it's not supposed to be. Rob Zombie gave this film an intentionally dark and gritty vibe, which means the colors are often muted, grain heavily permeates every frame of film, and heavy blacks seem to swallow fine detail. On the bad side, this leaves Halloween II lacking the same depth or dimensionality that make owning a Blu-ray so worthwhile, but I could really care less about how dirty or gritty a film looks in high-def as long as that's what the director's intention was. I've seen Halloween II in theaters, and the video reproduction on this disc is entirely faithful to the source. Yes, edges appear a little soft, and even facial detail seems to suffer as a direct result of the intentional style of the film, but this still looks quite a bit better than the DVD in every perceivable way. The contrast is better, which is important for some of the haunting imagery Rob provides in Michael's visions, and the saturated color that's occasionally allowed to provide a stylish look to a couple of key scenes (Halloween party, strip club) benefit a great deal from the higher resolution. I know there are some people out there that want nothing but a nice and pretty image from their high-def discs, but for the rest of you that understand 'high definition' is all about replicating the film source in the best possible way, you won't be disappointed with this release in the least.
And for those of you that won't be sold on video presentation alone (since it was shot on 16mm stock), then you're definitely going to want this release for its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It really has everything you could want for a horror film. There's an outdoor scene near the beginning of the film, and water is just gushing from the sky. I remember it sounding pretty darn good in the theater, but in my calibrated home listening environment it was incredible. The rain evenly came through all five channels, but it wasn't just blanketed across the sound stage to trick us into thinking we were in the rain storm. I was able to hear the rain falling all around me with pinpoint precision, and that's just something you're going to need to hear to believe. There are plenty of moments throughout that take full advantage of the entire surround field, but even when it isn't blatantly obvious you should be hearing pinpoint precise audio, there's still sound coming from every speaker to provide a little ambience. During some of the more tense moments in the film, the soundtrack booms and roars with an impressive amount of low end, while the speakers replicate every sound without any distortion. Considering how dynamic all the music and sound effects in this film can be, it's nice the dialogue consistently delivers crisp and clean, and is always easy to hear no matter what madness is happening on screen. The sound mix on this film is fantastic, and I wish more horror films were this precise when trying to set the mood for the audience.
Commentary with Writer/Director Rob Zombie - Well, this certainly explains a lot. As I already knew from following various movie news resources on the web, the filming schedule for Halloween II seemed to be really right, and Rob confirms that on this commentary. In fact, there were a lot of things that were made up as they went along. Some of these ideas worked, but some of them failed miserably (the white horse). I have to give kudos to Zombie for giving such an honest and frank commentary though, because what I normally hear from a director can go either one of two ways: The director will go on for two hours talking about all the great and wonderful aspects of their production and genuinely mean it, or, the director will do whatever they can to tiptoe around a crappy production in order to save a little face from whatever studio they were working for. Zombie lets it all hang out though, as he fills us in on every difficulty that reared an ugly head along the way. To me, this is pretty refreshing... but I do have some issues with what he's said here. Rob does seem to be a little frustrated that every movie fan out there isn't kissing his ass or can't understand everything that's going on in the film, but what's hilarious about this is the fact that a lot of this movie was done on the fly. I don't think it's cool for a director to agree to do a project he said he'd never do in the first place, say 'ah forget it' when it comes to explaining vital plot points (such as how Michael survived getting shot in the face two years ago) just because he's cramped on time, and then get all pissy that the production crew and fans aren't happy as shit about it. I'm all for having good intentions, but tight production schedule or not, here's the deal - The final product needs to speak for itself. Not what you meant for it to say, but what it actually says. The theatrical cut was a horrid mess, and Rob must have known because he went right back into the editing room to make what he refers to as 'the real film'. Hell, I'll even throw that in quotes for ya, "This is the real film." Thanks Twitter! Anyways, this is still a very interesting listen, as Rob is an easy guy to listen to. He has all his facts ready to go in a coherent manner, and he's obviously very passionate about his work. Give this a listen.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes - There are 23 deleted and alternate scenes here for our viewing pleasure, and they ring it at about 25 minutes in total. It's easy to see why most of this didn't make it into Rob's final vision, but then again, it's hard to understand why some of things that did make it into the final director's cut were left intact. An interesting watch overall, but don't expect to see any hidden gems that are likely to make you wish they were still in the film.
Blooper Reel - This one is self explanatory, and I've always been a sucker for these things. Check this out!
Audition Footage - The audition footage includes clips for Chase Vanek, Angela Trimbur, Jeffrey Phillips, Chris Hardwick, Mary Birdsong, Richard Brake, and Octavia Spencer. There's a good 9 and a half minutes of audition footage, and I've always been a fan of seeing actors and actresses perform in such a raw and 'make or break' setting. Also worth a look.
Make-up Test Footage - These are tests for what's referred to as 'Michael Interior', 'Michael Exterior', and the deceased Deborah Myers. I found these to actually be rather boring. Skip it.
Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures Music Videos - There are 6 music video here for the group featured in the film, although I'm really not sure what sort of relevance they have for this release.
Uncle Seymour Coffins' Stand-up Routines - One of the fictional characters in the film that does terrible stand-up gets several minutes to show his stuff off once again. Pass.
And that's pretty much it. There's some worthwhile stuff to check out, but after you strip away the unnecessary junk, all you really have left is the commentary, some deleted scenes, and a little audition footage. It's a pretty lackluster supplement package, but with how the film did at the box office, I guess I'm not surprised that Sony didn't go all out for this one.
Sure, it still has a lot of the same issues that plagued the theatrical cut (Loomis, white horse), but the unrated director's cut of Halloween II is actually pretty good. The central theme of the film now makes a lot more sense, and the new ending is a far better fit than what was on display for the theatrical cut. I'm sure there are plenty of you out there that are going to hate this film no matter what changes Zombie made, but I would urge everyone to at least give the unrated director's cut a chance. As far as this Blu-ray release is concerned, it's definitely the obvious choice over the DVD, especially when it comes to the fantastic lossless audio track. If this was still the theatrical cut I'd have no choice but to recommend you to skip it, but after the changes that have been made, I think it's fair enough to give this film a recommended rating.